September 26, 2011


Bayer CropScience, VIB-UGent to develop improved crops



Scientists from both Bayer CropScience and the research institute, VIB-UGent, Belgium, have begun a partnership to create crops with better production and enhanced tolerance to external factors such as drought or soil salinity.


In a first project, researchers will look at epigenetic differences between different crop varieties as a basis for selection of new characteristics. In a second project, scientists will computationally analyse the genes that are involved in the response of plants to high-stress situations such as drought.


Both research projects are supported financially by the IWT, the national agency for the promotion of innovation by science and technology in Flanders, Belgium. The study results will be published in leading scientific journals.


Epigenetics is a natural phenomenon that is used by plants and animals to regulate how hereditary material is read and used, for example as a response to drought. Depending on external factors, such as long periods of drought, genes causing the plant response are activated to a greater or lesser extent from the DNA. These changes are passed on to progeny, even though they are not stored in the DNA sequence.


'With the new joint-research project, we aim to develop epigenetic control as a new molecular tool for the improvement of agricultural crops', said Dr Johan Botterman, head of BioScience Product Research at Bayer CropScience.


The researchers are also using computer applications in the study of plant stress tolerance. This project will focus on systems biology, the science that studies biological systems as the interactions between many components such as genes, proteins and metabolites. This approach is necessary in the study of stress tolerance because the plant's reaction to drought or salinity is often controlled by complex networks of genes.


"The aim is to identify the genes and their networks involved in stress tolerance and to validate them experimentally. This should lead to plants with increased yield stability', said Frank Van Breusegem, Project Leader at VIB-UGent.


The study will initially be conducted on the model crop Arabidopsis thaliana, mouse-ear cress, to accelerate the effects of individual genes and networks of genes. In a later phase, promising genes will be tested in different crops including oilseeds and cereals.


Bayer is a global enterprise with core competencies in the fields of health care, nutrition and high-tech materials. Bayer CropScience, a subgroup of Bayer AG with annual sales of EUR6.83 billion (US$9.2 billion) in 2010, is one of the world's leading innovative crop science companies in the areas of crop protection, non-agricultural pest control, seeds and traits.


The company offers an outstanding range of products and extensive service backup for modern, sustainable agriculture and for non-agricultural applications. Bayer CropScience has a global workforce of 20,700 and is represented in more than 120 countries.


VIB is a non-profit life sciences research institute based in Flanders, Belgium. More than 1,000 scientists conduct strategic basic research on the molecular basis of the human body, plants and microorganisms. Through a partnership with four Flemish universities, UGent, K. U. Leuven, University of Antwerp and Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and a sound investment programme, VIB bundles the forces of 72 research groups into one institute.


Their research is leading to better knowledge about life. With its technology transfer, VIB strives to translate research results into new economic activity and into products to serve consumers and patients. VIB is developing and distributing a wide range of scientifically supported information about all aspects of biotechnology.

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