A matter of timing: from bench to field

The GAIN4CROPS project has a 5-year tenure to accommodate a full research cycle, from the laboratory bench to the field trials. “Plant breeding is not a fast process; many animal models, mice or fruit flies, for example, breed faster than plants. Thus, longer times are needed to obtain results from plants” says Prof. Weber from Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, coordinator of the GAIN4CROPS project. “To find out whether all the changes made to a particular plant system actually work in the field, one needs at least 2-3 independent field seasons, which requires 2 to 3 years.” A strong long-term vision is indeed a key skill for plant scientists: the fieldwork begins only after a development phase in the lab in which key genes are identified and the right constructs are made – all this work without having any certainty of the result in planta.

“It’s really difficult to predict how a plant reacts to a modification and you need to adjust to it, but this adjustment takes time. That’s also the beauty of working with living beings.”

Andreas Weber, Project Coordinator

The 5 years of GAIN4CROPS will cover the entire project life cycle, from the first steps in the lab to the first field trials, planned to be conducted in Switzerland by Agroscope on their protected and dedicated site. Afterward, if results are promising, the approval phase can start, running more extensive field trials and collecting data on safety and the beneficial effect of the new plant varieties. “The process to reach the market is long but” as Prof. Weber underlines “having a generous timeframe for the project instead of the typical 3-4 years of other funding schemes really helps to push forwards the results and reach a higher technology readiness level”.