The Goal of WATBIO

WATBIO is coordinated by Professor Gail Taylor at the University of Southampton, @taylorlabsoton,

WATBIO is about finding and putting into practice science-based solutions to address one of modern agriculture’s great challenges: delivering non-food biomass without competing with food production while protecting already stretched water resources.  We need perennial crops that tolerate drought to efficiently produce biomass on land un-suited to food production.  

The goal of WATBIO is to use the power of next generation sequencing to accelerate the breeding of non-food biomass crops for drought-stressed conditions while maintaining biomass productivity and quality in water-scarce environments unsuited for food crops.  WATBIO focuses on the improvement of poplar, miscanthus and arundo which are perennial non-food crops that have high biomass yield.  For poplar and miscanthus the research will produce new germplasm with increased drought tolerance.  For arundo, its genetic diversity will be assessed and increased, and breeding tools will be developed.

Twenty-two partners (15 academic institutions and 7 private sector) who span the crop improvement chain will:

  1. identify  key traits for the maintenance of high quality biomass production in water-scarce environments;
  2. link these traits through modelling to underlying key genes, proteins and metabolite networks;
  3. utilise a wide range of measurements on plants for screening at multiple sites to test genotype x environment interactions;
  4. use sequence-based gene expression data and to identify 40 genes related to drought tolerance for testing proof of concept using GM approaches; and
  5. use sequence-based data for genome wide association and genomic approaches, linking physiology to traits of high heritability and to underlying genes.

WATBIO includes comprehensive programmes of knowledge and technology transfer, education and training.  Through workshops, seminars and exchanges, WATBIO will train a community of multi-disciplinary professionals to advance biomass crop production on marginal lands.


Miscanthus sinensis