ISCF WAVE 1 AGRI TECH - Innovative oxygen- and epigenetics-related assays and marker for Allium seed quality

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Holloway, University of London
Department Name: Biological Sciences

Abstract

The focus of this study is to demonstrate the feasibility of innovative diagnostic assays and molecular marker assays for the improvement of salad onion and leek (Allium spp.) seed quality. The project partners are Tozer Seeds Ltd (Cobham, UK), who sell Allium seeds in the UK and export worldwide, and the Seed Science Lab at Royal Holloway University of London (RHUL, Perez/Steinbrecher/Leubner). This multi-disciplinary team will provide a solution to the short shelf-life of seed, a particular issue for onion seeds which are often damaged during storage/transport and thus subject to accelerated ageing. Sowing of damaged seed results in reduced germination and poor seedling establishment, which causes a reduction of healthy produce. Our collaboration aims to employ novel and innovative technologies to deliver superb seed quality.

Technical Summary

Our multi-disciplinary approach uses novel and innovative methods to improve the seed quality of salad onion and leek (Allium). Tozer Seeds Ltd (UK) sell Allium seeds in the UK and exports worldwide. Their collaboration with the seed science lab of Prof Leubner at Royal Holloway University of London will provide novel diagnostic assays and longevity markers to address the challenge of increasing shelf-life. The low longevity of Allium seeds is due to ageing damage during storage/transport (reduces vigour). We will investigate seed oxygen relations, develop novel and fast oxygen-based diagnostic assays for seed ageing to classify the distinct Allium varieties according to seed quality. Differences in the ability to maintain DNA/RNA integrity during ageing will be used to select contrasting varieties to identify gene expression markers. We found that seed ageing is accompanied by epigenetic changes which will be used to establish an innovative diagnostic assay for global DNA methylation.

Planned Impact

At ca. Eur35 billion annual turnover, the seed trade contributes significantly to the global economy (ISF, www.worldseed.org; ESA, www.euroseeds.org). The EU seed market represents 20% of the global seed market and employs ca 50,000 people. The EU is the world's leading exporter in crop seeds, with vegetables comprising 11% of the market share. The UK has a highly successful agri- and horticultural industry which also exports seeds for local primary crop production of fresh vegetables. Excellent seed quality is the key to further increase seed sales for primary crop production, and specifically boosting exports by UK seed companies will foster the economic competitiveness of the UK. The strength of UK based science and companies in the crop seed business makes it a prime focus area for the strategy to utilise novel and innovative agricutural technologies for this goal (UK Government Policy Paper BIS/13/1060). This is especially relevant for high-value vegetable seeds used by farmers for direct sowing and growth of fresh produce for the local supply chain for healthy food. Allium seeds for salad onion and leek production are key products of the British vegetable breeding company Tozer Seeds (Cobham, Surrey). Their Allium seed sales face the challenge that the seeds shelf-life is low due to seed aging and viability loss during postharvest storage and transport in container ships resulting in germination problems. The proposed multi-disciplinary pre-industrial research feasibility study estabishes a collaboration between Tozer Seeds and the renowned UK seed science lab of Prof G Leubner (Royal Holloway University of London, www.seedbiology.eu) to explore and evaluate the commercial potential of novel and innovative diagnostic assays and molecular markers to improve Allium seed quality. Tozer Seeds and other seed companies will benefit from our research economically, especially by boosting export of high-quality crop seeds, and thereby increasing the competitiveness of the UK economy. Our research therefore has direct beneficial economic effects for seed industry in that it aims to increase seed sales.

Beyond this, indirect economic and societal effects include training of the next generation of researchers for the seed industry job market and triggering investment in novel and innovative technologies at seed companies. This project will also train research staff at the interface of fundamental and applied research and thereby produce experts required for the UK job market in seed research and management. Regulators and government bodies will also benefit from evidence-based knowledge. Our research will not only foster global economic competitiveness and the production chain for healthy food, but is also of benefit beyond this in that it contributes to improve public services such as seed bank storage for conservation purposes. Examples for this include Kew's Millenium Seed Bank and horticultural gardens such as RHS Wisley. This project is therefore important for improving quality of life, health, and well-being as it supports preserving biodiversity, botanical gardens, and ecosystem management.

