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Establishing a new generation of horticulturists: Multidisciplinary approach for breeding innovative novelties using classical and biotechnological methods

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FLOWERPOWER (Establishing a new generation of horticulturists: Multidisciplinary approach for breeding innovative novelties using classical and biotechnological methods)

Reporting period: 2016-03-01 to 2018-02-28

FlowerPower aims at establishing a new generation of horticulturists capable of exploiting plant genetic resources in an innovation oriented way using cutting edge technology. The co-operation between the professional horticultural industry, a research-oriented company in the field of functional genomics and scientists from five Universities from three countries addresses urgent needs in the non-academic sector and scientific hot-spots in plant research simultaneously. Flavonoid based pigments, which are also important health promoting compounds, are the common research platform in combination with a broad spectrum of breeding techniques with genetics, plant biochemistry, plant molecular biology, analytics and bioinformatics. Classical breeding will concentrate on red/white colouration in poinsettia, apple and rose and aims at resolving fundamental questions of the flavonoid pathway arising after the recent detection of novel flavonoids in poinsettia. This will promote the breeding of novel varieties with favourable flavonoid compositions with respect to pigmentation and plant- and human health related compounds. In addition, FlowerPower applies for the first time a genome editing approach on an ornamental plant with the aim to create blue flower colour exploiting recently obtained knowledge on amino acids determining flavonoid enzyme activity/substrate specificity. New yellow breeding approaches will identify novel genes and evaluate their relevance for the establishment of anthochlor pigments. This will close important gaps in the biosynthesis of secondary metabolites and will establish a novel biotechnological approach in breeding for yellow flower colour. The young researchers will obtain multi-sectorial training in the relevant disciplines. In addition, training in research management, communication/presentation and team management will provide key transferable skills for public and private sector employment thereby improving employment chances of young researchers.
Genes of the flavonoid pathway were isolated from poinsettia and recombinant enzymes were characterized. A bulk of transcriptomes is available, RNA seq data of poinsettia (27), apple (23), petunia (6), yellow ornamentals (9). Bioinformatic analysis of colouration in apple completed and Sample preparation for polyphenol analysis in apple fruit established. The biochemical background for rare orange-red poinsettia bract colouration was unravelled (Nitarska et al. submitted; 4ESRs involved in the publication). A new hypothesis on the white bract formation in poinsettia was established and is under evaluation. The biochemical background for orange petunia flower colour was unravelled and a major contribution was made to the elucidation of the case of the undeclared genetically engineered commercial orange petunia (Haselmaier-Gosch et al. 2018, 3ESRs involed). Genes involved in the formation of yellow deoxychalcone and flavonol pigments were isolated, characterized and used for the construction of plant transformation vectors. Protocols for transient transformation were established for dahlia, carnation, poinsettia and petunia. So far, the following data were deposited in the NCBI database: 5 submitted transcriptomes SAMN07988829, SAMN07988830, SAMN07988831, SAMN07988832, SAMN07988833, 12 submitted cDNA clones of poinsettia (not yet released) and the GE-construct found in orange petunia (NCBI MF521566).

Additionally four scientific schools (plant breeding, bioinformatics, biochemistry and molecular biology, and horticulture), three transferable skills seminars (research management, business management, and personal management) and six network wide meetings were organized. Also, FlowerPower was represented at seven conferences and seminars, as well as at five open days and other outreach events. FlowerPower ESRs also authored six Wikipedia articles.
The following progress beyond the state of the art and results until the end of the project are expected: (1) The base of white flower colour in poinsettia, which seems to be based on a frequently occurring mechanism in colour establishment, will be unraveled; (2) An experimental design for RNAseq transcriptome analysis and full genome information will be established; (3) The concept of genome editing approaches as useful tools for altering pigmentation in horticultural plants will be implemented for the first time and (4) Novel genes and enzymes with distinct substrate specificities for engineering novel flower colour will be exploited.
With respect to the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far we would like to mention three main aspects: (1) The increasing demand for highly skilled breeders by European breeding companies is contrasted by the continuous decrease of graduates from of horticultural and applied breeding studies as a result of financial constraints European Universities are facing. FlowerPower is offering high level training to young scientists to combine applied and basic research by working on plants of commercial interest. (2) Our studies on DFR substrate specificity in poinsettia and petunia shed new light on the recent global drama of the undeclared genetically engineered orange (GE) petunias. The escaped GE-petunias have attracted attention far beyond the breeding and horticultural community and are of general interest for the public. Our findings promoted the search of the A1-leak by authorities and companies, provided a range of primers for construct detection and a novel, surprising insight into the orange GE-petunias and into colour formation in the ornamental model of plant petunia in general. It was of interest for a broader scientific community as well of for the interested public and was also mentioned online 3 CRISPR editing of gene sequences are currently established for several ornamental plants for the first time. This will promote innovation in plant breeding aside agricultural cash cows in the a smaller but significant market for horticultural and ornamental crops.
ESRs with their Poinsettias.
FlowerPower represented at the European Researchers' Night.
ESR1 receiving an award.
ESRs hard at work at the plant breeding school.