Plants are a major resource for sustainable bioeconomy. They provide food, feed, and fiber to a growing world population and ensure the renewable energy supply. In the frame of the 4th BioSC Spotlight in Aachen on October 29, 2018, guests from academia and industry as well as BioSC members presented their research activities aimed at securing crop yield and quality while reducing fertilizer and pesticide use. 47 participants took the opportunity for lively discussions.
The New Paradigm in Plant Biotechnology:
healthy crop through gene silencing and genome editing?
Karl-Heinz Kogel, Aline Koch, Lisa Höfle, Ena Secic, Silvia Zanini, Matteo Galli, Jafar Imani
Institute of Phytopathology, Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany
Gene silencing and genome editing approaches are presently revolutionizing crop plant production. Small RNA effectors play a crucial role in the outcome of host-pathogen interactions and show great potential for controlling pest and diseases in many plants (Cai et al. 2018). We have demonstrated that a long noncoding double-stranded (ds)RNA, which targets the two sterol 14α-demethylase genes FgCYP51A and FgCYP51B and the fungal virulence factor FgCYP51C, inhibits growth of the ascomycetes Fusarium graminearum and F. culmorum in vitro and in planta upon delivery through transgene expression (host-induced gene silencing, HIGS) or spray application (spray-induced gene silencing, SIGS; Koch et al. 2013; 2016; 2018). Interestingly, fungal sensitivity to dsRNAs in in vitro cultures is a good proxy for their activities in HIGS and SIGS setups.
Moreover, we have employed novel gene editing strategies using the CRISPR/Cas9 technology to generate barley plants with an enhanced immune status against a biotrophic (Blumeria graminis) and necrotrophic (F. graminearum) pathogens. I will describe in my talk the improved efficacy of CRISPR/Cas9 in barley (Kumar et al. 2018) and discuss novel target genes of which the knock-out results in enhanced disease resistance.
Cai et al. (2018)Curr Opin Microbiol46, 58-64
Koch, A. et al. (2013) PNAS110, 19324–19329
Koch, A. et al.PLoS pathogens12, e1005901 (2016)
Koch A, et al. (2018)Eu. J Plant Pathol. DOI 10.1007/s10658-018-1518-4
Kumar et al. (2018) Plant Biotech J. DOI 10.1111/pbi.12924.
C4 plant selective herbicides: A new approach to combat C4 weeds in arable crops
Prof. Dr. Georg Groth
Heinrich-Heine Universität Düsseldorf
Biochemical Plant Physiology
Bioeconomy Science Center
Cluster of Excellence on Plant Sciences
Weeds are a major challenge for global food production. Most weeds use C4 photosynthesis, whereas the majority of crops use the C3 photosynthetic pathway. Structural and biochemical studies in our lab have identified highly specific and selective inhibitors of C4 key enzymes Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxylase (PEPC) and Pyruvate Phosphate Dikinase (PPDK) catalyzing essential reactions of the C4 photosynthetic pathway. Specific inhibitors for PEPC were identified in comparative docking studies on crystal structures of PEPCs from the C3 model Flaveria pringlei and the C4 model Flaveria trinervia. Novel PPDK inhibitors were identified from screening of a chemical library and recent structural studies on Flaveria PPDKs that identified novel conformational intermediates in the catalytic cycle of this intriguing molecular machine performing one of the largest single domain movements known today. The compounds identified by our studies are among the most effective PEPC and PPDK inhibitors described today. Moreover, recent physiological studies on leaf tissues of a C4 model plant and studies on whole plants confirmed in vivo inhibition of C4 driven photosynthesis by these substances. Consequently, the novel small molecule inhibitors identified in in our structural and computational studies provide new lead structures for the development of selective herbicides and highlight novel modes of action against C4 weeds.
Smart agriculture: Strategies to improve agricultural productivity and resilience to climate change, and to reduce pesticide and nutrient applications (Prof. Dr. Stefan Schillberg, Fraunhofer Institute for Applied and Molecular Ecology, Aachen)
Smart agriculture: Strategies to improve agricultural productivity and resilience to climate change, and to reduce pesticide and nutrient applications
Stefan Schillberg, Fraunhofer IME, Aachen
Through increased usage of chemical fertilizers, irrigation systems, pesticides, and mechanized technologies industrial agriculture has significantly improved crop yields and qualities. However, decreasing nutrient, water and arable land resources and the need to address climate change and food and feed safety, requires new strategies for a sustainable and resilient agriculture. The talk will present different approaches to respond to these challenges. Pathogen resistant plants can be engineered by over-expressing pathogen-specific antibodies or antimicrobial peptides. This method has been successful for different viral and plant pathogens. Likewise, genetic engineering has been used to increase the productivity and yield of crop plants by enhancing photosynthetic carbon fixation based on expression of a bacterial glycolate dehydrogenase or individual components of the Chlamydomonas carbon concentration mechanism.
