CAPITALISE-Project: "The target is to improve photosynthesis"


Plant scientists and crop breeders receive €8.6M from the EC Horizon 2020 research programme to improve future crops through the CAPITALISE project. 19 organisations from EU countries, including IPK Gatersleben, are pooling knowledge and resources to design high yielding crops for the future. Astrid Junker from IPK is leader of the working package on phenotyping and gives some insight into the programme.

Dr. Astrid Junker

  • The CAPITALISE project has recently been kicked off. IPK Gatersleben with the groups ADP and HET is involved as a key player. What exactly is it about?
The consortium has been granted 8.6 million Euros from the EC, to exploit crop natural variation using ground-breaking technology to radically increase yields in Europe and beyond. This is part of a new Green Revolution to address the expected future food crisis. By 2050 the world population is expected to rise above 9 billion people, food security experts estimate an increase of 110% in current crop productivity is needed. But current yield improvements are only around 1% per year, and the productivity increase of some key crops, including wheat and rice, has stalled in some major production areas. I'm really excited to be part of this big multi-disciplinary consortium which will foster photosynthesis research for crop improvement throughout Europe and beyond. The efficiency of photosynthesis in crop plants is well below the theoretical maximum for the process, this implies there is scope for improving this engine of agricultural productivity.
  • How do you want to proceed?
Plant scientists have discovered that improving photosynthetic traits to increase the efficiency of photosynthesis can results in significant increases in plant productivity. In order to translate this knowledge into crop breeding programmes, CAPITALISE brings together plant breeders with academic plant geneticists and germplasm experts, physiologists, biochemists, bioenergeticists, computational biologists and modelers, social scientists, and instrument developers. With this interdisciplinary team CAPITALISE plans to make photosynthesis work better so the same amount of light produces more crop biomass. Three very promising candidate strategies have been identified to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis in barley, maize and tomato.
  • Can you briefly outline the three strategies?
Tuning of the Calvin Cycle: The Calvin Cycle involves a series of chemical reactions in a step-wise process to convert carbon dioxide into the carbohydrates that are the basic building blocks used for plant for growth and development. Research has identified specific reactions in this cycle that will be targeted for improvements. The kinetics of photosynthetic responses to changes in irradiance: Photosynthesis is a light-driven process. Increases and decreases in light intensity produce increases and decreases in photosynthesis. These changes in photosynthesis do not optimally track light-intensity making photosynthesis less efficient.  Our work will identify how these slow responses to changes in light intensity can be accelerated, producing increases in photosynthetic efficiency. Tuning leaf chlorophyll content: In nature, plants compete for the resources they need to live and grow, this includes light. Plant leaves both trap the light needed for their own photosynthesis, and also deprive competitor plants of light through shading. This means that light distribution in a plant canopy is sub-optimal for photosynthesis. We aim to tune the profile of light absorption in a canopy by adjusting leaf chlorophyll levels, and reducing shading effects, to improve the efficiency of how plants capture and use light energy.
  • How does IPK contribute to the project?
IPK has two central roles in the CAPITALISE programme: On the one hand we will coordinate controlled environment phenomics approaches throughput the consortium and will also use the comprehensive automated plant phenotyping infrastructures at IPK for the integrated and dynamic assessment of plant performance and physiology. This includes trials in the novel IPK Plant Cultivation Hall for phenotyping under controlled, simulated field-like conditions. On the other hand we will serve as data managers and promote and achieve FAIR data management throughout the consortium. In this way CAPITALISE will build up a critical knowledge base for future EU plant science and industry to build research and innovation to advance a photosynthesis driven crop improvement programme towards enhanced yield in the next decade.
  • What concrete results do you expect from the programme?
Great collaborations, excellent science, huge impact! Bridging the modern phenotyping approaches for photosynthetic performance with plant breeding, genomics and molecular-physiological analyses, underpinned with FAIR data management and integration procedures, will enable to identify key targets for photosynthesis improvement in some of Europe's key crops.