Recent Activity

Outreach: Identifying apple samples sent in by the public

Mark Winfield

BCAI previously funded a project, led by Professor Keith Edwards, that developed a genotyping system – similar to human DNA fingerprinting – which can rapidly and easily identify apple varieties.

During September this year, researchers from Professor Keith Edwards' lab put out a call to the public to send in leaf samples from apple trees of unknown origin in order to identify them by genetic 'fingerprinting'. The public responded enthusiastically sending in more than 800 leaf samples. Many of the samples were accompanied by charming letters describing the history of old gardens and the trees they contain. Some people even sent in photographs of the apples and describe how wonderful they were as 'eaters' or 'cookers'.

The group have finished the genotyping ('fingerprinting') of these samples and compared the results with a database of 'fingerprints' of over 1,500 apple varieties (mainly collected from the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale, Kent). The results have been made available on a specially created website.


GroDome lights fitted with white light LEDs enable improved plant growth with energy savingsGromeDome shown being used over plantsGroDome lights over plants

Funding to Replace Current LED Lighting in the GroDome

Tom Pitman

Supplementary lighting is essential for year-round production of plant material in the GroDome and greenhouses. Thanks to funding from BCAI, we have been able to replace all the lamps in the GroDome with white light LED’s, like those used in the Greenhouses. These 120w units will provide excellent lighting output for improved plant growth, whist achieving excellent energy savings compared to the previous 184w units.

PI         Title     Date RequestedAmount

Thomas Gorochowski

Open-source algal micro-farms for sustainable bioproduction October 2020 £47,013.00

Keith Edwards / Alan Stealey

Research into the Yet Unknown Cider Making Qualities of Apples Bred at the Long Ashton Research Station October 2020 £14,370.75
Rox Middleton Why are Blueberries Blue? 3 months COVID extension October 2020 £4,655.38
Tommaso Jucker Using Remote Sensing to Guide Precision Forestry in Europe October 2020 £35,875
Tom Pitman Funding to Replace Current LED Lighting in the GroDome October 2020 £9,466.07
Sinead English / Richard Wall / Kwasi Asante Integrated pest management of cowpea weevils using innovative neem applications June 2020 £11,745
Jill Harrison / Zoe Nemec Venza The Regulation of plant stem cell function by CLAVATA June 2020 £23,464
Rose Crichton / Christopher Cammies A pioneer study analysing nematode assemblages in a functional and profitable aquaponics system March 2020 £9,774
Tom Oliver Investigating non-photochemical quenching of iridoplasts March 2020 £19,979
Heather Whitney / Carmen Galan Development of a collaborative network to test and optimise a novel technology March 2020 £39,597
Imogen Sparkes Next generation confocal imaging system March 2020 £62,000
Tommaso Jucker Building a remote sensing laboratory for plant and agricultural sciences at the University of Bristol March 2020 £19,140
Jane Memmott Pesticide Free Guernsey March 2020 £39,736
Imogen Sparkes Re-engineering Golgi dynamics in plants March 2020 £51,603

 Pollination in Nepal in a changing climate

Helen Harper

A new project studying the effect of climate change on pollinators has been funded. Three quarters of crop species rely on pollinators but the service they provide is under increasing threat from climate change. Loss of diversity and declining numbers of pollinators is predicted to compromise agricultural systems, and in turn, affect human health as key dietary micronutrients (such as vitamin A and folate) from insect pollinated crops are lost from diets. 

This interdisciplinary project is led by University of Bristol’s Professor Jane Memmott and  includes three Co-Investigators two medical researchers, Dr Samuel Myers and Dr Mathew Smith from Harvard University and a climate change specialist from the University of Helsinki, Professor Tomas Roslin.   Collaborators include health scientists from an NGO in Nepal, HERD Internationale (Dr Sushil Baral & Dr Chandani Kharel)along with collaborators from UCL (Dr Naomi Saville), the London School of Tropical Medicine (Dr Helen Harris-Fry) and the Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu (Dr Daya Ram Bhusal).   The Bristol based Post-Doctoral Researcher is Dr Tom Timberlake. 

