Plant breeders intend to demonstrate within the course of the project, that new breeding methods help to generate plants with important properties that otherwise could only be obtained with considerable delay, if at all. Dr. Klaus Wagner, president of the Agricultural Union of Thuringia (Thüringer Bauernverband e.V.), pointed to the urgent need of farmers to deploy adapted plant varieties as soon as possible. “Climate change and a shortfall of available plant protection products pose a challenge for farmers in maintaining stable yields and high quality levels. This is why we need new methods in plant breeding. We cannot afford to renounce them”, he affirmed.
In the course of the project, pathogen defense mechanisms will be enhanced by inactivating one of the plant’s own regulator genes. “We expect that this will result in a broad and durable tolerance against fungal diseases like wheat leaf rust, stripe rust, septoria leaf blotch and fusarium head blight (scab)”, Dr. Anja Matzk, Head Plant Biotechnology Innovation at the plant breeding company KWS, described the goal to one of the project partners. Necessary steps to accomplish the research project goals will entail targeted mutagenesis using Cas endonuclases. To this end, the project will exclusively edit individual wheat genes already present in the plant’s genome in a very targeted way.
Moreover, plant breeders will investigate the accessibility of current CRISPR/Cas methods for plant breeding companies in light of intellectual property rights. Licence structures of providers and the requirements to be fulfilled by potential licensees need to be analysed regarding their alignment with the abilities of German plant breeding companies.
A core question evolves around how research results of the project can be implemented and used in agricultural practice. Therefore, evaluation of fungal disease tolerance in field trials is an essential prerequisite. The European Court of justice ruled in 2018 that plants developed through application of new breeding methods are generally considered genetically modified organisms (gmos). In consequence, regulatory requirements and their impact render the application of new breeding methods virtually impossible in practice. “Considering the current scientific knowledge there is no reason to regulate plants as gmos that cannot be distinguished from conventionally bred plants or plants that could have occurred naturally. The legislation needs to be adjusted accordingly”, Franck demands.
More detailed project information is available at https://pilton.bdp-online.de/.