INVITE is a five-year European project. The focus of the project is on innovations in variety testing. Naktuinbouw's contribution to the project is image analysis, DNA and disseminating data.
“It takes many years and intensive lobbying in Brussels to get such an extensive project up and running, and also involves a considerable investment. We were very excited that we could start in 2019," says Michel Ebskamp, R&D manager at Naktuinbouw.
INVITE stands for INnovations in plant VarIety Testing in Europe. Michel Ebskamp “The aim of the INVITE project is to apply new innovations in Plant Breeders' Rights and value for cultivation or use testing (VCU). When new varieties are introduced, they often have new traits such as better resistance to biotic and abiotic stress conditions or can adapt better to sustainable crop production conditions. A large proportion of the budget is devoted to VCU testing in agricultural crop varieties, because this is where there is significant impact. This will provide the end user with greater insight into how a particular agricultural variety will perform under their own (environmental) conditions. This offers many benefits with large areas under cultivation.”
Why is Naktuinbouw participating in the project?
We consider it vital that DUS and VCU testing is performed as reliably and efficiently as possible. This project contributes to that aim. We are focusing on representative crops that are important in the Dutch situation, especially potatoes, perennial ryegrass, wheat and tomatoes. In addition, data processing and data sharing are becoming increasingly important aspects.
Within the project nine workpackages have been defined. Michel Ebskamp explains that all the information generated by various packages creates a wealth of data. “One of the roles of Naktuinbouw is structuring this data. The other themes we are contributing to are the use and implementation of DNA databases and image analysis, or phenotyping."
“In this workpackage, we are investigating how we can facilitate data exchanges and interoperability and the tools we can use. Ultimately, once the tools are ready, we want companies to be able to access their data themselves."
“For phenotyping, we are cooperating closely with WUR," Michel continues. “A new variety is assessed for morphological traits. Analysing old and new images can complement or replace DUS testing (Distinctness, Uniformity, Stability). We are studying which innovations we can apply. For example, we now visit greenhouses to see if the plants are at the stage that allows assessment. I think it's quite feasible that we will use (automatically generated) images for this task in the future so that researchers can spend less time in the greenhouse or do away with visits completely. Our initial focus area is seeing how we can link images of tomatoes to the variety assessment data."
“We are regularly asked about infringement of rights of a particular variety. A breeder wants to know which variety may have possibly been used in the breeding mix. We will then inform the owner and ask if we can use the data. For example, the owners of potato varieties have a very open attitude. With other crops, such as roses, there is more reticence about sharing information and sometimes permission is withheld.
For DUS testing, managing the reference collection is important. A total of eight research stations perform DUS testing on tomatoes. Based on the DNA, we can decide which varieties we compare in field tests and which are most closely genetically related. Efficiency is key here."
Practically all European DUS research stations are affiliated to the project, as well as WUR and the French scientific research institute INRA. The CPVO (Community Plant Variety Office) is also a partner in the project. See all partners here.
An aspect Michel sees as especially valuable is that, in addition to the workpackages, the partners can all learn a great deal from each other. “"It's a chance to mutually look behind the scenes and see the innovations in working methods. For example, at the start of the project, INRA/GEVES showed how they are trialling a barcode system with trees. A pair of VR glasses gives you all the information about that particular tree in an instant. What I also liked was the drone installed on a trolley. This trolley collects images in the orchard via GPS and is powered by solar energy. Because the drone is placed on a trolley, no permits are required to use it."