The project is funded by The Belmont Forum with additional support from BCAI.


Plant and Agricultural Sciences Fellowships at Bristol

Helen Harper

The Bristol Centre for Agricultural Innovation (BCAI) is offering an additional £50,000 to boost project funding for three individuals that are awarded mid-career Independent Research Fellowships at Bristol (such as BBSRC Discovery Fellowships & David Phillips Fellowships, Royal Society University Research Fellowships or UKRI Future Leader Fellowships). Those applying for earlier-career fellowships are eligible for an additional £5,000 of research funding, from BCAI, following a successful fellowship award.  Proposed research must fall within the remit of BCAI to be eligible for this additional funding (

At Bristol, we benefit from excellent facilities and host a vibrant group of plant and agricultural scientists. Further information about plant and agricultural research at Bristol can be found at  and information on current fellows and the support we offer:

To be considered for BCAI and departmental support, prospective fellowship candidates are required to submit an expression of interest to by 17th September 2019. Your application should consist of your CV, a covering letter (indicating which fellowship you wish to apply for and confirmation that you are eligible) and a research plan (up to 2 pages). We will select and invite candidates with potential to visit the department in October/November. Please contact Dr Helen Harper for any informal enquiries. We look forward to hearing from you.


BCAI undergraduate summer student 2018

Helen Harper

Fiona Belbin and Dr Helen Harper were awarded funds to employ a University of Bristol undergraduate student to conduct a 10-week summer placement in the labs in life sciences and in collaboration with Bristol vertical farming company LettUs Grow. Biology undergraduate Jess Bowers-Martin conducted research into the effects of photoperiod length upon growth, circadian rhythms and photosynthetic efficiency of lettuce in a vertical farming context.  “The opportunity to conduct independent research with the support of experts in the field has been invaluable to me, I have learnt so much during the course of the placement. I have particularly enjoyed researching the applications of vertical farming for addressing food security concerns and having the opportunity to plan my own research. Working with LettUs Grow and witnessing their passion has inspired me to pursue postgraduate study of plant science.” – Jess "The undergraduate project and associated support from the university has been hugely helpful. The hard work done by Jess has allowed us to accelerate our research program and she has been a fantastic colleague over the last few months. We are very excited to continue to build a relationship with Antony Dodd's lab and the University in the future."– Billy Rodgers, plant research at LettUs Grow. Jess has been supervised by Fiona Belbin, Dr Antony Dodd and Dr Helen Harper. This work was supported by the Bristol Centre for Agricultural Innovation and LettUs Grow.


Signal transduction and circadian regulation under natural conditions

Dora Cano-Ramirez and Dr Antony Dodd

BCAI have supported me to travel to the laboratory of collaborator Prof. Hiroshi Kudoh at the Center for Ecological Research in Kyoto University to perform deep analysis of a cell signalling pathway under natural conditions. The reason why we conducted this work was to gain new insights into how a signalling pathway that we identified in the laboratory functions under natural conditions. This is important to begin to translate processes studied in the laboratory that underpin plant survival into an agricultural context, to identify new candidate mechanisms for enhancing crop production.


Gene Editing Workshop

Beth Eldridge and Ashley Pridgeon

Over the 26-27th March, researchers from around the globe gathered at the University of Bristol for the GARNet Plant Gene Editing workshop, sponsored by BCAI and the New Phytologist Trust. At this workshop, attendees eagerly discussed topics relating to gene editing; these discussions not only encompassed the nitty-gritty details of how to edit stubborn plants (monocots and dicots alike!) but also novel uses of genetically-modified plants and the policies concerning their regulation. Alongside these discussions, researchers got the opportunity to view an array of scientific posters that sparked fruitful conversations.

Read the full article here.

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