FACCE ERA-NET+: Securing yield stability of Brassica crops in changing climate conditions

Lead Research Organisation: John Innes Centre
Department Name: Crop Genetics

Abstract

Extreme and variable climate conditions are expected to become more frequent worldwide with projected climate change. European agriculture is facing the crucial challenge of adapting crop productivity to climate change and will need the development of crops with increased resilience to abiotic stress factors triggered by climate change. Crop yield stability is dependent on the response of key developmental and growth processes to stress conditions. Delayed or accelerated flowering time, alteration of root architecture and growth, and disruption of pod-shattering are common responses displayed by crops exposed to high temperature or drought conditions associated to climate change. SYBRACLIM will evaluate the impact of these environmental factors on developmental and physiological processes directly influencing the yield of oilseed rape, Europe's premium oilseed crop. We will also shed light on the genetic and molecular bases of the tolerance of different rapeseed varieties to increasing temperature and drought stress. The SYBRACLIM consortium is multidisciplinary and includes both commercial breeding companies and leading research groups with high complementarities that cover the fields of genetics, genomics, physiology, breeding and agronomy in Brassica crops along with modeling of crop performance under climate change. Rapeseed is one of the world's most important sources of high-quality vegetable oils for human nutrition and biofuels, and particularly in Europe is also a major contributor to vegetable protein diets for ruminant livestock. SYBRACLIM will implement a multidisciplinary and innovative approach to characterize the phenotypic changes related to flowering time, root development and pod shattering in response to increased temperature and drought, and to analyse the productivity (yield, oil and protein content) in rapeseed varieties. We will also use genomics-assisted selection of stress-tolerance traits in controlled environments and field trials. The relationship between performance and variability of the studied developmental processes will allow us to identify new genetic traits associated with adaptation and use them to design stress tolerant rapeseed crops by complementary plant breeding and biotechnology strategies. Finally, we will integrate all these environmental, phenotypic and productivity data in models that will assess the performance of rapeseed varieties across different climate conditions. These models will be applied to simulate expected performance of rapeseed traits under projected climate change scenarios. Because breeders need decades to develop new varieties, this approach will enable anticipatory breeding for early development of germplasm carrying the necessary genetic variation to cope with climatic changes. SYBRACLIM will provide tools to allow the farmers to design better strategies for adapting cropping systems to climate change, contributing to secure yield of Brassica crops in Europe.

Technical Summary

The main objective of SYBRACLIM is to create new tools that contribute to improve the performance of oilseed rape under the variable conditions imposed by projected climatic change. The focus of this innovative program will be to secure sustainable yield of this economically important European crop by gaining a deeper insight into developmental traits that have a direct impact on productivity. By understanding the mechanisms that oilseed rape plants use to integrate developmental programmes with responses to high temperature and low water availability, SYBRACLIM will provide the basis on which more efficient production of oilseed rape can be achieved. The wide range of expertise present in SYBRACLIM will allow us to evaluate the effect of increasing temperature and water deficiency on flowering time, root architecture and growth, pod-shattering and seed yield. SYBRACLIM will also generate molecular (genomic and transcriptomic profiles) and metabolic data that will help us to identify the genetic determinants responsible for the adaptation of rapeseed to a changing environment. These data will be associated with yields and phenotypes in predictive models that will incorporate climatic parameters and agricultural management practices. Finally, we will use simulation modelling to suggest ideotypes of oilseed rape cultivars better suited to cope with variable climate. Therefore, the collaboration of experimental and theoretical scientists together with plant breeders within the SYBRACLIM multidisciplinary project will provide an outstanding opportunity to generate the knowledge necessary to optimise performance of oilseed rape and develop the tools to secure stable yield of this crop under stress conditions related to climate change.

