Towards a ground-breaking and future-oriented system change in agriculture and horticulture

Utrecht plant biologists successful in acquisition of research funding

Utrecht plant biologists have again been successful in setting up consortia of researchers and private partners, and in applying for research funding to develop the basis for a ground-breaking system change aimed at realizing resilient and sustainable plant production systems.

Ronnie de Jonge, Corné Pieterse (Plant-Microbe Interactions) and Bas Dutilh (Theoretical biology and Bioinformatics) in collaboration with Novozymes obtained €843.000 for their NWO Green II project Unearthing beneficial microbe rhizosphere competence traits in vivo. The project blends expertise from the fields of microbial genetics, microbiome metagenomics, computational modelling and molecular plant biology to devise an innovative approach to discover microbial rhizosphere competence and root microbiomes traits that affect rhizosphere competence of plant probiotics and the mechanisms through which root exudates affect plant-beneficial microbe interactions.

Alexandre Jousset and George Kowalchuk (Ecology and Biodiversity) in collaboration with Stefan Geisen (NIOO-KNAW), Ecostyle and Soiltech were also granted for their €450.000 NWO-Green-project entitled Protozoa – based biotechnology to enhance plant yield. Protozoa are a to-date-neglected group of soil organisms that are a major driver of microbial community function as they consume bacteria and fungi. In this project, protozoan species will be identified with strong abilities to promote plant growth and health to then reveal the underlying mechanisms and develop biotechnological applications for crop yield improvement.

Also in the NWO Green II call, Marcel Proveniers (Molecular Plant Physiology) in collaboration with Richard Immink (WUR) and Dummen Orange will receive  €723.000 for their project Life Cycle Shortening: The key towards sustainable tulip production. Tulips are an iconic Dutch product and the Dutch Tulip industry is flourishing. However, the development of new cultivars through “breeding by design”, as is common practice for many crops, is seriously hampered by the lengthy breeding cycle in tulip.  Starting from hybrid seeds, it takes 3-7 years before first flowering, 10 years for hybrid selection, and then another 10 years for production of enough bulbs for commercial release. This research project will focus on evolutionary conserved regulatory components involved in juvenile-to-adult transition, floral induction, resource allocation and usage, and bulbing. Through translation of the basic knowledge gained from this fundamental research, this project aims to develop novel breeding tools for tulip to ultimately shorten this extremely long breeding cycle.

Last but not least, Guido van den Ackerveken (Translational Plant & Microbial Biology) together with partners from TU Delft was awarded €750.000 from the NWO domain TTW-Rijk Zwaan partnership programme for their project: PATHOVIEW: automated imaging of pathogen-infection of crops to understand, track, and quantify disease resistance traits. Research on pathogenic microbes and host plant resistance is hampered by the lack of automated imaging methods. To effectively identify and use plant resistance traits, also those that contribute quantitatively, their project aims to develop new imaging solutions to quantify pathogen infection and plant resistance. The project is a combination of biological and technical research aimed at uniting different expertise and methods to develop a sensitive, unbiased,and automated platform for digital plant disease phenotyping.