1 year ago

The Partnership no. 12

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  • Enza
  • Partnership
  • Zaden
  • Vegetables
  • Cauliflower
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  • Japan
  • Seeds
  • Breeding

Science Looking for

Science Looking for chances, grasping opportunities It all seems so simple: produce a batch of seeds, remove any chaff and the batch is then ready for packaging. Right? Well no, nothing is further from the truth. There is still a huge amount of technological and research potential available to achieve optimum quality. Batches of seeds always contain a number of inferior seeds, such as those that have already germinated or are not yet fully developed. These inferior seeds cannot always be assessed from the exterior, but can considerably limit germination capacity and energy. Using the latest scientific insights and technology, researchers are now able to analyse batches of seeds accurately on both the interior and exterior. This is called seed phenotyping. “We remove inferior seeds from the batch to ensure added value in seed quality. This means that the batches are of better quality and meet the stringent demands of professional growers and plant raisers,” explains Senior Researcher Meindert Klooster. Full body scan Hospitals currently use X-rays, PET, MRI and ultrasound scans and other imaging technology to look at various diseases and ailments in the human body. The great advantage of this is that each of these technologies looks at a specific ailment in a person's body in a patient-friendly way. A broken leg can be seen on an X-ray but not with a PET scan. Because each kind of technology can look at specific diseases and ailments, they complement each other. And that is no different in the seed industry. At Enza Zaden, a new project has been initiated to analyse vegetable seeds as a precautionary measure using the latest generation of devices and sorting machines. Visible properties The colour, shape and size of a seed say something about its quality. Some properties are mainly related to germination, but others, such as size, can also be of importance. Seeds that are too big or too small can cause problems with the sowing machines or with their processing. “Nowadays, researchers can make these properties visible in the smallest detail by using high-quality cameras with high resolution,” says Klooster. Invisible properties The exterior colour and the size or diameter are properties that can be seen with the naked eye, regardless of how small they are. The new generation of machinery, however, take this to a higher level and assess properties that are not easy to see. The department also has a machine, for example, with which the researchers are able to view the interior of a seed with low energetic X-rays. Or rather, the machine looks at and assesses the contents of the seed. Klooster: “The X-ray photo shows what the plant embryo in the seed looks like and how it is positioned. It is same as using an ultrasound scan with a pregnant woman to see whether everything is going well, but in this case for the ‘birth’ of a baby plant.” For a number of varieties, another machine measures the chlorophyll level, so that researchers can deduce how ripe a seed is. This provides interesting information for further research. “We always thought that with sweet peppers, for example, the ripe coloured fruits contain ripe seeds, but that does not always seem to be the case. A seemingly ripe sweet pepper might actually contain immature seeds and, just as with premature babies, these immature seeds can be vulnerable and susceptible to various environmental factors against which they are not or insufficiently resistant.” Software seed parameters Making seeds visible and taking pictures is one thing, but digitising the analysis and then automating the sorting process is quite another. For this purpose the analysis, with the huge amount of test results, has to be standardised and digitised. This has really taken off in the past period. A colour sorter, an X-ray machine and a chlorophyll machine. They are extremely valuable, but which batch of seeds requires which specific sorting process for realising an optimal result? Which order is most effective and which limits need to be set? Directly after disinfection, samples of every batch of seeds are sent to the Seed Technology department, where they are analysed by researchers like Klooster and possibly combined with a so-called sample sorting. “This gives us a good picture of the current quality of the batch of seeds. For the analysis, we equipped a machine with four cameras that rapidly take countless photos of the individual seeds, each camera in a different way. The computer then analyses the photos using specific software parameters, which we set beforehand to the relevant properties. These parameters, about a million readings per batch, are the result of years of research and software development.” Interactive processing Take the sweet pepper as an example. The analysis of the seed samples quickly gives an indication of the basic quality. Now suppose that a batch has come in with many seeds showing a certain abnormality, so that it does not meet the high quality standards. It is already fully known with which sorting machines the desired end product is achieved even before the germination results of this batch are known. Think of it as already starting the treatment of the patient – the seed – before the germination results are in. This means that information is quickly available, processes are driven faster than before and process times between receipt to delivery are shorter. “It also prevents disappointments and frustration. We now know in advance how far we can upgrade a batch of seeds with the techniques available and whether that is sufficient. Non-enhanced batches are used for further research to develop new sensor technology.” Analysing all batches in this way has an added advantage: it brings to light certain trends. Which abnormalities are in which varieties? Does this have a genetic cause? Are there certain cultivation areas where certain abnormalities are more or indeed less prevalent? “By revealing a growing number of seed properties and linking these, we obtain big data to further optimise our system. This enables us firstly to act faster and more targeted, and secondly to provide our internal stakeholders, such as production and breeding, with valuable information as input for specific research.” More than top quality “We already employ this interactive way of processing completely for our sweet pepper seeds, the most extensive and complicated seed to sort, and we will soon be doing the same for all batches of seeds. We are not content with top quality. We continue to hunt for new supplementary methods, techniques and parameters for improving seed quality. There is always room for improvement and we have now found an innovative method to achieve this.” 30 | The Partnership The Partnership | 31

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