Computing tool will lead to better crops pesticides

A computing tool that it’s claimed could help scientists predict how plants will react to different environmental conditions in order to create better crops, such as tastier and longer lasting tomatoes, is being developed by researchers at Imperial College London.

The tool will form part of a new £1.7m Syngenta University Centre at which will see researchers from Imperial and Syngenta working to improve agricultural products. Scientists are keen to develop new strains of crops such as drought resistant wheat, and new pesticides that are more environmentally friendly. In order to do this, however, they need to predict how the genes inside plants will react when they are subjected to different chemicals or environmental conditions.

The researchers have developed a prototype of the tool, now being tested. It can quickly analyse which genes are responsible for different processes inside a plant, and how different genes work together. The tool uses computer programming that relies on Machine Learning - algorithms that enable a computer to ‘learn’ based on data that it is analysing.

The researchers say the tool will recognise complex patterns in that data to find ‘nuggets’ of information about plant biology that might previously have taken months or even years to find. Previously, mathematical modelling of a plant's behaviour has been time consuming and difficult because without all the information about a plant, the models have been imprecise.

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 colour from green to red.

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