A toolkit for plant health

Publié le 01/05/2023 - 10:33

Quitterie Daire-Gonzalez, the French manager for CropLife Europe.
Nucleotide succession research has been ongoing since the 1970’s. While it used to require millions of dollars and decades to fully comprehend an organism, today for less than $ 1,000 and a few hours, your entire genome can be revealed. “Technology is no longer a barrier. Different fields of biotechnology aid in accelerating research and increasing knowledge,” according to Marie Rigouzzo, facilitator of the Phyteis Biotechnology Commission. “We have tools that allow us to move faster and further, broadening the range of possibilities,” adds Quitterie Daire-Gonzalez, the French manager for CropLife Europe (European Association of Plant Protection Industrialists) advocating for biotechnology. Contributing to varietal improvement, better knowledge of pests/diseases, and understanding soil microbiota, biotechnology is a valuable tool that takes a multidisciplinary approach to crop protection and agroecological transition.

Synergies among solutions

Biotechnology should not be seen as a solution in its own right, but rather as another tool in the toolkit. “At Phyteis, we take a synergetic approach to plant health with a view to giving farmers a set of solutions that they can combine based on need such as synthetic plant pharmacopoeia, biosolutions, digital tools and biotechnologies,” stresses Quitterie Daire-Gonzalez.
The numerous fields of application include varietal selection, genome sequencing, mutagenesis, cis-genesis and genome editing, the latter consisting of minor modifications of sequences of interest without adding exogenous DNA. “These powerful and technically mastered tools enable us to thoroughly explore different varieties and work on genomes and complex traits. Research and development is no longer focused solely on factors affecting the yield of major crops. We can now explore traits related to disease tolerance,” explains Marie Rigouzzo, using tomatoes to illustrate her point. “Peppers are naturally resistant to potyvirus while tomatoes are very sensitive to it. By comparing their genetic code, researchers are able to reproduce the sequence of pepper in tomato. This entails the modification of only two amino acids, made possible by the crispr cas9 technique. Benefits for producers could be significant considering that today the only solutions are fallowing, grubbing up tomato plants and sterilizing tools.”

Better understanding of pests/diseases

An intimate knowledge of the enemy makes it much easier to defeat. Using biotechnologies to better understand them is undoubtedly an important way to ensure plant health. “Genetic testing of pests provides insights regarding their destructive capacity and helps identify new more resistant variants,” points out Marie Rigouzzo. Summing up, biotechnologies make it possible to study and become thoroughly familiar with populations. “Some research also focuses on the development of crop bioprotection solutions that bolster plant health or control pests,” adds Quitterie Daire-Gonzalez.
Now, the ability to analyze huge amounts of data, coupled with decision-making tools, gives farmers a high-performance level of monitoring and warning to control crop pests.

Investigate the microbiota

Another promising field of research made possible by biotechnology is soil microbiota. “In recent years, we have come to understand that plant health and soil fertility are closely linked. Knowledge of soil life opens new paths of exploration to preserve plant and soil health,” says Marie Rigouzzo. And it is no longer a matter of simply characterizing or quantifying microorganisms in the soil, but rather of understanding them. “We are beginning to understand the synergies and antagonisms between the microorganisms that colonize the rhizosphere. We should not think of seeds, plants and soil as separate elements existing side by side but should rather take a holistic approach that considers the entire ecosystem; and we are not far from gaining a more complete understanding of the subject,” she continues. This knowledge enables us to understand favorable balances or, on the other hand, situations that produce stress. “Take a close look at the core of living organisms to understand them, be inspired by them and better protect them. We no longer seek a solution for a specific problem. Now the task is to identify a combination of more or less unfavorable factors that must be corrected, a complexity that farmers deal with every day,” summarizes Quitterie Daire-Gonzalez.
Biotechnology is at the service of sustainable plant protection. The manager also recalls that it is important to remain humble in this area. These new tools should make it possible to overcome certain technological barriers but we must not become overconfident. These concluding remarks should convey a sense of conditionality because we must not forget that some of the techniques described above, especially genome editing, still remain under the GMO regulation in Europe and are therefore banned. In this regard, the European Commission is expected to make new proposals next Summer.

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