British Beet Research Organisation escalates the battle against virus yellows

Dr Mark Stevens, lead scientist at British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO).

Dr Mark Stevens, lead scientist at British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO). - Credit: Submitted

The drive to create sugar beet varieties which are resistant to the destructive virus yellows has been accelerated with the expansion of a leading research facility in Norfolk.

Sugar beet in a field close to Cantley.Picture: James Bass

Sugar beet in a field close to Cantley.Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2014

The British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) has expanded on the Norwich Research Park at Colney, which is providing laboratory space for new aphid growth facilities to spearhead the development of virus yellows-resistant sugar beet varieties.

Beet yellows is a plant pathogenic virus which is transmitted by aphids, causing a yellowing disease.

It is a greater problem in this country than elsewhere in Europe due to our maritime climate, and the UK beet industry invests up to £7m annually on insecticides for aphid control, without which virus yellows could cause estimated losses of up to £10m a year.

Recent EU restrictions on insecticide use and the development of insecticide resistance in aphids across Europe threatens to significantly increase the instances of virus yellows in UK-grown sugar beet, damaging its competitiveness in world markets.


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Colin MacEwan, head of BBRO said: 'It is vital for BBRO to proactively engage on this issue and Norwich Research Park remains the ideal location from which to expand our research capacity.

'The park provides us with unique advantages as an organisation – the opportunity to collaborate with the world-class research institutions also based here, access to leading scientists and shared facilities such as the glasshouses at the University of East Anglia, and latest diagnostic hardware.'

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Dr Mark Stevens, lead scientist of BBRO added: 'We have identified wild beet that are tolerant or resistant to the effects of virus yellows and this trait has been crossed into sugar beet via collaboration with plant breeders. We propose to develop this resistance further by testing the new varieties for virus resistance, plant vigour and sugar yield.

'Development of these new virus yellows resistant sugar beet varieties will bring significant economic and environmental benefits to the UK and Europe.'

Dr Sally Ann Forsyth, chief executive of Norwich Research Park, said the BBRO's choice of location epitomises what the park set out to achieve.

She said: 'BBRO is a great example of how Norwich Research Park can help a business to thrive within a collaborative research and commercial environment. We not only provide flexible space options for growing companies to meet both their science and strategic objectives, but also the benefit of co-location at the heart of a collaborative research community where knowledge-transfer and facility-sharing helps to optimise value for everyone.'

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