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

Période du rapport: 2018-03-01 au 2020-02-29

FlowerPower established 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 addressed urgent needs in the non-academic sector and scientific hot-spots in plant research simultaneously.
Colouration is an eye-catching trait, attracting the consumer’s interest and contributing a lot to the buying decision. For ornamental plants, the importance of spectacular and flashy flower colouration is obvious. For many fruit crops, skin and flesh colour are increasingly important determinants of marketability, not only for optical effects, but for the health beneficial value. The bioactive flavonoids were the common research platform in combination with a broad spectrum of breeding techniques ranging from genetics, plant biochemistry and plant molecular biology to analytics and bioinformatics. Classical breeding concentrated on red/white colouration in poinsettia, apple and rose, and aimed at resolving fundamental questions of the flavonoid pathway arising after the recent detection of novel flavonoids in poinsettia. In addition, FlowerPower applied approaches for biotechnological breeding for novel colour in poinsettia and other ornamentals. This included the first genome editing approach in poinsettia.
The project involved six young researchers from as many different countries as PhD students, who obtained multi-sectorial training in the relevant disciplines. In addition, training in research management, business management, personal management and career development skills provided key transferable skills for future employment in the public and private sectors, thereby improving employability of the ESRs.
The work performed during the project can be briefly clustered into three thematic sections: (1) poinsettia, (2) other ornamental plants, and (3) apple.
The flavonoid pathway leading to the pigment formation in poinsettia was studied in detail. In summary, the work on poinsettia resulted in a patent application, six peer-reviewed publications (2 accepted, 4 in the pipeline, as at May 2020) and 8 conference contributions. The results were further disseminated to the interested public via two Wikipedia chapters and on three public science fares.
Genes involved in the formation of yellow 6’-deoxychalcone and flavonol pigments were isolated, characterized and used for plant transformation. The biochemical background for orange petunia flower colour was unraveled and a major contribution was made to the elucidation of the case of the undeclared genetically engineered commercial orange petunia and to the establishment of a method for the event-specific detection of the transformation event.
In summary, the work on other ornamental plants resulted in eight peer reviewed publications (3 accepted, 1 submitted, 4 in the pipeline, as at May 2020) and 9 conference contributions. The results were further disseminated to the interested public via two Wikipedia chapters and on three public science fares (European Researcher’s Night 2016 and 2018, I²c Networking Friday 2018 -Innovation & Entrepreneurship Summit of TU Wien).
The work on apple concentrated on the dependence of colour and disease resistance on polyphenol profiles. In summary, the work on apple resulted in four peer reviewed publications (all in preparation, as at May 2020) and 3 conference contributions. The results were further disseminated to the interested public via a Wikipedia chapter and on three public science fares (Bavarian Centre of Pomology and Fruit Breeding Open days 2017, Open Days of TUM 2018, European Researchers Night 2019).
Further facts and figures: Additionally, four scientific schools (plant breeding, bioinformatics, biochemistry and molecular biology, and horticulture), four transferable skills seminars (research management, business management, personal management and career development) and nine network wide meetings were organized. Also, FlowerPower was represented at twelve conferences and seminars, as well as at eleven open days and other outreach events. FlowerPower ESRs also authored six Wikipedia articles. All ESRs are expected to complete and defend their respective dissertations by the end of 2020. FlowerPower ESRs won two prizes, Benjamin Walliser in the frame of the European Chemistry Thematic Network Association contest on digital teaching, and Martina Kolarek for her poster presentation at the International Conference on Polyphenols 2018 in Madison, USA.
Considerable progress beyond the state of the art was achieved: (1) Unravelling of the basis of white bract colour in poinsettia (patent application No PCT/EP2019/064735); (2) An experimental design for RNAseq transcriptome analysis and full genome information; (3) The first implementation of genome editing approaches for altering pigmentation in poinsettia; (4) Prototypes of genetically engineered poinsettias for further breeding of blue and orange flowering poinsettias; (5) Novel genes and enzymes for engineering novel flower colour for further exploitation; (6) New knowledge on the polyphenolic profile of red fleshed apples and their content of the allergen MAL d 1; (7) A total of 165 transcriptomes, including 117 apple, 29 poinsettia and 19 ornamentals; (8) Unravelling the biochemical background of orange petunia flower colour made major contributions to the elucidation of the case of the undeclared genetically engineered commercial orange petunia.
Three main aspects can be mentioned concerning the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications: (1) FlowerPower offered high level training to young scientists to combine applied and basic research by working on plants of commercial interest to meet the increasing demand for highly skilled breeders by European breeding companies. (2) Studies on DFR substrate specificity in poinsettia and petunia shed new light on the recent global incident of the undeclared orange genetically engineered (GE) petunias which are of general interest for the public. Our findings promoted the search for the A1-leak by authorities and companies, provided a range of primers for construct detection, including a method for the event-specific detection of the transformation event. (3) CRISPR editing of gene sequences is considered by the EU to be one of the “Radical Innovation Breakthrough” technologies, and the project’s application of this procedure represents a first for poinsettia breeding research. This will promote innovation in plant breeding beyond the more traditionally recognised agricultural cash cows in the smaller but significant market for horticultural and ornamental crops. (4) Poinsettia is one the most economically important potted plants worldwide and progress made by the FlowerPower project has strengthened the position of European breeders as world leaders in this extremely lucrative world market. (5) Fully characterising red fleshed apples in relation to allergens and health promoting compounds is extremely relevant to the public interest. The insights into this topic gleaned during the course of the project will serve the global expansion of European breeders, including one of the project’s Partner Organisations via their trademarked cultivars ‘Baya® Franconia’ and ‘Baya® Marisa´.