Huazhong Agricultural University
Wuhan, China

Huazhong Agricultural University is a multi-disciplinary comprehensive university giving priority to agriculture, characterized by life science and supplemented by the combination of agriculture, basic science, engineering, liberal arts, law, economic trade, and management. HAU, one of the first groups of universities in China which are authorized to confer Ph.D. and M.A. degrees, has produced the new China's first doctor majoring in agronomy. Firmly adhering to the two central tasks like teaching and scientific research, HAU maintains its management by levels and flexible forms. As far as education quality and academic level, HAU ranks first among the agricultural universities in China. In addition, it has been converted into a nationally important base for training senior special agricultural personnel and developing agricultural science and technology. Wikipedia.

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Farmers are constantly spraying pesticides on their crops to combat an array of viral, bacterial, and fungal invaders. Scientists have been trying to get around these chemicals for years by genetically engineering hardy plants resilient to the array of diseases caused by microbial beasties. Most attempts so far confer protection against a single disease, but now researchers have developed a rice plant that fights multiple pathogens at once—without loss to the crop yield—by hooking up a tunable amplifier to the plant’s immune system. “For as long as I have been in this field, people have been scratching their heads about how to activate a defense system where and when it is needed,” says Jonathan Jones, who studies plant defense mechanisms at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, U.K. “It is among the most promising lines of research in this field that I have seen.” Plants don’t have a bloodstream to circulate immune cells. Instead, they use receptors on the outsides of their cells to identify molecules that signal a microbial invasion, and respond by releasing a slew of antimicrobial compounds. Theoretically, identifying genes that kick off this immune response and dialing up their activity should yield superstrong plants. Plant biologist Xinnian Dong at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, has been studying one of these genes for 20 years—a “master regulator,” she says, of plant defense. The gene, called NPR1 in the commonly studied thale cress plant (Arabidopsis thaliana)—a small and weedy plant topped with white flowers—has been a popular target for scientists trying to boost immune systems of rice, wheat, apples, tomatoes, and more. But turning up NPR1 works too well and “makes the plants miserable, so it is not very useful for agriculture,” Dong says. To understand why, consider the human immune system. Just as sick people aren’t very productive at work when their fever is high, plants grow poorly when their own immune systems are overloaded. Likewise, keeping the NPR1 gene turned on all the time stunts plant growth so severely there is no harvest for the farmers. To make NPR1 useful, researchers needed a better control switch—one that would crank up the immune response only when the plant was under attack, but otherwise would turn it down to let the plants grow. Two papers published in this week from Dong’s team at Duke, in collaboration with researchers at Huazhong Agricultural University in Wuhan, China, describe the discovery and application of such a mechanism. While investigating an immune system-activating protein called TBF1 in Arabidopsis, Dong discovered an intricate system that speedily instigates an immune response. It works by taking ready-to-go messenger RNA molecules that encode TBF1, and quickly translating these molecules into TBF1 proteins, which then kick-start an array of immune defenses. Dong quickly recognized that a segment of DNA, which she calls the “TBF1 cassette,” was acting as a control switch for this plant immune response, so she copied that TBF1 cassette from the Arabidopsis genome and pasted it alongside and in front of the NPR1 gene in rice plants. The result is a strain of rice that can rapidly and reversibly ramp up its immune system in bursts that are strong enough to fend off offending pathogens but short enough to avoid the stunted growth seen in previously engineered crops. The researchers demonstrated that their rice was superior compared with regular rice by inoculating their leaves with the bacterial pathogens that cause rice blight (Xanthomonas oryzae pv. oryzae) and leaf streak (X. oryzae pv. oryzicola), as well as the fungus responsible for blast disease (Magnaporthe oryzae). Whereas the infections spread over the leaves of the wild rice plants, the engineered plants readily confined the invaders to a small area. “These plants perform very well in the field, and there is no obvious fitness penalty, especially in the grain number and weight,” Dong says. The research could be a boon for farmers in developing countries someday, says Jeff Dangl, an expert on plant immunity at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, who was not involved in the study. For instance, rice blast disease, which the plants effectively combatted, causes an estimated 30% loss of the annual rice crop worldwide. “In the developing world, when farmers that can’t afford fungicide get the disease in their fields, they can lose their whole crop,” Dangl says. Julia Bailey-Serres, a plant biologist at the University of California, Riverside, is excited about the study too. “They haven’t done large trials yet to show how robust it will be, but our back of the envelope calculation shows that this really could have a big impact,” she says. “It could easily be applicable to multiple species of crops,” she says, adding that “it is impressive that it worked across two kingdoms” of fungal and bacterial pathogens. But all are careful to note that it is still early days for immune-boosted crops. For one, the particular kind of uplift conferred by NPR1 is unlikely to provide protection against plant-munching insects. A second caveat is that the study only tested the rice’s response to microbes that parasitize living host cells; their defense against a different class of pathogens that kill cells for food is still untested. “I would keep the champagne on ice until there are a few more pathogen systems tested in the field,” Jones says. Still, Jones says he’s hopeful the work—and more like it—could eventually lead to the end of pesticides. “I like to imagine in 50 years’ time my grandchildren will say, ‘Granddad, did people really use chemicals to control disease when they could have used genetics?’ And I’ll say, ‘Yeah, they did.’ That’s where we want to get to.”

