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Enhanced plant productivity through control of lifespan

Final Report Summary - CROPLIFE (Enhanced plant productivity through control of lifespan)

The world-wide demand for primary plant products to be used for food, feed and fuel is known to increase dramatically. A major factor known to determine plant productivity is the life-span of leaves. "CropLife" focussed on lifespan determining processes with respect to the development of new breeding strategies for prolonging leaf photosynthesis and delaying senescence processes. Despite their paramount importance for plant productivity and quality, the factors determining lifespan remained poorly known. The reason is that lifespan is a complex trait requiring combined efforts from multiple disciplines. One objective of the network therefore was to train a new generation of scientists with a novel combination of skills from different fields of research and the private sector. The training programme included state-of-the-art local training activities and network-wide courses, summer schools and workshops. Thereby the young researchers were trained in a range of cutting-edge-skills as well as in complementary skills enhancing their career prospects.

The network aimed at transferring multidisciplinary research results to breeding companies for the development of new varieties with prolonged lifespan. In order to achieve this goal, “CropLife“ brought together the leading European laboratories with expertises in all central aspects of research on lifespan and linked them to private partners that breed new cultivars for the future. The partners of the network recruited 11 ESR and 3 ER for studies on the complex trait of senescence in two agronomically important monocot crop plants and to transfer the results to breeding companies for the development of new varieties with prolonged lifespan. The network focussed on barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) and ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.), two monocots of high agronomical importance. While barley is an annual model plant for small grained cereals, perennial ryegrass is model for perennial grasses used for feed and for bioenergy production. In both species, the photosynthetic duration of the leaves and the efficiency of remobilisation are major determinants of productivity. By involvement of breeding companies running commercial breeding programmes in cereals and/or grasses and being active in various national and European projects and cooperations, the network ensured that the training quality was intersectoral providing the recruited researchers with the widest possible employment prospects.

By research of the network, life-span control has been established as an important novel tool for breeding new varieties with improved productivity and enhanced stress resistance. The research programme was divided among four work packages. In work package 1, early markers of senescence processes were identified, i.e. changes in membrane fluidity, production of reactive oxygen species and catabolites of chlorophyll. Research in work package 2 was dedicated to the identification of senescence-associated transcription factors playing roles in the control of lifespan and to the characterisation of histone modifications at promoters of senescence-associated genes. In work package 3, genes involved in autophagy have been identified in barley and two of them have been used for barley transformation. The impact of the WHIRLY1 transcription factor on nitrogen use efficiency has been analyzed in transgenic barley lines. In work package 4, the genetic variation in barley and ryegrass with regard to lifespan was studied. In barley, early maturity genes were identified and mapped. In ryegrass, quantitative Trait Loci (QTL) and candidate genes underlying variations in senescence patterns/lifespan have been identified. SNP markers were developed for both plants.
The results of the four research work packages are expected to path the way to more efficient breeding strategies for enhanced productivity of cereals and grasses. The main interests and targets of the private project partners of “CropLife” were continually refined by work package 5. Work packages WP1-5 are complemented by the project management work package 6.

Two European workshops on Plant Senescence with 215 external participants provided an excellent platform for dissemination of the network’s achievements which will contribute significantly to an increase of the competitiveness of European plant research and agriculture. This is evident by the establishment of new collaborations among partners and other participants of the workshops, some of which have already acquired financial support for their research activities. The participants of these workshops decided to continue the meetings of the increasing community performing research in the field of plant life-span and senescence at an international level every second year. The research results of “CropLife” were further disseminated by 20 publications.

The structure of the CropLife consortium, assignment of ESRs as well as relations between WPs are illustrated in the attached diagram (Figure1). More detailed information about the consortium is available by the CropLife webpage
In addition a file containing the CropLife logo is attached.