Periodic Reporting for period 1 - BoostCrop (Boosting Crop Growth using Natural Product and Synthesis Enabled Solar Harvesting)
Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2019-12-31
BoostCrop’s long-term vision is to develop a suite of molecules for localised heat generation for Food Security. The entirely novel and ambitious research programme of BoostCrop, which surpasses substantially any technological paradigms currently in existence, employs a bottom-up approach to engineer light-to-molecule heaters to optimise the absorption of selected components of the solar spectrum. In so doing, the ‘holy grail’ of BoostCrop is to use these revolutionary light-to-molecule heaters in a foliar spray to enhance crop growth at low temperature and high ultraviolet exposure, enhance crop yield at high crop density (conditions which result in a reduced ratio of red to far red wavelengths; low R:FR), and concomitantly reduce greenhouse energy costs. To achieve this vision, BoostCrop brings together a team of scientists with expertise in broad areas of the physical and biosciences. The radically-new science-enabled technology that the project will engender involves: (1) Guiding the flow of photon energy in molecules; and (2) Utilising this energy to combat continual European and Global challenges, first and foremost, in sustainable Food production, as well as improvements in both Healthcare and clean Energy production. The combined efforts of the BoostCrop Team , which combines the expertise of 6 participant universities with 13 university based lead investigators, one government institute with one section leader, one SME with two group leaders (see Section 4) and encompasses the 3 major disciplines of Chemistry, Physics, Biology, to create a highly efficient, environmentally friendly and affordable foliar spray for crop growth enhancement and thus sustainable Food Security.
WP1 consists of synthesizing - through sustainable processes – and characterizing (e.g. NMR, FTIR, UV-vis, HRMS, DPPH) two families of 'molecular heaters', one being sinapoyl malate analogues (SMs) and the other being diketopyrrolopyrrole analogues (DPPs).
As of today, we have been able to constitute a library of more than 60 compounds. It is noteworthy to mention that all the synthetic procedures have been validated at the gram scale, thus allowing us to send gram samples of all the compounds to the consortium partners for further testing
WP2 involves the study of these molecules through state-of-the-art experiments to understand the light-molecule interactions that change their efficacy as a 'molecular heaters. We have been able to understand key relaxation pathways in a number of our model molecules. Some show very good characteristics and some only suitable characteristics. Further studies to help us understand how we can manipulate these relaxation characterics (with the aid of WP3) will help inform the synthesis of new molecules for WP1
The goal of WP3 is to develop models for nonadiabatic excited-state dynamics as well as to perform electronic structure calculations in the gas phase and complex environments of the candidate chromophores to better understand their photophysics and photochemistry. These calculations are run in synergy with the experiments carried out by the coworkers on WP1 and WP2.The starting point encompassed static electronic calculations of absorption and emission spectra, critical points, and reaction pathways of some promising candidate molecules. These calculations successfully fulfil our first milestone! Additionally, they pave the way for future work - critically, we are able to predict photophysics and photochemistry of synthesised molecules to inform WP1 before they begin further work.
WP4 concerns the thermal imaging, by-product and toxicity analysis of our molecules. We have successfully demonstrated that a significant thermal increase to both plant and leaf, occur following application of the molecule and under UV-A/B radiation. Initial screening of candidate molecules for potential toxicity using in silico methods indicate that non of our molecules should exhibit mutagenicity or carcinogenicity. Further in vitro cytotoxicity tests using human hepatic have also show that 2 of our candidate molecule have very low levels of toxicity. By-product analysis has been successfully completed for a number of candidate molecules - now identified, the fragments/products can be further analysed using the in silico and in vitro tests above.