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Stress adaptation in plants - A molecular approach of socio-economic interest

Final Activity Report Summary - STRESSADAPT (Stress adaptation in plants - A molecular approach of socio-economic interest)

Marie Curie chairs were established under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) to attract the long-term return of scientists to Europe. They aimed to support high-quality research and teaching at the site of integration, as well as to mix-up fixed structures in science and scientific management. All these effects were strongly achieved by the Portuguese chair.

Research and training at the Marie Curie chair focussed on the initiation of innovative molecular plant breeding strategies as an alternative to transgene approaches. The chair holder developed the theoretical background for top-down multidisciplinary research approaches. The ideas were published in strategic papers in good quality journals. These articles initiated new directions in thinking at international level. As a consequence, the chair holder was also invited to present her ideas in Europe and third countries in new fields of plant breeding. The chair focussed on applied research with local plant species of commercial interest, while she considered and developed, at the same time, recent fundamental knowledge in genomics and biotechnology.

The chair integrated four sub-projects in a global research approach across plant species and systems. In particular, research aimed to understand the importance and potential of a selected functional marker candidate, the Alternative oxidase (AOX), for plant breeding on stress tolerance, yield stability and efficient plant propagation. The initial hypotheses on the importance of AOX were confirmed by the time of the project completion and new knowledge was generated in the field of AOX gene diversity and allelic, as well as in genotypic sequence variability. These results contributed to fundamental knowledge and were anticipated to have significant impact on strategies for functional marker development in plant breeding.

The chair activities were embedded in international networks from their very beginning, including mobility actions for all members at the chair. At the end of the project, the chair organised the First International AOX Symposium. All members at the chair held oral presentations and could demonstrate a unique expertise in their field of molecular plant breeding research as an outcome of the Marie Curie project. The holder proposed a modified research strategy for functional marker development based on the generated innovative knowledge. The multidisciplinary research approach and the hypotheses at the chair offered the main focus for the symposium. Further information was accessible via the internet domain A special issue, edited by an international journal, and a consortium paper were in preparation under the coordination of the chair holder by the time of the project completion.

The chair was established in a small university in a decentralised location in a less-favoured region of the country. Therefore, the project had a strong strategic focus on the regional socioeconomic development. All members communicated their research to the public in many different ways. The holder chose the European Action and this site at the University of Évora, because she expected to get an excellent space for creativity and develop her potential for innovation. This expectation was completely fulfilled. Furthermore, this success was possible, because it was supported by the host, the National Foundation for Science and for Technology (FCT) and the Portuguese Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education. In addition, the Marie Curie chair got high recognition by a European evaluation panel as a promoter for excellence to improve the host's overall scientific conditions.

The holder accepted a position at the hosting university in Portugal, which was not her country of origin, as a direct prolongation of the Marie Curie chair. The chair would be an essential part of the university plans to restructure its system for investigation and advanced education. Relevant activities were recognised by the private sector both within the region and outside the country. Pilot industrial projects were initiated together with seed companies from France, Japan and Germany. Beyond the project lifetime, the chair planned to apply for several preliminary patents for potential functional marker candidate gene sequences, while she was on the process for the initiation of another industrial project.