Planned Impact

Resilience to changes in climate conditions is one of the most critical factors for ensuring high crop yields with adverse weather conditions that could have potentially devastating effects. For example, in the UK approximately one third of the oilseed rape acreage planted in the autumn of 2012 was ploughed in mainly due to poor establishment caused by unfavourable weather in the first months following sowing, and only about half of the remaining crop provided decent yield. Although a particularly bad year, the poor performance in 2012/13 underlines the need for varieties with improved yield stability under suboptimal conditions. In France during the past 40 years, genetic gain for oilseed rape yield has increased by +0.46 q/ha/year until 1990 but only +0.18 q/ha/year after 1990. This slowdown is due to a combination of factors: 1) an adaptation of agricultural practices with reduced inputs for an optimum economic profit, 2) the global climatic change, and 3) the bulk of breeding efforts primarily emphasized on oil quality, with a lesser extent to yield improvement and its stability under adverse environmental conditions. By advancing our understanding of the mechanisms of how oilseed rape plants integrate developmental and growth processes in response to temperature and drought, this project will provide the basis on which more efficient production of oilseed rape can be achieved. Furthermore, when the enhanced knowledge obtained from these studies will be translated into programmes for crop improvement, it will directly contribute to improve food security by increasing crop yields and stability under unfavourable climatic conditions. The developmental and physiological processes of critical relevance in this context are those that affect root architecture, silique growth, seed setting and seed filling, all of which contribute to determining yields. For example, the knowledge on how pods from oilseed rape develop under different environmental scenarios will likely lead to ways of controlling seed loss caused by pod shatter in oilseed rape. Pod shatter leads to an average annual loss of 15-20% seeds (but can be >70% under extreme weather circumstances). Assuming our discoveries are bred into commercial crops in the EU, an increase in oilseed rape yield of 15 per cent would equate to an increase in farm-gate value of Euro2bn based on 2011 prices if implemented across the EU-28. In SYBRACLIM we will also perform a comprehensive phenotyping of two other developmental processes, flowering time and root development, with large impact on crop performance and consequently high economic relevance. Flowering time is a well-documented indicator of the ecological effect of climate change. Temperatures greater than 27C during flowering resulted in seed yield losses up to 58% in rapeseed. Flowering time is normally accelerated under high temperatures whereas root development may be delayed. Maximum daily temperatures will exceed this threshold in some of the rapeseed growing regions. Therefore, enhanced knowledge on how rapeseed floral transition and root architecture are differentially regulated by changing environmental conditions will help the development of cultivars with better performance under heat stress associated with climate change.
 
Description The work in this project builds on our previous work in fruit development and pod shatter (Østergaard) and in temperature perception in plants (Kumar). We have made initial highly exciting discoveries that pod shatter in both Arabidopsis, Capsella, Lepidium and Brassica is enhanced at higher temperatures, that this effect is mediated via a specific key regulator of tissue specificity and that the expression of this key regulator is controlled by chromatin dynamics. The key regulator is INDEHISCENT (IND), which is know from Arabidopsis and Brassica as required for fruit dehiscence (pod shatter). We show in this project that IND expression increases with temperature and that this is associated with accelerated fruit dehiscence and removal of the transcriptionally repression H2A.Z histones from the IND locus. This work is now published in Molecular Plant (Li et al 2018) and received wide media coverage (Altmetric score of 406 of today's date).
We previously found that IND mediates part of its function by facilitating depletion of the plant hormone auxin from the cells where separation occurs during fruit dehiscence to create a tissue-specific auxin minimum. In an additional branch of this project, we interacted with mathematical modellers to try and further understand this process. Through detailed examination of auxin transport reporter lines of the PIN family of efflux carriers and auxin signalling reporters, we made a careful description of auxin distribution during Arabidopsis fruit development. The modelling approach suggested that the auxin minimum while low in absolute auxin levels still experienced a significant auxin flux across it. By using genetic ablation, we demonstrated that this was true. The combination of mathematical modelling with experiments in the lab thereby established a mechanism for the formation of the auxin minimum that was perhaps counter-intuitive and may not have been revealed in a purely experimental approach. This mechanism may, moreover, be relevant for the distribution of other signalling molecules in developmental processes.
Exploitation Route The results from this work will be highly applicable to the oilseed rape breeding industry. Moreover, we will build on our initial results to study the extend to which other developmental processes are regulated by temperature and through which mechanism. This project is taken forward within the ongoing BRAVO SLoLa project (BB/P003095/1) where a diversity panel of ~100 B. napus lines are being grown at different temperatures and will be assessed for a number of traits including pod shatter.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

