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Food Quality and Safety in Europe



Europe's two main staple carbohydrate foods, wheat and potatoes, are sprayed with 70% of the total amount of pesticides used by farmers. If plant breeders could enhance natural disease resistance to the fungal infections that cause the most damage to these crops, there would be many benefits for food safety and health, and for farming. However, public resistance in Europe to genetically modified organisms has meant that, unlike elsewhere in the world, most firms have been reluctant to invest in plant biotechnology for the European market.

This EU funded five-year Integrated Project aims at developing new strains of wheat and potatoes with in-built resistance to fungal diseases. It has 42 participants representing 67 research groups in Europe and beyond. As well as a considerable investigative input, the project also contains the necessary public information and dissemination elements.


BIOEXPLOIT aims to force a breakthrough by developing efficient and rational breeding strategies using genomic and post-genomic tools to exploit the host natural resistance to fungal diseases. It will go down two separate paths: marker-assisted breeding and full genetic engineering. While genetic engineering has received most publicity in recent years, there has been a quiet revolution in marker-assisted breeding. The project will develop high-throughput diagnostics methods using genetic markers for selecting seedlings in an offspring from crosses that will shorten the time needed to produce these new varieties. It is expected that, with the continuous advances in high-throughput DNA technologies, marker-assisted breeding of disease resistance will become more efficient than genetic engineering.

The first stage will be to find the genes in wild relatives of wheat and potato which confer resistance to those fungal diseases causing such high crop losses. Biodiversity offers a huge pool of potential disease resistance, but only 0.1% of it has been exploited. BIOEXPLOIT has set its target much higher. It will explore the molecular components involved in conferring lasting resistance to the target species and put them into integrated databases for wheat and potato phenotype and genotype samples. The database will then be used to combine multiple disease resistance in a single crop. The project will give high priority to marker-assisted breeding for the exploration of natural disease resistance. Genetic engineering will be deployed to produce naturally resistant varieties in case insurmountable obstacles appear in attempts to combine several resistance traits into a single crop by controlled crosses.

The main target pathogens most harmful to crops are potato late blight, one of the world's most destructive plant diseases, and four fungal pathogens of wheat. Fusarium species will also be covered because their toxins make cereals dangerous to human health.


All the material used for the genetic engineering comes from naturally occurring wild species and their close relatives, there will be no suggestion of transgenic manipulation. SMEs, which make up the bulk of plant breeders, will play a pivotal role in BIOEXPLOIT. Marker assisted breeding will result in varieties with in built natural resistance which will make these varieties highly suitable for both conventional and organic farming.

List of Partners

  • Wageningen University (The Netherlands)
  • Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (France)
  • Scottish Crop Protection Institute (UK)
  • John Innes Centre (UK)
  • Sainsbury Laboratory (UK)
  • University of Dundee (UK)
  • Rothamsted Research (UK)
  • Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (Germany)
  • Stichting dienst landbouwkundig onderzoek (The Netherlands)
  • Max-Planck Institute for Plant-Breeding Research (Germany)
  • Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University (Denmark)
  • Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales Agricolas y Pecuarias (Mexico)
  • Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (Switzerland)
  • University of Zurich (Switzerland)
  • Agricult. Research Institute Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Hungary)
  • RISŲ National Laboratory (Denmark)
  • European Association for Plant Breeding (Europe)
  • European Association for Potato Research (Europe)
  • Keygene N.V. (The Netherlands)
  • National Institute of Agricultural Botany (UK)
  • Societą Produttori Sementi Bologna (Italy)
  • Stichting Stimulering van Aardappelonderzoek (The Netherlands)
  • Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences (Denmark)
  • University of Helsinki (Finland)
  • Plant Research International (The Netherlands)
  • Plant Breeding and Acclimatization Institute (Poland)
  • Institute of Field and Garden Crops (Israel)
  • University of Haifa (Israel)
  • University of Bologna (Italy)
  • Basque Institute for Agricultural Research and Development (Spain)
  • Romanian Academy Institute for Biochemistry (Romania)
  • University of Amsterdam (The Netherlands)
  • FNPPPT (France)
  • BioPlante (France)
  • Zamarte Breeding Company (Poland)
  • SZELEJEWO Breeding Company (Poland)
  • APPACALE (Spain)
  • Saaten-Union Resistenzlabor (Germany)
  • SaKa Forschung (Germany)
  • ARC Seibersdorf Research (Austria)
  • Lochow-Petkus (Germany)
Full title:
Exploitation of natural plant biodiversity for the pesticidefree production of food
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Jaap Bakker, Wageningen University,
EC Scientific Officer:
Annette Schneegans,
EU contribution:
€ 15.8M
Integrated Project

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top