Gail Taylor has three areas of research interest:
1. Food for Health and Sustainability: leafy crops molecular breeding
● I am investigating the genetic basis of leaf quality and yield in lettuce and in molecular breeding for high productivity and improved anti carcinogenic properties in baby leaf crops including watercress. This hinges on interdisciplinary collaboration with Medicine and Chemistry.
● We are using the latest high throughput genotyping tools, in particular, a single feature polymorphism genotyping chip with more than 20,000 features and RIL and association resources in collaboration with UC Davis. We currently have a marker for phenolic content which is being tested in several commercial crosses, for the first time in the UK in 2015.
● For watercress, we are sequencing the first watercress genome with RNASeq (now completed) for genotypes of interest to underpin molecular breeding in this crop. We have registered a new watercress, ‘Boldrewood’ and are developing the very first molecular genetic map of watercress and a novel F2 population to underpin new molecular breeding in this nutrient intense crop.
● This research has been funded by industry since 1999, through several CASE collaborations and a BBSRC IPA award. We currently receive funds from Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s Supermarkets PLC, Shamrock Seeds, Vitacress Salads. Our new collaboration with Vilmorin (following acquisition of Shamrock Seeds) is progressing well with a move towards high throughput genotyping and phenotyping and GWAS approaches over the coming years.
● Our latest grant from Sainsbury’s that was won from the Annual Agri-food R and D competition will investigate the potential for reduced water use in the growth of potted and cut herbs. We are using deficit irrigation approaches to reduce the water footprint of herbs and leaf crops.
2. Sustainable Bioenergy Trees- transition to the low carbon economy
● I have a wide expertise in the technology development and deployment of biomass for bioenergy including heat, power and liquid fuels, with particular emphasis on the use of trees as sources of sustainable feedstock supply.
● My research stretches from molecular through to ecosystem services and extends to policy development, but the underlying theme is always to enhance the deployment of sustainable bioenergy systems for a global future with less dependence on fossil fuels.
● At the molecular level, I hold one of the few F2 population of trees suitable for QTL mapping and have used this extensively to identify areas of the poplar tree genome important for traits related to bioenergy. This includes our current research where we have identified QTL for glucose yield (for bioethanol) and through genetical genomics linked this to a set of target genes for enhance bioethanol production, that we are now investigating using RNAi approaches in both poplar and Arabidopsis. Over the past five years, as part of my leadership on the Executive group of the Network of Excellence, EVOLTREE (Trees as drivers of evolution and diversity), an international collaboration has developed black poplar as an outstanding resource for studying breeding and conservation goals, including those related to bioenergy. We have developed a wide Association Population with more than 1000 individuals, sourced from diverse climatic zones across Europe, have re-sequenced the genome of black poplar using Illumina technology using a panel of fifty genotypes. We have used this resource to identify 2 million black poplar SNPs and have designed a SNP chip for our wide use. This resource is one of the very first for a native European tree and will be of outstanding importance for the next few years, until our ambition to sequence 1000 poplar trees in fulfilled. For bioenergy, from this research I have developed a new EU network WATBIO (www.watbio.eu) to develop molecular breeding approaches in three bioenergy crops, where limited resources exist – poplar, miscanthus and arundo.
● At the ecosystem level¸ current funded research by ETI and NERC is focused on understanding the carbon balance of bioenergy systems in the UK. Can bioenergy cropping systems have a better greenhouse gas balance than arable crops and grassland and how can they be managed to best effect? To answer these questions, the ELUM project alongside the Carbo-BioCrop consortium has developed a UK network of flux sites where in November 2011, we began measuring GHG balance, including at a willow bioenergy site in Sussex. Our previous model-based research, suggested than land transitions to bioenergy, other than tall forest and permanent grassland, give a net benefit for carbon balance, but experimental evidence is required to support this. The network of flux sites is world-leading and will provide over the next few years, information of an unprecedented impact. I am hoping to bring USA, and UK leaders together at a Royal Society discussion meeting in 2016, as our data become available and initiate two new project using this resource MAGLUE and ADVENT.