The UK is not self-sufficient in food production (www.foodsecurity.ac.uk). Many domestic and international factors affect food production, prices, security and quality. This became for example evident during the 2008 world food price spike and the subsequent food price rises have affected UK consumers more than those in mainland Europe. Furthermore, the reliance of imported food through trading is becoming increasingly unstable as a food security strategy, as we witness unforeseen destabilisation in developing markets such as Eastern Europe. Clearly this research has impact on fresh vegetable production, and therefore enhances food quality, harvest quantity and consumer health. The supply of affordable, healthy and high-quality fresh vegetables is important to the general public who will therefore directly benefit from our research.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The publication by Leubner-Metzger G (2017) "Improving crop seed quality and seedling performance." in IMPACT 7:81-83. Science Impact Ltd, Bristol, UK - www.impact.pub summarises the work and its importance: The Group for Seed Biology and Engineering at the Royal Holloway University of London is conducting world-leading seed and biotechnology research and unearthing important discoveries in the field of seed germination and technology. Leubner's Group is focused on improving crop seed quality and seedling performance, which the researchers are achieving through fundamental and applied research using multidisciplinary approaches, a highly collaborative approach and state-of-the-art equipment and novel methodologies. 'High quality of commercial seed is achieved by a combination of breeding and innovative seed technologies. Seed enhancement technologies such as priming, improve vegetable, flower and sugarbeet seed performance. This leads to rapid germination, enhanced vigour and uniform seedling establishment even upon abiotic stress,' he states. 'Seed treatment technologies refine the seed with added values including coatings and pellets. The pellets aid drilling and may contain additives such as fertilisers and crop protection chemicals and biologicals such as plant hormones, allelochemicals and beneficial microbes.' According to Leubner, high seed quality achieved by breeding and seed technology is the cornerstone for maximum yield potential. Seed priming, which is applied by the seed industry to sugarbeet, flower
and vegetable commercial seeds to remove dormancy, enhance germination speed, and to improve seedling uniformity and performance even upon stress, is one modern seed technology used to enhance seed quality. 'While seed priming is positive in improving these seed properties and thereby performance in the field, it is on the other hand connected with additional costs, often compromises seed storability and over-priming can lead to problems in seedling establishment,' Leubner explains. 'The global seed market is characterised by competition between companies based on selling the best seed quality for their customers. Seed companies are therefore interested in further improving their crop-specific seed priming protocols. This requires understanding the underpinning mechanisms.
The key objectives of the Group's research are to: understand the underpinning mechanisms of seed vigour to improve seed germination, seedling uniformity and establishment in stressful environments; prevent seed vigour loss and ageing during post-harvest seed storage; develop novel assays for quantifying seed vigour and to enable breeding increased seed vigour and longevity; improve the biomechanical and biochemical properties of natural (endosperm, seed and fruit coats) and artificial (pellets) seed covering layers; and further improve the seed priming technology with novel environmentally friendly methods and additives.
This is relevant to the REF2021 Impact Case Study by Steinbrecher & Leubner "Improving Crop Seed Quality through refinement technologies": The impact of Leubner and Steinbrecher´s research has derived from innovative environmental-friendly seed technologies that enhance and refine quality, storability and ageing resilience of crop seeds. High-quality seed is essential for enhanced seedling performance even upon environmental stress and consequently for yield and food supply chain resilience. The beneficiaries are national (e.g. Elsoms & Tozer) and international (e.g. KWS) seed production companies, as well as farmers, consumers, gardeners, and policy makers. The Pan-European Rocket Science initiative has highlighted the necessity to improve seed quality for extra-terrestrial cultivation as an approach to tackling climate emergency and has inspired the next generation.
Exploitation Route We have evidence that our Planta 2000 publication is discussed in the seed technology community with regard to oxygen and seed ageing during storage and for novel assays.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Environment

