Epigenetic tools start to play a role in the field of crop breeding
Ghent – The research institute VIB-UGent and Bayer CropScience have begun a collaboration to develop crops with higher yields and improved tolerance to stress such as drought or soil salinity. In a first project, the researchers will look at epigenetic differences between different crop varieties as a basis for selection of new characteristics. In a second step, scientists will computationally analyse the genes that are involved in the response of plants to high-stress situations such as drought. Both research projects are supported financially by the national agency for the promotion of innovation by science and technology (IWT) in Flanders (Belgium). “With the new joint-research project, we are trying to develop epigenetic control as a new molecular tool for the improvement of agricultural crops,” said Johan Botterman, the head of BioScience Product Research at Bayer CropScience. The researchers are also using computer applications in the study of plant stress tolerance. This project will focus on systems biology. “The aim is to identify the genes and their networks involved in stress tolerance and to validate them experimentally. This should lead to plants with increased yield stability,” said Frank Van Breusegem, Project Leader at VIB-UGent. The study will initially be conducted on Arabidopsis thaliana to accelerate the effects of individual genes and networks of genes. In a later phase, promising genes will be tested in different crops, including those that produce oil-seeds and cereals.