Crop Science and Plant Breeding - Grains for Health


Grains for Health


IBERS’ research in plant breeding focuses on a number of crops due to its unique position and history of long term alliances with commercial partners. 

Grains for Health

Oats provide health benefits as well as a plethora of novel food, feed and other products and provide biodiversity in rotations. Over 80% of winter oats grown in the UK in 2020 were from varieties bred in Aberystwyth and marketed by our long term partner Senova 

Pulses (field beans and peas) introduce a much needed nitrogen fixing crop for arable rotations and give a high-protein end product for human nutrition and animal feeds.  Two new winter bean varieties bred at Aberystwyth University, Norton and Vincent were added to the PGRO Descriptive List in 2020 and represent a substantial yield advance on existing varieties. These varieties are marketed by Senova as part of a joint venture with Wherry & Sons.

Genetic Resources and the Seed Biobank

Underpinning the plant breeding programmes is a large collection of ex-situ conserved germplasm mainly consisting of our mandate crop species. This collection is a constituent of the nationwide UK Plant Genetic Resources network. This is housed in the new Seed Biobank Controlled Environment facility which also includes bulk seed processing capability where the early generations of IBERS varieties are processed, quality controlled and maintained for further multiplication by our commercial partners.

In addition, we have established an apple and pear heritage variety orchard. This is a  genetically unique collection of apple and pear germplasm, much of which originated from Welsh farms, is being collected, grown, conserved and evaluated for potential future use in helping to meet biodiversity improvement and climate change mitigation challenges, as well as providing options for farm income diversity strategies.
Novel uses of crops include protein extraction from forage for monogastric feedstock. The quality of plant breeding at IBERS is reflected in the consistent prevalence of IBERS varieties on recommended lists in the UK, and the institute is continuously registering new varieties in all crops with the CPVO to allow for commercial exploitation.


To underpin our understanding of gene structure and function, particularly for the genetic control of recombination and other breeding-related traits, we maintain a transformation pipeline in a number of species including Brachypodium and Lolium perenne. This pipeline also facilitates the development and optimisation of Crispr-based gene editing in those species.


Breeding Goals

Long term goals in breeding that require inputs from fundamental research include: 

  • Incorporation of genomics assisted breeding to accelerate genetic gain.
  • Exploiting genome sequence data to better understand traits and direct crosses
  • Use of new technology (drones, machine learning, AI) for phenotyping in the field.
  • Breeding targets for zero carbon and climate friendly farming – carbon sequestration, root   growth, resilience to climate change, persistency. 
  • Improvement of nutrient use efficiency to reduce inputs.
  • Breeding forages with improved quality traits that reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. 
  • Novel uses of forage crops, pulses and oats, such as extraction of protein for monogastric feed
    and plant-based diets.
  • Improved resilience of grain quality traits (oats) as demanded by millers and end-users. 
  • Multistress tolerance & resilience to sudden adverse weather events (drought, waterlogging). 
  • Improvement of breeding efficiency (accuracy of selection) using high throughput phenotyping. 
  • Pre-breeding to identify novel alleles and increase genetic diversity.
  • Understanding of adaptation- matching phenology to environment.
  • Development of benchmarks for farmers and crop growth models.
  • The addressing of the agricultural productivity gap through improvements in crop yield and yield stability.
  • New methods of plant breeding (gene editing, speed breeding) and recombination control

