Norfolk crop scientists have been given a leading role in an international partnership aiming to boost global food security.

The John Innes Centre (JIC), based at the Norwich Research Park, has been selected as the UK lead for the new UK-CGIAR Centre - created to strengthen ties with CGIAR (formerly the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research).

As part of the world’s largest global agricultural innovation network, the new virtual hub aims to harness the UK's strengths in science and technology, and forge "dynamic new collaborations" to tackle climate change and global food security.

JIC researchers will lead a project using genetic innovations to unlock the "accelerated breeding of climate resilient and nutritious crops", working alongside national partners in Kenya, Egypt and Pakistan.

The focus is on developing wheat crops with enhanced resistance to diseases and elevated levels of iron - an essential micronutrient for human health.

And with higher wheat yields being crucial to meet the food demands of a growing global population, it also aims to speed up the plant breeding process by adopting new techniques such as genome editing and developing "data-driven approaches".

Group leaders Prof Cristobal Uauy, Prof Janneke Balk and Prof Diane Saunders will lead the JIC's contribution to the project. 

“The new CGIAR project aims to accelerate the wheat breeding process by incorporating recent discoveries and embracing innovative breeding techniques, such as precision breeding (genome editing) and data-driven sequence-based discovery,” said Prof Uauy. 

"It is about facilitating adoption of technology, building on years of collaboration among partners and focussing our innovations on farmer-preferred wheat cultivars."

Other research goals for the UK-CGIAR Centre include tackling climate change and environmental degradation through "sustainable crop management and climate-smart agronomic practices", as well as enhancing nutrition and improving livestock health and welfare.

Its launch was announced by prime minister Rishi Sunak at the Global Food Security Summit in London on November 20. 

He said: "We are launching a new UK-CGIAR Science Centre to drive cutting edge research on flood-tolerant rice, disease-resistant wheat and much more. These innovations will reach millions across the poorest countries as well as improving UK crop yields and driving down food prices."