Wheat and potatoes, staple carbohydrate crops in Europe and the rest of the world, are highly susceptible to fungal attack, and tonnes of pesticides are used on these crops as a result. There has, however, been little work on exploiting natural biodiversity or using genetic modification to breed resistant varieties, in part because of public resistance to GMOs in Europe. If wheat and potatoes could be given inherent fungal resistance, less food would be wasted and fewer chemicals would be released into the environment.
In the major five-year project BIOEXPLOIT, 42 partner organisations from the EU, FP6-associated countries and Mexico, are using rational strategies to develop strains of wheat and potatoes resistant to fungal infection. They have adopted the rapidly advancing technique of markerassisted breeding, as well as genetic engineering. Results will be communicated to scientists, plant breeders and the public, and there is also a training programme.
Wheat and potatoes are staples in many parts of the world. This makes protecting them against fungal infections an issue of vital global importance. BIOEXPLOIT is a European-led major international effort to do just that.
BIOEXPLOIT is likely to have the following long-term socio-economic impact:
- It will bolster European genomics research in wheat and potato
- It will strengthen the competitiveness of European SMEs
- It will give a boost to Europe’s plant breeding industry and open markets for new varieties
- It will safeguard staple food crops and reduce environmental contamination
- Its dissemination programme will help familiarise consumers with modern plant breeding techniques
The project will contribute to the following scientific areas:
- Understanding of the molecular components of durable disease resistance in plants
- Location of the genetic sites of natural resistance to the main fungal infections of wheat and potato
- Creation of a database of information on natural biodiversity in disease resistance
- Marker-assisted breeding and genetic engineering to breed new varieties of wheat and potato
- The development of efficient and rational breeding strategies using genomics and postgenomics tools
- High throughput methods for selecting seedlings that will shorten the time needed to produce new varieties
- Production of varieties acceptable to organic farmers and work towards European standards for organic plant breeding
- Reduction in the use of some of fungicides by two important crops
- Contribution to the production of higher yields of crops that are safer for human health