Aberystwyth University has been awarded the Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education. The announcement was made this evening (Wednesday 18 November) at a special reception at St James's Palace by the Founder and Chairman of the Royal Anniversary Trust, Robin Gill CVO.
The Award acknowledges the work of scientists at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) who have successfully combined fundamental research on plant genetics with plant breeding techniques to develop commercially viable plant varieties that go some way towards meeting the challenges of food supply, water and energy security, and environmental sustainability which are facing communities across the world.
Plant varieties include high-sugar and more digestible forage grasses, more persistent and consistent white clovers, high quality oats, improved turfgrasses, and disease resistant pearl millet which has been developed in collaboration with breeders in India.
The Award also recognises the way in which postgraduate teaching and research in plant breeding and the biological sciences at IBERS, which combines practical skills and advanced genetic techniques, is helping to produce the next generation of plant breeders.
Professor Noel Lloyd, Vice Chancellor of Aberystwyth University said: "I am delighted that Aberystwyth University has been awarded a Queen's Anniversary Prize. It is confirmation of the importance of the work which is carried out within the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS).
"The University is committed to addressing the important issues in land based science, and to do so it is necessary to assemble a wide range of expertise. There is a seamless connection between scientific research and innovation, and the transfer of scientific and technological know-how to support land-based industry and the development of public policy is an important objective. I extend very warm congratulations to those involved in the work which has led to this notable recognition," he added.
Professor Wayne Powell, Director of IBERS said: "I am delighted to receive this most prestigious Award on behalf of all the talented and hard working scientists and staff at IBERS. It recognises the commitment and dedication of high calibre visionaries working in plant breeding at Aberystwyth over the last twenty years, who in turn have built on work that extends over the 90 years since the Welsh Plant Breeding Station was established by the University in 1919."
"IBERS is privileged to be building on this platform of knowledge, skill and achievement to embrace both discovery and solution driven research to solve the most pressing needs of our planet."
The Queen's Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education are awarded every two years to institutions of higher and further education across the UK for work of outstanding excellence. They celebrate world-class achievement and capture the remarkable diversity and quality of the work going on in our universities and colleges of further education.
The Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) was established in April 2008 following the merger of the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, formerly part of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with Aberystwyth University. IBERS continues to receive significant funding for research from the BBSRC and benefits from financial support from the Welsh Assembly Government, DEFRA and the European Union.
Its vision is to be one of the top three land based University departments in the World. A major feature of this vision is a commitment to rejuvenate agriculture in the UK and support the sustainability and viability of the rural economy through establishing direct links between farming communities, business and academics.
IBERS employs 350 staff, has an annual turnover of £25 million and represents the largest land-based science department in the UK. A major investment of £55 million is underway to help realise this vision.
The principal crop areas that are the focus for plant breeding activity within IBERS are:
High-sugar and more digestible forage grasses
Institute grass breeding has produced ryegrasses with higher sugar content that provide additional energy to improve the efficiency of plant protein conversion in ruminants. Older perennial ryegrass varieties such as S.23, released in the 1930's, had an average soluble carbohydrate content (WSC) of 19%. Breeding programmes initiated in the Institute in the mid 1980's increased average WSC to 23% in the variety 'AberDart' released in 1999. This variety was awarded the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) Variety Cup in 2003 in recognition of its improved quality combined with excellent agronomic performance - the first time this cup was awarded to a forage crop variety. These breeding programmes further increased WSC content to 28% in the variety 'AberMagic' released in 2007.
Institute grass varieties now account for 33% of the UK forage ryegrass seed market and 11% of the turfgrass market with a combined retail sales value in excess of £5M
More persistent and consistent white clovers
Institute forage legume breeding has produced new varieties of white and red clover that are more persistent, reliable and better able to tolerate biotic and abiotic stresses. These include the white clover varieties 'AberHerald' and 'AberDai' released in the 1990s, followed by further advanced varieties 'AberConcord' and 'AberAce' which have been released since 2000. Red clover breeding at the Institute recommenced in 1998 after a long interval but has already produced two highly successful varieties 'AberRuby' and 'AberBlaze'.
Currently Institute bred white clover varieties have a market share of over 40% in the UK approximating to 130,00ha sown each year.
High quality oats
Institute oat breeding has produced landmark varieties, such as the short-strawed winter oat variety 'Gerald' (listed in 1993) which was awarded the NIAB Cereal Cup for an outstanding contribution to UK arable farming in 2002. 'Kingfisher' and 'Millenium' followed in 1999 and 2000. A further winter oat variety 'Mascani' was added to the RL in 2004 for its combination of high yield and outstanding milling quality in terms of high kernel content, high specific weight and low screenings followed by 'Tardis' and ''Brochan' in 2007. 'Tardis' is a high yielding variety with excellent resistance to mildew and crown rust, while 'Brochan' is very resistant to lodging due to extremely short straw associated with a novel plant architecture and high kernel content for milling. Five milestone naked winter oats have also been produced: 'Kynon' (1990), 'Grafton' (2000), 'Hendon' (2003), 'Expression' (2004) and 'Racoon' (2005).
Institute oat varieties take a 70% share of the UK oat seed market, with a retail sales value in excess of £2M. One variety, 'Gerald', developed by the Institute is the most-widely grown winter oat with 45% of the market, while an Institute dwarf naked oat variety accounts for about 5% of the total winter oat crop.
Institute turfgrass breeding has had major successes in producing ground-breaking varieties released since 2000 such as 'AberElf', 'AberImp' and 'AberSprite'. 'AberImp' and 'AberSprite' are currently used at prestigious venues such as the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at Wimbledon. A further notable achievement was the first ever staygreen turfgrass variety to be produced, 'AberNile'.
Disease resistant pearl millet
Institute scientists have helped to develop a new variety of pearl millet capable of resisting attack by downy mildew in collaboration with breeders in India. In 2005 "HHB 67 Improved" was identified for release and cultivation in the arid zone of northwestern India where the previous variety is cultivated on about 500,000 ha annually.