Current Projects

Current Projects

Core Strategic Programme in Resilient Crops BBSRC (2017-2022)   
Oat domestication - understanding the origin of a European cereal 
Funder: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Grant number: BB/S008195/1 (2018-2021) 
Genetic improvement of pea to replace soyabean in the diets of poultry and monogastric livestock (PeaGen) BBSRC Link BB/P017517 (2017-22) 
Food BioSystems Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) (2019-2021) 
Oat Breeding (industrial funding from Senova) 
Pulse Breeding (industrial funding from UK Pulses) 
Nitrogen and sulphur fertiliser management for yield and quality in winter and spring oats (NoatS) AHDB 2018-2022 
The influence of genotype, environment and management factors on yield development, grain filling and grain quality in oats (Walsh Fellowship) 
Understanding milling efficiency in oats: developing tools to improve grain quality (Walsh Fellowship) 
“Grazing tolerant red clover for future livestock farming”. CIEL Seed Funding (2020-2021). Germinal with IBERS (£50K) 
“Red clover as a cash crop: Protein for monogastric farm animals and metabolites for human health (RC-Promo)”. WEFO SMARTExpertise 2020/82292 (2020-2022) IBERS, Germinal Holdings Ltd, Blue Sky Botanics – (£264K) 
“Improved resistance of red clover to soil borne pathogens for sustainable livestock production”. WEFO SMARTExpertise 2017/COL/008 (2018-2021) IBERS, Germinal Holdings Ltd and Hybu Cig Cymru – (£250K) 
“Maximising the value of commercial forage grass seed production”. Innovate UK/BBSRC 93314-562353/TS/R005133/1 (2017-2020) Germinal Holdings and IBERS - Co-I (£207K) 
“EUCLEG - Breeding forage and grain legumes to increase EU's and China's protein self-sufficiency”. EU Horizon 2020 (H2020-SFS-2016-2 727312-2). 38 partners (2017-2021) - (€5M) -
“Genetics of crown rot resistance in red clover” KESS II PhD studentship (2017-2020) IBERS and Germinal Holdings –  (£52K) 
“Genomic selection for utilisation, seed production and animal health traits in white clover” (2017-2021) Teagasc Walsh Fellowship – (€145K) 

Completed Projects

Recently completed projects

BBBSRC-LINK, AHDB,  Developing enhanced breeding methodologies for oats for human health and nutrition (InnovOat) 2014- 2019 Industry partners Senova and BOBMA 
Optimising oat yield and quality to deliver sustainable production and economic impact (Opti-Oat) Innovate UK 2014-2018 
UKRI-NRC Prototyping Root System Architecture in Avena: Technologies for Environmental Sustainability and Food Security BB/S020926/1 
“Novel strategies for genetic improvement of disease resistance in perennial ryegrass”. Innovate UK/BBSRC 47055-329315/ BB/M028267/1. (2015-2020) Germinal Holdings and IBERS (£730K) 
“Comparative population genomics of red clover domestication and improvement” BBSRC-IPA BB/L023563/1 with TGAC and Germinal Holdings (2014-2017) (£741K) 
“Genomics-assisted breeding for fatty acid content and composition in perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) BBSRC LINK1 award (with Germinal Holdings and Hybu Cig Cymru) BB/K017160/1 (2013-2018) (£999,435) 
GIANT-LINK: Genetic improvement of miscanthus as a sustainable feedstock for bioenergy in the UK (£6.4M) 
MUST: Miscanthus upscaling technology (£1.8M) 

Principal Investigators

Principal Investigators

Picture Name Email Telephone
Dr Jessica Adams +44 (0) 1970 823152
Dr Sandy Cowan +44 (0) 1970 823193
Dr Irene Griffiths +44 (0) 1970 823192
Dr Catherine Howarth +44 (0) 1970 823107
Dr Tim Langdon +44 (0) 1970 823060



