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Clock-mediated modulation of growth-defense trade-offs and its potential as a biotechnological tool

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CHRONOTRADE (Clock-mediated modulation of growth-defense trade-offs and its potential as a biotechnological tool)

Reporting period: 2020-04-01 to 2022-03-31

In light of current estimates on world population growth, a key challenge in the agriculture and food systems is the need to sustainably improve agricultural productivity to meet the increasing demand, as identified by the FAO in its 2017 report. Growth-defense trade-offs represent a major paradigm in ecological studies, and the balance between both physiological programs is theorized to impact plant productivity in both natural and agricultural ecosystems. Within this framework, the main objective of the project was to characterize a molecular circuit, which is likely involved in the modulation of growth-defense trade-offs in plants, to ultimately be able to modify it and use it as a biotechnological strategy for crop productivity improvement and sustainable agriculture.
During the course of the action, we have started the molecular characterization of the aforementioned molecular circuit, namely the mechanism through which GIGANTEA (GI), a component of the plant circadian clock, modulates jasmonic acid (JA)-mediated defense responses through its interaction with the JASMONATE-ZIM-DOMAIN (JAZ) transcriptional regulators. Specifically, we have generated a suite of genetic and molecular tools, as well as performed metanalyses of publicly-available genome-wide datasets to identify common targets of GI and the JAZ-MYC2 module. Additionally, we have generated two constructs to produce mutations in the two GI genes of tomato using the CRISPR-Cas9 system.

So far, project results have been disseminated through scientific seminars (3) within IBMCP.
Although a connection between the circadian clock and plant defense has already been proposed in the past, our mechanistic understanding of how this network is assembled and functions is scarce. Chronotrade has contributed important tools that will be instrumental to advancing our understanding of specific mechanistic connections between these two pathways, key for plant survival and adaptation, in a model organism and also in a relevant crop species. This work is not only relevant towards uncovering novel links between the clock and agronomically relevant outputs, but will also contribute to our understanding of how the clockwork impacts plant fitness in dynamic environments. Furthermore, the studies in tomato will establish a framework for directed crop improvement, with the ultimate goal of altering specific traits of agronomical value (such as growth and productivity) without penalizing others (such as defense against plagues). Depending on the obtained phenotypes of single and higher order mutants generated with the CRISPR-Cas9 system, alleles potentially interesting for crop improvement can be transferred into breeding programs.
Professionally, the action has allowed the ER to enhance her competitiveness towards securing a position as an independent researcher by expanding her research experience, boosting her skillset at multiple levels, and extending her scope and scientific network. Importantly, the ER has been awarded a CIDEGENT grant in the framework of the CIDEGENT 2020 call for grants to hire researchers of excellence to carry out an R&D&I project in the Valencian Community (Spain), which is a 4-year tenure track type position with good prospects of resulting in a permanent position. This grant, together with a 3-year research grant of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, will allow the ER to establish her own group and research line at the IBMCP.