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Preparation for EMPHASIS: European Infrastructure for multi-scale Plant Phenomics and Simulation for food security in a changing climate

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - EMPHASIS-PREP (Preparation for EMPHASIS: European Infrastructure for multi-scale Plant Phenomics and Simulation for food security in a changing climate)

Reporting period: 2020-01-01 to 2021-06-30

The increase in quality and quantity of plant production in a sustainable way for human nutrition and bio-industries is a key challenge for the upcoming decades. Breeding approaches have been producing about 1% yield increase per year for key crops, which is below the required improvement of 1.5-2.2% to meet the global demand. The analysis of crop performance with respect to structure, function, quality – phenotyping – has become the bottleneck for the exploitation of crop genetic diversity. This requires concerted action to develop and increase the availability of phenotyping infrastructures that support breeding and agricultural practices.
The European Strategic Forum for Research Infrastructure (ESFRI) identified plant phenotyping as a strategic priority and EMPHASIS was listed on the ESFRI ROADMAP in 2016. In the preparatory phase, the project EMPHASIS-PREP has aimed at the development of a pan-European infrastructure through the integration of existing national infrastructure, and the development and implementation of a business plans for the full operation of EMPHASIS.

Conclusions on the project
EMPHASIS is on the way to develop a meaningful contribution to the European Research Area and key strategies such as the European Green Deal, From Farm to Fork, support towards the Horizon Europe Missions: i) adaptation to climate change, ii) soil health and food.
The EMPHASIS-PREP project was essential to move EMPHASIS towards operation. Particularly, the development of the business plan, including the user strategy, the legal framework, the cost model represents a basis for the decision making process on the future operation by the Interim General Assembly with ministry representatives from eleven countries.
Additionally, EMPHASIS-PREP started pilot services to evaluate the benefits and optimize service provision. Practical experience in service provision included involvement in infrastructure projects and a cooperation with other ESFRI Research Infrastructures (RI). Further services are currently in preparation within the Horizon Europe proposals.
Overview of the results
EMPHASIS-PREP performed a landscaping analysis to assess the infrastructure and the user demand by engaging the national plant phenotyping communities from 24 countries, participants in regional conferences, thematic workshops, in ministry meeting, surveys and interviews and, published reports. Based on the analysis over 200 installations were identified. This represented the backbone for the development of a business plan for future operations of EMPHASIS. The business plan and the implementation of EMPHASIS has been discussed within the Interim General Assembly to move EMPHASIS towards operation.
EMPHASIS-PREP has initiated a pilot phase to test services to illustrate the potential to generate benefits and optimize processes involved, including the interaction with the EU projects EPPN2020 (2017-2021) providing access to phenotyping installations, EOSC-Life (2019-2023) creating an open, digital space for biological research. Further pilot services include: i) access to field facilities, ii) harnessing innovation, iii) best phenotyping practice, iv) data management, v) modelling, vi) training.
EMPHASIS-PREP established an interaction with other RIs and is involved in cluster projects such as CORBEL (2017-2020), RI-VIS (2019-2022), EOSC-Life (2019-2023). EMPHASIS has become a member of the RI cluster Life Science -RI with 15, and environmental cluster ENVRI with 26 RIs. EMPHASIS is utilizing synergies with other RIs such as i) ANAEE (agricultural production); ii) ELIXIR (data management,) iii) Metrofood (primary food production). The interaction will be further strengthened within the Horizon Europe calls HORIZON-INFRA-2021-SERV.
EMPHASIS-PREP supported the development of competencies, members of EMPHASIS-PREP were involved in training within the RITrain program. The EMPHASIS coordination team graduated in the Executive Master on Management of Research Infrastructures program with EMPHASIS receiving the award "Certificate of Excellence in Research Infrastructure Management".

Exploitation and dissemination of results
EMPHASIS is becoming a nucleus for the integration of the plant phenotyping community. EMPHASISI-PREP was pivotal for this development, particularly the business plant represents the basis for the operational phase, discussed with the ministry representatives within the Interim General Assembly. The results from EMPHASIS-PREP provide a thorough analysis of the phenotyping landscape, which will be used for the development of new infrastructures. EMPHASIS-PREP has supported: i) the development of national RIs (AT, CZ, FI, NO, NL) ii) the applications for the national infrastructure roadmaps (EE, PL), (iii) building national plant phenotyping RI communities in multiple countries. The deliverables from EMPHASIS-PREP represent guidelines and criteria for the development, quantification and upgrade infrastructure, data management and policy, user assessment, legal framework, which are open and relevant for other operational and emerging RIs.
Progress beyond the state of the art
Plant phenotyping is important in understanding plant–environment interactions. Given the diversity of facilities, tools and methods, a coordinated approach within EMPHASIS will facilitate the utilization of resources for sustainable plant production.
In summary, EMPHASIS will create a portfolio of benefits:
● access to state-of-the-art infrastructures for scientist and technology developers
● advancement in basic and applied plant sciences
● application of future and emerging technologies at plant phenotyping infrastructures, e.g. robotics, machine learning
● transfer of new technology, competences and phenotyping data to the scientific communities
● increase in competences in the operation of infrastructures
● societal progress towards a sustainable bio economy

Socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications
EMPHASIS-PREP provided the bases for the development of EMPHASIS, which will ensure high quality in experimental and data management standards, excellence driven access, harmonization and innovation in plant phenotyping in Europe building a cornerstone to address future grand challenges and further strengthen the leading role of Europe in this field.
EMPHASIS contributes to food security and, European breeding and seed industries require innovative approaches to accelerate the selection processes to release new varieties. Further advancement of this development requires access to plant phenotyping and technologies, which can be widely used beyond plant sciences. Currently most plant phenotyping companies are located in Europe and EMPHASIS will further strengthen their role.
Genetic crop improvements in Europe has generated a social welfare gain of EUR 9 billion in the agricultural sector within the last decade (Noleppa 2016). Use of novel sensor will further enhance plant breeding and the development of new varieties. In the future, European plant scientists and farmers have to achieve even more. Plant phenotyping can contribute to the required increase in crop productivity and the establishment of resilient and sustainable agriculture and support the establishment of sustainable rural communities, both in their economical and societal dimension.