Københavns Universitet

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Defining genetic targets for domestication of wild crops at Københavns Universitet

Crop production is facing unprecedented challenges. In 2050, the human population will likely exceed nine billion, increasing the demand for staple crops and livestock by 60%. Climate change is expected to drastically constrain plant productivity, necessitating the development of cultivars with increased tolerance to abiotic stresses such as heat, drought, soil salinization, and flooding. Furthermore, yields are beginning to stagnate in important crop production regions. Therefore, a movement is building to intensify crop production sustainably through the development of new crop species. Crops resistant to water and salt stress may be developed by two approaches. First, many major crops have wild relatives that are tolerant to drought and high salinity, and, once deciphered, the underlying resilience mechanisms can be genetically manipulated to produce crops with improved tolerance. Second, some minor (orphan) crops cultivated in marginal areas are already drought and salt tolerant. Improving the agronomic performance of these crops may prove easier than engineering tolerance in major crops. Chenopodium quinoa (quinoa), a nutritious semi-domesticated crop that tolerates both drought and high salinity, is an ideal candidate for both of these approaches. Based on database searches, we have identified a number of genes in the quinoa genome that are potential targets for increasing the productivity of quinoa by altering, e.g., the size of the grain. Due to the complexity of the quinoa genome (allotetraploid, 2n = 4x = 36) and its 5-month germination-to-seed-harvest time, it is important to validate the identified genes as relevant targets to increase productivity before attempting genetic modification of quinoa. Thus, the aim of this project is to test the involvement of some of the gene candidates in control of grain size and other interesting parameters using model systems. At project start you will define a suitable strategy to reach this goal. Some of the possible approaches are:

  • Cloning of genes in Arabidopsis compatible plasmid and expression of the genes of interest in Arabidopsis wildtype or mutant plants
  • Subcellular localization of the encoded protein products using transformation of quinoa protoplasts
  • Purification of the encoded protein products from heterologous organisms (bacteria, yeast), followed by relevant activity assays in vitro, e.g. promoter-binding experiments for transcription factors or uptake/export assay for transporters reconstituted in artificial membranes
  • Establishing a high-throughput system to design and test sgRNAs for CRIPSR/Cas genome editing of quinoa

The project will be embedded within the NovoCrops Challenge project financed by the Novo Nordisk Foundation. The work will be carried out in the Section for Transport Biology, Department for Plant and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science at Copenhagen University, under the supervision of Associate Professor Rosa L. Lopez-Marques (rlo@plen.ku.dk).

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