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Reporting period: 2020-04-01 to 2021-09-30

CAPITALISE will accelerate efforts to 2030 and beyond, aiming to deliver next generation future-proofed high-yielding crops to farmers to meet growing global food demands.
Learning from nature and using biotechnology driven conventional and novel plant breeding techniques, CAPITALISE aims to develop new crop varieties with improved photosynthetic efficiency via techniques such as marker assisted breeding and genomic prediction, provide scientific insights to help global advances in gene editing and bioengineering, increase understanding about how photosynthesis works and how breeders can exploit the mechanisms underlying why one genotype has a higher rate of photosynthesis than another. The project will use social science, stakeholder engagement and Plant Science Literacy training to inform and educate citizens and industry about crops for the future and integrate ethical, societal, environmental and economic issues relevant to CAPITALISE and wider crop breeding technologies into future strategies for crop improvement.

The best technologies including germplasm, protocols, and genetic and phenotyping tools will create new routes for industry breeding programmes. Our non-GM approaches will deliver next generation future-proofed higher yielding plants in three important crop species (barley, maize and tomato). The new crops will help target global food security needs and directly address the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Two new instruments will be developed for chlorophyll measurements to support phenotyping activities.
During the first reporting period the partners have made good progress towards the project objectives. The consortium identified and established germplasm collections to be used to identify natural variation for MoVaP traits. The project focuses on three crop species, maize, barley and tomato. The WP1 partners involved have actively worked on several germplasm collections for each of these. For all germplasm collections, the concerned partners have effectively managed seed multiplication and seed circulation. The production of genotyping data including DNA sequencing and genotyping based on hybridization arrays, and the collection of data already available is ongoing.

Large-scale phenotyping trials have been performed for all three crops, barley, maize and tomato measuring a range of high-throughput and medium-throughput photosynthetic traits across genetically diverse accessions of each crop. Data-processing is underway to identify contrasting accessions to be used for further analysis. A protype instrument has been developed for chlorophyll measurements to support phenotyping activities.

Research into adjusting leaf chlorophyll content has begun with characterising the leaf greening mutants (i.e. genotypes with low leaf chlorophyll). Progress has also been made on the development of an automated leaf chlorophyll content and chlorophyll a/b measuring instrument. This device will be needed within the project for later genetical analysis of the mutants to identify the causal genes. The instrument is also expected to have commercial applications.

The first model for the Calvin-Benson cycle has been created, and a prototype fast-freeze device to rapidly freeze leaf samples for metabolomic analysis to provide data for modelling has been constructed.

A survey of the current landscape of photosynthesis research has been carried out, alongside a survey of recent ‘road-map’ type publications on improving photosynthesis.

Project communications have focused on the project website, project video, and our first training workshop on phenotyping.
The central focus of CAPITALISE is to identify naturally occurring genetic variation for the target photosynthetic sub-traits and use it to increase photosynthetic efficiency in the target crops. To achieve this, CAPITALISE partners have developed innovative germplasm collections in each of the three model crops (barley, maize and tomato). These include bi-parental and multi-parental mapping populations suitable for quantitative trait loci (QTL) analysis, diversity panels suitable for genome-wide association studies (GWAS), and mutant collections.

CAPITALISE will explore natural variation, and exploit new GM tools, to identify in both RuBP carboxylation and regeneration limitations of the Calvin cycle and analyse which physiological mechanisms are involved. Recent work by Kromdijk et al. (2016) has shown that accelerating the rate of change of photo-protection induction and relaxation in tobacco significantly improved photosynthetic efficiency. The approach achieved a 15% increase in plant biomass under field conditions providing a proof of concept route for improving the efficiency of photosynthesis. In CAPITALISE the Kromdijk group will lead investigations into phenotypic variation in steady state and dynamic photosynthesis grown under field conditions. We will develop strategies to exploit variation and heritability of traits controlling Non-Steady State photosynthesis in germplasm collections of the three target crops.

Work will include detailed kinetic models of the Calvin Benson Cycle (CBC) to address current limitations. We will develop approaches for mapping multiple traits simultaneously and mechanistic models with the genomic data. The in-silico analysis will be used to select genotypes for field trials and to suggest hypotheses for detailed testing under greenhouse conditions.

Reduced leaf chlorophyll content is a strategy to increase light-use and carbon gain of a crop canopy. Manipulation of chlorophyll levels should increase the amount of light through the depth of the canopy, and increase the light energy distribution, available for photosynthesis. The Photosystem II core, containing the reaction centre where electron transfer takes place, contains the light harvesting complexes (LHC) that transfer light energy to the single chlorophyll found in the reaction centre. Reducing the amount of LHC relative to photosystems, provides an avenue to optimise light interception per leaf area and improve quantum efficiency of PSII. Screening a range of mutant plants with different chlorophyll levels and distribution, aims to identify smarter canopy candidates. We will also use knowledge-based directed chlorophyll tuning to increase light use efficiency and boost CO2 fixation.

For the innovative breeding approaches of CAPITALISE to become successful, societal acceptability must be considered. Engaging with stakeholders and citizens to assess the impact of CAPITALISE technologies will also support the design of the CAPITALISE future research and innovation roadmap.