Project: Cisgenic approaches towards environmentally-friendly crop production

The idea of this project is to implement by means of an innovative approach the outcome of research carried out by the different Ps towards the development of new superior agricultural crops that can be grown with a minimum impact on the environment through a lesser demand for pesticide use. In the frame of its research towards crop improvement GT has put efforts into studying a family of receptor-like kinases (RLKs) with the objective of modulating growth characteristics to achieve higher yield as well as improved tolerance to diseases and environmental conditions. These receptors form the LRRII subfamily of RLKs and were named RKS (Receptor Kinase like SERK) by GT. Acting at several levels of plant signalling RKS receptors are able to modulate several pathways and thereby influence a number of plant properties, including plant defence. They therefore provide the basis for one of the favoured strategies of GT to achieve improved plant health. Instead of acting at the highly specific interface between the pathogen and the plant cell, efforts are put in modulating the perception and spreading of more general integrative systemic signals and thereby amplify the plant response to any threat. Well-known signals include salicylic acid, jasmonic acid (JA) and ethylene which are at the basis of induced resistance in plants. Brassinosteroids (BR) are an additional class of signal molecules proposed to play a role not only in plant development but also in (a)biotic stress tolerance. Based on the role of RKS receptors in BR signalling GT is convinced that strategies involving their modulation will influence, and when used properly, improve plant defence. Pathogen testing in collaboration with Universities in the Netherlands has allowed proving that by overexpressing various forms of the receptors in Arabidopsis improved resistance could be achieved against a bacterium, a biotrophic and a necrotrophic fungus, an oomycete and an insect. Recently, further evidence for the role of RKS receptors in disease resistance has been confirmed by others, especially for BAK1, a specific member of the family that is involved in resistance at least against necrotrophs but probably in a more general form of resistance involving interaction with other receptors such as FLS2. Based on the spectrum of resistance obtained so far improved resistance against other pathogens and pests is likely to be achieved. Molecular analysis and metabolic profiling of the modified plants has provided evidence for possibly a new pathway that is at least partly mediated by JA. Investigations are currently being pursued in that direction and on the possibilities of a cross-talk between BR- and JA-mediated pathways. Recent ongoing work at GT has revealed that through the activity of the RKS receptors tolerance to a number abiotic of stresses could also be achieved. So far highly promising results have been obtained with salt and cold tolerance. Furthermore the engineered plants show no sign of fitness costs making the approach even more valuable. _x000D_Currently experiments are shifting towards commercial crops in order to provide proof-of-principle for the applicability of this gene family for improved plant defence. For example rapeseed, Europe’s leading oilcrop, and nearest relative to Arabidopsis among major arable crops, represents an ideal object for implementation of advances in plant genome research for commercial crop improvement. As such it is also ideally suited for the aim of this project and will allow using knowledge and resources derived from previous GT programmes and other ongoing research for the detailed investigation of genes from the BR metabolic and signalling pathways responsible for important agronomical traits in oilseed rape. In addition to this annual crop, a perennial (grapevine) will be included in the project. Both are very important in the agricultural production and will contribute to demonstrating the applicability of the concept to a wide range of agricultural crops. Although, they are very different from a biological point of view, a synergistic effect can be expected from the results obtained by working with the same strategy on such distant crops. Furthermore using grapevine will also allow testing the hypothesis of using RKS-modified rootstocks for the protection of non altered scions and thereby bring the idea a step further towards implementation in other crops as well as direct commercialization. Joining forces with experts in the field of grapevine and rapeseed biotechnology will allow carrying out a coordinated multidisciplinary approach aiming at a prompt development and commercialisation of high value cultivars that can cope with adverse environmental conditions. Such crops will allow reducing production costs by simplifying agricultural practices, especially through the reduction of pesticide use, which in turn will be beneficial for the environment as well as for the health of the farmer and the consumer.

Acronym Eco 'cis-crops' (Reference Number: 4381)
Duration 01/07/2008 - 30/06/2011
Project Topic The goal of this project is to develop disease and stress tolerant economically important crops, which production will have a low impact on the environment. This is to be achieved through the modulation of specific plant receptors making use of cisgenesis.
Project Results
(after finalisation)
The consortium as a whole has gained from the project COly on two fronts: technical expertise and scientific knowledge. New expertise has been generated in a number of technical fields by setting up and optimizing new methods. _x000D_Genetic transformation of grapevine has demanded a massive effort in terms of optimization and in the process a lot was learnt about the requirements of certain varieties and protocol adjustments could be made. Tissue-culture methods were thereby improved, especially with respect to regeneration and such methods can now be implemented in the daily activities of Rebschule Steinmann, as well as at AlPlanta. The outstanding efficiency of the production of transgenic rapeseed plants has been demonstrated and contributes to the reputation, needed for successful application of new projects. _x000D_Efforts were also put into the development of new testing methods to assess gene function in a transient manner. Major technical difficulties were encountered and the tests could in the end not be performed in a reliable manner. However it allowed a better understanding of the physiology of the plants and its effect on such experiments. _x000D_The project has allowed the production of valuable modified rapeseed and grapevine plants. The experiments performed so far show that improved tolerance to salt stress and to fungi could be conferred by the RKS genes in rapeseed and in grapevine, respectively. Additional experiments are ongoing and will be performed to confirm these results, as well as to extend the analyses, especially for rapeseed, for which reliable pathogen testing data has yet to come._x000D_These plants can be further assessed for improved performance and implementation in crop improvement programs at the pre-breeding stage. Indeed, although the commercialization of genetically modified plants, even if produced by using cisgenesis, will reCO an issue in the near future, the use of such plants at breeding companies will be an asset. Screening these plants in detail will provide leads for application in more classical breeding schemes, making use of the genetic variability within these genes that is present in the germplasm of the breeders._x000D_Further research and translation of the knowledge into alternative methods will therefore be necessary prior to achieving commercial exploitation of the potential of these genes._x000D_
Network Eurostars
Call Eurostars Cut-Off 1

Project partner

Number Name Role Country
4 AlPlanta, RLP AgroScience GmbH Partner Germany
4 Genetwister Technologies BV Coordinator Netherlands
4 Rebschule Steinmann Partner Germany
4 Saaten-Union Resistenzlabor GmbH Partner Germany