Project: Use of Tomato lines tolerant to Proximity shade to Increase yield and Quality in intercropping agrosystems

Acronym UToPIQ
Duration 01/06/2021 - 31/05/2024
Project Topic Dramatic changes will need to be undertaken in the coming years for Mediterranean agriculture to face climate change challenges while improving sustainability. UToPIQ will create new cultivars amenable for intercropping, a farming practice which involves growing two or more crops in close proximity to one another. Intercropping is particularly resilient to climate change, as it can provide protection against strong winds and intense sunlight (e.g. by using tall crops), help slow the proliferation of pests (e.g. by using trap or repellent crops), reduce the need of fertilizers (e.g. by using nitrogen-fixing crops), and promote biodiversity. While careful planning can prevent crops from competing with each other for space, water, nutrients, or sunlight, the toolbox of crop varieties amenable to this farming ecosystem is very limited. UToPIQ addresses this challenge by generating and testing shade-tolerant varieties of tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), a shade-avoider crop with a central relevance for Mediterranean agriculture. Academic groups from Spain, France, Italy and Morocco with expertise in plant biotechnology, abiotic and biotic stress, and sustainable agriculture will work together with stakeholders to take results from the lab to the field within the timeframe of the project. Firstly, we will translate our knowledge on how model plants either avoid or tolerate proximity shade to generate loss-of-function and gain-of-function alleles of relevant genes in tomato by CRISPR-Cas9 technology. We will also investigate whether proximity shade triggers the release of volatiles that influence growth and development of potential nearby competitors and test whether facilitation (i.e. positive interactions among plants growing in communities) improves in shade-tolerant lines. The bulk of UToPIQ activities will focus on evaluating the agronomic performance of the generated tomato lines in greenhouse and open field settings. For intercropping we will use a commercial crop (maize) and an orphan crop (millet) that can protect tomato plants from excess irradiation and pests. We will test whether shade-tolerant tomato lines show enhanced resilience to abiotic and biotic stresses and will pay special attention to fruit yield and nutritional, organoleptic and commercial quality at harvest and post-harvest stages. Along the process, we will also work together with farmers, breeders, entrepreneurs and consumers to develop new climate-ready crops with unprecedented precision and speed. It is important to note that the results from UToPIQ could be applied to generate new varieties of tomato and other crops without the need of using gene editing technologies (e.g. they could be produced by conventional mutagenesis, breeding and selection or TILLING once target genes are identified). At the end of the project we expect to have shown that shade-tolerant lines represent an improvement for intercropping and other farming agrosystems involving closely interacting plants, reaching TRL5. By boosting the capacity to easily generate cultivars amenable to high-density and intercropping farming, UToPIQ results will be instrumental for the transition towards a more sustainable agriculture with improved resilience to climate change in the Mediterranean region. This will help to save space, water and other inputs and maintain productivity even after extreme drought, heat, or pest invasions while improving the economic stability of small farmers and addressing the key challenges of food security and acceptance of biotechnology.
Website visit project website
Network PRIMA
Call Section 2 Call 2020 - Multi-topic

Project partner

Number Name Role Country
1 Agencia Estatal Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas Coordinator Spain
2 Institut de biosciences et biotechnologies d'Aix-Marseille (UMR 7265) Partner France
3 University of Naples Federico II Partner Italy
4 University Chouaib Doukkali, Faculty of Sciences Partner Morocco
5 Observatory of the Marchica Lagoon of Nador Partner Morocco