The Wolfson Advanced Glasshouses is a unique facility at the University of Birmingham. A laboratory area seamlessly links to a glasshouse zone with individual controlled environment compartments to provide a fully contained facility capable of housing both herbaceous plants and trees. One key feature is the provision of CO2 fumigation of plants so that researchers can study how plants respond to higher levels of the gas associated with climate change - and help us to understand how to respond to and mitigate the effects. Another important area of work will be the study of plant pathogens, both indigenous and on the horizon that threaten our forests and crops. We aim to study the pathogens, and how the plants respond, to learn how they cause disease - and thus provide the opportunity to find ways of stopping infection and disease spread.

Climate change 

Professor Rob Jackson, Chair in Tree Pathology along with Drs Estrella Luna Diez and Graeme Kettles will examine Tree pathology working closely with BIFoR. The facility allows the study of the reaction of trees to pathogens and pests in as close to real world scenario as possible. This will enhance the research already being conducted at BIFoR where the introduction of pathogens presents an unacceptable environmental risk. Estrella Luna-Diez and Graeme Kettles  examine the physiological and molecular aspects of disease development, as well as innate tree defence mechanisms. The resilience of forest trees to pests and diseases including ‘ash dieback’ and ‘sudden oak death’ current prognoses are that interactions with rapid climate change will put forests under ever increasing pressure from much faster evolving pathogens with far reaching and negative impacts globally.  

Understanding how plants perceive temperature, and how they use this information to instruct development is key to understanding how climate change will affect crop germination, growth, reproductive success and ultimately yield.  Dr Sanchez-Moran investigates how meiotic recombination giving rise to genetic variation, is impacted by heat, and how temperature control of this process may lead to enhanced variability and improved traits.

Professor Daniel Gibbs investigates how reproductive transition is precisely coordinated following sustained reduced winter temperatures to ensure flowering at optimal times of year. Along with how plants perceive and respond to flooding, including at the epigenetic scale. The mechanism regulating flooding tolerance in Arabidopsis is now being explored in barley, where it could lead to major breakthroughs in the development of flood-resilient lines in this agronomically important species.

Food security

The risks of climate change to food security occur at three levels. Intensive agriculture produces climate-active gases. Climate change increases the frequency of extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and storms that can destroy crops. Chronic threats like changes to CO2, temperature, pathogen migrations, and pollution affect the productivity of crops both in terms of quantity and quality.  Understanding of the mechanisms, signalling pathways, and genetics of plant responses to environmental changes requires experiments that manipulate the genetic background of either plants and/or pathogens. Gene editing approaches offer the prospect of enhancing the most valued traits in agriculture without requiring adding DNA from other species.