6 years ago

The Partnership no. 12

  • Text
  • Enza
  • Partnership
  • Zaden
  • Vegetables
  • Cauliflower
  • Products
  • Varieties
  • Japan
  • Seeds
  • Breeding

phenotypical selection work in the past few years. “Vision technology and image analysis play a major role in this,” according to the program manager. “The cameras, software and mechanics for speedy recognition and digital recording of the external characteristics of seeds, plants and fruits have undergone major developments in the last few years. Enza Zaden now uses this technology within R&D and Seed Operations. Various systems have been built that allow for the use of ‘digital phenotyping’ in practice. This allows us to increase the volume and accuracy of measurements performed by fewer people in a shorter period of time on plants and products harvested from plants, whilst reducing the risks of human errors and differences in interpretation.” Milestones Fundamental changes in the field of genotype selection have been made in the past. Heimerikx remembers how this took place in the early years. “First we poured gel plates using agarose, on which PCR mixtures of many individual plants were manually inserted,” he explains. “As soon as the ‘DNA fingerprints’ – the classic band pattern – appeared, we took photos of each gel plate and then analysed these photos. This was a time-consuming and labour-intensive process, but it did make the entire selection process a lot more specific and efficient.” The first robot appeared in the lab around the year 2000, which was able to perform a number of repetitive actions and also carried on working after hours. In 2006, the use of a sophisticated fluorescence technique resulted in a new acceleration. “Now we no longer needed to apply the DNA to a gel; instead certain sequences and PCRs could be read automatically using fluorescence and these could be stored immediately as digital values. The added benefit was that human interpretation was further reduced. Following this introduction, the robot technology was expanded significantly to automate the genotyping even further. The working day went from eight hours per day to eighteen hours.” A complete back-up of the existing systems was achieved in 2010 and the DNA isolation from seeds became fully automated using robots. A major new investment is scheduled for this year: the complete refurbishment of the robots that were implemented seven years ago. Linking everything The goals for the coming years increase the need for further automation. The volume of genotyping is increasing exponentially. “As we learn more about specific genes and develop more markers to recognise these genes quickly, we of course want to make use of this knowledge,” Heimerikx confirmed. “For this reason, we are now building a much larger, hyper-modern lab to replace our current biotechnology laboratory. We have really outgrown our current home. This new laboratory will allow us to continue developing robotics and biotechnology.” Heimerikx is looking forward to the implementation of new sequence-based technology, which can read out – virtually – the entire DNA code of samples in a short time. “We will continue to face challenges. Our aim is to design a comprehensive digital system in which all the robots and analysis equipment are linked, which provides tracking & tracing and which links the database directly to the plant breeding database. This will allow our breeders to make the correct choices even more quickly. We refer to this as the step ‘from data to knowledge’ and this step is quite a challenge. In the meantime, the plant breeders continue to demand more from us. I sometimes wonder how long it will take before the new lab will need expanding.” 26 | The Partnership The Partnership | 27

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