Nanna Bjarnholt

Fungal diseases devastate crops worldwide and challenge global food security. They are unpredictable and difficult to manage, which is exacerbated by climate change. Cereal staple crops are strongly affected by Fusarium species, which both decrease yields and introduce harmful toxins to infected grain. The main toxin, DON, can be detoxified by plants, sometimes contributing to resistance to the fungi, but the detoxification can be unstable in the guts of humans and animals that may still suffer adverse effects from eating infected grain. A new mechanism for Fusarium resistance via DON detoxification was recently discovered in a wild grass, but it is unknown if it is stable. The key hypothesis of CerealGSTs is that GST mediated detoxification indeed can lead to stable DON inactivation and that especially oat is a promising source of new genomic tools to achieve this. The aim is to identify the involved genes and provide sustainable solutions to improve global food security and safety.

Fernando Geu-Flores

Faba bean is a protein crop with high yield potential that thrives in cold, northern climates. It seeds accumulate high levels of protein, antioxidants, and micronutrients making it an ideal crop for inclusion in plant-based food systems in Scandinavia. However, faba bean seeds also accumulate high levels of condensed tannins and phytic acid, which are anti-nutrients that have a negative impact on the uptake of proteins and micronutrients. NutriFaba will characterize the biochemical pathways producing these anti-nutrients throughout seed development. We will then use biotechnological approaches to reduce the anti-nutrient levels in seeds without affecting the antioxidant capacity or the agronomic performance. In summary, NutriFaba will push the boundaries of faba bean anti-nutrient research and help develop highly nutritious varieties that will take part in the sustainable food systems of the future.

Carsten Werner Mueller

Soils not only provide the basis for human life, soils are also important to meet climate mitigation and biodiversity goals at regional, and even global scales. To reach these goals soil organic carbon plays a central role. For the storage and stability of soil carbon, plants and their roots are an important regulating factor. This regulation is based on the complex interplay of plant roots, soil microorganisms and soil particles. Although we know of the importance of roots, we still do not fully understand how plant root characteristics, for instance root length or chemical composition, affect the stability of soil carbon and the release of greenhouse gases. We also still lack an understanding of the underlying processes between plants, microorganisms and soil particles. The project will provide both, the fundamental scientific understanding of how plant roots regulate soil carbon storage and greenhouse gas emissions, and practical proxies to be used in future agricultural management to sustain healthy and productive soils.

Felix Roosen-Runge

Proteins from pea seeds could be a future source of a balanced, more sustainable plant-based nutrition. To reach this goal, alternatives for typical food products of animal origin need to be developed. While proteins in animals are abundant in fluids, and thus ready to be processed, plants store proteins mainly in compact and dry conditions in grains, which makes fluid processing complicated. This project aims for an understanding how to in a first step optimize the extraction of proteins from the grains without destroying their structure, so that in a second step structures with desired properties can be formed. Typical examples would include novel plant-based food products with similar resemblance and mouth feel as dairy products. We will combine special solvents for grain dissolution with advanced characterization methods, to understand the principles of structure formation. We will use established concepts from soft materials to guide our investigations towards future food products.

Aleksandr Gavrin

Grain legumes are crops with excellent dietary characteristics as a remarkably high level of protein and fibre. Legumes also increase the amount of nitrogen in soil available for subsequent crops, thereby reducing mineral fertilization and emission of greenhouse gases. These unique characteristics are provided by their ability to establish symbiotic interactions with soil nitrogen-fixing bacteria which convert plant-inaccessible atmospheric nitrogen into plant-available ammonia. Despite the fact that improvement of nitrogen fixation is an ultimate goal of symbiosis research, as the most important aspect for agriculture, relatively little is known about the mechanisms controlling symbiotic efficiency. The aim of this proposal is to discover plant defence-related mechanisms with new and specific roles in regulation of nitrogen fixation, which modification or removal has the potential to enhance the symbiotic performance of legume crops.

