I am working within the oat group at IBERS. Varieties from our winter and spring breeding programmes provide the bulk of the UK oat crop. My research aims to provide genetic and genomic resources which will improve variety performance.
Oats have a reputation as a 'healthy' crop, based on beneficial dietary effects (satiety, cholesterol lowering, gluten-free) and on relatively low input and intervention requirements in the field. Some of these properties may reflect oats' late domestication, having apparently spread from Turkey to Central Europe as a weed of cereal fields and only then having been deliberately cultivated as a crop in its own right. By avoiding human selection for yield and food value, oats may have carried a greater genetic diversity and resilience through to the present day than cereals cultivated from the outset. Our research uses genetic and genomic resources to understand the origin of today's oat crop, and attempts to identify lost genetic variation that may be recovered and used to improve modern varieties. A century ago, oats were the largest crop by area in much of Europe and North America, and very large collections of cultivars and wild relatives were made across the world. We are assembling the genome sequence of red oat, Avena byzantina, in collaboration with Dr Martin Mascher (IPK, Gatersleben) and using this as a reference to understand the significance of genotypic diversity in material from historic and recent collections (GCRF and BBSRC projects, Adriana Ravagnani, Aled Evans and Arthur Morris) .
Oats lag behind other cereals in the development of efficient tissue culture methods. With support from Senova and Saaten Union, and in collaboration with Sue Dalton we have been improving doubled haploid production (Tom Cooper, BBSRC CASE student) and transformation protocols (Agnieszka Gladala-Kostarz).
Oats are a minor crop in almost all the countries where they are grown, but their research logistics are as challenging as for related major crops such as wheat and barley. Progress is greatly helped by international collaboration, and we have close links with partners in Europe, North and South America, West, East and Central Asia, North Africa and Australia. We are currently hosting visitors from Canada (Aida Kebede, OECD fellow) and Brazil (Vianei Rother, CAPES fellow). Previous research visitors have come from Poland, Spain, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Japan. We welcome enquiries about visits or collaboration.
BBSRC strategic funding to the institute has allowed development of a wide range of genetic and genomic resources, including an Avena A-genome zipper (with Rob Vickerstaff), a 650 line hexaploid spring oat Nested Association Mapping population (with Irene Griffiths) and mutant hexaploid winter oat populations (with Sandy Cowan). Development, maintenance and analysis of these resources has been carried out by Simon Betts, Sara Lewis, Maciej Biasaga, Sam Gill and Caron Evans.