Agency: European Commission | Branch: H2020 | Program: RIA | Phase: SFS-13-2015 | Award Amount: 6.43M | Year: 2016

MycoKey aims to generate innovative and integrated solutions that will support stakeholders in effective and sustainable mycotoxin management along food and feed chains. The project will contribute to reduce mycotoxin contamination mainly in Europe and China, where frequent and severe mycotoxin contaminations occur in crops, and where international trade of commodities and contaminated batches are increasing. MycoKey will address the major affected crops maize, wheat and barley, their associated toxigenic fungi and related mycotoxins (aflatoxins, deoxynivalenol, zearalenone, ochratoxin A, fumonisins). The project will integrate key information and practical solutions for mycotoxin management into a smart ICT tool (MycoKey App), providing answers to stakeholders, who require rapid, customized forecasting, descriptive information on contamination risk/levels, decision support and practical economically-sound suggestions for intervention. Tools and methodologies will be strategically targeted for cost-effective application in the field and during storage, processing and transportation. Alternative and safe ways to use contaminated batches will be also delivered. The focus of Mycokey will be: i) innovating communications of mycotoxin management by applying ICT, providing input for legislation, enhancing knowledge and networks; ii) selecting and improving a range of tools for mycotoxin monitoring; iii) assessing the use of reliable solutions, sustainable compounds/green technologies in prevention, intervention and remediation. The multi-disciplinary consortium, composed by scientific, industrial and association partners (32), includes 11 Chinese institutions and will conduct the 4 years programme in a framework of international networks.

Agency: European Commission | Branch: FP7 | Program: CP-FP-SICA | Phase: KBBE.2012.2.3-05 | Award Amount: 3.84M | Year: 2013

Food security is a global challenge. Within the overall increased demand for food, and particularly meat production, there is also an urgent need to increase supply of protein from sustainable sources. The principle objective of the international and multidisciplinary PROteINSECT consortium is to facilitate the exploitation of insects as an alternative protein source for animal and human nutrition. Advances have been made in rearing of insects for incorporation in animal feed in countries including China and Mali. The consortium brings together expertise in these countries together with European insect breeders and feed production companies in order to optimise systems and set up pilot scale production facilities in the EU. The project will demonstrate the feasibility of the use of insect-derived proteins in animal feed through trials with fish, poultry and pigs. Quality and safety along the food chain from insect protein itself, to incorporation in feed and ultimately human consumption of insect-protein reared livestock, will be evaluated. The use of waste streams that focus on animal rather than plant material for insect rearing will be examined. To optimise the economic viability of the use of insect proteins, uses for the residual flows from the production system will be determined. Life cycle analyses will enable the design of optimised and sustainable production systems suitable for adoption in both ICPC and European countries. Key to uptake is ensuring that a regulatory framework is in place and this will be encouraged by the preparation of a White Paper following consultation with key stakeholders, experts and consumers. PROteINSECT will build a pro-insect platform in Europe to encourage adoption of sustainable protein production technologies in order to reduce the reliance of the feed industry on plant/fish derived proteins in the short term, and promote the acceptance of insect protein as a direct component of human food in the longer term.

Wang X.,Huazhong Agricultural University
Nature Genetics | Year: 2017

The emergence of apomixis—the transition from sexual to asexual reproduction—is a prominent feature of modern citrus. Here we de novo sequenced and comprehensively studied the genomes of four representative citrus species. Additionally, we sequenced 100 accessions of primitive, wild and cultivated citrus. Comparative population analysis suggested that genomic regions harboring energy- and reproduction-associated genes are probably under selection in cultivated citrus. We also narrowed the genetic locus responsible for citrus polyembryony, a form of apomixis, to an 80-kb region containing 11 candidate genes. One of these, CitRWP, is expressed at higher levels in ovules of polyembryonic cultivars. We found a miniature inverted-repeat transposable element insertion in the promoter region of CitRWP that cosegregated with polyembryony. This study provides new insights into citrus apomixis and constitutes a promising resource for the mining of agriculturally important genes. © 2017 Nature Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. All Rights Reserved.

The requirement for sustainable food production is a global issue to which the EU contributes as a major livestock producer. It is critical to improve animal production efficiency while sustaining environmentally friendly milk production. More profitable dairy production requires increased milk yield, cow health, longevity and fertility; reduced environmental footprint and optimised use of inputs. These are multifactorial problems to achieve. GplusE aims to identify the genotypes controlling biological variation in the important phenotypes of dairy cows, to appreciate how these are influenced by environmental and management factors and thus allow more informed and accurate use of genomic selection. GplusE will link new genomic data in dairy cows to a comprehensive array of phenotypic information going well beyond those existing traits recorded by dairy breeding organisations. It will develop systems that will focus herd and cow management on key time points in production that have a major influence on the rest of the productive cycle including efficiency, environment, physiological status, health, fertility and welfare. This will significantly advance the science, efficiency and management practices in dairy production well beyond the current state-of-the art. The major bioinformatics element of the proposal will illuminate the bovine genome and ensure a reverse flow of information to annotate human and other mammalian genomes; it will ensure training of animal scientists (PhDs & Postdocs) to a high skill level in the use of bioinformatics. The end result of this project will be a comprehensive, integrated identification of genomic-phenotypic associations relevant to dairy production. This information will be translated into benefits for animal breeding and management that will considerably improve sustainable dairy production. It will provide basic biological information into the mechanisms by which genotype, environment and their interaction influence performance.

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