Producing plants that are better adapted to their environment.
Understanding the relationships between plant genes and their physical characteristics
The “Plant Phenotyping and Engineering Pipeline” (3P) project is aimed at developing plants that are more productive and better adapted to their environment. This research requires combining the techniques of analysing the physical characteristics of plants (phenotyping, see Note, below) with genetic techniques. Objective : to identify the key genes and choose the best of them in order to create plants that are better adapted to environmental changes and to sustainable farming practices.
The 3P project involves carefully identifying the phenotype of the plants, as well as the genes involved – hence the necessity of developing new methods of rapid phenotyping. These methods are based on high throughput technologies and the combination of several types of microscopes, in order to obtain data on plant growth, as well as on the phenomena regarding the cell.
The research will focus essentially on the development of roots and fruits. The roots allow the intake of nutrients and water and thus have a direct impact on the plant’s productivity. However, the development of these roots is controlled by the genetics of the plant and regulated by environmental conditions. That is the centre of the relationship between the phenotype and the genotype. This is also the case for flower development, which determines the production of the fruit.
Improving the yield of plants and adapting them to their environment
Improving plants is a crucial challenge for feeding humanity, indeed, providing it with fuel and materials, without degrading the planet.
Today, it is no longer a time of selecting seeds “the old way”. With the progress in imaging and genetic methods, it’s possible to improve plants in a focused way by relying on understanding the biological phenomena at stake.
The increase in population (9.2 billion people anticipated in 2050), the lack of arable land and climate changes make it necessary to improve yields and adapt plants to warm climates.
The 3P advantages
The merger of five institutions around a single structure : CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique – National Scientific Research Centre), the INRA (Institut national de la recherche agronomique – National Institute for Agricultural Research), Université d’Evry-Val-d’Essonne, Université Paris-Diderot and Université Paris-Sud, created this Institute.
Its laboratories will have additional complementary expertise in biology : genomics, metabolism and physiology of plants, imaging, bio-informatics, etc. They will be included in the very favourable environment of the Université Paris-Saclay : the Imagif technological platform, the Living Systems Modelling Institute in Saclay, bio-informatics, etc.
An extension of the current facility for plant growth is planned in order to study a wide range of plants under different environmental conditions. This facility must be close to the other imaging and genetic platforms to minimize moving the plants.
The phenotype of a plant is the combination of its observable features : shape of the plant, the roots, colour and shape of the flowers and fruits, as well as more microscopic characteristics, on the scale of the cell, or even molecules (concentration in proteins, for example).
The genotype is the combination of hereditary features of a living being, its genetic heritage.
The phenotype depends on the genotype, as well as the environmental conditions in which the plant develops. Understanding the link between phenotype and genotype is a crucial challenge for modern biology.