● At the Policy level, work on policy input for bioenergy has included contributions to the original BBSRC 2007 review of bioenergy, leading to the development of the BBSRC Bioenergy Research Centre, current contributions from our yield modeling activity to the UK EMSE Energy model, UK DECC Bioenergy Strategy and DECC Energy modeling, as well as input to UKERC activity in the area of bioenergy developments. Internationally, I am involved with USA-EU twinning activities on LCAs for bioenergy and their use in certification systems for sustainable bioenergy. A recent grant on the global ecosystem service footprint of biofuel imports to the UK has just kicked-off (funded by UKERC) and this will provide a novel framework comparing the global ecosystem services impacts of biofuels compared to oil-based transport fuel for the UK. I sat on the ETI Strategic Advisory Group, A* Singapore Bioenergy Research Panel and UKERC Research Committee covering bioenergy and responsible for more than £5 million of research funding.
Targets – Initiate the new EPSRC and NERC funded consortia ADVENT and MAGLUE. Develop the emerging Impact Case Study ‘Process-based model for SRC willow and poplar’. High quality papers in TREE, GCBB and PNAS.
3. Global Climate Change – Adaptation and Mitigation – Molecular Ecology.
● I have a long standing interest in forest ecosystems and climate change. This has been focused on the atmospheric environment and on temperate forests and also on the effects of drought on plant genetics, genomics, function and growth. For ten years, I was PI on one of only four large global forest ecosystem experiments to quantify the impacts
of rising atmospheric CO2 on forest ecosystems, and the only experiment outside the USA, where we elucidated many of the fundamental changes in the carbon balance and growth of a fast growing poplar forest, subjected to the conditions of 2050 (POPFACE and EUROFACE). We used this forest ecosystem to identify novel delays in autumnal senescence in response to future CO2 and have elucidated the mechanism responsible for these changes, receiving wide publicity of this research. I have been one of the European leaders in the network of Excellence EVOLTREE, where we have identified the likely impacts of climate change on trees as drivers of evolution within complex forest ecosystems. We have elucidated the evolutionary history of black poplar and adaptation to current rainfall regimes from southern to northern Europe, including identifying novel differences in carbon isotopic signature, genes for stomatal patterning and tree development, that differ between southern and northern black poplar tree populations subjected to different natural drought regimes. It seems likely that adaptation to drought has involved a suite of genetic changes that contrast to trees in northern Europe, adapted to plentiful rainfall and extreme responses to rare drought events.
● The consequences of our findings for breeding and conservation for European trees in future climates is a focus of future research. In addition to this, for several years I have been developing work on Plantago populations at a high CO2 springs in Italy, subjected to high atmospheric CO2 for many generations where we are assessing the potential of CO2 to act as a selective pressure for adaptation – identifying key genes for future change. Surprisingly there have been few findings to date in this area, but using RNAseq we have identified a suite of genes from Spring-adapted plants that are unresponsive to CO2, in contrast to control plants and this is associated with novel phenotypes related to stomatal patterning and growth.
● Finally, we are part of the EUROCHAR consortium investigating the potential of black char (as a co-product of biomass pyrolysis) to act as a long-term soil CO2 store. We are applying this to our bioenergy field site (see below) and in the laboratory have already identified, using Arabidopsis, how this substance stimulates plant yield; data that are highly novel. At the same time we discovered a large negative impact of biochar application on plant immunity and this will be the focus of future research.
Kevin Staniland: Plant adaptation to a high CO2 world, self funded.
Libby Rowland: More crop per drop: reducing water use in potted and cut herbs, Sainsbury's Supermarkets funding.
Elizabeth Arnold: Genetic basis if deficit irrigation responses in model and crop plants, BBSRC funding.
Jasmine Saban: Plant adaptation to a high CO2 world, NERC and DTP SPITFIRE Funding.
