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Genetic and molecular priming approaches to increase crop strength and stress tolerance

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - CropStrengthen (Genetic and molecular priming approaches to increase crop strength and stress tolerance)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2018-12-31

CropStrengthen provides advanced systems biology training for 5 young researchers who will develop novel methods for increasing crop strength and resistance to stress by alternative genetic and genomic, non-GMO technologies. This involves the following approaches: (1) Selecting allelic variants of a novel gene identified by members of the consortium which regulates oxidative and abiotic stress tolerance, and (2) Molecular priming by biostimulants or low doses of hydrogen peroxide to induce stress-protective mechanisms in crops.
This dual approach will meet the growing EU push towards secure, sustainable and safe means of food production. The genetic approaches are combined with high-throughput technologies for transcriptome, metabolome, and phenotype analyses, combined with advanced bioinformatics. Both approaches to increasing crop yield are growing in importance, with the biostimulants industry expected to reach $2.2B globally by 2018.
Training will be conducted at the University of Potsdam (Coordinator), Germany, and two companies: BioAtlantis Ltd., Ireland, and Enza Zaden R&D B.V. The Netherlands.
Before starting the project, members of the consortium identified an Arabidopsis mutant (dubbed atr7) which shows a remarkable tolerance to oxidative stress. However, the cellular mechanisms through which the ATR7 protein controls the response to oxidative stress is not well known yet; unravelling this is a task of the CropStrengthen consortium.
To decode the ATR7-mediated control mechanisms, complementary approaches were chosen, including proteomics to identify proteins interacting with ATR7, a phenotypic and molecular characterization of ATR7 transgenic plants, and functional studies on selected ATR7-related genes. One of those genes, ANAC085, was selected for detailed molecular investigation.
Studies to enhance the tolerance to abiotic stresses of important vegetable crops by modulating ATR7 levels were started by complementing Arabidopsis plants with ATR7-like genes from diverse crops. In addition, mutant collections of lettuce (Lactuca sativa) were screened for altered tolerance to reactive oxygen species (ROS); and ROS stress assays were performed with wild accessions of tomato (Solanum lycopersium) and lettuce, and relatives.
We furthermore investigated molecular priming of tomato and Arabidopsis using the seaweed-based biostimulant Super Fifty® by testing mitigation of abiotic and oxidative stresses. This research will help us to develop new procedures for enhancing the tolerance of vegetable crops to such abiotic stresses.
Finally, bioinformatic analyses are performed to identify genes similar to ATR7 in different crops, to identify stress-related genes commonly regulated in different crops, and to identify metabolic stress signatures and specific metabolites altered in abundance during different stresses.
CropStrengthen employed modern molecular biological and genomics research to understand how biostimulants enhance the resilience of crops against abiotic stresses and therefore will provide new knowledge for breeding of more tolerant plants, a highly relevant goal in agriculture for food and feed production.
The ESRs got excellent theoretical education and practical training in a broad spectrum of biological disciplines, including molecular genetics, transcriptomics, metabolomics, gene expression analysis, abiotic stress physiology, crop growth and physiology, plant breeding and screening, bioinformatics, statistics and experimental design. ESRs developed the right combination of research-related and transferable competences which is increasingly required in industrial settings.
CropStrengthen enhanced transnational cooperation and creates strong relationships between the participating organisations, namely the University of Potsdam and the companies BioAtlantis Ltd. and Enza Zaden R&D B.V. Both, BA and EZ have a strong research focus with superb technical expertise allowing them to participate in the doctoral training. Both companies appointed and hosted the ESRs during secondments. Throughout the project run time both companies contributed to the doctoral program by supervising the young researchers and enhancing their skills, for example with respect to statistics, experimental design, writing of publications for peer review, presentation skills, project planning, exploitation and commercialization of research methods and results, intellectual property rights, and legal and regulatory issues.
©cionca bogdan /