Molecular heaters to boost crop growth thanks to £4m project


A €4.9m (£4 million) EU Horizon 2020 grant will enable a consortium of researchers from across Europe, to embark on a project called ‘Boostcrop’. They will use state-of-the-art experimental and theoretical methodologies to design molecular heaters which will enhance crop growth under cold and freezing stress.

Scientists from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Warwick will be leading the €4.9m ‘Boostcrop’ project funded by an EU H2020 grant, which includes colleagues at the University of Bristol.

Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever with nearly €80 billion of funding available over seven years (2014 to 2020) – in addition to the private investment that this money will attract. It is aiming for more scientific breakthroughs, discoveries and world-firsts by taking great ideas from the lab to the market.

‘Boostcrop’ is one of the core EU rising 2020 schemes, and aims to enhance crop growth in extreme environments, such as a sudden drop in temperature.

The team will track how energy flows within molecules, after they gain energy from sunlight.

By deciphering these ‘mechanisms’, they will then design molecules that channel the flow of energy along a specific, heat-generating, pathway. These carefully engineered, and novel molecular heaters, can then be sprayed on plants, ultimately enhancing crop growth under severe environmental stress.

The molecules would act like a thermal blanket over the plants and keep them warm, mitigating the stress from frost. This radically new science-enabled technology will extend the growth season and geographical locations suitable for agriculture.

Vas Stavros, Professor of Chemical Physics from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Warwick, said: “A major challenge in the twenty-first century is to increase global food production to feed a continually growing population while the quality and quantity of arable land is diminishing.

“The award of this EU H2020 grant will enable the BoostCrop team comprising academics with expertise in synthesis, spectroscopy and photophysics, analytical chemistry, theory and computation, plant biochemistry, plant physiology and food safety, and crucially supported by SME colleagues with expertise in biotechnology, to tackle this challenge head-on.”

Keara Franklin, Professor of Plant Signalling from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol, added: “Cold and freezing temperatures can severely limit crop growth and survival. The ability to manipulate plant temperature with spray-on molecular heaters presents an exciting opportunity to protect vulnerable crops and increase agricultural productivity.”