Physics2Market grant for promising research to improve cold-stress tolerance of plants

September 27, 2018

Higher yields and improved resistance to climate change

Researchers of University of Amsterdam’s Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences (SILS) and Van ‘t Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences (HIMS) have found a way to improve the plant’s resilience to low temperature stress. The first results are promising and the agricultural sector has already expressed its interest. For the further development of their method, the researchers have now received a grant from the Physics2Market Fund of Innovation Exchange Amsterdam (IXA).

A major challenge in the twenty-first century is to increase global food production to feed the continuously growing population while quality and quantity of arable land are quickly diminishing. Fundamental to this problem is the necessity to increase the yield of numerous important crop species and to find ways to extend geographical locations suitable for agriculture.

Plant-own molecules

Against this background it is important to focus on cold-stress, an environmental extreme that hampers crop yield. Low temperatures restrict plant growth and development, while frost causes tissue damage. An important step towards robust, cold-resistant plants has now been made by Dr Teun Munnik, associate professor of plant cell biology at SILS, and Prof. Wybren Jan Buma of molecular photonics at HIMS. They can’t reveal too much details yet due to an ongoing patent application, but in principle they have shown that the use of plant-own molecules can greatly improve the cold resistance of plants. The proposed method, which has already been studied in a European collaborative project with scientists from the universities of Bristol and Warwick, poses no threat to the environment or health.

Heat camera

The researchers have already been in touch with interested companies, but for further commercial development more research is required. For example, it needs to be established how the method influences the fitness of plants and how growth and development proceeds at normal and lower temperatures. To address  this, highly accurate measurements of the temperature profile of plants is required. To carry out such measurements, a state-of-the-art infrared camera will be acquired with IXA’s Physics2Market funding program. The grant will also allow to study the improvement in cold tolerance and growth of multiple plant species over a longer period of time. In the long term, the insight obtained should lead to economically sound ways of achieving a more sustainable agri- and horticulture.

About IXA and the Physics2Market Grant

IXA is the expertise center for knowledge valorisation of the UvA, HvA, VU and Amsterdam UMC. In 2016, IXA received funding from the municipality of Amsterdam to develop five-year programs that stimulate economic activity and entrepreneurship in research and education. With the Physics2Market Grant, IXA encourages researchers to validate physics-related research to enable collaboration with industrial partners.