SCIENTISTS are on the verge of creating crops which are more temperature resilient to heat and cold, according to the authors of a new study.

Breeding such crops is an 'achievable dream' following work done on one of the most important species of commercially-cultivated plants, oilseed rape, said the study.

The vision of crop improvement in the face of climate change is outlined in research by the John Innes Centre, which establishes a genetic link between increased temperature and the problem of 'pod shatter' – premature seed dispersal – in OSR.

Research by the team led by Dr Vinod Kumar and Professor Lars Østergaard, revealed that shatter was worse at higher temperature across diverse species in the brassicaceae family, which also includes cauliflower, broccoli and kale.

This latest understanding brings a step closer the prospect of creating crops that are better adapted to warmer temperatures a step closer. Dr Kumar said: “It’s almost as if there is a thermostat that controls seed dispersal, or pod shatter. As we learn how it works, we could in the future ‘rewire’ it so seed dispersal does not happen at the same pace at higher temperatures

“This piece of the puzzle, coupled with the use of advanced genetic tools, means that developing temperature-resilient crops becomes an achievable dream.”

Pod shatter is a major issue for farmers of oilseed rape worldwide as it can lose between 15-20% of yield on average per year due to prematurely dispersed seeds lost in the field.

“Over the last two decades, scientists have identified the genes that control pod shatter. However, it is not until now that we have begun to understand how this activity is affected by the environment, in this case temperature,” explained Professor Østergaard.

To study the effects of temperature on seed dispersal, Dr Xinran Li, a postdoctoral researcher, monitored fruit development in arabidopsis (which is related to cabbage and mustard) and is a model plant related to the important brassicaceae crops, at three different temperatures 17°, 22° and 27° C. This showed that stiffening of the cell wall at the tissue where pod shatter takes place is enhanced by increasing temperature leading to accelerated seed dispersal.

It was found that this was true not only for arabidopsis, but across the brassicaceae family, including oilseed rape and the team went on to establish the genetic mechanism which organises the plant's response to higher temperatures. This paves the way for identifying genetics which can reduce the incidence of shatter.