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International scientists discuss in Barcelona how to predict the genetics and types of pathogens that will affect crops in the future
To be able to predict the types of diseases that will affect crops in order to select crop varieties that will be more resistant to new pathogens: this is the goal of personalized agriculture. B-Debate, a joint initiative between Biocat and "la Caixa" Foundation, is hosting the birth of this new scientific discipline on 3 and 4 September at a meeting led by the Center for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG), which will take place in CosmoCaixa.
The B·Debate program “When development meets stress: Understanding developmental reprogramming upon pathogenesis in plants” is available on the B·Debate website.
Researchers are working to identify the defense mechanisms naturally present in plants and to understand how they are determined by a particular genetic profile. By combining this information with the genetic profile of the enemies plants have had throughout evolution, researchers hope to find crop varieties resistant to future pests.
Moreover, this new knowledge may help in the creation of new varieties of ‘à la carte’ plants to avoid pathogens, among others. For example, if prediction tools can identify the type of infectious agent that will appear and the amount of rainfall in that season, scientists will be able to design a new plant variety that will be able to resist these threats.
Some of the plants that can benefit most quickly from these advances are tomato plants, wheat, corn, lettuce and other plant products that are common in our diet.
More environmentally-friendly agriculture
In addition to developing preventive strategies for plant health, these new technologies will also provide an impetus for cleaner and more efficient, and therefore greener, agriculture. Advances in this field of research will significantly reduce the use of pesticides and other chemicals that are currently highly detrimental to the environment. "There is nothing safer than not having to treat at all," says Ignacio Rubio-Somoza, CRAG researcher and co-leader of this edition.
This new field of research is largely the result of the democratization of genome sequencing methods. Researchers are recovering ancient DNA from collections, herbaria, tools found at sites and other sources from which to extract the genetic material of our ancestors, to write the evolutionary history of pathogens and plants and to see how these have changed over the past few centuries. "The pathogens could be cyclic and could repeat themselves in history", says Rubio-Somoza. “Recovering ancient genetic material is like opening a grave.”
Among the scientists participating in this edition of B-Debate are, among others, Hernan Burbano, researcher at the Max Planck Institute (Germany), where he is researching ancient DNA to trace the evolutionary history of species; Clara Sanchez-Rodriguez, professor of Plant Biology at the ETH University in Zurich (Switzerland) and expert on innate immunity in plant species and resistance to pathogens; and Detlef Weigel, director of the Department of Molecular Biology at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology.