Strategies & activities

The improved environmental performance of BOOSTER over existing solutions will be confirmed by means of state-of-the-art environmental Life Cycle Assessment.

Two overarching strategies will be implemented:

The first strategy

The first strategy is based on the use of a new powerful method for the genome-wide and high-resolution identification of natural genetic variation within cis-regulatory elements (hereinafter named CREs) that regulate expression of genes, followed by the estimation of their causative association with drought tolerance. The information gleaned in the duration of the project will ultimately be utilized, after the project end, to significantly improve the exploitation of natural genetic variation for the design of targeted, efficient, and smart breeding programs to produce drought tolerant genotypes (hereinafter named DTGs and representing maize hybrids and teff hybrids or lines).

The second strategy

The second strategy is aimed at the development of novel natural biostimulants as an eco-friendly and bio-based approach for priming/improving drought resilience. We will focus on two types of natural biostimulants: i) seaweed extracts (hereinafter named SWEs), some of which have been shown to prime abiotic stresses tolerance in crops and ii) microbial biostimulants comprised of soil microorganisms growing in and around plant roots and termed plant growth promoting rhizobacteria (hereinafter named PGPR) because they stimulate plant growth and influence plant responses to abiotic stresses.

The implementation of these two synergistic strategies will increase the biomass resources derived from maize and teff during the future extreme drought conditions caused by climate change in both Europe and Africa. In this way, BOOSTER will enable production of feedstock required for sustainable bio-based products derived from maize and teff.

The improved environmental performance of BOOSTER over existing solutions will be confirmed by means of state-of-the-art environmental Life Cycle Assessment (hereinafter named LCA). It is important to highlight that these combined BOOSTER strategies, as well as the products that it will develop during its implementation, are expected to be highly transferable for improving drought resilience in other crops or in the same crops cultivated in other countries (e.g. maize in Africa). Overall, BOOSTER deliverables will strengthen the competitiveness of both European and African bioeconomy-based industries and will improve yield stability with lower irrigation requirements. In addition, through specific dissemination, exploitation, and communication strategies (hereinafter named DEC), BOOSTER results will be used as concrete examples for improving public knowledge and awareness about the sustainable use of bio-based technologies.

BOOSTER Work Packages:

Work Package 1: Genome-wide identification of maize and teff CREs and genes associated with drought tolerance

The main objective in WP1 is to develop a maize and teff map associated with drought tolerance. Maize and teff are versatile crops with growing worldwide importance as a staple food, animal feed, and source of biofuel. However, climate change challenges the productivity of these crops, with high-yield modern varieties being especially affected. To meet the demands of a growing population while the amount of arable land remains constant or even decreases, yields need to be improved even during challenging conditions such as prolonged drought, or high heat and salinity. Our WP aims to identify cis-elements that confer regulatory responses to abiotic climate change stresses including drought and/or heat. To this end, we employ and develop novel sequencing technologies, such as MOA-seq and FIND-CIS, to quantitatively analyze transcription factor binding of regulatory proteins and gene expression in different maize and teff varieties. In combination with phenotypic data, this information will be employed to bioengineer climate change-resilient maize and teff plants.

Work Package 2: Comparative genomics of drought CREs and genes in three different grasses and validation of maize and teff drought CREs genome-wide data

The objectives of the WP2 are to identify drought and desiccation CREs in E. nindensis; to identify similarities and differences for drought and desiccation response in maize, teff, and E. nindensis; to validate AS MOA/mRNA-seq results in maize; to validate AS MOA/mRNA-seq results in teff; and to assess the potential to transfer E. nindensis and teff specific drought tolerance features to maize.

Work Package 3: Development and characterization of new SWE and microbial biostimulants for improving maize and teff drought tolerance

The objectives of WP3 are (i) to identify and isolate root colonizing microorganisms from areas in Africa and Europe with long history of drought for the formulation of novel and efficient microbial biostimulants; (ii) to identify the best performing SWEs and microbial biostimulants for improving drought tolerance in maize and teff; and (iii) to study the mode of action of the most effective SWEs and microbial biostimulants. In order to achieve these objectives, a number of activities are made by a multidisciplinary team from eight institutions in seven countries. The activities include, (i) the collection of microbial samples from drought prone sites in Africa and Europe; (ii) the study of microbial and SWE biostimulants for their role in drought tolerance of maize and teff; and (iii) the mode of action of biostimulants on the drought tolerance of key cereal crops. As a result, novel SWEs and microbial biostimulants will be developed, characterized for their mode of action, and assessed for their effectiveness in improving maize and teff drought tolerance under controlled conditions.

Work Package 4: Production of the best performing SWE and microbial biostimulants and evaluation of their performance in improving maize and teff drought tolerance through field trials

The objective of WP4 is to develop seaweed-based and microbial-based biostimulant technologies that enhance drought tolerance in maize and teff. The efficacy of these technologies will be demonstrated in drought-prone areas of Ethiopia and Europe (Mediterranean zone: the Po plain, Italy; Southern France, Southern Spain; and  South/Eastern zone: Bulgaria, Hungary). Building on their progress in WP3, BioAtlantis and ApheaBio will deliver formulations designed with specific bioactive compounds proven to efficiently prime drought tolerance in crops. The formulations will be produced using be-spoke methods at the company’s in-house R&D and production facilities, with in-house testing undertaken prior to release. The formulations will made available to EIAR, CPSBB, CREA and APBIO for field trial evaluation. The outcome will be the provision of effective technologies for crop growers that are proven to work at field level in maize and teff. This workpackage will be coordinated by BioAtlantis.

Work Package 5: Project DEC to improve public understanding of biotechnology and bioeconomy in the context of the EU strategies and implementation of the stakeholders’ involvement to achieve project outcomes and impacts

The objectives of the WP5 are to communicate and disseminate the project activities and results to the broader public through innovative tools; to communicate and disseminate the project activities and results to a wide range of stakeholders, thus ensuring results exploitation after the project end; to assess the environmental performance of the developed solutions and to compare with existing strategies; to support the knowledge transfer to farmers, growers, breeders, and seed companies; to support the effective exploitation of the results, including the handling of IP issues; and to foster the transferability of results/techniques/products to other crops in Europe and developing countries.

Work Package 6: Project management and quality control

The objectives of the WP6 are to establish an efficient management structure to monitor the overall project implementation; to ensure early identification of problems and to enable timely contingency measures; to monitor overall scientific quality, leading to the achievement of project objectives and to the formulation of high-quality deliverables and conclusions; to ensure adequate communication flow among partners and with the European Commission; and to ensure efficient management of ethics issues.

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