The missing link in plant biotech
With EU backing and contributions from German research groups and the Bulgarian government, a project is laying the foundations for a pioneering new centre focused on plant systems biology and biotechnology, to bridge pure and applied knowledge in this fascinating and growing scientific field.
© photology1971 #157126622, source: fotolia.com, 2018
With advances in technology and better understanding of how plants develop and respond to their environment, scientists are able to translate their findings into healthier, more resilient crops and food production to feed growing populations under even the toughest climatic conditions.
This branch of science focuses on plant systems and biotechnology introducing desirable traits into plants through genetic modifications. The EU-funded PLANTASYST project will tap into the huge potential of this burgeoning field by creating a new Centre of Plant Systems Biology and Biotechnology (CPSBB) in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
The aim is to position the CPSBB at the forefront of plant sciences in the country and south-east Europe, building on the research and technological strengths of Potsdam University and the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Germany. In practice, this means performing cutting-edge functional genomics, metabolomics and bioinformatics research to unravel the genetic codes regulating and governing plant development.
Fundamental science, conducted in its departments for plant development, molecular stress physiology, metabolomics and bioinformatics, can then feed into applied research in its vegetable breeding, synthetic biology and plant cell biotechnology departments. That way, the centre acts as the missing link between academia and industry in the region.
Targeting smart specialisation
New agro-products and developments to come out of the CPSBB can help Bulgarian breeders, farmers and end-users, and meet the needs of global markets. The project has identified new diagnostic tools and technologies for plant breeding as a particularly promising research avenue, as well as new stress-resistant vegetable varieties and crop cultivars selectively bred to yield more with higher nutritional value.
Other areas of interest include developing plant qualities to make harvesting and processing easier and plant-derived products with innovative health and medical properties.
CPSBB should also become a centre of excellence in the region, attracting and retaining the most talented plant systems, biotech and bioinformatics researchers, in line with Bulgarias stated Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialisation (IS3). This means investing in education and developing the next generation of home-grown talent.
As a vital bridge between policy, science, industry and the bioeconomy, once fully operational, the centre will boost research and innovation potential, build capacity in crop genomics and stimulate scientific, economic and social development in the region.