• KWS project team in the field

Discover some of our current projects for sustainable agriculture

Our research and breeding programs are used to develop competitive plant varieties for efficient and sustainable agriculture. Our work focuses on yield stability, product quality and the preservation of genetic resources. Rapidly advancing technological developments in the field of plant biotechnology have given rise to increasingly more new opportunities for the development of crop varieties with improved characteristics.

Plants with three parents? Discover 3PaTec!

Diversity is the basis of all plant breeding. Greater genetic diversity offers more adaptation options, also and especially for breeding climate-resistant plants. That is why scientists and breeders worldwide are working to increase the genetic diversity of plants. A joint project of the University of Bremen, KWS and Aardevo is also addressing this issue and taking unusual paths.

The research project with the cryptic name 3PaTec is advancing the development of plants with three parents instead of the original two. The aim is to use the mechanism of plant polyspermy, i.e. the fertilization of the egg cell by several sperm cells, to combine the genetic potential of three pairs of parents. Plant polyspermy can be used to bypass a so-called hybridization barrier - a kind of checkpoint that screens out incompatible parental DNA. The result is polyploid plants with one mother and two fathers. Each parent thereby transfers its genome to the daughter generation. The result is a much larger gene pool that can be used for breeding adaptation of our crops to future challenges such as drought and heat.

Bypassing the hybridization barrier also brings other advantages: The technique can make plant lines usable for conventional breeding that are actually genetically incompatible and thus cannot normally be crossed. This applies, for example, to some climate-adapted wild forms. Furthermore, 3PaTec has the potential to significantly accelerate the breeding process.

The 3PaTec project has been deemed highly innovative and valuable for the further improvement of our crops by the European Innovation Council (EIC), the innovation council of the EU, and thus receives full funding. The fact that plants can have three parents has already been successfully demonstrated for the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. The aim of the project is to transfer this to other crops, such as potato as well as sugar beet, and to develop the technology further.

Nitrogen-efficient corn

Farmers require nitrogen-efficient varieties to achieve stable yields, even when fertilization is limited. KWS has therefore developed corn varieties that continue to be productive even when the soil contains little nitrogen. However, nitrogen-efficient varieties should not only grow well when there is a lack of nutrition, but, if possible, should achieve good yields independent of its nitrogen supply.

To achieve this objective, our breeders and researchers investigate the natural variation of nitrogen efficiency and analyze the genetic make-up of different corn plants that provide stable yields even with minimal fertilization. This has shown that nitrogen-efficiency cannot simply be traced back to genetic make-up. It is instead a complex characteristic, influenced by many sections of DNA.

We then attempt to find out through further analyses which genes or sections in DNA actually play a role. With this knowledge, our breeders can make a more targeted selection, thereby improving the nitrogen-efficiency of corn.

Next-generation herbicide-tolerant sugarbeets

The US sugarbeet market is currently characterized by a need for sugarbeet varieties with multiple tolerances for herbicides to aid in weed control. To meet this need, we are currently working on a follow-up product for the very successful Roundup Ready® sugarbeet. Our researchers and breeders are working together to develop a new generation of herbicide-tolerant sugarbeets having three modes of action for herbicide tolerance. The project has advanced to the regulatory phase in early 2020. This new technology, once deregulated, will provide North American farmers with extended effective weed management options helping to secure productivity, reduce resource inputs and foster the competitiveness of sugarbeet production.

  • People at KWS

    Our principle: powerful seed for sustainable agriculture and high yields.

    Hinrich Harling, Head of Research Europe

Hybrid potato seeds

KWS has been pursuing a research-intense project since 2011: The development of diploid hybrid potatoes, which can be cultivated and distributed using seed. The breeding progress for potatoes has been very sluggish until recently.

To counter this stagnant progress, our breeders and researchers are working on the hybrid breeding of potatoes. This would have several critical advantages: Diploid potatoes enable much more effective breeding work. At the same time, the risk of a pest infestation in seed is considerably lower than for seed potatoes.

Finally, switching to potato seeds would mean there would no longer be a need to cool the seed potatoes during storage and during time-intensive transport. However, plenty of research and development is still needed before the first competitive varieties will be available in the market.

Find out more about potato seed

Feature detection from the air

How a plant’s genetic make-up and the various environmental conditions actually interact can only be established in the field. Field testing is the only method to determine whether a plant variety actually exhibits a desired characteristic. However, to do this we must be able to document the plant features using a precise and standard method.

In this respect, we want to support our breeding perspective with new phenotyping processes and further optimize the selection process. This is why KWS invests in the development of new methods to automatically record certain plant characteristics. We also investigate the possibilities of digital imaging by combining several sensor technologies and drone systems.

The goal is to use, for instance, aerial images to draw conclusions very quickly and precisely on characteristics such as plant height or a possible disease outbreak.

Maximizing photosynthesis efficiency in corn

Corn is what is known as a C4 plant. It uses a special method of photosynthesis characterized by improved water-use efficiency. C4 plants can therefore grow more biomass in a shorter time span, as long as light irradiation and temperature are increased. Nevertheless, even corn plants do not achieve maximum light output.

This reveals an untapped potential to increase yield. In collaboration with the Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, the Technical University Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Crop Physiology in Potsdam, KWS is working on this topic as part of a project funded by the BMBF [German Federal Ministry of Education and Research].

Our objective is to gain new scientific knowledge that can be used to improve photosynthesis efficiency in breeding. First, we are investigating which factors influence C4 photosynthesis in corn. At the same time, we want to find out more about the natural patterns of photosynthesis through marker technology.

Crops of the future

“Crops of the future” seeks to promote the breeding of crops through an innovative public/private model. This international consortium combines resources from leading agricultural companies and research organizations to overcome future food supply chain challenges.

The goal is to breed crops with special properties for increased adaption to various environmental conditions—for example, improved nutritional properties, or tolerance to drought, heat or floods. We are planning to publish in scientific publications and on platforms to promote the knowledge generated, so both public and private breeding projects may benefit from the newly completed findings.

The technical focus is on genome editing, genome sequencing and phenomics, which explores the relationships between the genetic make-up of a plant, its environmental conditions and its performance.

Visit the “Crops of the future” website

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Stephan Krings
Stephan Krings
Head of Global Marketing and Communications
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