Work plan overview

The overall strategy is to harness the results of biological research to improve three specialised biomass crops by linking breeders to advanced molecular genetics, using next generation sequencing approaches and molecular phenotyping.  To achieve this WATBIO has seven research and development work packages and two work packages focused on delivery and impact.     

The work packages are as follows:

  1. Systems performance of crops under drought.
  2. Phenotyping for improved traits for drought tolerance.
  3. Next generation sequencing for molecular breeding.
  4. Forward genetic approaches for improved crops.
  5. Reverse genetic approaches for improved crops.
  6. Environmental assessment of new germplasm.
  7. Systems modelling from gene to crop.
  8. Training and skills.
  9. Dissemination and impact.

The focus of WP1 is on understanding biomass plants from the cellular to the whole-plant level as dynamic drought-responsive systems within the framework set by their genetic basis.  The three crops will be exposed to different levels of water limitations under tightly controlled experimental conditions.  State-of-the-art high throughput techniques (RNAseq, phosphoproteomics, metabolomics, volatomics) in combination with advanced techniques to control and monitor photosynthesis, respiration, carbon allocation and growth as well as tissue properties are being investigated.  Root systems are studied as the ability to explore deeper soil horizons for water is important for maintaining biomass production under dry conditions. 

WP 2 uses the very best available phenomics platform to enable WATBIO to identify key traits identified and to develop ways of measuring these traits in a wider set of germplasm to improve breeding efficiency.  The Lemna-Tec and other phenotyping facilities at AU-IBERS and a smaller facility at ULANC are used to make pioneering measurements of traits in our three species.  No such phenotyping is available for these crops and we will necessarily begin with core genotypic material and widen our scope informed by these first datasets. 

The results of WP1 and 3 will be passed to WP6 for an intensive field assessment of newgermplasm performance with respect to water supply, alongside an socio-economic analysis of the likely cost benefit of reduced water use in such systems.

WP5 will utilise a three-pronged bioinformatic strategy to select candidate genes in poplar and miscanthus.  The expression of the target genes will be modulated in transgenic plants in order to analyse the modified lines for improved drought tolerance. Alongside this reverse genetics approach, WP4 will take four different approaches to investigate genetic diversity in the three crops and link genes to traits for drought tolerance.

Given the importance of environment in determining the expression of drought tolerance traits, WP 6 will develop a network of field sites that span the climatic envelope of Europe to test G x E interaction in the proposed starting and new material emerging from the project.  This will provide a powerful dataset to be further interrogated by the model development in WP 7.