European project to develop improved barley varieties

Prof Ivo Frébort
Photo: Viktor Čáp
Monday 5 June 2023, 14:00 – Text: Martina Šaradínová

Breakthrough technologies to produce new barley lines with improved photosynthetic properties that will be able to assimilate ozone from the atmosphere, provide higher yields and modified straw for industrial use are the aim of the international BEST CROP (Boosting photosynthESis to deliver novel CROPs for the circular bioeconomy) project funded by the European Union’s Horizon Europe program. A multidisciplinary consortium led by the University of Milan, bringing together 18 European research institutions, breeding companies and industrial partners, will work towards these goals. The only Czech academic participant is the Czech Advanced Technologies and Research Institute – CATRIN of Palacký University Olomouc.

The BEST-CROP project focuses on barley, a globally important crop. The European Union is its largest producer, its cultivation covers approximately 10 percent of the EU’s arable land and nearly 55 million tons of grain and the same amount of straw are produced annually in EU member countries.

“Our task will be to use new breeding techniques to prepare modified barley lines in cooperation with our partners in the project consortium, as well as to prepare accreditations and coordinate field trials to be carried out at Úsovsko,” said Ivo Frébort of CATRIN.

The main objectives of the project are:

  • To mitigate extreme ground-level ozone air pollution during drought through controlled opening of leaf vents without negatively affecting drought tolerance and yield;
  • help address the global food security crisis by providing highly productive breeding lines of barley with optimized photosynthesis and use barley as a model species for other cereals;
  • to support the growth of the circular economy by adapting the composition of straw for efficient conversion into high-value bio-based materials to replace products currently produced by processes with a high dependence on non-renewable energy sources, for example in construction and feed production.

While respecting the current EU legislation on GM crops, BEST-CROP will follow established techniques that exploit natural genetic variability and induced random mutagenesis. However, the project will also use gene editing techniques to provide genetic material from barley that could soon be used directly in breeding programs or as evidence of gene function. The BEST-CROP project, funded by the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation program under the HORIZON-CL6-2022-CIRCBIO-02-02-two-stage call, will start in July 2023 and end in June 2028, with a total funding of almost €6 million.


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