Dirk Inzé - BREEDIT

Description of the PIDirk Inzé

Dirk Inzé is a global leader in plant biology and an ISI ‘most cited author’. His research ambition is to obtain a holistic understanding of the molecular networks regulating plant organ growth and crop productivity. His work has opened up new perspectives for the identification of optimal growth regulatory networks that can be selected by advanced breeding, or for which more robust variants can be obtained through genetic engineering. As such, Dirk Inzé's work significantly contributes to providing food security for the growing world population.

Dirk Inzé received his PhD at Ghent in 1984. In 1990, he was appointed Research Director of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), where he initiated highly successfully research programs on the plant cell cycle and growth control. In 1995, he became Professor at Ghent University and he was the scientific founder of the biotechnology company CropDesign, which was established in 1998 and acquired in 2006 by BASF Plant Science. In 2002, Dirk was appointed Director of the Department of Plant Systems Biology of the VIB (Flanders Institute of Biotechnology). Under his directorship, the Department of Plant Systems Biology – currently employing approximately 300 individuals – became one of the world leading centers for advanced plant sciences. Dirk’s research was recognized by numerous awards and he is a member of several science advisory boards. Dirk owns one previous and one ongoing advanced ERC grant and his work received >50,000 citation (H-factor 124). Dirk was recently awarded with the prestigious World Agriculture Prize GHCERA (Global Confederation of Higher Education Associations for Agricultural and Life Sciences) at the Nanjing Agricultural University.

Description of the projectBREEDIT

Feeding the growing world population under changing climate conditions poses an unprecedented challenge on global agriculture and our current pace to breed new high yielding crop varieties is too low to face the imminent threats on food security. This ERC project proposes a novel crossing scheme that allows for an expeditious evaluation of combinations of potential yield contributing alleles by unifying ‘classical’ breeding with gene-centric molecular biology. The acronym BREEDIT, a word fusion of breeding and editing, reflects the basic concept of combining breeding with multiplex genome editing of yield related genes. By introducing plants with distinct combinations of genome edited mutations in more than 80 known yield related genes into a crossing scheme, the combinatorial effect of these mutations on plant growth and yield will be evaluated. Subsequent rounds of crossings will increase the number of stacked gene-edits per plant, thus increasing the combinatorial complexity. Phenotypic evaluations throughout plant development will be done on our in-house automated image-analysis based phenotyping platform. The nature and frequency of Cas9-mediated mutations in the entire plant collection will be characterised by multiplex amplicon sequencing to follow the efficiency of CRISPR-cas9 genome editing and to identify the underlying combinations of genes that cause beneficial phenotypes (genetic gain). The obtained knowledge on yield regulatory networks can be directly implemented into current molecular breeding programs and the project will provide the basis to develop targeted breeding schemes implementing the optimal combinations of beneficial alleles into elite material.

BREEDIT will be a major step forward in integrating basic knowledge on genes with plant breeding and has the potential to provoke a paradigm shift in improving crop yield.