Nikol Voutsina: Genomics of watercress, Industry- Vitacress funding.
Annabelle Damerum: Molecular breeding in lettuce, Industry- Vitacress funding.
Alex Watson-Lazowski: Genetic adaptation of Plantago to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide, NERC funding.
Zoe Harris: Sustainable biofuel crops – carbon and soils, ETI funding.
Jack Townsend: The web and the challenge of global climate change, WebScience, DTP, EPSRC funding.
Joe Jenkins: The soil microbiome and carbon mitigation through biochar, EU FP7 funding.
Mike Allwright: Bioethanol from poplar trees, BBSRC funding.
Reem Ali Al-Dawai: The origin of watercress, self funded.
Co-supervisor to Anna Page: Using aubergine domestication as a model for evolution, with a focus on NGS and population genetics, University of Southampton funding.
Affiliate research group(s)
Clean Carbon Interdisciplinary Group , Autonomous unmanned Vehicles Research Group
Working on three novel non-food crops for bioenergy applications, we are using the latest RNA-Seq and Genome Wide Association Studies to identify genes linked to traits for improved water use efficiency.
Reducing the water footprint and increasing shelf life of potted and cut herb production in the UK.
Measurement and Analysis of bioenergy greenhouse gases: integrating GHGs into LCAs and the UK Biomass Value Chain Modelling Environment
Bioenergy is a complex and sometimes controversial subject. This project integrates models of different aspects of the UK bioenergy supply chains across multiple scales. The resulting tool will provide guidance to decision makers about the complex social and environmental impacts of differing bioenergy strategies to aid policy development.
This project explores the potential use of bioenergy crops across GB, looking at feasibility, sustainability implications, and constraints on production opportunities, in relation to current and future demand for energy.
Understanding processes determining soil carbon balances under perennial bioenergy crops.
Utilising Populus to assess the flood tolerance mechanisms in repeated anoxic flooding events.
Improving the properties of Poplar as a raw material for bioethanol production.
Establish a collection of watercress sourced from around the world and breed watercress that not only has a reduced stem length but is also nutritionally beneficial therefore breed an ‘ideal' watercress cultivar.
Using quantitative genetics and infra-red imaging to improve the sustainability of water use in baby leaf salad agriculture.
This research is exploring the potential for internet technologies & data to help tackle major environmental challenges such as climate change.
Investigating Biochar application as a potential solution to climate change - quantifying the carbon sequester capacity and its effect on plant yield. It has been suggested that biochar could offset up to 12 % of GHG emissions, thus reducing global climate change, but there is limited evidence base on which to make generalisation and EUROCHAR addresses these gaps.
Developing nutritionally enhanced lettuce with improved shelf life.
Using physiology and genetics to investigate adaptation to drought in two populations of Populus.
Modeling the green spaces in two European cities to determine how vegetation can be managed for optium polution mitigation.
The Evolution of Trees as drivers of terrestrial biodiversity
Traits for poplar for bioenergy applications
Popyomics - Dormant
Linking physiology, molecular genetics and genomics to understand and manipulate yield and disease resistance in Populus for biomass and timber across Europe
Using NGS to investigate novel acclimations and adaptions to elevated atmosphere CO2 in Plantago lanceolata to help explain what the future environment holds for plants.
Using NGS technology and bioinformatics techniques to better understand the implications of drought for soil microbe communities.
TSEC-BIOSYS (2006-2009) A whole systems approach to bioenergy demand and supply in the UK - Dormant
UKERC (2004-2009) – The UK Energy Research Centre - Dormant
The main objective of this 2 year project is to develop a way of comparing the impact on ecosystem services of two very different sources of transport fuel - biofuels and petroleum.
Are the same genes involved when evolutionary processes occur more than once?
Developing a breeding program for a unique crop.
Using plants from a natural CO2 as a model to study the long term responses of plants to atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations predicted for the end of the 21st Century.