A completely different approach to increase resource use efficiency in agriculture is the cultivation of crop plants in contained environments. Although limited to a smaller group of plants such as salads, tomatoes, strawberries, vegetables, indoor farming has the potential to significantly reduce water, pesticide and fertilizer usage. In addition, plants can be harvested throughout the whole year without any negative impact from environmental and climate factors, and cultivation conditions, e.g. light using LEDs, can be adapted to the specific needs of the target crops.
Plant defense priming in lab and field
Department of Plant Physiology, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, NRW 52056, Germany
When locally infected by pathogens, plants activate a systemic immune response, called systemic acquired resistance (SAR). In this process, distal leaves become primed to activate a more robust defense response upon further infection. Defense priming is associated with an elevated level of receptors for microbial patterns (e.g. flagellin-sensing [FLS] 2), accumulation of dormant signaling enzymes (e.g. mitogen-activated protein kinases [MPKs] 3 and 6), and with modification to chromatin. The latter comprises the covalent modification of histones (e.g. histone H3 and H4 acetylation and/or methylation) and the formation of open chromatin indicative of regulatory DNA sites with a role in defense priming. Together, these events provide a memory to the initial infection and enable the boosted recall defense response of plants. I will disclose the impact of these fascinating discoveries on sustainable agriculture by introducing smart tools and approaches for the identification of priming-inducing chemistry.
References: Schillheim et al. (2018) Plant Physiol. 176:2395-2405; Martinez-Medina et al. (2016) Trends Plant Sci. 21:818-822; Conrath et al. (2015) Annu. Rev. Phytopathol. 53:97-119; Schilling et al. (2015) BMC Plant Biol. 15:282; Jaskiewicz et al. (2011) EMBO rep. 12:50-55; Conrath (2011) Trends Plant Sci. 16:524-531; Beckers et al. (2009) Plant Cell 21:944-953; Beckers and Conrath (2007) Curr. Opin. Plant Biol. 10:425-431; Conrath et al. (2006) Molec. Plant-Microbe Interact. 19:1062-1071.
Innovations and Developments towards a more sustainable use of fertilizers
Dr. Mauricio Hunsche
Head of Global R&D
COMPO EXPERT GmbH
Agricultural areas worldwide are continuously under pressure. Contrasting the steadily increasing demand for more basic food in quantity and quality, the area potentially available for agriculture is decreasing drastically. In this context, often the environment suffers from the non-rational use of agricultural inputs. Moreover, the global climate change appears in distinct faces and intensities in different geographic regions and difficult even more the commercial cultivation of agronomic crops.
In the last decades, public and private research have not only advanced the general knowledge on crop physiology, plant nutrition, soil management and general agriculture, but also presented ideas and potential solutions for many questions as related to agricultural inputs and environmental questions. However, many good ideas still do not develop properly and remain as ‘potential solutions’ instead of reaching a status of reliable tool or successful product. While in the industry R&D is often driven either by economic potentials or adjustments in legislations with very clear and defined objectives, in academia research is often driven by scientific curiosity that might – but not necessarily must - lead to scientific innovation and practical advancement.
The ideal combination of public and private research would surely result not only in scientific advancement but also in real solutions for practical (agronomic / environmental / economic) problems. However, in order to mobilize synergies a better mutual understanding of the organization, objectives, hurdles and potentials is required. On the example of synthetic fertilizers and natural biostimulants, the key drivers, the major challenges, and the biggest hurdles along the development process and introduction of new products are discussed.
Formulations for novel biological pest control strategies
Anant V. Patel
Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences, WG Fermentation and formulation of biologicals and chemicals, Interaktion 1, 33619 Bielefeld, Germany, email@example.com
In recent years, the world-wide demand for biological pest control agents has risen dramatically. However, biological control remains challenging. New pest control strategies aim at exploiting synergies to increase efficacy of pest control agents. Promising idea include attract-and-kill, push-pull, stress-and-kill strategies and combination of kill-components. Besides, endophytic microorganisms offer new options for biological pest control.
Formulation science is meeting these newly arisen challenges with equally new formulation approaches and thus helps in the implementation of new biological control measures. That is why our group set out to shed some light into complex formulations that combine the agents in form-giving materials such as beads that allow a multi-compartment system, protection, growth support in a “minifermenter”, and slow and controlled release of agents as a function of the bead materials and additives [1-10].
Here we present research into CO2-releasing bead systems that attract pests like wireworms, western corn rootworm, psyllids and ticks with a CO2 gradient and then intend to control the pest population with a biological agent such as entomopathogenic fungi or neem extract. Achievements and pitfalls in co-formulation of these agents with synergistic chemicals like arrestants and aggregation pheromones, volatile attractants, drying additives, reswellers, nutrients and spatio-temporal changes within and around the formulations will be introduced. Besides, we will introduce research into beads and sprays that enhance colonization of tomato, potato and oilseed rape plants with endophytic entomopathogenic fungi.
It can be concluded that novel agricultural bio-formulations will in the next decade contribute to significant advances in biological pest control strategies that work in the field if formulation succeeds in moving away from conventional empirical mixing of substances with an active ingredient to formulation science drawing upon progress in chemistry and biotechnology.
