Drought tolerance and water use efficiency (WUE) are major topics in crop improvement. With ever increasing demands on fresh water and observed climatic variation, it is necessary to provide crops that perform well under some form of drought stress. In this context, the most relevant response of a crop is limiting yield loss under moderate drought rather than simply surviving near terminal stress as has been observed with for instance the major drought in the USA in 2012.
Biogemma’s research programme in this area is based on the analysis of variability in drought tolerance, particularly in maize and sunflower, allele validation to improve the breeding programmes in these species and a strong transgenic approach in maize.
For wheat and oilseed rape, drought tolerance as such is less of an issue as these crops tend to complete their cycle before the onset of significant drought, but short term combined heat and drought stress around and following flowering time is a matter of concern. This combined stress response is worked in much the same way as the pure drought tolerance in the other two species.
The use of nitrogen fertiliser in crop cultivation becomes an ever increasing cost to the farmer and often the environment. Being able to produce the same crop while using less fertiliser is thus the second main focus of Biogmma research. The programme is interested in nitrogen uptake efficiency as well as nitrogen allocation and remobilisation in the plant.
A genetic approach across the species maize, wheat and oilseed rape is focused on identifying the variability available in these species for the response to nitrogen levels. Candidate genes identified in one species are developed across the others to improve progress across all species. Allele validation is done to support the breeding in wheat and oilseed rape, while a transgenic approach is used in maize and wheat.
Improving the intrinsic yield potential of a crop has its own value alongside the effort to protect this yield against negative effects from biotic or abiotic stress. This subject is studied across all four species of interest to Biogemma: Maize, wheat, sunflower and oilseed rape.
A genetic approach exists across all species, identifying some elements that are common to all as well as specific elements related to the physiology and architecture of individual species. Favourable alleles are identified from the available genetic variability and a programme of allele validation to support breeding exists in most species. In the cereals this is complemented with a transgenic approach.
The subject of disease resistance is worked on in two species only: wheat and oilseed rape.
In both species, fungal pathogens are the main cause of diseases. A genetic approach is used to identify more general elements of resistance to fungal pathogens as well as the identification and evaluation of specific resistance genes against individual races in some cases. The genes thus identified are used to support the breeding efforts in these two species.
In sunflower a similar approach is used to develop resistance to a parasitic plant, Orobanche.
In addition to the genetic approach, in wheat there is a transgenic approach that aims to test more ambitious and broader approaches to resistance to pathogens.