 
Description The publication by Leubner-Metzger G (2017) "Improving crop seed quality and seedling performance." in IMPACT 7:81-83. Science Impact Ltd, Bristol, UK - www.impact.pub summarises the work and its importance: The Group for Seed Biology and Engineering at the Royal Holloway University of London is conducting world-leading seed and biotechnology research and unearthing important discoveries in the field of seed germination and technology. Leubner's Group is focused on improving crop seed quality and seedling performance, which the researchers are achieving through fundamental and applied research using multidisciplinary approaches, a highly collaborative approach and state-of-the-art equipment and novel methodologies. 'High quality of commercial seed is achieved by a combination of breeding and innovative seed technologies. Seed enhancement technologies such as priming, improve vegetable, flower and sugarbeet seed performance. This leads to rapid germination, enhanced vigour and uniform seedling establishment even upon abiotic stress,' he states. 'Seed treatment technologies refine the seed with added values including coatings and pellets. The pellets aid drilling and may contain additives such as fertilisers and crop protection chemicals and biologicals such as plant hormones, allelochemicals and beneficial microbes.' According to Leubner, high seed quality achieved by breeding and seed technology is the cornerstone for maximum yield potential. Seed priming, which is applied by the seed industry to sugarbeet, flower and vegetable commercial seeds to remove dormancy, enhance germination speed, and to improve seedling uniformity and performance even upon stress, is one modern seed technology used to enhance seed quality. 'While seed priming is positive in improving these seed properties and thereby performance in the field, it is on the other hand connected with additional costs, often compromises seed storability and over-priming can lead to problems in seedling establishment,' Leubner explains. 'The global seed market is characterised by competition between companies based on selling the best seed quality for their customers. Seed companies are therefore interested in further improving their crop-specific seed priming protocols. This requires understanding the underpinning mechanisms. This project and the collaboration with Tozer Seeds was relevant to the REF2021 Impact Case Study by Steinbrecher & Leubner "Improving Crop Seed Quality through environmentally sustainable technologies to benefit the seed industry and promote food security": The impact of Leubner and Steinbrecher´s research has derived from innovative environmental-friendly seed technologies that enhance and refine quality, storability and ageing resilience of crop seeds. High-quality seed is essential for enhanced seedling performance even upon environmental stress and consequently for yield and food supply chain resilience. The beneficiaries are national (e.g. Elsoms & Tozer) and international (e.g. KWS) seed production companies, as well as farmers, consumers, gardeners, and policy makers. The Pan-European Rocket Science initiative has highlighted the necessity to improve seed quality for extra-terrestrial cultivation as an approach to tackling climate emergency and has inspired the next generation.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description Morphological Dormancy and Germination of Apiaceae species - MSc Project Blythe Soper
Amount £6,000 (GBP)
Organisation Royal Holloway, University of London 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2018 
End 09/2019
 
Description Priming of Morphologically Dormant Vegetable Seeds - MSc Project Lena Fatelnig
Amount £6,000 (GBP)
Funding ID Priming of Morphologically Dormant Vegetable Seeds - MSc Project Lena Fatelnig 
Organisation Royal Holloway, University of London 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2019 
End 09/2020
 
Description Understanding the Food Chain of Teff (Eragostis tef) and the Application of Seed Technology in Teff Farming in Ethiopia - Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Networking
Amount £21,767 (GBP)
Funding ID GCRFNGR4\1116 
Organisation Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2019 
End 09/2020
 
Title Vegetable seed aging transcriptomes 
Description Ageing of vegetables seeds during storage is compared on the transcriptome level. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Improves concepts for vegetable seed storage to prevent or reduce seed aging. 
 
