Changing the System of Seed Health: An initiative of industry and research towards a paradigm shift

Projecttitel: Changing the System of Seed Health: An initiative of industry and research towards a paradigm shift
Projectnummer: LWV19097
Missie: Sleuteltechnologieën
MMIP: ST2 - Biotechnologie en veredeling
Looptijd: 2020 – 2023
Projectleider: Jürgen Köhl

A paradigm shift is needed in the whole seed chain to become less dependent or even independent from chemical pesticides which are more and more phased out. 
The current system of seed health is based on production of pathogen-free seeds by combining the use of fungicide applications in the seed production crops with seed processing technologies. 
This system guarantees pathogen-free seeds but also can have detrimental effects on non-target organisms including the plant and seed microbiome. 
Reducing the microbiome and its functions by the commonly used physical and chemical disinfection measures results in a less buffered ecosystem of seeds, seedlings and established crops.
To reach the Sustainable Development Goals, robust crops with a high intrinsic resistance against biotic stresses are needed and emissions of pesticides to the environment and residues have to be avoided and replaced by biological low-risk methods. 

The project will deliver the proof of concept to the question whether an intact microbiome on/in the seed has a positive influence on plant health in the seeds and seedlings and which microbial components play a dominant role in this process. 

The knowledge is essential to enhance beneficial traits and microbial groups. 
For seed treatments very limited BCA products are available so far. In order to be able to study the effects of BCA’s as seed treatments on the resilience of the plants a framework consisting of a range of assays for screening and testing new biological control agents on seeds will be developed in this project.
Individual assays will focus on efficacy against model diseases and pests, crucial ecological characteristics and relevant economic and regulatory issues. 
This will include an assay to analyse and a protocol to enhance survival and shelf life of applied biological control agents and the seed microbiome. 

The project will support the seed supply chain to decide on appropriate routes during specific seed production and seed processing steps to implement the paradigm shift needed to ensure seed health and to establish robust crops in emission-free production chains. 
The project will also have strong impact on science. 
The provided knowledge on the role of the seed microbiome will be the scientific base to develop methods to steer microbiome and to develop new biological control agents (BCAs).
 It will result in new research on microbially buffered seeds and crops. 
The impact on society will be that major steps towards delivery of robust seeds to agriculture and horticulture will be made to enable the sectors to produce food in a nature-inclusive, circular and economic way. 

The objectives of the project to enable control of pathogens of seeds and seedlings by beneficial seed microbiomes and biological control agents is fully in line with the mission of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality of the Netherlands ‘LNV missie A, Kringlooplandbouw, subthema 2, Robuuste teelten met een gezonde bodem en nagenoeg geen emissies naar grond- en oppervlaktewater, en subthema 5, Herstel en benutten biodiversiteit’. This proposal addresses the priorities for new research as mentioned in the call text: “Veredelen en inpassen van nieuwe robuuste rassen/uitgangsmateriaal in nieuwe teeltsystemen die optimaal gebruik maken van het microbioom en de teelt bestand maken tegen ziekten, onkruiden en plagen (biotische stress), alsmede tegen omgevingsinvloeden (abiotische stress, klimaatveranderingen).” 
And “Ontwikkeling van nieuwe biologische bestrijders en het opzetten van ecosystemen van biologische bestrijders en hun interacties”. 

This project is, depending on the conditions, also part of ‘Onderzoeksprogrammavoorstel plantgezondheid 2030’, an initiative of LTO Nederland together with BO Akkerbouw, Glastuinbouw Nederland, KAVB and NFO.