Biotechnology and breeding against food loss and for the improved shelf life of produce
This project aims at improving and speeding up the Key Technologies Biotechnology and Breeding (Genomics of QTLs and their underlying genes, Gene editing) while working towards reducing food losses by improving the shelf life of tomato. While substantial research on this subject has been done in the past, current breeding solutions are still considered far from optimal, hence the continued interest demonstrated by the participation of five international breeding companies in this proposal. The proposed research contributes to mission D towards valued, healthy, and safe food. It is estimated that a third of the world food production is lost before it can be consumed. In developing countries, this is primarily due to problems in the production and transport chain, while in developed countries it is mostly supermarkets and consumers which discard unsold, or overripe food. Discarding fruits and vegetables before consumption contributes in no small part of this, and both land use and greenhouse gas emissions would be significantly reduced by tackling this issue. However, despite this, campaigns to reduce food waste have met with little success. Fruits have limited storability, resulting in overripe, soft or mouldy, and unpalatable products. In tomato as in other vegetables and fruits, storability of harvested fruits throughout the production chain to the consumer kitchen is often referred to as ‘shelf life’. Much research has been done to improve the shelf life of tomato but with limited success, partially due to the complexity of the processes and genes involved, to the trade-off with flavour and other quality aspects of ripe tomatoes, and the lack of genetic diversity for this trait. This project continues on the achievements of an earlier TKI project and aims at improving our understanding of parameters and genes determining shelf life.
Furthermore, we will be exploiting existing variation by identification of QTLs affecting shelf life or contributing aspects thereof and identify their underlying candidate genes, and mutations affecting the shelf life. We will also be creating and characterizing new variation and mutations by the use of CRISPR/Cas-mutagenesis, and further develop this technology which will speed up the identification of genes that are relevant for shelf life. The results for the partners of this project will be methods of high-throughput CRISPR/Cas-mutagenesis, which will apply to all current and future CAS variants as well as in other crops, for functional genomics of genes underlying QTLs. Also, new knowledge and new genetic variation leading to products, initially tomato cultivars, with improved shelf life will be produced. The accumulated knowledge will also be useful throughout the tomato sector and for achieving similar goals in other fruits and vegetables in the broader sector. Finally, and importantly, this will result in a reduction of food loss in the form of discarded fruit and vegetable, a benefit for society.
Extending overall missions, A-D is the development, improvement, and use of Key technologies: Biotechnology and Breeding (MMIP S2), with the emphasis on 1. Genome technology for linking QTLs with underlying genes and 4. Gene Editing (CRISPR/Cas) for creating diversity and for establishing gene functions. Development and improvement of the technology will be achieved by the production of CRISPR enzyme-expressing plants, which will be used as platforms for fast, high-throughput testing and mutagenesis of candidate genes.
The subject “shelf life” of this project proposal is in the mission D “Valued, healthy and safe food”, MMIP D1 “Appreciation of food” as increasing produce shelf life will reduce food losses.
• Increasing the speed, accuracy, and throughput of the Key Technology Genome editing (CRISPR mutagenesis) for candidate gene validation
• Building on and extending our previous achievements and increasing our knowledge and the understanding of the genetic regulation of fruit shelf-life aspects
The challenges of more sustainable food production in a changing world with an increasing population requires continuous innovation in plant breeding to produce crops that meet these challenges. Biotechnology and breeding are key technologies that will contribute to this innovation if adequately implemented and continuously improved. This proposal aims at such improvement and its use to speed up the identification and characterisation of candidate genes for “shelf life”, a trait in many fruit crops that impacts the reduction of food loss. About a third of the world food production for human consumption is lost. Despite the goal to reduce food waste in the Netherlands by 20% in 2015 (so stated in 2010), less than 1% of this has been achieved. Since tomato is a model species for fleshy fruits research, insights from this project may find a broader application in other fruits, like the also economically significant pepper (paprika), melon, and cucumber. The subject and its results should have widespread interest in the sector and are thus precompetitive by nature.
Expected deliverables of this project are:
1. Cas-expressing tomato plants and methods for delivery of gRNA’s to produce mutant progeny without tissue culture, in a high-throughput fashion
2. Improved understanding of the parameters determining tomato fruit shelf life
3. Mapped QTLs for tomato shelf life or contributing traits firmness, water loss, and skin integrity
4. Characterisation of combined quality traits in existing mutants, which are affected in cell wall degradation enzyme-encoding genes, and combinations of these mutations
5. New targeted mutations in candidate genes for shelf life-determining traits, and their phenotype