Ciencia España , Salamanca, Jueves, 11 de abril de 2013 a las 13:39

Salamanca is part of a major european project researching on seed quality upgrading

The Centro Hispanoluso de Investigaciones Agrarias (CIALE) is the only Spanish partner in this project comprising five different countries

José Pichel Andrés/ DICYT Scientists from CIALE, an agricultural research group from the Universidad de Salamanca, are part of a major European project endorsed in 2012; its main objective is to study the quality of various plant species seeds in a four year period. It aims to study the way environmental conditions may affect different aspects such as germination in order to obtain upgraded seeds. Scientists from Austria, the United Kingdom, Germany and France are part of this initiative; CIALE is the only Spanish partner.
Researchers from Salamanca have joined the project as seed hormonal signaling experts, so their ultimate goal is to study “seed regulation until its germination using various hormones”, as Óscar Lorenzo, a CIALE scientist leading the Spanish group, stated to DiCYT.

Specifically, his research area focuses on studies of plant hormones regulating germination. One of them is known as abscisic acid (ABA) and apart from transcriptional factors expression to make the plant strong enough to fight external aggression, it is a key element in seed dormancy, that is, it inhibits germination process. By contrast, gibberellins interrupt this stage in order to start germination. That is why, one of the objectives of the project is “to study the mechanisms of these hormones and upgrade them from the stresses point of view”. This is, regarding adverse conditions to plants such as drought, salinity, lack of nutrients or any other stress condition, these hormones are a key factor for a seed to succeed or not.

Genetic Markers

All in all, scientists aim to analyze genes, proteins and metabolites of seeds in order to study their regulation depending on the stress affecting them. If key genetic markers are found, in the near future a basic seed analysis could let us know is they are viable in a specific period of time. Thus, a company in the field could decide the time for seeds marketing depending on their germination prospects.

“We will look for varieties that have a greater germination potential and a more promising plant development”, the scientific states. “If the plant has problems to germinate, it is likely to be weaker and we are trying to find strong species”, as he recounted.

Óscar Lorenzo’s team is working with Arabidopsis thaliana, an easy to handle plant used as a model in many studies. Nevertheless, their European partners are using more than 20 species considered of interest to agriculture such as grains, peas, tomato and cabbage. “Each team is using the most interesting models to them, for instance, French are interested in barley because of its use in the beer production process”, as the researcher said.

Actually, there are many companies interested in this project, especially when working with grains, because they want them to remain viable for longer.

Germans are in charge of genetic research, while the University of Warwick, that has a large greenhouse structure, focuses on inducing stress conditions on seeds to be analyzed by the rest of the teams. Therefore, all the scientists in the project work with the same material.

This project, named EcoSeed-Impacts of Environmental Conditions on Seed Quality, belongs to a program known as European Knowledge Based Bio-Economy (KBBE), that will contribute three million Euros in the next years for its fulfillment. From this sum, 250,000 Euros are to be granted to CIALE’S research.

The Other Partners

The importance of this project becomes evident when observing the list of partners. The most remarkable of them is the Royal Botanic Gardens from Kew, that houses an enormous gene bank with more than a million seeds. On behalf of the United Kingdom, the project also works in conjunction with the University of Leeds and the University of Warwick. Germany’s contribution comes from the Leibniz-Institut für Pflanzengenetik und Kulturpflanzenforschung (IPK) and from the Max Planck Gesellschaft zur Pfanzengenetik und Kulturpflanzzenforschung. France is the most engaged partner: Université Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris 6), Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, Commissariat à l’energie atomique et aux énergie alternative (CEA) and a firm named Limagrain Europe. As Spain, represented by the Universidad de Salamanca, Austria’s contribution comes from a single institution: Universität Innsbruck.