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A NOVEL AND INTEGRATED APPROACH TO INCREASE MULTIPLE AND COMBINED STRESS TOLERANCE IN PLANTS USING TOMATO AS A MODEL

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - TomRes (A NOVEL AND INTEGRATED APPROACH TO INCREASE MULTIPLE AND COMBINED STRESS TOLERANCE IN PLANTS USING TOMATO AS A MODEL)

Berichtszeitraum: 2019-12-01 bis 2021-05-31

Vegetable crops require large volumes of water and fertilizer. However, water is often scarce and agricultural consumption competes with civil and industrial use. Fertilizers are becoming limiting for environmental and economic reasons, while eutrophication impacts soil and water quality. TOMRES research has focused on developing processes and resources that increase plant resilience to combined drought and nutrient stress, and maximize the efficiency of water and nutrient use, focusing on tomato, a major European crop. The overall objectives of TOMRES have been tackled as follows.
TOMRES has identified resilient tomato lines resilient, novel alleles, and genetic traits that confer superior NUE and WUE by a far-ranging program of screening of existing accessions and by the search and cloning of novel QTLs and alleles.
TOMRES has increased basic knowledge of the physiological and molecular processes activated in tomato by combined stress, clarifying the roles of hormones, in particular strigolactones, and of candidate genes, also related to underground traits such as root architecture and arbuscular mycorrhization.
TOMRES has designed and optimized sustainable crop management strategies improving resilience to combined stress, such as multi-cropping with legumes, selection of rootstocks, application of biostimulants developed within the project, and variable rate techniques for precision irrigation and fertilization.
TOMRES has assessed the effects of adopting these innovative tools, by analysing their economic, social, and environmental impact, and by developing Decision Support Systems for informed choices in tomato farming.
TOMRES has enabled environment for implementation and uptake of project results through open-ended multi-actor activities including on-farm testing and demonstration, innovation management for market uptake; participatory training activities with farmers, scientific workshops and a summer school, scientific publications, a policy brief, and media communication.
The first line of research of TOMRES was the selection of resilient tomato lines and resilience-linked alleles. After a preliminary literature-based selection, TOMRES screened 219 accessions that were tested to give the TOMRES Collection (TC), which was screened under combined stress for several and often less-investigated traits such as root architecture and arbuscular mycorrhization. Two resilience QTLs under combined stress were identified from a tomato x pennelli population, and 95 alleles of resilience-linked genes were identified and phenotyped in tomato.
A second focus of TOMRES was the investigation of the role of strigolactones (SL) and root-linked traits in combined stress resilience. Here, the effects of SL on WUE and NUE were assessed using treatments and genetic depletion. SL increased root exudation and P use efficiency under P starvation. Furthermore, SL enhance drought stress memory and affect expression of selected miRNAs. The use of SL as components of agricultural biostimulants was established. Root phenotyping of TC accessions was performed with advanced techniques, and genetic control of mycorrhizal infection was studied. Hundreds of genes and epigenes involved in responses to combined stress were studied by use of transcriptomics, q-RT-PCR, and chromatin-targeted omic techniques.
TOMRES approach included an important focus of crop management research. Multi-cropping with legumes (bean, cowpea, faba bean) was optimized, and the project selected novel wild indigenous rhizobia strains. Application of biostimulants to increase WUE and NUE was addressed, in particular focusing on two products developed by TOMRES partners, which displayed very promising results. Application of plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria was tested. Two TC accessions showed promise as rootstocks. Finally, variable rate treatment technologies for precision agriculture were optimised and tested in field trials under water stress.
Centrally-collected data from TOMRES flew into an open-access repository. An environmental impact analysis was completed: TOMRES innovative solutions showed encouraging results as soil nutrient loss, accumulation of heavy metals, and microbial contamination were reduced. An economic and social impact analysis was performed, based on field data and on two separate (Italian and EU-wide) surveys. Two decision support systems were set up using data from TOMRES, and are available to farmers, policymakers and consumers to help their decisions toward resilient tomato cultivation.
TOMRES implemented an ambitious programme of field trials and demonstration activities. More than 15 on-farm trials, concentrating on testing TOMRES accessions, biostimulants, and field management techniques, were performed within the TOMRES Farmers Network. Field tests confirm that TOMRES innovation can support the farmers’ need to cope with combined stress, provided attention is given to local environment and techniques. Participatory field training was organised by TOMRES partners at the sites of field testing.
Media and social media releases, together with a regular newsletter, targeted the general public. Participatory events for farmers were performed and farmers were also addressed via technical publications and EIP-Agri Practice Abstracts. Scientific communication was based in particular on scientific papers, workshops, and a summer school.
In TOMRES different layers of research were integrated to efficiently address the issues of combined stress resilience and of water and nutrient use efficiency. A few numbers may convey the size of work performed by TOMRES, the progress and results obtained, and its impacts.
Impact on farmers: two Decision Support Systems to support farmers in tomato crop management; participatory learning events in the TOMRES Farmers Network including 17 farmers in 5 EU countries; an array of sustainable technical solutions, including multi-cropping, biostimulants, rootstocks, variable rate techniques, which increase WUE and NUE under combined stress in the field by up to 20%; 8 technical publications and 23 Practice Abstracts in EIP-AGRI format
Impact on industry: two QTLs isolated for combined stress resilience; 95 novel alleles for resilience to be used in breeding programmes; two biostimulants developed and characterized in field conditions; four companies developing new products based on TOMRES innovation
Impact on science: over 200 tomato accessions screened under combined stress; 31 newly characterised genes linked to resilience; over 15 field trials of crop management techniques; one summer school and two scientific workshops 78 open-access scientific publications including 31 on peer-reviewed journals
Impact on policy makers and general public: one opinion paper; participation to five major open events; > 75 media articles and >700 media releases
TOMRES offers a rich legacy of field-validated research to be used to further build new techniques for stress-resilient and use-efficient tomato. TOMRES has also been a bright example of how different layers of research can successfully integrate to generate novel and effective tools of innovation in agriculture. And finally, TOMRES data will support research in future projects targeting environmental sustainability and climate change adaptation of vegetable crops.
TOMRES infographic
TOMRES combined stress phenotypiing platform
Ranking of TOMRES Collection using a Resilience Index
TOMRES on-farm experiments
TOMRES participatory training event
Root phenotypic of TOMRES accessions
Hormone interactions unders stress from TOMRES
Drone on tomato field during TOMRES trials (Mallorca, Balearic Islands, 2017)
3D root phenotyping in TOMRES
TOMRES Practice Abstracts