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Project

The world-wide demand for primary plant products to be used for food, feed and fuel is increasing dramatically. The foreseen climate changes are expected to have a negative impact on plant productivity in addition. Future agriculture urgently needs new crop plant varieties with enhanced and sustainable productivity.To meet this challenge, “CropLife” focuses on leaf lifespan as a major determinant of plant productivity and aims to develop new breeding strategies for prolonging leaf photosynthesis and delaying senescence processes. The network focuses on barley as a grain crop and perennial ryegrass as a biomass and forage crop, both of which are excellent models for research and crop development in Europe with divergent demands for the quality of the harvested product. The “CropLife” primary objec tives will be addressed in five workpackages. These are: the identification of key factors initi ating senescence (1), and proteins regulating leaf lifespan (2), the elucidation of molecular mechanisms of senescence-associated protein degradation and nitrogen remobilization (3), and the analysis of lifespan and exploitation of genetic variation in lifespan (4) in order to breed new varieties with increased productivity (5). An additional WP6 concerns the activities connected with management of the project. “CropLife” provides intersectorial experience by integrating partners from the public and private sectors. The training programme includes state-of–the-art local training activities and network-wide courses, summer schools and work shops. Young researchers will be trained in a range of cutting edge research skills, as well as in complementary skills that will enhance their career prospects. Further benefits will arise from secondments in partner laboratories and intersectoral visits to associated partners from the private sector. To guarantee training at the most advanced level, outstanding scientists in the field will be integrated as visiting researchers. Workshops and a final network conference will provide a platform for dissemination of the network’s achievements which are expected to increase the competitiveness of European plant research and agriculture.

Concept of the project

"CropLife" focussing on lifespan determining processes in cereals and grasses addresses a topic of increasing importance for Europe’s agricultural economics and environmental policies. So far, lifespan control and senescence have been intensively studied in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. There is an urgent need to transfer and to extend this knowledge by studying true crop plants representative of cereals and grasses, respectively. “CropLife“for the first time brings together the leading European laboratories with expertises in all central aspects of research on lifespan and links them to private partners that breed new cultivars for the future. Despite its paramount importance for plant productivity and quality, the factors determining lifespan are poorly known. The reason is that lifespan is a complex trait requiring combined effort from different disciplines. The objective of this network therefore is to study senescence in a multidisciplinary and intersectoral context. Multidisciplinary research results will be transferred to breeding companies for the development of new varieties with prolonged lifespan. A prerequisite for integration of this trait in future breeding strategies is the training of a new generation of scientists with a novel combination of skills from different disciplines. "CropLife" aims at filling this gap by training researchers who are in the first five years of their career by a structured training programme aimed at developing scientific and complementary skills in a multidisciplinary environment. By involvement of breeding companies running commercial breeding programmes in cereals and/or grasses and by being active in various national and European projects and cooperations, the network ensures that the training quality will be intersectoral providing the recruited researchers with the widest possible employment prospects. It is expected that ”CropLife“ researchers will achieve a supra-disciplinary knowl edge of lifespan control which is becoming a plant research field of increasing agronomic relevance and economic importance. It is the intention of the current proposal to assemble a network of research institutions and breeders in Europe that can meet the challenges of EU plant production. Lifespan control will be established as a novel way for breeding new varieties with improved productivity and enhanced stress resistance. The network will focus on two monocot plants of high agronomic importance which represent two contrasting life histories (annual, perennial):

 
Hordeum vulgare L. (barley) is an annual small-grained cereal which has been inten sively studied at the biochemical level and which can be transformed efficiently for functional testing of genes. Currently, its genome is being sequenced by the Interna tional Barley Sequencing Consortium (IBSC, http://www.barleygenome.org).
   
  Lolium perenne L. (perennial ryegrass) is a perennial forage and amenity grass which has been subject to extensive genetic analyses including detailed analysis of staygreen mutants. Use of New Generation Sequence technologies has led to the recent initiation of Lolium genome sequencing projects.
   

In both species the photosynthetic duration of the leaves and the efficiency of remobilisation are major determinants of productivity. The approaches and results of leaf longevity studies will be shared in the network. While in annuals the photosynthetic duration determines the life span of the whole plant, in perennials remobilisation and seed development might be impor tant for usage as bioenergy crops while persistence of vegetative parts might be a more important determinant for productivity of grasses. A comprehensive understanding of lifespan control and its impact on the two different whole-plant life histories is required for breeding approaches aimed at enhancing productivity.