Ramesh Vetukuri

Phytophthora infestans causes late blight disease on potato and is controlled by heavy fungicide spraying, raising environmental concerns.  Thus, there is an urgent need to develop alternative means for late blight control. RNA interference (RNAi) is a conserved cellular defense mechanism mediated by double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) and small RNAs (sRNA) that target specific messenger RNAs for destruction, thereby regulating protein expression. This project builds on our recent discovery that spraying plant surfaces with dsRNAs that target essential P. infestans genes can confer efficient protection against late blight disease. Also called spray-induced gene silencing (SIGS), this strategy is environmentally friendly. We aim to understand how small RNAs are transported during P. infestans infection of potato and to use this knowledge to improve SIGS to control late blight disease. The research question addressed in this proposal is novel and will significantly increase our knowledge of the role of RNAi gene-silencing in plant disease.

Stéphane Verger

Stéphane Verger says: “Fossil fuel based resources used for material production such as plastics, are not infinite. The world is inevitably switching back to bio-based material production. In this revolution wood and wood fibers are a major raw material that starts to substitute almost any plastic material. While renewable and biodegradable, in a number of applications, bio-based material properties do not match those of plastic polymers yet. Most importantly this revolution needs to be sustainable. Although it is a renewable resource, high rate forest harvesting and fiber extraction processes can cause environmental concerns. We need to find long term solutions that will ensure sustainable, high-yield and also high-quality of bio-based raw material production to replace fossil fuel in the future. The overarching goal of this project is to provide basic knowledge and proof of concept for the generation of trees with high-yield and high-quality fibers, providing new genetic tools for the future.”


Photo: Johan Gunséus

Clarissa Schwab

Clarissa Schwab says: “About thirty percent of our food becomes waste. One big problem is food spoilage because of bacteria and fungi, which might also make the food unsafe to eat. This is a serious problem for the food industry, which needs to guarantee food safety and quality, and also wants to reduce waste. Organic acids are natural preservatives from plants and bacteria that inhibit spoiling microbes. Many different organic acids exist, but it is still not completely clear why and how these organic acids inhibit microbes, and which organic acids work best in a specific food product. BIOFUNC will investigate which organic acids are most active, and at which condition. We will use food bacteria and develop biotechnological processes in bioreactors to produce organic acids. BIOFUNC will test, whether we can prevent food spoilage in different food products, for example yogurt, bread and plant-based meat analogues. Our results will help to make food products safer in a natural way to reduce food waste.”

Photo by: Lars Kruse

Sebastian Marquardt

Sebastian Marquardt says: “Temperature fluctuations stunts plant growth and development, thus threatening yields. My proposal offers biotechnological solutions to enhance the resilience of crops to changing environments. I aim to exploit the natural ability of plants to respond to temperature fluctuations at the molecular level to promote resilience to changing climates, with an emphasis on untimely cold. My research group identified RNA molecules at the center of plant gene regulation: short promoter-proximal RNAs (sppRNAs). I propose to use sppRNAs to activate cold-tolerance genes in tomato. My proposal will exploit RNA biotechnology as a new principle of gene expression control to promote climate resilience. Engineering increased cold tolerance through sppRNA-mediated gene regulation pathway in tomato has a high potential to translate into a new strategy for “climate-smart agriculture” with both greater resilience to climate change and more sustainable crop production. 

Kirsi Mikkonen

Kirsi Mikkonen says: “A rapidly urbanizing society poses an increased need for fresh and nutritious vegetables of high quality and extended shelf-life. Currently, up to 50% of produced vegetables are discarded before being consumed, which burdens the environment and increases CO2 emissions unnecessarily. The financial losses caused by this wastage in Europe and the US total around €200 billion annually. Reducing vegetable wastage, by extending their shelf-life, could decrease their price and increase their consumption. The main reasons for vegetable waste are over-ripening, browning, and tissue degradation. Despite their major importance, the detailed mechanisms of vegetable deterioration after processing and packaging are poorly understood. The VegeSense project will identify the key metabolites involved in this process, giving a greater understanding of these mechanisms leading to vegetable quality deterioration. This will enable the advancement of packaging technologies to extend vegetable shelf-life.