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Danish plant species to prevent drought loss for billions

Researchers from Center for Quantitative Genetics and Genomics (QGG) are participating in a new project that aims to develop more drought resistant crops that will prevent farmers’ economic loss.

Photo: Couleur, Pixabay.com


The project Crops for future climates – Improve roots, boost resilience, RadiBooster is a collaboration project between Danish plant improvement companies and three Danish universities. The aim is to develop new wheat, grass and potato species that are able to produce up to 10 percent more yield than traditional species during spring and summer droughts.

The drought in 2018 cost Danish farmers 4 billion DKK. Fortunately it is rare that Denmark experiences a drought as the one in 2018, but in five of the past six years, farmers across Europe have suffered spring drought in the order of billions. According to climate models, this kind of phenomenon will  be the rule rather than the exception in the future.

The project aims at breed crops with deeper roots and thereby insure that the plants can continue their growth longer when the drought sets in. Innovation Fund Denmark has recently invested 17.6 million DKK in the project, of which QGG is responsible for work packages for approximately on third of the budget.

- Developing deeper roots in the plant species of the future is like unveiling a treasure in the soil. It has incredibly big perspectives, says Christian Sig Jensen, director of the biotech department at the seed company DLF.

Following a spring drought there is still water in the ground, but it is deep down. If it is possible to develop plant species that can reach the low water level, there are large, economical gains in sight. Not only for Danish agriculture, but for a substantial amount of European farmers in the future.

The same species are likely also able to prevent the washing out of some of the nitrogen that is lost to lakes and watercourses in the autumn. Plant roots absorb nitrogen, so plants with a bigger and deeper net of roots means less excess nitrogen being washed out with the autumn rain.

QGG’s contribution to the project

At QGG, work package responsible, professor Torben Asp and his group in Flakkebjerg are looking forward to get started.

- In work package 1, we will be screening wheat and rye grass for root depth in rhizotubes, and in work package 3 we will be working with multi-omics prediction at DNA and transkriptome level, Torben Asp explains,  and elaborates

- By means of machine-learning and other bioinformatic methods, these analyses will contribute to the identification of a multi-omics panel of bio markers, which will be used to develop drought resistant species of wheat and rye grass.

Also at QGG in Foulum, work package responsible, professor Just Jensen and his group is ready.

- Our contribution to work package four is first and foremost to develop the models and methods that will form the base for the decisions the plant improvement companies will make in order to develop drought resistant species, Just Jensen says.

- We will also perform a biometric analysis of the data in order to assess the certainty of the measurings that are carried out during the project, he adds.

The project is a collaboration between the Danish plant improvement companies DLF Seeds A/S, Nordic Seed A/S, Sejet Plant Breeding I/S, Danespo A/S, and the three Danish universities Copenhagen University,  Aarhus University, and Aalborg University. The consortium will collaborate in developing an international, cutting edge platform for the future development of climate adapted plant species.

For further information please contact:

Torben Asp, professor at QGG. +45 8715 8243, torben.asp@au.dk

Just Jensen, professor at QGG. +45 4082 1680, au224327@uni.au.dk

Christian Sig Jensen, Head of Biotech, DLF. +45 7233 0419, csj@dlf.com

Jens Bomholt, head of communications, Innovation Fund Denmark. +45 6190 5045, jens.bomholt@innofond.dk

Text adapted from the Innovation Fund Denmark press release. Read the full press release here (in Danish).