Description Allium Seed Quality Research with Tozer Seeds Cobham, Surrey, UK 
Organisation Tozer Seeds
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Innovation Voucher Allium research on seed ageing and quality of salad onions and leek.
Collaborator Contribution Provision of defined seed batches.
Impact Preliminary results on Allium seed quality were used for an AgriTech Catalyst application. This is now a funded project in collaboration with Tozer Seeds: ISCF WAVE1 AGRI TECH (Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund) BB/R021147/1 & TSB132858, 01.2018-03.2919
Start Year 2015
 
Description Bioinformatics of wild and crop species seed transcriptomes 
Organisation Philipp University of Marburg
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Seed experiment conduction, RNA extractions, RNAseq sequencing via service provider, DEG identification and follow-up work.
Collaborator Contribution Bioinformatics of RNAseq sequencing raw data via service provider, DEG identification.
Impact Interdisciplinary
Start Year 2018
 
Description Food Security and Sustainability 
Organisation Royal Holloway, University of London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Interdisciplinary collaboration with Dr Ivica Petrikova, lecturer in food security in the PIR department.
Collaborator Contribution Interdisciplinary collaboration with Dr Ivica Petrikova, lecturer in food security in the PIR department.
Impact Interdisciplinary: Biology, Biomaterial Engineering, Politics and International Relations
Start Year 2018
 
Description Rocket Science Project Report of the Horticultural Society (RHS) "Rocket Science - Our Voyage of Discovery" 
Organisation Royal Horticultural Society
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Rocket Science Project Report of the Horticultural Society (RHS) "Rocket Science - Our Voyage of Discovery" - The RHS report contains our research contribution (p. 23) and interview with me and our collaborator from Tozer Seeds. It reaches >600,000 pupils at UK Schools to excite them about STEM, plants and food security. Our contributions are also detailed in "How to grow a successful space salad - with help from Tim Peake!" - https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/aboutus/newsandevents/news/2016-articles/how-to-grow-a-successful-space-salad-with-help-from-tim-peake.aspx
Collaborator Contribution Link to Report PDF: https://schoolgardening.rhs.org.uk/getmedia/a3385b8e-0eaf-4953-8d90-bc163ff0f982/Final-Rocket-Science-Report-Low-Res
Impact https://schoolgardening.rhs.org.uk/getmedia/a3385b8e-0eaf-4953-8d90-bc163ff0f982/Final-Rocket-Science-Report-Low-Res
Start Year 2017
 
Description Seed and Fruit Morphology 
Organisation Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Diverse projects on seeds and fruits.
Collaborator Contribution Expert knowledge in seed and fruit morphology
Impact Multi-disciplinary
Start Year 2017
 
Description Seed hormone profiling 
Organisation Palacky University
Country Czech Republic 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Preparation of seed samples for hormone profiling.
Collaborator Contribution Hormone profiling analytics conducted and results received. Placements for PhD students and postdocs.
Impact Publications and ongoing future work for publications.
Start Year 2007
 
Description Rocket Science Project Report - Rocket Science - Our Voyage of Discovery 
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 Schools
Results and Impact Rocket Science Project Report "Rocket Science - Our Voyage of Discovery" Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), contributions and interview, as also detailed in "How to grow a successful space salad - with help from Tim Peake!" - https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/aboutus/newsandevents/news/2016-articles/how-to-grow-a-successful-space-salad-with-help-from-tim-peake.aspx
https://schoolgardening.rhs.org.uk/getmedia/a3385b8e-0eaf-4953-8d90-bc163ff0f982/Final-Rocket-Science-Report-Low-Res
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/aboutus/newsandevents/news/2016-articles/how-to-grow-a-successful-sp...
 
Description Science Open Day at Royal Holloway University of London 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Seed germination setup with different crop seeds to inspire the children about plant science and gardening. Exhibition of seed diversity in structures, sizes, shapes and colours and a seed-plant quiz for the same purpose.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017,2018,2019
URL http://www.rhul.ac.uk