Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

New project for breeding drought- and disease-proof crops

A new EU-funded project that aims to speed up the development of crops resistant to drought and disease has just got under way.

ABSTRESS ('Improving the resistance of legume crops to combined abiotic and biotic stress'), which will run for 5 years, is funded to the tune of al...
New project for breeding drought- and disease-proof crops
A new EU-funded project that aims to speed up the development of crops resistant to drought and disease has just got under way.

ABSTRESS ('Improving the resistance of legume crops to combined abiotic and biotic stress'), which will run for 5 years, is funded to the tune of almost EUR 3 million under the 'Food, agriculture and fisheries, and biotechnology' Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). It brings together researchers from 13 participating institutions across the Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Hungary and the United Kingdom.

The aim is to revolutionise the way in which new plant varieties are produced by using molecular and computational techniques to identify processes associated with the way drought and disease combine to make crops' life doubly difficult. The project will also identify novel genes and biochemical pathways that improve plant resistance to these factors.

The researchers will use a clover-like plant as a model to develop the approach. Under laboratory conditions, hundreds of these plants will be subjected to drought and/or infection with a type of soil fungus called Fusarium. Fusarium was chosen as an example of disease stress because this type of infection affects the way in which plants can mobilise water and so the damage it causes is compounded during drought conditions. The commonness of this economically devastating fungal disease is predicted to increase due to climate change.

Once the plants are being subjected to these conditions, the team will use the latest high-throughput imaging technology to monitor the performance of the plants without disturbing them. The information obtained from studying the model plants will then be applied to the breeding of new pea varieties.

These new varieties will be compared with existing commercial crops and the scientists will identify which perform better when challenged with a combination of Fusarium and drought. The plants that perform best will undergo field trials at different sites across Europe.

Dr Adrian Charlton, project leader from the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) in the United Kingdom, comments: 'This project brings together the very best expertise in plant-based molecular biology and biochemistry in Europe and should lead to groundbreaking improvements in the techniques used for crop breeding. Fera scientists will be studying the biochemical profiles from the best performing plants and linking these back to the genes responsible using advanced computational techniques.'

Pea plants are being studied initially as they are well characterised genetically. Peas, like other legumes, have a key role as a sustainable source of protein in both human and animal diets. In addition, they can replace imported soybeans, which currently represent over 75% of feedstock protein in the EU. Legume farming has a low carbon footprint compared with other crop types; leguminous plants also replenish nitrogen in the soil for the following crop cycle. Legumes don't require, and reduce the need in other crops for, nitrogen fertilisers - a major source of greenhouse gases and farm energy consumption.

By increasing cultivation rates of drought and disease-resistant legumes, the team hope to improve food security and mitigate the effects of climate change at the same time.

Source: Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera)

Related information

Countries (6)

  • Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, France, Hungary, Italy
Record Number: 34468 / Last updated on: 2012-04-02
Category: Other
Provider: EC