Carlsberg invents ultra-fast breeding technology to improve crops

The Carlsberg Research Lab is first and foremost a research lab focused on brewing: covering topics ranging from crop selection to end product dynamics.

But he says the new FIND-IT method, described in the latest issue of Scientists progress​, represents a vast and “a revolutionary step towards meeting the food needs of our growing global population in the face of changing climatic conditions”.

The search for new varieties

With both rising temperatures and a projection that current rates of increase in crop yields will not meet the food needs of 9-10 billion people by 2050, there is an urgent demand to find ways to sustainably optimize the way we produce crops, notes the Carlsberg Research Laboratory.

In order to help solve this problem, the laboratory, led by Professor Birgitte Skadhauge, invented the FIND-IT technology (Fast Identification of Nucleotide variants by droplet DigITal PCR).

“FIND-IT enables the ultra-rapid improvement of many types of plants, such as cereal crops, but also microbes. This includes barley, yeasts and bacterial strains which are fundamental for brewing, food production and many industrial processes. Additionally, FIND-IT accelerates the development process from lab to field evaluation and product development and has great potential for sustainable agriculture even outside of the brewing world” , said the lab.

The new resource for culture and microbial enhancement enables ultra-rapid identification and isolation of pre-determined targeted genetic variants in a screening cycle of less than 10 days.

The use of large-scale sample pooling in combination with droplet-based digital PCR (ddPCR) dramatically increases the size of low-mutation-density, screenable variant libraries and the likelihood of identifying the variant of interest .

The importance of technology is that it could minimize time-consuming technical steps to accelerate the evolution of genetic material.

Unlike transgenesis and CRISPR-Cas9 technologies, insertion of complete genes, replacement of genes or modification of sections of genomes is not used with FIND-IT (in several jurisdictions, lines generated by CRISPR-Cas9 fall under GM guidelines and are therefore subject to the regulatory and financial barriers associated with the release of GM crops).

While the scientists say that CRISPR-Cas9 plant genome editing and transgenesis technologies “remain of critical importance” for the long-term future of crop adaptation, they note that CRISPR technologies -Cas9 present technical drawbacks and uncertainties that have so far prevented their large-scale application. in commercial plant breeding.

Potential in some 7,000 plants

Carlsberg scientists tested the method by screening variant libraries totaling 500,000 barley (common hordeum​) individuals and isolate more than 125 targeted barley gene knockout lines and miRNAs or promoter variants allowing gene functional analysis. But the potential of technology goes far beyond that.

“Going forward, FIND-IT opens up new opportunities for crop improvement by providing a way to select and incorporate domestication traits into the approximately 7,000 undomesticated or semi-domesticated crop plants that have tolerance. superior drought tolerance, water tolerance, disease resistance and mineral use efficiency, including perennials or wild relatives of crops”,note the authors.

“It also has potential for the introduction of alleles of valuable genes found in exome collections and pan-genomes and improved variants designed and identified in vitro. Thus, FIND-IT provides a long-sought tool that will promote a green evolution allowing us, for example, to meet the food demands of tomorrow.

Once identified, the isolated variant can be bred into new, improved varieties that can thrive in otherwise difficult areas around the world.

The lab – which is supported by funding from the Carlsberg Foundation – published the research in Scientists progress​.