Barley (Hordeum vulgare) is a widely cultivated cereal crop in the grass family. It is commonly used as animal feed and for the production of malt – a key component of beer, whisky and many baked goods.
Nitrogen: vital to plant growth
Crop plant productivity is highly dependent on the availability of nitrogen. Plants cannot absorb nitrogen from the air, so take up dissolved nitrates through their roots. Traditionally, farmers would spread manure on their crops, but most now use chemically produced fertilisers (developed in the early 1900s) to increase yield. However, these chemicals are an expensive solution for smallholder famers in Africa, and heavy fertiliser usage has created severe water pollution problems in many areas.
In the lab, Min-Yao uses plant hormones to induce microscopic, nodule-like structures in barley root.
Producing self-fertilising crops
Many species of plant allow nitrogen-fixing bacteria to live in nodules in their roots, but cereals such as barley are not able to do this. Research in the Crop Science Centre aims to transfer the mechanisms for nodule formation into crops such as barley, creating self-fertilising plants. Min-Yao investigates the signalling between roots and bacteria which underpins the development of nodules.
Min-Yao Jhu (Crop Science Centre)
Min-Yao has always been interested in the broad range of ways in which plants can form relationships with bacteria and fungi, as well as development of structures based on these relationships. She has previously worked on how the parasitic plant dodder invades and feeds off tomato plants. She particularly enjoys understanding how plants interact with other organisms and adjust their development to acccommodate these interactions.