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Coping with climate change in the UK countryside

Behind the scenes, basic research is underway to help the UK crop, livestock and land-use sectors prepare for and respond to the challenges of a changing climate. Maintaining yields, protecting against new diseases and supporting sustainable supplies of energy are among the topics being investigated.

Illustrations of climate change-related research are provided in "The Bioscience behind: Coping with climate change", a new publication from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBRSC).

Examples include:

*genetics that offer plant breeders novel ways to:

develop crops that mature earlier than usual in the UK and so avoid the effects of hotter, drier summers (computer modelling shows that yield losses from early-maturing varieties are more than offset by harvesting before late summer drought);

introduce genes that confer resistance to drought - an approach being pursued in East Anglia, where yields of sugar beet are predicted to fall by half in areas that are already experiencing difficulties because of a reduction in summer rainfall;

*development and testing of novel grass varieties with more extensive root networks that increase the soil's capacity to hold water and thereby help to counter both summer droughts and flash flooding;

*analysis to identify areas of the UK most at risk if the tropical disease bluetongue continues to spread northwards and westwards from southern and eastern Europe, where it has killed over 1.5M sheep in a dozen countries over the past eight years;

*evaluation and optimisation of the yield, sustainability and commercial potential of energy crops such as short rotation coppice willow and the perennial grass Miscanthus.

BBSRC Chief Executive Julia Goodfellow said: "Climate change represents a major challenge for society and for science. As well as reducing the causes of climate change, we need to be able to mitigate its impact on farming and food production. Bioscience has an important role to play in providing options for addressing both aspects."

Press Office | alfa
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