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Aeroponic Inulin and Rubber

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - AIR (Aeroponic Inulin and Rubber)

Reporting period: 2018-03-01 to 2020-02-29

Natural rubber is an essential commodity that still needs to be imported from Asian countries. Rubber dandelions (that store rubber in their roots) can be grown in Europe. Its establishment as a crop would provide the European Union with independence from the actual rubber producing countries. It will also offer an alternative source of rubber, if Hevea brasiliensis plantations are damaged.
Growing rubber dandelions under controlled conditions, such as hydroponic system and LED lights, would provide clean roots ready for the extraction process. The rubber and inulin gene expression can be fine-tuned by modification of certain conditions, such as nutrient solution or light recipe.
Apomixis is a type of clonal reproduction by seeds. Introducing apomictic genes into a sexual species such as the rubber dandelion by crossings, would produce some apomictic hybrids (all siblings will show the same characteristics). This way, desired traits of the progeny, like plant size, plant shape, rubber production, non-bolting, etc., could be fixed and be clonally reproduced.
The main research objectives of the project were i) Stabilization of interspecific pre-breeding rubber dandelion material by apomixis ii) Optimization and monitoring of production of rubber dandelions under controlled conditions.
The project has contributed to bringing the EU closer to its own natural rubber production by providing information on how to enhance the rubber yield from rubber dandelions by growing them in hydroponic systems under controlled conditions. In addition, it has provided new stable rubber dandelion hybrids that will clonally reproduce (all the siblings will be equal). It solves the variability problem of the sexual species. It is a step forward to the establishment of rubber dandelions as a valuable crop in Europe. Moreover, the AIR project has provided valuable information on the use of apomixis (clonal reproduction by seeds) to stabilize desired traits. The main outcome of the project is: 100 apomictic rubber dandelion hybrids (the most interesting ones can be developed into novel rubber dandelion varieties), more than 1000 seeds of each new apomict, a speed breeding method for selection of successful hybrids between sexual and apomictic plants, a show case for the use of apomixis, in order to stabilize desired traits in only one generation. Clear knowledge on how different hydroponic systems affect root architecture and biomass production of rubber dandelions, gain in knowledge on how light and salinity affect the rubber and inulin gene expression, a protocol to grow healthier rubber dandelions in hydroponic system, under controlled conditions (light, humidity, temperature) with highest rubber and inulin yield and a tool to grow plants in hydroponics systems directly from seeds, a system to do short pilot experiments in hydroponics, and a small economical study on the use of hydroponics for rubber dandelion production in vertical farming.
In addition, the fellow attended 5 courses, 13 seminars, 2 workshops, 6 postdoc clinics (with 6 specialized seminars) and 3 meetings with interesting Scientists for her career. Moreover, she attended 9 symposiums or conferences, she went to 1 trade show with scientific talks and she published 1 scientific paper for kids with a big Worldwide impact plus 4 that are in progress of publication. She presented 11 posters, she did 10 company presentations, co-organized 2 mini symposiums, organized a Science day at the International school of Arnhem involving 200 kids and 6 scientists, she represented KeyGene at Science is wonderful, the Researcher´s Night, at the final meeting of DRIVE4EU, at Groningen PhD day, at a company visit and she presented her work at KeyGene in KeyGene´s Innovation day and family day. Finally, she did 2 workshops presenting the Marie Curie Individual Fellowships and how to apply for them.
The obtained results will be of impact for the host institution. They got seeds of more stable rubber dandelions with good rubber content and they are going to test them for performance under field conditions. Clonal reproduction will decrease cost of seed production. The host institution acquired the knowledge on how to produce rubber dandelions hydroponically in a very efficient way, so they can offer it to production companies. The general knowledge gained on hydroponic production can be used for other research projects. The whole scientific community may benefit from this project since it gives new insights on how to increase the rubber yield using hydroponics system and on the utilization of apomixis to produce a clonal, stable and predictable crop out of a wild plant. In general, the world population may benefit from these results since it is a step forward to the establishment of rubber dandelion as an alternative rubber source. In addition, this project will boost the career of the fellow thanks to the excellent training in plant breeding , hydroponics system construction and evaluation, gene expression analysis, leadership and mentoring, and the multiple occasions of dissemination and communication of the project to different audiences.
So far, no information was available about the production of rubber dandelions under controlled conditions including LED lights and hydroponics systems. The obtained results provide good information for the consideration of rubber dandelion production in 3D farms. There was a possibility of creating a consortium of institutions with this aim, but more practical information was needed. With the AIR project information at hand, a decrease in production costs could be obtained and the project can get closer to being practically feasible.
In addition, the use of apomixes for the fixation of desired traits in only one generation has been show-cased, and presented to other companies. No apomictic rubber dandelions were known and it is a step forward towards the stabilization of the crop.
At the beginning of the year, KeyGene started a joint venture together with Barenbrug, called Lion-Flex. This company aims to breed rubber dandelions for their establishment as a novel crop. The new apomictic hybrids could be used by them to stabilise the crop. All gained knowledge about rubber dandelion production will be available for this company as well.
If the species can be stablished as a crop in Europe, the dependency of rubber import and new rubber shortages will be smaller, the price of rubber and CO2 emission could be decreased by less use of fossil fuel for rubber transport and less friction of the tyres produced with rubber dandelions. A lot of jobs could be created around the rubber production. In addition, the utilization of apomixes for bigger crops production could bring us closer to the more effective production of food for a growing World population.
Root size and shape comparrisson in different growing environment.
Fellow Marina Arias Royo working with hydroponic dandelions in the growth chamber.