Lloyd, D, Warren, RD, Gay, G, Sizer Coverdale, E, Ling, B, Langford, T, Palmer, S & Howarth, C, Bonneville: Vicia faba (Winter bean), 2022, Plant Variety.
Canales, FJ, Montilla-Bascón, G, Bekele, WA, Howarth, C, Langdon, T, Rispail, N, Tinker, NA & Prats, E 2021, 'Population genomics of Mediterranean oat (A. sativa) reveals high genetic diversity and three loci for heading date', Theoretical and Applied Genetics, vol. 134, no. 7, pp. 2063-2077. 10.1007/s00122-021-03805-2
Isidro-Sánchez, J, Prats, E, Howarth, C, Langdon, T & Montilla-bascón, G 2020, Genomic Approaches for Climate Resilience Breeding in Oats. in C Kole (ed.), Genomic Designing of Climate-Smart Cereal Crops. Springer Nature, pp. 133-169. 10.1007/978-3-319-93381-8_4
Mellers, G, Mackay, I, Cowan, S, Griffiths, I, Martinez-Martin, M, Poland, JA, Bekele, WA, Tinker, NA, Bentley, A & Howarth, C 2020, 'Implementing within‐cross genomic prediction to reduce oat breeding costs', The Plant Genome, vol. 13, no. 1, e20004. 10.1002/tpg2.20004
Galyuon, IK, Gay, A, Hash, CT, Bidinger, FR & Howarth, C 2019, 'A comparative assessment of the performance of a stay-green sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L) Moench) introgression line developed by marker-assisted selection and its parental lines', African Journal of Biotechnology, vol. 18, no. 26, 7118D0361330, pp. 548-563. 10.5897/AJB2019.16826
Clifton-Brown, J, Harfouche, A, Casler, M, Jones, H, MacAlpine, WJ, Murphy-Bokern, D, Smart, L, Adler, A, Ashman, CR, Awty-Carroll, D, Bastien, C, Bopper, S, Botnari, V, Brancourt-Hulmel, M, Chen, Z, Clark, L, Cosentino, S, Dalton, S, Davey, C, Dolstra, O, Donnison, I, Flavell, R, Greef, JM, Hanley, S, Hastings, A, Hertzberg, M, Hsu, TW, Huang, L, Iurato, A, Jensen, E, Jin, X, Jørgensen, U, Kiesel, A, Kim, D-S, Liu, J, McCalmont, JP, McMahon, GG, Mos, M, Robson, P, Sacks, EJ, Sandu, A, Scalici, G, Schwarz, K, Scordia, D, Shafiei, R, Shield, IF, Slavov, G, Stanton, B, Swaminathan, K, Taylor, G, Torres, AF, Trindade, LM, Tschaplinski, T, Tuskan, J, Yamada, T, Yu, CY, Zalesny, R-F, Zong, J & Lewandowski, I 2019, 'Breeding progress and preparedness for mass‐scale deployment of perennial lignocellulosic biomass crops switchgrass, miscanthus, willow and poplar', GCB Bioenergy, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 118-151. 10.1111/gcbb.12566
Paczos-Grzęda, E, Sowa, S, Boczkowska, M & Langdon, T 2019, 'Detached leaf assays for resistance to crown rust reveal diversity within populations of Avena sterilis', Plant Disease, vol. 103, no. 5, pp. 832-840. 10.1094/PDIS-06-18-1045-RE
Maughan, PJ, Lee, R, Walstead, R, Vickerstaff, RJ, Fogarty, MC, Brouwer, CR, Reid, RR, Jay, JJ, Bekele, WA, Jackson, EW, Tinker, NA, Langdon, T, Schlueter, JA & Jellen, EN 2019, 'Genomic insights from the first chromosome-scale assemblies of oat (Avena spp.) diploid species', BMC Biology, vol. 17, no. 1, 92. 10.1186/s12915-019-0712-y
Galyuon, IKA, Gay, A, Borrell, AK & Howarth, CJ 2019, 'Physiological and biochemical basis for stay-green trait in sorghum', African Crop Science Journal, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 653, 677. 10.4314/acsj.v27i4.8
Allwood, JW, Xu, Y, Martinez-Martin, P, Palau, R, Cowan, S, Goodacre, R, Marshall, A, Stewart, D & Howarth, C 2019, 'Rapid UHPLC-MS metabolite profiling and phenotypic assays reveal genotypic impacts of nitrogen supplementation in oats', Metabolomics, vol. 15, no. 3, 42. 10.1007/s11306-019-1501-x
Leveau, A, Reed, J, Qiao, X, Stephenson, M, Mugford, ST, Melton, R, Rant, JC, Vickerstaff, R, Langdon, T & Osbourn, A 2019, 'Towards take-all control: A C-‐21β oxidase required for acylation of triterpene defence compounds in oat', New Phytologist, vol. 221, no. 3, pp. 1544-1555. 10.1111/nph.15456
Louveau, T, Orme, A, Pfalzgraf, H, Stephenson, MJ, Melton, R, Saalbach, G, Hemmings, AM, Leveau, A, Rejzek, M, Vickerstaff, RJ, Langdon, T, Field, RA & Osbourn, A 2018, 'Analysis of Two New Arabinosyltransferases Belonging to the Carbohydrate-Active Enzyme (CAZY) Glycosyl Transferase Family1 Provides Insights into Disease Resistance and Sugar Donor Specificity', Plant Cell, vol. 30, no. 12, pp. 3038-3057. 10.1105/tpc.18.00641

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