Find out more about this project.
An introduction to the aims of EU-SOL and how we plan to achieve them. Plus read about the organisations and people working on this project.
The project is divided into eight separate modules all with different aims and different tasks to fulfil those aims. The breakdown of the modules below gives an idea of the different roles within the project and how a big collaborative science project such as EU-SOL fits together.
Modules one to three are related to investigating specific qualities of tomatoes and potatoes in more detail.
Module one is mainly focused on tomatoes and will be looking at sensory qualities that contribute to the pleasure of eating tomatoes. Specifically: appearance (e.g. size), taste, aroma and texture.
One of the tasks for scientists in this module is to find out what taste, smell and texture consumers prefer. To this end there will be panels of both expert tasters and members of the public set up to test the taste, smell and texture of many different tomatoes.
These attributes are established during the growth, development and ripening of the tomato and are dependent on complex molecular mechanisms (chains of chemical reactions), which themselves are under genetic control.
The molecular and genetic control of 2 main stages of development will be studied.
- The early stages of tomato development when the tomato is growing and accumulating different compounds such as acids and sugars. This strongly affects the taste of the tomato and the ultimate fruit size.
- The later period of development during and after ripening of the tomato This strongly affects the aroma and texture of the tomatoes.
Understanding the molecular mechanisms and genes that regulate these developmental stages will allow the identification of key mechanisms and genes that can be targeted for breeding better tomatoes.
There will also be some research done into the production of aroma in potatoes.
Module two is focused on the nutritional quality of both tomatoes and potatoes and in particular antioxidants, minerals and folic acid (often called nutraceuticals). All of these compounds have been shown to have beneficial effects on health when consumed regularly in the diet. For example, tomato is a rich source of natural pigments carotenoids, especially lycopene, which gives the ripe fruit its distinctive red colour. It has been shown to reduce the incidence of prostate cancer. Potato contains large quantities of vitamin C, another antioxidant as well as minerals.
This initial work in the module will be to analyse a very wide range of tomato and potato species and populations in order to discover which ones have the highest levels of these nutraceuticals.
The elevated presence of the compounds will be then linked to action of specific genes and subsequently to the molecular mechanisms that control the synthesis, accumulation and metabolism of these compounds.
Once we have this information, it will be possible to use plant breeding or genetic modification to produce potato and tomato populations that contain high levels of nutraceuticals for the consumer as well as combining these important qualities with taste and flavour, as discovered from work in module 1.
Module three is concerned with investigating traits that will be of interest to producers (i.e. farmers) and processors, for example companies that produce tomato paste, tomato ketchup, potato crisps or chips.
Different traits are being investigated in tomato and potato plants
In tomatoes the focus will be on yield. The ability to maximise the yield of crop plants both makes tomatoes more affordable and is important in contributing to the security of food supply for a growing global population.
- Improving yield under optimal conditions where aspects focussed on will be plant architecture, for example the spacing of branches, and the levels of desirable solids in the tomatoes. The latter is very important to companies who involved with processed tomato products like tomato paste, tomato ketchup and tinned tomatoes.
- Improving yield under sub optimal conditions. Here the research will look at increasing the ability for tomato plants to tolerate drought and salinity. With the concerns over climate change and the desire to colonise otherwise unsuitable land for crops this research will be of great importance in the future of farming.
In potatoes research will be directed in two key areas.
- Yield, itself dependant on a number of factors such as tuber size and distribution.
- Post harvest quality. Scientists will be looking at the mechanisms behind discolouration, cold sweetening and sprouting of potatoes in storage. All these contribute significantly to potato waste during storage, as well as the quality of fried products like crisps and chips.
Using a variety of techniques scientists in Module three will be looking to identify genes important to the traits of interest outlined above by linking the intensity of the traits we are interested in, to particular genes.
They will then be able to investigate the activity of these genes further and search for useful alleles (variations) of these genes amongst:
- Existing crop varieties.
- Highly variable plant material specially created by a process that mimics the natural evolution and variation of DNA.
- The natural diversity found in the wild relatives of potatoes and tomatoes.
Important genes and novel alleles of these genes will be passed on to plant breeding companies for incorporation into crop plants by traditional breeding processes if possible, and GMO technologies if necessary.
These modules, although they may involve research them-selves are specialist activities aimed at supporting the research of the first three modules.
