ERC Consolidator Grant success

Korbinian Schneeberger awarded prestigious grant

November 23, 2023

Korbinian Schneeberger, group leader in the Department of Chromosome Biology at the MPIPZ and the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, has been awarded one of the prestigious Consolidator Grants of the European Research Council (ERC).

The BYTE2BITE project, funded with 2 million euros over 5 years, aims to combine new genomic technologies with conventional breeding to pave the way for efficient diploid potato breeding.

Potato is a major global food crop for approximately 1.3 billion people. However, potato breeding and improvement is challenged by its complex tetraploid genome. Unlike humans, who inherit one copy of each chromosome from the father and one from the mother, the potato inherits two copies of each chromosome from each parent, making them a species with four copies of each chromosome (tetraploid). The four different copies of each chromosome make efficient crossing and selecting of superior cultivars almost impossible.

To address this, a revolutionary shift has been proposed, where tetraploid potato would be converted into a diploid crop with only two copies of each chromosome and crossing and selecting of superior cultivars would finally work. However, initial attempts to implement diploid potatoes yielded weak plants with suboptimal yields due to the high number of deleterious mutations in the potato genome.

The BYTE2BITE project

In the ERC COG project BYTE2BITE, Korbinian Schneeberger will tackle these challenges with new breeding strategies and the support of genomic technologies. The research team will first analyze the entire genomic diversity of the domesticated potato, looking for mutations that hinder the efficient production of diploid potatoes. Based on this, the team will then launch an innovative pre-breeding program to produce potato genomes with a reduced mutation load. By purging these mutations, it will be possible to create tetraploid potatoes capable of producing vigorous diploid plants.

BYTE2BITE's approach of combining new genomic technologies with conventional breeding holds great promise for ensuring global food security in the face of evolving challenges in the coming decades.

“I am thrilled to receive continued support through the ERC. This will enable us to advance potato breeding using our genomics expertise."

ERC grants are generally regarded as the tip in competitive funding for academic research in Europe. The ERC Consolidator Grant supports outstanding scientists and enables the researchers to consolidate their autonomy, pursue their promising scientific ideas and continue a successful research career in Europe.

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