 
Description The results from this work has raised important considerations regarding pod shatter and climate change. The fundamental discovery from this work is that increasing temperatures leads to accelerated pod shatter in crops such as oilseed rape suggesting that the losses of yield may increase with climate change. The potential to use the discoveries of this grant to prevent losses is therefore significant. I have had the opportunity to present the project both at the annual OREGIN meeting (oilseed rape genetic improvement network) in Nov 2017 and at a JIC-CAAS symposium in Sep 2017. In addition, I have used the stakeholder meetings held in conjunction with the BRAVO SLoLa project to discuss how these results can be used in breeding programmes. These were fruitful interactions and demonstrated that industry has an interest in the area. Moreover, within the BRAVO programme we are conducting a large experiment on oilseed rape varieties to look for variation in pod shatter and its response to temperature.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education
 
Title Random Impact Test version 2.0 
Description The Random Impact Test is to use for assessing pod shatter resistance in oilseed rape. We have further improved the method to also include other members of the Brassicaceae family including Arabidopsis, Capsella and Lepidium. Moreover, newly developed software for curve fitting has allowed more precise and automated calculations. 
Type Of Material Biological samples 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact We have been approached by industry and academics to carry out this assay on a range of material. 
 
Description Testing seaweed extract for combatting pod shatter in oilseed rape 
Organisation Brandon Products Ltd
Country Ireland 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Testing different formulars of seaweed extract in reducing pod shatter of oilseed rape. Assessing whether the effect occurs via the SHP/IND-mediated pathway by testing the effect of the extracts on gene expression in Arabidopsis fruits.
Collaborator Contribution Production of seaweed extracts and further refinement to identify active compounds.
Impact Seaweed extracts have been tested on several varieties of oilseed rape as well as on reporter lines of Arabidopsis. No effect has been detected on pod shatter resistance, but it does seem in Arabidopsis as if the valve margin auxin response minimum is compromised, suggesting the extract has an effect on the programme leading to seed dispersal.
Start Year 2016
 
Description BBSRC Science showcase event at Camden BRI 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Industry-academia interactions in a BBSRC-organised event at Camden BRI to showcase relevant BBSRC projects. I presented the BRAVO programme.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Breeders Day 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact This event was designed to allow plant breeders, agronomists and policy makers to find out about some the JIC's latest developments in germplasm for future crops, both wheat and Brassica crops. Early career researchers presented their findings and discussions allowed us to understand key concerns from industry which we can help to address.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Discussion with local school on application for Royal Society Partnering Award 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Discussion with Town Close School, Norwich on applying for a Royal Society Partnering Award to set up experiments at their school to address questions raised by their pupils on how environmental factors, both natural and pollutants, influence crop growth.
Our discussions focused on how to design and implement experiments which would address the questions the children had and be scientifically well designed.
We also discussed future interactions and finalised details to allow us to apply for a partnering award.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Engagement with Industry- iCASE coordination meeting at Limagrain UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact In October 2013 Lars Ostergaard had a meeting with Limagrain UK to coordinate a joint iCASE project on fruit form.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Interview with National Public Radio, USA 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview with journalist at National Public Radio in the US regarding publication of Molecular Plant paper on temperature-induced acceleration of pod shatter in oilseed rape.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description NFU discussion on translation of Brassica research 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Invited to speak to the South Norfolk NFU group about Brassica research and it's implications for the national farming community. Discussions on our research into pod shatter, flea beetle, temperature effects on oilseed rape and improving yield were well received and sparked many questions and ideas on how best to tackle some of the challenges farmers are facing growing oilseed rape. We also discussed the the technologies e.g. CRISPR we our both using and developing and how this would provide benefits in the years to come. This included a two way exchange of ideas on how best to manage their challenges and what they would find useful in our future research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Presentation for university students and faculty at University of Wuhan, China 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation for university students and faculty at University of Wuhan, China
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Radio interview- Radio 4 Farming Today 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview in the glasshouse among Brassica plants with Anna Hill from BBC Radio 4 Farming Today programme. Specifically describing the BRAVO programme with clear connections and links to the GEN ISP.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Talk at OREGIN meeting, York, UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Presentation to breeders and academia within the UK Oilseed RapE Genetic Improvement Network
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Workshop JIC-CAAS on oilseed rape 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Workshop with Chinese colleagues from Wuhan university to explore potential for collaboration and joint grant applications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017