September 23, 2009

New agriculture computing tool created

British scientists say they have developed a new computing tool that can predict how plants will react to various environmental conditions.

Imperial College London researchers say their new computer program could lead to better crops, such as tastier and longer lasting tomatoes, as well as more effective pesticides.

The tool will form part of a new $2.7 million Syngenta Center at the university. The center will develop new strains of crops, such as drought resistant wheat and new pesticides that are more environmentally friendly.

But to produce such results, scientists need to predict how the genes inside plants will react when they are subjected to different chemicals or environmental conditions.

We believe our computing tool will revolutionize agricultural research by making the process much faster than is currently possible using conventional techniques, said Professor Stephen Muggleton, director of the new center.

The researchers said their newly developed program can analyze in a matter of minutes, instead of months, which genes are responsible for different processes inside a plant, and how different genes work together.

For the first project using the tool, scientists will look at how different genes affect the way a tomato's flesh hardens and tastes, and how the fruit's skin changes color from green to red.

All software developed in the project will eventually be made publicly available, officials said.