RESEARCH

Improving water use efficiency in crops

The two main causes of global groundwater depletion are global warming and crop irrigation. Crop productivity strongly depends on having a sufficient supply of freshwater, and agriculture consumes 90% of total global freshwater. A large proportion of global food crops depends on irrigation, which is depleting global groundwater, and putting the sustainability of global food production at risk. Improving the amount of CO2 assimilated per unit of H2O lost in crops, simultaneously, will prepare for a key aspect of global change and will also decrease demand for groundwater extraction. Stomata control the exchange of both H2O and CO2 and have to respond to many different cues to keep the balance needed to conserve water versus allowing uptake of CO2. Currently, we work on new strategies for improving water use efficiency in soybean by investigating the effect of partial suppression of stomata aperture on plant performance under varied conditions.

Increasing chilling tolerance in C4 crops

In the last decades, the agricultural economy is becoming increasingly sensitive to climate. The anomalous Arctic warming leads to severe spring cold events that can cost up to 20% loss of crop production. Increasing tolerance to chilling could allow earlier planting of annual crops and prolongation of vegetation of perennial crops. That would also extend the northern area of crop planting. In the Glowacka Lab, we investigate the natural variation of photosynthesis in relation to chilling to identify new genetic sources and molecular mechanisms associated with chilling tolerance. The gained knowledge will be used in applied studies to improve tolerance to chilling in C4 crops like maize, and biocrops of sorghum and Miscanthus as well as important C3 crops like soybean.

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Increasing tolerance to low soil fertility via improvement of photoprotection

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In excess light, the balance between energy absorbed by leaves and energy utilized is disturbed, leading to oxidative stress. This can be particularly problematic under low soil fertility when the metabolism is compromised by the availability of the nutrients. As a photoprotective response to high light, non-photochemical quenching (NPQ) is induced, allowing controlled dissipation of excess energy. While the modification of NPQ leads to yield increase, little is known about the NPQ kinetics under abiotic stresses in C4 corps, which prevents the improvement of their resilience and constraints their sustainability. We are particularly interested in the natural variation of NPQ on low nitrogen in maize and sorghum.

Improving transformation efficiency of crops

The bioengineering of crops provides limitless possibilities for testing theoretical concepts with the aim of crop improvement. However, at this moment, one of the largest bottlenecks is genetic transformation. Current public domain procedures have low efficiency, with the exception of Arabidopsis relatives and solanaceous species. The efficiency of transformation depends strongly on the capability of developed tissue to return to the juvenile state in which the somatic embryos or meristems can be formed to facilitate regeneration. Since the invention of tissue cultures, numerous genetic factors have been suggested as possible factors affecting regeneration. However, little of this has been tested to deliver more effective crop transformation. In the Glowacka Lab, we want to improve transformation efficiency of crops through altering of the expression of factors related to regeneration in tissue culture with the aid of genome modification and gene editing.