Global agriculture under pressure: increasing output while minimizing environmental impact
Incredible population growth (by the middle of the 21st century we will be over nine billion people) imposes an unprecedented demand on the planet’s resources and capabilities. Imbalance between the agricultural lands needed for food production and the boost urban development, needed to accommodate this population increase, goes at the expense of farm lands. Consider also climatic changes that are likely going to have a negative impact on both natural ecosystems and agricultural productivity. The picture is quite dramatic.
Is there a way to farm more sustainably and boost yields at the same time?
Genome editing (as distinct from genetic engineering)
Genome editing offers promising solutions. As an alternative to genetic engineering, it is not transgenic, i.e. does not introduce genes of one species into another. Instead, by using advanced molecular biology techniques it allows to introduce precise, targeted changes (adding, removing or replacing as little as one nucleotide) to DNA without altering an organism’s identity.
This approach already revolutionized basic and applied biology allowing for characterization of gene function and improvement of traits. In agriculture it can be used as a smart molecular tool for introducing targeted genomic changes and complement existing breeding systems in order to respond to the growing demand on safe food with greater respect for the environment and energy saving.
CRISPR-Cas9 for crop improvement
NeosVine is a collaborative project with Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo, a leading grape nursery. The project is funded by the Regione Autonoma Friuli Venezia Giulia in the frame of the POR FESR 2014-2020.
Our commitment to invest in the sector of grape green biotechnologies is aiming to support the local wine industry with improved grape stocks. We hope that NeosVine will lay the ground for improving historical grape varieties for resistance and resilience traits and for contributing to a sustainable viticulture.
With the goal of applying new breeding technologies to crop improvement, we will establish a facility for tissue culture and genome editing. The first case-study of NeosVine will be addressed to the DNA-free editing of grapevine embryogenic cells, using a CRISPR-Cas9 ribonucleoproteic complex for inducing targeted gene silencing.
Our major contribution will be the reconstruction of the edited genomes by sequencing and de novo assembly of short Illumina, linked 10X Genomics and long Oxford Nanopore reads..
Thanks to a 169,529.21 EUR contribution from the POR FESR programme and an investment of 74,700 EUR of our own resources, we will expand laboratories by 80 square meters, with a new area dedicated to the application of new breeding technologies to crop improvement, equipped with aseptic cabinets and instruments for biolistic particle delivery. We will also expand staff by employing a senior biotechnologist, entirely dedicated to the NeosVine project activities.
Stay tuned for project updates!