Researchers show new holistic approach to genetics and plant breeding


PICTURE: Mutant barley on the ground. view After


The research was conducted at the Department of Food Sciences at University of Copenhagen (UCPH FOOD) with professor emeritus Lars Munck as a coordinator and builds on previous work since 1963 at the Svaloef Plant Breeding Institute and the Carlsberg Laboratory.

A complete picture of the organization

Research shows how, using a fast, non-destructive, green analysis method, near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), we can get a holistic overview that reflects how the entire chemical composition of nutrients in a barley grain is altered, for example, by a mutation in a single gene. This is in contrast to current conventional plant breeding, where you don’t get an overview of all the changes the barley grain undergoes when a single gene is changed.

Lars Munck and his team studied barley grains from different barley lines using near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). In a fraction of a second, this method can provide a ‘chemical fingerprint’ (more about near infrared spectroscopy below) of barley grains, which describes the physicochemical composition of the grains, including nutrients. . The researchers analyzed the resulting intact spectra by comparing and calibrating them to barley lines of known composition using mathematics (chemometry).

“We were surprised by the precision that characterizes the chemical fingerprints of the grains from the NIRS spectra. At the same time, it surprised us that we would get the same classification result if we instead used the secondary nutrients / metabolites determined by a more complicated measurement method called gas chromatographic mass spectrometry as the chemical fingerprint. . By using two different types of analysis with completely different objectives, we arrived at the same classification result ”, explains Lars Munck and continues:

“It’s consistency in a nutshell – all local fingerprints are part of the plant’s self-organizing network and affect the plant’s overall chemical and physical fingerprints.”

One of the barley lines examined was found to have a higher content of the essential amino acid lysine compared to normal barley. The high lysine content gives good growth in feeding studies with pigs, but the field yield was horrendous and with low starch content.

“By analyzing high lysine barley lines that were crossed with high starch barley lines providing high yield, we were able to use NIRS fingerprint measurements to select high starch lines. lysine and starch content, which thus gave higher yields. time, the overall consistency has also enabled us to acquire knowledge about the optimal combination of genetic traits for a specific quality purpose, ”says Lars Munck, who believes that this is a radical advance over the today’s plant breeding that focuses on one genetic-chemical combination trait at a time.

“With a more holistic approach, enabled by the NIRS method – we can instead examine the full chemical fingerprints of the different plant lines, and quickly get an overview of the material available and thus target and select the lines from the variable cross pool that are high quality by calibrating interesting guide lines, ”says Lars Munck.

Global coherence – the internal self-organization of the plant

In the discipline of plant breeding, we talk about the genotype, which describes the genetic material of the plant, and the phenotype, which describes the traits that can be observed directly or measured chemically and therefore characterized using the NIRS.

The approach when using NIRS phenotyping is to change the order of the plant breeding procedure to start by screening the different barley lines for all of their chemical properties represented by the fingerprints. This is done by calibrating on known barley lines which have one or more of the desired chemical properties (eg high starch content). It is only at the end, when you have selected the optimal barley line, that you thoroughly determine which genes are changed. When looking for expression for the whole organism, the use of NIRS fingerprints provides a much more nuanced result, allowing you to examine the overall chemistry of an organism rather than examining each combination of genes separately. . Because consistency ensures that all aspects of an individual’s fingerprints communicate, you can manage the overall dialing from very different fingerprint positions.

“With the new method, we have bridged the great knowledge gap that exists in genetics between genotype and phenotype. Now molecular biology will finally have an outlet for its impressive library of primary genetic functions, where the result of the total contribution of modified genes to a functioning factory can be studied as a whole, ”says Lars Munck and continues:

“Molecular biology has offered crucial solutions for genetic diseases, resistance and disease vaccinations. But in this success, we have forgotten that it is not the gene that is the biological unit, but that it is is the self-organized individual who uses his internal “calculator” to organize the coherence of internal interaction in a precise and reproducible way, “explains Lars Munck.

The researchers call this interaction, which is shown in barley grains using NIRS fingerprints and which they believe can be transferred to all living organisms, overall consistency.

“When a change occurs in one or more genes of the plant or in the environment, the chemistry and the implicit morphology of the whole organism change as the plant reorganizes itself to obtain a new point of coherent equilibrium. This unifying force, coherence, was previously defined in physics between light beams and atoms in non-living matter and we have now discovered coherence in biology as a macroscopic chemical imprint, which we call global coherence. This explains how living matter can replicate itself into recognizable individuals, ”explains Lars Munck.

The importance of introducing the consistency of macroscopic chemical fingerprints into biology that coordinates physical morphological structures with chemistry is a fundamental discovery and a highly simplifying adjunct to the deep understanding of the molecular genetics of gene expression.


Near infrared spectroscopy

Near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) is an analytical method that can be used to determine the content of macroscopic chemical components such as water, proteins, fats and carbohydrates and their interactions in biological materials – in this context, the barley grains of different lines of barley. This is a quick method, and the results are available seconds after transillumination. An analysis is performed by characterizing the infrared light that has illuminated or reflected from the biological sample, here the barley grain. With the knowledge of how light interacts with the grain, a “fingerprint” of the chemical composition can be taken, from which it is possible to calculate the content of specific components using mathematics / chemometrics. These can be whole families of components, such as the total protein or carbohydrate content, or very specific substances, such as a specific fatty acid or a specific vitamin. The method is non-destructive because the light does not affect the sample material (the barley sample) and green, because the method does not use chemicals unlike most other analytical methods.

Scientific article

Original Title: Physiological Genetics Reformed: Bridging the Genome-Phenome Gap with Coherent Chemical Fingerprints – The Global Coordinator

The authors are:

Lars Munck, Aasmund Rinnan, Bekzod Khakimov, Birthe Moeller Jespersen, Soeren Balling Engelsen, all from the Department of Food Sciences at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH FOOD)

In the article, the researchers call global coherence fingerprints using near-red spectroscopy: macroscopic-physio-chemical-quantum coherence

The article is published in the scientific journal Trends in plant science and how the following doi number: 10.1016 / j.tplants.2020.12.014

Information about Lars Munck. Source: The Great Danish Encyclopedia

Lars Munck, born. 1935, Danish-Swedish plant breeder and food technologist; a prominent advocate of a paradigm shift in science from reductionism to a holistic view of nature. The harmony between human cognition and the surrounding nature must be based on the recognition of the brain’s limited capacity to interpret large amounts of simultaneous data. Multivariate and exploratory data analysis should be replaced. As research director at the Carlsberg Research Center from 1973 to 1991, Munck developed comprehensive quality management and decision-making systems for malt houses and mills. As a professor of food technology at the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University (now UCPH-FOOD) from 1991 he worked with line quality control in the food industry based on chemometrics, analysis of fluorescence image and spectroscopy.

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