 Hallmann, J. et al (2019).Effect of additives on the efficacy of microencapsulated Hirsutella rhossiliensis controlling Heterodera schachtii on sugar beets. Biol. Contr. 218, 40-47
 Humbert, P et al (2017a) Calcium gluconate as cross-linker improves survival and shelf life of encapsulated and dried Metarhizium brunneum and Saccharomyces cerevisiae for the application as biological control agents. J. Microencaps. 34,1
 Humbert, P et al (2017b) Co-encapsulation of amyloglucosidase with starch and Saccharomyces cerevisiae as basis for a long-lasting CO2 release. World J Microbiol Biotechnol 33, 71
 Humbert et al (2018a) Increased neem extract content enhances drying survival of co-encapsulated Saccharomyces cerevisiae and decreases relative release of azadirachtin. Biocontr. Sci. Technol. 28, 2, 185-191
Humbert et al (2018b). Development of an attract-and-kill co-formulation containing Saccharomyces cerevisiae and neem extract attractive towards wireworms. Pest Manag. Sci. 74, 7, 1575-1585
Humbert et al (2018c) Technical scale production of encapsulated Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Metarhizium brunneum attractive to wireworms. Biocontr. Sci. Technol. 27, 9, 1049-1070
 Krell et al (2018a). Endogenous arabitol and mannitol improve shelf life of encapsulated Metarhizium brunneum. World J. of Microbiol. Biotechnol.34, 8, 108
 Krell et al (2018b) Importance of phosphorus supply through endophytic Metarhizium brunneum for root:shoot allocation and root architecture in potato plants. Plant and Soil 430, 1-2, 87-97
 Krell et al (2018c) Endophytic Metarhizium brunneum mitigates nutrient deficits in potato and improves plant productivity and vitality. Fungal Ecology 34, 43-49
 Krell et al (2018d). Cellulase enhances endophytism of encapsulated Metarhizium brunneum in potato plants. Fungal Biology 122, 5, 373-378
 Krell, V. et al (2017). Encapsulation of Metarhizium brunneum enhances endophytism in tomato plants, Biol. Contr. 116, 62-73
 Przyklenk, M et al. (2017) A bioencapsulation and drying method increases shelf life and efficacy of Metarhizium brunneum conidia J. Microencaps.34, 5, 498-512
GreenRelease for Plant Health
Felix Jakob1, Andrij Pich2, Uwe Conrath3, Stefanie Bröring4, Georg Noga5, Claudia Knief6, Georg Groth7, Holger Gohlke8, Ulrich Schurr9, Ulrich Schwaneberg1
1 Institute of Biotechnology, RWTH Aachen University
2 Institute of Technical and Macromolecular Chemistry, RWTH Aachen University
3 Institute of Plant Physiology, RWTH Aachen University
4 ILR – Technology and Innovation Management in Agribusiness, Universität Bonn
5 INRES-Horticultural Sciences, Universität Bonn
6 INRES – Molecular Biology of the Rhizosphere, Universität Bonn
7 Biochemical Plant Physiology, HHU Düsseldorf
8 Institute for Pharmaceutical and Medicinal Chemistry, HHU Düsseldorf
9 IBG-2: Plant sciences, Forschungszentrum Jülich
All Bioeconomy Science Center (BioSC), c/o Research Center Jülich, Jülich, Germany
The main objective of the FocusLab greenRelease is to significantly reduce fungicide and herbicide usage and thereby contributing to a sustainable agriculture. The greenRelease technology (developed in the BioSC projects: GreenGel, RIPE, and BiFuProts) will be further developed into a robust and applicable platform technology for plant health. (To achieve this objective), The FocusLab greenRelease is divided into three areas: 1) Technology advancement & upscaling, 2) Validation for sustainable agriculture by focusing on two fungicides and two herbicides, and 3) Economic assessment by mapping of the knowledge base, technology transfer, and market entry options. The latter is aimed to be achieved by analyzing existing and developing novel value chains for innovations. The unique technical application characteristics of the greenRelease technology are based on properties of microgel containers (200 nm to 10 µm). Microgels are soft porous polymer colloids, which can be loaded with active ingredients and can attach through anchor peptides on plant leaves at ambient temperature by simple spray applications. Main advantages of the greenRelease technology over existing release technologies are the controlled/triggered release of compounds over weeks/months, minimized losses due to a high rainfastness, plant compatibility, and tunable biodegradability.
Environmental analysis of an emerging technology – the case of greenRelease
Dr. Michael Wustmans, Institute of Food and Resource Economics, University of Bonn
greenRelease is a smart formulation technology for plant protection compounds and fertilizers, consisting of two major components: first, a microgel-container and second, anchor peptides which act as adhesion promotors to crop leaves. The main objective of the greenRelease technology is to reduce pesticide and fertilizer usage thus contributing to sustainable and resource-efficient agriculture for food and feed production. In order to better understand the environment of the technology, we analyzed more than 8.000 patent families related to microgel usage in the field of plant health and compared them with the patent application for the greenRelease technology. Based on bibliographic and semantic patent analyses, we were able to identify different application fields plus the patents most similar to the greenRelease technology.