Extra-resilient crops through integration of plant biology, simulation models and AI

News - 07 July 2023 - Webredactie Communication

The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) announced its contribution of 15 million euros to PlantXR, a CropXR research programme into 'smart breeding' of extra resilient crops (eXtra Resilient, XR). This impulse brings CropXR's total budget to over €90 million for the next 10 years. NWO’s grant marks the start of the new Dutch institute CropXR, which integrates plant biology, computational modelling, and artificial intelligence into 'smart breeding methods'. Those will be used to develop crop varieties that are more resilient to climate change and less dependent on chemical crop protection. In CropXR, TU Delft works together with Utrecht University, Wageningen University and Research, the University of Amsterdam and dozens of plant breeding, biotech and processing companies on basic scientific research, data collection and data sharing, education, and advancing broad application of the results. 

More resilience urgently needed

Speeding up the development of extra-resilient (XR) crops is urgently needed worldwide because many crops are faced with more extreme conditions such as heat, drought, flooding, and pathogens, that are all more extreme because of climate change. At the same time, environmental regulations are becoming stricter, which will reduce farmers’ ability to treat their crops with chemical fertilizer, pesticides and other plant protection products. For agricultural production to become sustainable in coming decades, it will need crops that are more resilient.

TU Delft in CropXR with a broad range of disciplines

From TU Delft, Luca Laurenti, Manuel Mazo (3mE) together with Marcel Reinders, Christoph Lofi and Geert-Jan Houben (EEMCS) contribute to Crop-XR with their expertise in control and formal methods, AI and machine learning. Manuel Mazo (3mE): “In CropXR we investigate resilience of crop varieties against water depletion, plagues and other stress factors for the growth of crops. We aim to derive the specific genes responsible for enhancing a crop variety resilience from collected experimental data models. Together with the group of my 3mE colleague Luca Laurenti we will develop new systems biology tools to analyse biological systems modelled through a combination of both mechanistic and data-driven techniques.” Marcel Reinders (EEMCS) responds: “ CropXR gives us a tremendous opportunity to leverage TU Delft's AI expertise to make smarter use of measured data at plants to accelerate our understanding of plant physiology. We envision a unique approach in which AI will be coupled with mechanistic modelling, which will empower breeders with a more targeted approach to make plants more resilient and broader applicable in the world.” Christoph Lofi (EEMCS) adds: "CropXR is extremely relevant for developing more resilient plants and crops. As an interdisciplinary programme, CropXR requires a wide variety of different expertise. The TU Delft Software Technology department contributes core innovations and novel approaches for managing, engineering, and analysing large-scale datasets to enable and inform developments in the plant sciences."

Funding from multiple parties

Apart from NWO’s Long Term Programme PlantXR, CropXR also received funding from the Dutch National Growth Fund in 2022, when a funding proposal submitted by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality was approved. Financial contributions also come from the Foundation for Food & Agricultural Research (FFAR), the private consortium partners and the four universities.

In line with TU Delft AgriTech and AI Initiative

TU Delft is pleased with this NWO impulse. CropXR fits in nicely with the ambitions and activities of TU Delft AgTech Institute, which promotes research and innovation in the agricultural and food sector.

CropXR is a great example of collaboration between research and industry to strengthen the resilience of global food production in increasingly extreme climates such as drought and floods. TU Delft AgTech Institute, together with the research departments involved, has played an important driving role in bringing about this strong consortium, NWO LTP and NGF proposals and in the organisational steps that have been necessary within TU Delft to launch the programme.

Liselotte de Vries, business developer TU Delft AgTech Institute

With the Delft scientists in this consortium, CropXR also matches with the set of educational research and innovation activities of the TU Delft AI Initiative. Led by Geert-Jan Houben, the AI Initiative connects research and education in and with AI, data and digitalisation. It promotes partnerships like this one with scientists from inside and outside TU Delft ensuring additional impact of our AI knowledge and expertise.

It is exciting to see how AI scientists from TU Delft will be able to provide research and innovation contributions to the important scientific and societal challenges of this prestigious, national long-term program. A long with the contribution of the National Groeifonds, this shows how the TU Delft approach to combining fundamental research in AI with research into specific application domains of AI, is an excellent basis for impact in society.

Geert-Jan Houben, Pro Vice Rector Magnificus AI, Data and Digitalisation

More about TU Delft AgTech Institute

TU Delft AgTech Institute promotes research- and innovation in AgriFood technology. It fosters public-private partnerships by connecting the industry to TU Delft’s world-class engineering- and systems knowledge and expertise. The unique R&D portfolio that is emerging from these partnerships addresses societal and industrial demands to the sector, and will be instrumental in driving the transition to a sustainable future in AgriFood with novel high-tech solutions. We invite you to innovate our future together. More information: https://www.tudelft.nl/en/agtech-institute/

More about AI, data and digitalisation at TU Delft

At Delft University of Technology, we believe that AI technology is vital to create a more sustainable, safer and healthier future. We research, design and engineer AI technology and study its application in society. AI technology plays a key role in each of our eight faculties and is an integral part of the education of our students. Through AI education, research and innovation we create impact for a better society. Visit our website to find out what is happening in AI research, education and innovation in AI, Data & Digitalisation: www.tudelft.nl/ai