Eight new projects in green top sectors

5 December 2018

The NWO Domain Science Board has approved eight proposals in the programme Graduate School Green Top Sectors. Five projects fall within the Top Sector Horticulture and Propagation Materials and three projects in the Top Sector Agri-Food.

Within this programme, excellent master students can, in collaboration with knowledge institutions and companies, submit a proposal for their PhD research. In this round, the candidate of the third project within the Top Sector Agri-Food has now withdrawn. Therefore this grant will not be awarded.

Projects within the Top Sector Horticulture and Propagation Materials

Plants grow with a foot on the brake: How the promiscuous MPK6 kinase universally represses acclimation to warm and cold temperature signals
Dr M. van Zanten, PhD candidate Myrthe Praat, Utrecht University
How a universal molecular inhibitor in plants controls growth adaptations to hot and cold

Ambient temperature controls the growth of plants. The molecular processes that control this are largely unknown. Recently, we have discovered that the signal transduction protein MPK6 inhibits the growth of plants at both high and low culturing temperatures. This project will investigate which molecular factors are under the control of MPK6 in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, the crops lettuce and tomato, and the cut flower chrysanthemum. This research is important for the development of hot and cold tolerant crops with a high yield and quality, independent of the ambient temperature.

Effector proteins of Botrytis elliptica as tools for resistance breeding in lily against fire blight disease
Dr J.A.L. van Kan, PhD candidate Michele Malvestiti, Wageningen University and Research
Use of fungal proteins in the breeding of lilies against blight

The fungus Botrytis elliptica causes huge damage in lilies, which growers call blight. Large quantities of pesticides are used to control this and breeding lilies that are resistant to blight is difficult. This project will investigate the use of proteins from the fungus Botrytis in plant breeding to select resistant cultivars and to subsequently develop these at an accelerated rate. In the future, this could limit the use of pesticides and reduce economic damage.

TOPLESS a novel S gene: Unravelling the manipulation of Topless by a conserved effector from Fusarium oxysporum
Dr F.L.W. Takken, PhD candidate Thomas Aalders, University of Amsterdam
How the fungus Fusarium oxysporum manipulates plants and causes disease

Each year, about 20% of our potential harvest is lost to plant diseases. Pathogens manipulate their hosts for their own benefit. If we can understand how pathogens do this, then we can make plants less susceptible and also strongly reduce our dependence on the use of pesticides. The researchers will determine how the fungus Fusarium, the causative agent of many wilting diseases such as those in tomato, manipulates its host. We will do this by studying how a recently discovered fungal protein, SIX8, increases the vulnerability of plants for this disease by disrupting gene expression in its host in a way that is yet unknown.

Laying the foundation of plant shape by design: cracking the code of ARF5 DNA-binding
Prof. D. Weijers, PhD candidate Juriaan Rienstra, Wageningen University and Research
Designer plants

The yield of crops would be improved enormously if we could influence the shape of plants, for example to harvest tomato plants mechanically. The plant hormone auxin has considerable potential in this regard because it controls the growth and final shape of the plant. However, adjustments to the amount of auxin have negative side effects. Is it possible to adjust the responses of the plant to its own auxin and thus adjust the growth and shape? With this knowledge, we could rationally breed plants on the basis of a design in which the plant shape is optimised for the growth conditions.

Targeted allele replacement
Prof. R.G.F. Visser, PhD candidate William de Martines, Wageningen University and Research
Precise plant breeding with genome editing

A special application of gene editing is the precise replacement of genes with better versions. In human genetics, this is already seen as a highly promising technique to repair genetic diseases. We want to apply this form of gene editing in plant breeding, but the underlying biological mechanism in plants is highly inefficient. We will therefore develop an improved gene editing method for the targeted replacement of genes in the model plant Arabidopsis. After that, we will apply the method in potatoes to replace a non-functional Phytophthora resistance gene with a natural, functional variant. That will make the potato resistant to Phytophthora.

Projects within the Top Sector Agrifood

Blight in the spotlight; an innovative microscopic assay for unravelling and quantifying the Phytophthora infestans infection process
Prof. F.P.M. Govers PhD candidate Michiel Kasteel, Wageningen University and Research
Light out, spot on: a closer look at potato blight

Pathogens constantly attack plants, which results in considerable yield losses in agriculture and horticulture. Phytophthora infestans causes potato blight and is an infamous pathogen with a considerable adaptability that makes it more difficult to control. In this research project, a quantitative method to measure infection efficiency will be developed. Using advanced microscopy and simulated plant cell walls we will quantify the effect of different types of control on the growth and development of P. infestans. This will not only enrich our understanding of the infection mechanism of this pathogen, but it will also allow us to develop an innovative method to efficiently quantify the effects of new control methods.

The fate of nutrients captured in the dark films of mushroom compost
Dr M.A. Kabel PhD candidate Katharina Duran, Wageningen University and Research
Nutrient-rich dark coloured films in mushroom compost

The production of mushrooms worldwide is increasing each year. Mushrooms grow on compost that remains after composting several ingredients (wheat straw, horse manure, chicken manure and plaster). During the composting process, dark-coloured films form around the straw (about 30% of the dry material). The structure of these films is unknown as equally the manner in which these films are available for mushroom growth. This project will map the formation and breakdown of dark-coloured films with the help of existing methods from neighbouring research areas. Ultimately this research should lead to a reduction in the costs of the mushroom compost production process.


Source: NWO