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SEA-More-Yield Report Summary

Project ID: 720005

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SEA-More-Yield (Sea-More-Yield: A Blue Biotechnology Solution for the Reduction of Pod Shatter in Bio-Oil Producing Crops)

Reporting period: 2016-12-01 to 2017-11-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Global Oilseed Rape (OSR) production reached approx. 64.5Mt for 2015/16 season and is now the second largest oilseed crop after soybean. Uses include crushing to produce rapeseed oil, animal feed and biodiesel. With a global population set to reach 9 billion by 2050, OSR is a key crop for human and animal consumption and is central to mitigating a future food and/or energy security crisis. OSR due to its relatively recent domestication suffers from a number of defects which limits its success as a modern day crop. Fully mature pods of oilseed rape are extremely prone to opening, resulting in seed loss (pod shatter). Typical losses vary between 15% and 25% of the potential yield, but reductions of up to 50% were estimated in seasons when weather conditions were poor prior to and during harvest. A reduction in the tendency of pods to opening is the number one trait sought by farmers and would serve to increase the proportion of the yield recovered by the combine harvester and thereby improve production efficiency and sustainability of OSR as alternative food and energy source. This phenomenon is expected to become more important as climate change takes hold. Beside such economic losses the prematurely released seeds fall to the ground and germinate to become weeds (volunteers) and contaminate the harvest of the following year. This severely inhibits the crop rotation practice used by many farmers and is therefore also damaging to the environment. The output of this innovation will therefore be of benefit to growers (greater profitability), industry (new technology to minimise seed loss), consumers (predictable harvest = predictable production costs = more stable pricing) and the environment. This technology offers the potential for extension and may also be developed for reducing pod shatter in all crops which produce pods (e.g. other brassicas and legumes).

The objective of the Sea-More-Yield (SMY) project is to commercialise a foliar “spray-on-trait”, to reduce premature pod shatter in oilseed rape (OSR) crops. SMY is a transformative first-of-its-kind blue biotechnology that addresses a large target market (34m Ha of OSR). Sea-More-Yield is a revolutionary non-transgenic platform for trait introduction via a single 1.5L/Ha foliar spray, enabling immediate expression of desirable anti-shatter traits in OSR. This pioneering technology enables growers for the first time to modulate OSR pod physiology to minimise seed loss and yield risk with an early season spray. To address this industry-limiting problem, SMY offers a unique blue technology that modulates OSR pod physiology to control unsynchronized pod shatter leading to potential recovery of an additional 20% of the yield.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The work programme outlined for the first 12 months of SMY was ambitious but critical to establishing the commercialisation path for SMY. The initial tasks of the project revolved around project management and the establishment of project procedures and good management practices for timely reporting of technical and financial progress. Once project management had been established attention immediately turned to establishing the field trial programme which is a critical workpackage for advancing the commercialisation of SMY. A total of 35 trials were established and completed during this reporting period. 28 Oilseed rape (OSR) trials were run in Ireland and 2 trials were run in Canada. An additional 5 trials were run on Soybean in order to evaluate the potential of SMY in this crop with 2 of these in Canada and 3 in Brazil. Overall the field trial results for OSR are encouraging. Trials were carried out on 24 different seed varieties and it is clear from the results that the variety type has a significant impact on the performance of SMY. Overall SMY provides a significant reduction in pod shatter (average of 22%) as measured from field samples of pods using the random impact test (RIT). This reduction in pod shatter also followed through in a statistically significant increase in yield (approx. 3%) versus the untreated controls. However, within these trials some varieties treated with SMY delivered a 25% yield increase which is an important insight for the commercialisation of SMY. Significant progress has also been achieved in enhancing the robustness of the SMY formulation. A detailed compositional analysis of the monthly production runs has been determined and will provide a solid platform for the enhancement of the robustness of the product. A number of key molecules within the SMY product have been identified to have a significant role in modifying the expression of key gene for the reduction of pod shatter. The result obtained in the field trials has allowed progression of the commercialisation strategy although the direction of the approach has somewhat shifted based on the performance of SMY on different varieties. A key commercial partner in Canada has been engaged and the path to commercialisation in Canada will progress over the next 12 months. Additional partners in India and Brazil are also on-board with activity for Sealicit set to ramp up in the next 12 months. A number of improvements in the current SMY production facility has allowed enhanced standardisation of processing operations which has led to a more consistent product.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The current performance of SMY in specific OSR varieties is delivering yield significantly beyond current state of the art (up to 25%). Gaining new knowledge to understand how this is being achieved will be critical to maximising the commercial potential of SMY for all commercial varieties. The identification of some key molecules within the SMY formulation which are modifying the expression of key genes in mediating pod shatter provides a significant new contribution to current state of the art and provides a good platform for enhancing the robustness and effectiveness of SMY for the remainder of the project.

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