Module four has a key role in providing tomato plant material and germplasm (genetic material) to the research modules.
- A whole variety of modern and traditional tomato cultivars.
- Introgression lines. Introgression lines are populations of plants that contain a section of DNA from a distant species. This allows scientists to see what difference that section of DNA makes. They are created by traditional breeding methods of crossing and selection. The selection is made on the basis of molecular markers (known sequences of DNA). The introgression lines used in this project are crop plants containing different sections of DNA from one of a number of wild tomato species. Since natural biodiversity is an underexploited resource for plant breeding it is hoped that beneficial genes may well be located in the DNA of these wild plants.
- A population of plants that contain a large number of very minor (single base) DNA mutations. These create an additional resource of genetic variation (additional to the natural variation) that can be used by scientists to study traits or breed improved varieties.
This material is vital for the research modules and will be used in for association studies. The quality of different plants will be compared and differences related to differences in DNA and cellular processes. This will allow scientists to home in on genes or cellular processes that are important for different qualities.
As well as providing this material in the form of seeds or plants to the other modules, module four will grow a variety of these plants in both field and glasshouse conditions for analysis of their qualities under these conditions.
Module four will also play a key role both within the project and wider scientific community by integrating information on desirable qualities of different plants uncovered in all the modules and using this information to annotate a map of the tomato genome.
Module 5 is concerned with developing technologies, resources and expertise which can then be used, and shared by the research in the other modules. There are a number of different areas where it will contribute.
- The development of tomato microarrays. These provide a way of allowing scientists to test what genes are switched on at any one time in any particular part of a plant that is being sampled. This work will help identify which genes are behind the quality traits of interest to EU-SOL.
- Generation of a library of single base changes (mutations) in the DNA of tomato plants to mimic natural alterations in DNA that might occur over evolutionary time and then assess the impact of these modifications on tomato quality. This again will allow the uncovering of potentially important genes and molecular mechanisms behind the quality traits.
- The development of selected sequences of DNA that enable the cancellation of a specific gene – effectively stopping that gene having any effect. This allows the targeting of genes under experimental conditions that we predict are involved in the traits of interest. These proof of concept experiments will allow more rational approaches to conventional breeding.
- The final aim of module 5 will be to contribute to the sequencing of the tomato genome. This means finding out the entire code written on a tomatoes DNA. This is a contribution from EU-SOL to an international consortium, which is working on this; one of the many examples of collaborative science that take place across the world.
Module 6 is a bioinformatics module. Its taks is to manage and analyse the data generated by EU-SOL.
There are two main objectives to module 6:
- To provide statistical tools for effective analysis of the data generated by the research modules.
- By means of a specially designed web portal and database interoperability allow the integration of data from different modules. In this way modules which are working on different yet ultimately connected areas can benefit from each others research and an overall understanding of potato and tomato genetics and regulatory systems can be built up.
The final two modules are generally focused on communication, both within the project and with the outside world.
Module 7 is divided into two distinct areas:
A) Management and coordination of the whole project. The aim of this section is to ensure the project runs smoothly and on time.
B) Public outreach and education. The aim of this section is to:
- Provide information about the project to the public and provide some background to the project in terms of plant breeding, now and historically, and our knowledge of DNA.
- Provide a forum for the public to discuss ideas and feelings relating to the project and wider areas of food improvement.
- To develop a hands-on educational package, this will enable teachers to teach the key topic of ‘Mendelian genetics’ through experimentation.
We feel that it is important that the project communicates it’s research to the public who are ultimately funding it and provides the context that may be needed for a lay person to understand what the project is hoping to achieve and how. Furthermore this will provide the basis for an informed discussion on different areas of food improvement.
The teachers resources will encourage the memorable and dynamic teaching of a topic that is fundamental to plant breeding and encourage the fostering of young scientists.
Module 8 is again split into two main areas.
A) The transfer of information and technology. This is both between the partners within the project and external organisations. This will ensure effective use is made of the results obtained through the project.
B) To interact with the outside world including, consumer groups, NGOs and the wider public. This includes:
- To analyse existing information and carry out a survey on consumer perception, demands and preferences concerning, tomatoes potatoes and different production methods.
- To communicate the progress of the project through a bi-annual news letter and information sheets produced at the culmination of the project.