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Future Proofing Plants to a Changing Climate

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) together with the Biological Sciences Research Council (UKRI-BBSRC), the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are pleased to announce the launch of a trilateral call for research proposals on the topic “Future Proofing Plants to a Changing Climate”.

Climate change is challenging the sustainability and resilience of our agri-food systems, through long-term changes to temperature and rainfall, increased threats due to extreme weather events and shifts in pests and diseases. Plants overall need to be more resilient and adapt to these threats whilst crops need to continue meeting the demand for safe and affordable food for a growing population on less land and with greater resource use efficiency, in order to lower the impact on the natural environment. 

International Collaboration Addresses the Challenge 

To address this imminent challenge, we need accelerated approaches in plant sciences translating knowledge across different plant and crop species. This necessitates new ways of working, access to diverse, complementary expertise and greater research coordination across multiple geographical locations and agri-environments to deliver a deeper understanding of the genome-phenome-environment relationship in the context of climate change. Broad community building and matching of strengths and diverse expertise in research intensive nations can accelerate solutions and leverage upon national research investments. 

Germany, the UK and the USA have world leading capability in plant and crop sciences and together can drive greater coordination of research efforts beyond borders. Τhe program will support collaborative research in the three countries with synergies expected to include: 

  • a novel route to inter-agency funding, supporting world-leading researcher collaborations across international teams with complementary expertise 
  • enabling multidisciplinary research approaches that build on areas of particular country strengths. For example, the UK’s strengths in systems biology and molecular modelling with Germany’s whole organism-level understanding and the US’s capacity to scale up modelling of crops and farming systems 
  • providing strategies to close the knowledge gap between the genetic and physiological research at individual plant scale in artificial environments and the farming system level 
  • achieving ‘sum of parts’ across complementary national research resources that can be brought to bear in new ways. For example, national facilities, datasets, and biological resources 
  • reducing duplication of effort and embedding common data standards to enhance collaboration within the international research community 
  • delivery of novel tools, methods and approaches that could be disseminated and adopted more broadly across the plant and crop sciences research community 
  • access to wider international networks and training opportunities for early career researchers, strengthening national skillsets and enhancing future international leadership and collaboration within and across the three countries 

Research Themes 

Applications are invited for projects within the following research areas: 

From Molecules and Mechanisms to Field Performance

A multi-scale understanding of model and crop plant physiology has the potential to deliver a step change in our ability to understand genotype x environment interactions and their impact on phenotype. Integrative research is needed to understand the links between plant genetics, metabolism/physiology and performance in complex and fluctuating environments. This requires bringing together observations from multiple scales, including: 

  • molecular 
  • cellular 
  • physiological 
  • organismal 
  • plant population level 

Areas that will benefit from further research include:  

  • development of tools that enable integration of existing plant physiological cellular and genomics knowledge into whole farming systems understanding 
  • considering plants in real world contexts. For example, the influence of the plant microbiome and plant-soil interactions, where beneficial relationships play a role in plant resilience and resource use efficiency 
  • understanding the trade-offs that come from optimizing traits in the context of abiotic and biotic challenges, such as water stress or pathogenic threats, and the implications for performance  
  • link insights from laboratory studies to field performance of crops 

Research in this area should seek to develop or harness advances in: 

  • modelling 
  • machine learning 
  • phenotyping 
  • other multi-modal technologies 

With the aim to deliver quantitative insights and potential strategies to optimize plant performance under different conditions, particularly in the field. 

Programmable Plants

The ability to “program” plants with predictable and novel characteristics and ideotypes suited to specific environments, will provide fresh insights into complex genotype-phenotype relationships and offer innovative solutions for agricultural adaptation to climate change impacts. Biotechnological and synthetic biology approaches are needed to accelerate plant research in this direction and deliver step-changes in our ability to control plant growth, developmental and stress responses more precisely. 

Areas that will benefit from further research include: 

  • complex multigenic trait engineering in genomes 
  • development of innovative techniques to control chromosome recombination for rapid and efficient implementation of pangenome diversity or crop wild relatives to enhance complex traits, such as encoding resistance to stresses like: 
  • drought 
  • flooding 
  • salinity 
  • temperature 
  • pathogens 
  • microbial interactions 
  • engineered approaches to reduce reliance on fertilizers and pesticides (such as nitrogen fixation and microbiome modulation), or enhanced carbon capture (such as improved sequestration in below ground tissues and photosynthetic efficiency) 
  • development of new tools and methods that address current bottlenecks in engineering plant systems to accelerate the pipeline of development of rationally engineered plant traits for a changing climate. For example:  
  • plant transformation 
  • plant synthetic biology 
  • genome editing 
  • speed breeding 
  • rapid phenotyping 

Who Can Apply 

Applications must include a project lead from the UK, Germany, and USA. 

Before applying for funding, check the Eligibility of your organization.  

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has introduced new role types for funding opportunities being run on the new UKRI Funding Service. For full details, visit Eligibility as an individual

Applicants in the USA must are to meet eligibility requirements of NSF under the NSF Act of 1950, as amended, and other applicable authority, where applicable, or of USDA-NIFA at 7 U.S.C. 3157. Applicants should contact NSF and/or USDA-NIFA if they have questions about which USA agency is most appropriate.


You should ensure you are aware of and follow any deadlines that may be in place within your research organization. 

Stage One: Expression of Interest

BBSRC must receive your outline by 6 February 2024 at 4:00pm UK time. You will not be able to submit an expression of interest after this time. 

Stage Two: Full Stage

  • Only applicants who are invited by BBSRC may submit a full stage submission. 
  • The full stage will open shortly after the expression of interest stage closes.  
  • BBSRC must receive your full proposal by 22 May 2024 at 4:00pm UK time. You will not be able to submit a full proposal after this time.  

Award Amounts

  • Minimum amount per application: £300,000 for UK component, $300,000 for USA component and €300,000 for German component.
  • Maximum amount per application: £800,000 for UK component, $800,000 for USA component and €800,000 for German component.

NIFA Points of Contact

John E. Erickson

John Erickson photo

Dr. John E. Erickson is a National Program Leader in the Institute of Food Production and Sustainability, Division of Plant Systems – Production. Before joining NIFA, John served on the faculty of the Agronomy Department at the University of Florida from 2007 to 2020.

Contact John Erickson

Christian Tobias

Christian Tobias - National Program Leader

Christian serves as a National Program Leader. In this role he works with stakeholder groups and other funding agencies to coordinate and strengthen plant breeding programs at NIFA. Christian came to the agency in 2021.

Contact Christian Tobias


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