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Camelina shows us how to master climate change

AIT expert Claudia Jonak coordinates EU project UNTWIST - an FFG success story

The UNTIWST project is coordinated by AIT expert Claudia Jonak, Competence Unit Bioresources of the Center for Health & Bioresources. Together with seven international partners AIT explores the mechanisms by which the ancient native oil plant Camelina copes with heat and drought. These findings should help European agriculture to cope with the challenges of climate change. The five-year project started in September 2020 and is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, under grant agreement No 862524 with almost 5 million euros.

Climate change is a growing problem for agriculture. Breedig programms mainly focused on optimising yield under (close-to-)optimal growth conditions making most crops highly senistive to environmental stress and leading to significant crop losses in recent years. The native, traditional oil-crop Camelina sativa (gold-of-pleasure) can provide insights valuabe to increase crop resilience. Camelina oil is not only healthy because it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, the plant has also retained a naturally high tolerance to heat and drought and has not undergone intensive breeding.

The international project UNTWIST, led by AIT expert Claudia Jonak and her team from the Competence Unit Bioresources of the Center for Health & Bioresources, will uncover the responses of climate-resilent camelina to heat and drought stress. These adaptation mechanisms can then be exploited to increase the stress tolerance of other crops. The goal is to ensure yield stability and to prepare agriculture for the challenges of climate change. AIT contributes its longstanding expertise in plant stress physiology, molecular biology and biochemistry to the project.

UNTWIST starts with a collection of more than 50 camelina lines from a wide range of geographical origins, including wild varieties, landraces and commercial cultivars. These lines will be cultivated and analysed in field experiments and under controlled heat and drought stress conditions. Agriculturally important characteristics of the plants, such as flowering time, seed yield and quality, will be assessed and compared. From these 50 candidates, the four most promising varieties will be selected for further detailed analysis. The selected lines will be grown in fields across Europe and will also be exposed to heat and drought stress under controlled conditions to deceiver their stress response mechanisms using various integrative "omics" approaches. The multi-layered, mechanistic data will provide the basis for complex computer-based models for the prediction of crop adaptability. The results and models will be made available to stakeholders in a web-based Plant Adaptation Hub database. A highlight of the project will be the final conference planned in Vienna 2025.

Link Project: https://www.untwist.eu/ 
Link FFG Success Story (German): https://www.ffg.at/news/success-story-untwist-vom-leindotter-fuer-die-klimaresistenz-lernen 

Projecttitle: UNTWIST - Uncover and promote tolerance to temperature and water stress in Camelina sativa
Funding programme: Horizon 2020
Funding line: SFS-30-2019 Agri-Aqua Labs: Looking behind plant adaptation
Project type: Research and Innovation Actions (RIA)
Project cost:  € 4 998 375
thereof EU funding: € 4 998 375
Project start: 1. September 2020       
Project ende  31. August 2025
Project coordinator:  Organisation:  AIT Austrian Institute of Technology GmbH
Coordinator: Claudia Jonak
Project website: https://www.untwist.eu/ 
The Project partner:

  1. Institut National de Recherche pour l´Agriculture, l´Alimentation et l´Environnement (INRAe), Frankreich
  2. Rothamsted Research Limited (RRes), England
  3. Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH (FZJ), Deutschland
  4. Universität Bologna (UNIBO), Italien
  5. Camelina Company Espana S.L. (CCE), Spanien
  6. Iniciativas Innovadoras SAL (INI), Spanien
  7. RTDS – Verein zur Förderung der Kommunikation und Vermittlung von Forschung, Technologie und Innovation, Österreich