Background

Small grain cereals (wheat, barley, oats) and grasses are essential in human and farm animal nutrition and are arguably the most important crops for European agriculture. Existing germplasm resources and current breeding methods alone are insufficient for understanding the mechanisms underlying important traits and for catalysing a quantum leap in yield, sustainability and quality improvement. Major advances in these crops will require a broad suite of direct genomics approaches, built on relevant data from model plants (Arabidopsis, rice, Brachypodium).

Some history

The Small Grain Cereal (SGC) Network became the Monogram network in April 2008. The content of the SGC web site has been assimilated into the Monogram web.

The Monogram Network

The Monogram Network consists of UK based researchers with an active interest in small grain cereal and grass (including the C4 energy grasses) research. The Network also welcomes participation from overseas, and has a number of non-UK members. It is a convenient way for them to keep informed about UK activities in their area of research, to access resources, and to find partners for collaborative programmes, An active watch is kept on new grant awards and all those receiving BBSRC grants in the area are contacted and invited to join the Network. We also try to identify those in receipt of funds from other agencies.

Commercial scientists are welcomed, particularly plant breeders who provide the link between Monogram science and commercial exploitation.

Network and CIP Resources

The Monogram website serves as a point of contact and access to databases and resources - including the ‘BBR’ project awarded to Keith Edwards and Gary Barker of Bristol University - and is intended to act as a single point of contact for UK institute and HEI resources. The BBR project supports bringing together wheat resources through the website, but the same model can operate for barley and Lolium too. Indeed it is highly desirable to be able to link species through the site and to be able to use common search tools.

The website is especially useful for groups outside the UK to identify potential UK partners for collaborative projects and to raise the public profile of UK cereal and grass research.

Databases and Resources

A major objective for the Monogram CIP is to ‘lower the threshold’ to the identification and isolation of genes. Five working groups have been established under the Network (Physical mapping, Germplasm and markers, Gene expression/proteomics, Gene validation/transformation, and Bioinformatics). These serve to encourage collaboration and sharing of resources and technical expertise. In addition, they will identify and develop new resources in an integrated manner where these are required, to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort. Of course, participants from the wider community are involved in these meetings and in setting the priorities for resource development and, importantly, means of access. Well-organised bioinformatics resources are key. Perhaps the most urgent problem is the development of the bioinformatics network. All the institutes are committed to this and have increased the internal institute-funded staff allocated to making this happen. Bristol University also plays an active role in the Bioinformatics group. We are all conscious that the Brassica community is well placed to take advantage of developments in the Arabidopsis model. With Brachypodium increasingly attracting the attention of the ‘model’ community, monocot crop science must be ready and equipped to do the same!

Delivery

Monogram must look to bring forward discoveries not only from models to crop plants, but also to delivery. The mechanism will necessarily differ from crop to crop. Some individual scientists will have individual exclusive arrangements on particular projects with breeders. At IGER, grass and oat breeding is an integral part of the Institute’s activities. NIAB is active in cereal pre-breeding. WGIN and the newly formed UK barley network also have a role to play.

Monogram scientists have been active in raising the awareness of the ‘broken pipeline’ in the delivery of UK plant science to the consumer, which is especially noticeable in wheat. The UK has little commercial translational activity- plant breeding is a small industry and can participate in only a limited number of speculative actions. Monogram is working with NIAB and the plant breeders to find solutions and to bridge the gap.