Isaac Reynolds

Future-proofing our food: Priming plants to tolerate climate change

About me

Throughout my four years at the University of Southampton studying for an MSci in Biology, I developed my interest and skills in the field of plant science, focusing on genetics in crops and their importance in a future of increasingly hostile environmental conditions. My first undergraduate project involved exploring DNA methylation changes in response to biotic stress in Brassica; my masters’ year project focused on creating the first molecular phylogeny for the underutilised genus Macrotyloma, laying a base for future molecular work.

These projects greatly informed my desire to return to research after working for a year in biomedicine, and so I was delighted to begin a PhD in the Harper Lab at the University of York exploring crop responses to climate change with a multi-omics approach, with a view to improving the resilience of important crops like wheat to environmental stresses. This approach really speaks to my computational and lab-based interests, and so I thought this project was a perfect fit for me.

My research

As climate change worsens in lockstep with growing populations, resources will only increase in scarcity. By 2050, the world’s population is projected to grow beyond 9.4bn, while the yields of staple crops and cereals are expected to decrease by 15-30%, presenting a monumental issue for food security. Water availability is already a major limitation for agriculture in many parts of the world, and severe drought and aridity are sure to decrease yields and contribute to malnutrition.

Priming plants to better survive environmental stress in subsequent generations could provide a novel way of mitigating the effects of climate change. Using diverse panels of wheat and brassica, I intend to investigate priming for various abiotic stresses, such as drought or salinity stress, using a combined epigenetic and transcriptomic approach to study changes in gene expression and regulation across multiple generations. By applying various molecular techniques I hope to further understand crop stress responses and find new ways to meet the demands of food security in increasingly harsh climates.