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Keywords:

  • translational research;
  • crops;
  • field trials;
  • plant biotechnology

Summary

Plant molecular biology has been the key driver to elucidate molecular pathways underlying plant growth, development and stress responses during the past decades. Although this has led to a plethora of available data, the translation to crop improvement is lagging behind. Here, we argue that plant scientists should become more involved in converting basic knowledge into applications in crops to sustainably support food security and agriculture. As the translatability from model species to crops is rather poor, this kind of translational research requires diligence and a thorough knowledge of the investigated trait in the crop. In addition, the robustness of a trait depends on the genotype and environmental conditions, demanding a holistic approach, which cannot always be evaluated under growth chamber and greenhouse conditions. To date, the improved resolution of many genome-wide technologies and the emerging expertise in canopy imaging, plant phenotyping and field monitoring make it very timely to move from the pathway specifics to important agronomical realizations, thus from pot to plot. Despite the availability of scientific know-how and expertise, the translation of new traits to applications using a transgene approach is in some regions of the world, such as Europe, seriously hampered by heavy and nontranslucent legislation for biotech crops. Nevertheless, progress in crop improvement will remain highly dependent on our ability to evaluate improved varieties in field conditions. Here, we plead for a network of protected sites for field trials across the different European climates to test improved biotech traits directly in crops.