European commission earmarks €12 million for plant growth research

Ghent, Belgium − Plants are invaluable sources of food, medicine, renewable materials and energy. But we still know relatively little about the biological processes that make them grow. The European Commission is devoting €12 million to AGRON-OMICS, a plant research consortium spearheaded by Pierre Hilson and Dirk Inzé of the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) and Ghent University. The goal of this 5-year initiative led in collaboration with other top European research institutes is to understand the network of biological processes involved in leaf growth.

Plants: crucial but still poorly understood
It would be hard to overestimate the importance of plants in our daily life. They provide us with food, medicine, and renewable sources of materials and energy. It's therefore sobering to realize that, in comparison to cancer for example, we still know very little about the mechanisms involved in plant growth. Although key factors have been identified, researchers do not yet understand how their action is orchestrated, nor how the growth process is coordinated across the successive levels of organization: from molecules, to cells, organs and finally entire organisms. In particular, leaves are exquisite solar-driven molecular machines for carbon assimilation and essential determinants of ecosystem productivity. Given their crucial role for mankind, we must improve our knowledge about the biology of plants.

AGRON-OMICS
But, times are changing and novel technologies are now being developed to systematically study complex biological processes. Pierre Hilson, Dirk Inzé and their colleagues in the Department of Plant Systems Biology, in collaboration with nine other top European research institutes, have set out to perform an in-depth study of leaf growth in the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana. To support their efforts, these scientists launched an initiative called AGRON-OMICS (Arabidopsis GROwth Network integrating OMICS technologies). In the coming five years, this network of major European players in plant biology will perform experiments to identify the molecular components controlling growth and build mathematical models to explain how these components interact.

The significance of the initiative also caught the attention of the European Commission, which is providing €12 million toward its success. With the exception of the Arabidopsis genome initiative, this is arguably the largest grant ever awarded in this area of research, and a clear indication of the social importance of a deep understanding of life processes in plants.

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Brief description of AGRON-OMICS
The mission of AGRON-OMICS, a multidisciplinary research program focusing on the plant model Arabidopsis thaliana, is to enhance the understanding of plant growth and to enable system-level studies. The project will create knowledge for industrial applications and will yield data, tools, resources and novel technologies for use by the European research community.

The consortium is structured according to two main axes:
(1) the biological functional modules at the core of the research activities of the laboratories involved that cover all the main known molecular pathways involved in the regulation and implementation of leaf growth;
(2) the technology platforms shared across the partners that were chosen to record variables describing Arabidopsis growth at all relevant levels, from the macroscopic analysis of organ size and shape, to the in-depth analysis of molecular cell components.

The key concept driving AGRON-OMICS is the generation of multiple data types derived from growing leaves and their delivery into a framework in which these data can be shared, compared, integrated and analyzed. Partners in the AGRON-OMICS project
Coordinator: VIB-UGent, Belgium
Pierre Hilson, Dirk Inzé, Geert De Jaeger, Gerrit Beemster, Martin Kuiper
Department of Plant Systems Biology
www.vib.be

INRA-JPB, France
Herman Höfte, Christian Meyer, Jean-Denis Faure, Olivier Loudet
Institut National de Recherche Agronomique, Institut Jean-Pierre Bourgin
www-ijpb.versailles.inra.fr

MPI-MP, Germany
Lothar Willmitzer, Mark Stitt, Thomas Altmann
Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology
www.mpimp-golm.mpg.de

ETH, Switserland
Wilhelm Gruissem
Laboratory of Plant Biotechnology
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
www.pb.ipw.biol.ethz.ch

JIC, Great Britain
John Doonan, Michael Bevan
John Innes Centre
www.jic.ac.uk/corporate/index.htm

INRA-LEPSE, France
Christine Granier, François Tardieu, Thierry Simonneau
Laboratoire d'écophysiologie des plantes sous stress environmentaux
www.montpellier.inra.fr/lepse

MPI-DB, Germany
Detlef Weigel
Department of Molecular Biology
Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology
www.naturalvariation.org

MPI-PB, Germany
George Coupland
Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research
www.mpiz-koeln.mpg.de/english/index.html

WSB, Great Britain
Vicky Buchanan-Wollaston, Jim Beynon, David Rand
Warwick Systems Biology Centre
University of Warwick
www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/hri2/

NASC, Great Britain
Sean May
Nottingham Arabidopsis Stock Centre
Plant Science Division, University of Nottingham
http://arabidopsis.info

PRI, the Netherlands
Gerco Angenent
Plant Research International
Business Unit Bioscience
www.plant.wageningen-ur.nl
www.expbot.sci.kun.nl

UMH, Spain
José Luis Micol, María Rosa Ponce
Division de Genetica
Departamento de Biologia Aplicada
Universidad Miguel Hernandez
http://genetica.umh.es

Maia Scientific, Belgium
Johan Geysen, Kris Ver Donck, Marc Moeremans
Maia Scientific
www.maia-scientific.com

INRA-URGV, France
Claire Lurin, Sébastien Aubourg
Unité de Recherche en Génomique Végétale
www.evry.inra.fr


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Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.
-- Marie Curie