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FFL-JA-Forskningsmidlene for jordbruk og matindustri

Securing adaptation of timothy cultivars under climate change and during seed multiplication using genomics and big-data approaches

Alternative title: Sikker adaptasjon hos timoteisorter under klimaendringer og oppformering ved hjelp av genomforskning og stordataanalyser

Awarded: NOK 1.6 mill.

Grassland based forage production is the cornerstone of agriculture in Northern Norway. Better utilization of local feed resources is a key factor for developing a more sustainable livestock production. To achieve this, higher and more stable yields of high quality is needed. Timothy is the most important forage species in Norway, especially in the north. The predicted climate changes will lead to more variability in temperature and precipitation, which will affect both plant production and winter survival. These changes are expected to be most pronounced in the north, and development of cultivars that are adapted to the future climate is crucial for a sustainable forage production. Breeding of new cultivars takes long time with traditional methods, up to 20 years. In order to keep pace with the rapidly changing climatic conditions, new cultivars need to be developed faster. This can be achieved using new methods like genomic selection and machine-learning for integration of climate, soil, genotype, and phenotype (yield etc.) data for prediction of adaptability. Production of commercial seeds of timothy cultivars bred for Northern Norway is challenging since the production is carried out in the South Eastern part of Norway. This can lead to genetic shifts in the cultivars and thus change key traits that are important for adaptation in the north, e.g., winter survival. This project will investigate whether freezing and ice-encasement tolerance, and genetic composition, is changing during generations of seed multiplication of northern timothy cultivars in the south. Analyzes of data from freezing and ice-cover tests performed at NIBIO Holt, Tromsø in 2020-2021 are in progress. Preliminary results show that the ranking of the cultivars, Noreng, Grindstad and Snorri is not the same for freezing tolerance and ice-cover tolerance. The cultivars also respond differently to the climate in Vesterålen compared to Tromsø and Alta. Surviving plants after this freezing tests were sent to Graminor who have crossed these and harvested seeds (Syn1) in 2021. In the autumn of 2021, plants were raised from seeds at NIBIO Holt for new freezing and ice-cover tests of plants from different seed lots of Engmo and Noreng; three different seed lots of each cultivar: original seed lot (Engmo from 1988, Noreng from 1999), seed lots on the market today and seed lots from a year in the middle between todays and the original seed lots. Freezing tests have been carried out and the ice-cover tests are in progress, at the same time samples are being taken and sent to NMBU for genetic studies. The work of generation three generations of the northern timothy cultivars Engmo and Noreng at the three localities Holt (Tromsø, Northern Norway), Steinkjer (Trøndelag, Central Norway) and Landvik (Agder, Southern Norway) continued in 2021 and is going according to plan. The project aims to develop a genome sequence for timothy. The size of the genome of timothy is about 4 Gb, so far in 2021 we have created a 3.2 Gb genome sequence by a combination of Illumina sequencing (short sequences) and Oxford nanopore sequencing (long sequences). We are collaborating with an external company to associate the sequences to chromosomes and annotate the genome. This work will be carried out during 2021. RNA from the plant materials that had undergone both frost and ice-cover tests at NIBIO Holt has been sequenced and analyzed. The aim is to identify up- and down-regulated genes involved in frost and ice-cover tolerance, and to study whether there is a difference in gene expression between different cultivars and localities in which they have been exposed to selection. A total of 7100 genes were identified as differentially expressed, either up- or down-regulated under frost exposure. Work is currently underway to identify what these genes do and how their expression varies in relation to each other. Extensive analyzes of the data from the official variety testing (WP3) have been performed by the Norwegian Computing Center (NR). It has been established that the best predictors for dry matter yields are non-linear functions of growing day degrees (March-August) and number of days with precipitation (> 1mm) in July. Recently, it has also been shown that there is an interaction between growing day degrees in July and the number of days with rainfall in July. Furthermore, winter hardiness and light conditions are also examined. Based on the current model, we have made yield predictions for 2050 and 2090 based on climate projections. The results from this part of the project will be published in 2022.

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Grassland based forage production is the cornerstone of agriculture in Northern Norway. It is important for the economy and it is expected to use local feed resources for the production of milk and meat. Achieving this goal requires higher and more stable yields of high quality forage over years. Timothy is the most important forage species in Norway, especially in the north. The predicted climate change will lead to higher and more variable precipitation patterns. These changes are expected to be more rapid in the north. Development of timothy cultivars that are adapted is crucial for a sustainable forage production in the north. Breeding of new cultivars takes long time with traditional methods – up to 20 years. By using machine-learning methods and genomic selection, it is possible to combine climate and soil data with phenotype and genomic data to predict genomic breeding values. Production of commercial seeds of timothy cultivars bred for Northern Norway is challenging since the production is located in the South Eastern part of Norway. This can lead to risks of genetic shifts in the cultivars and thus change in key traits that are important in the north, e.g. winter survival. Studies of genetic shifts during seed multiplication are limited. In this project, we will study winter survival, estimated as freezing and ice-encasement tolerance in different seed generations of northern timothy cultivars and breeding populations. This information will be combined with molecular marker data for identification of genome regions in timothy associated in genetic regulation of these traits. In addition, we will study potential genetic shifts in seed generations of different age of the northern timothy cultivars ‘Engmo and ‘Noreng’. Historical phenotypic data from multi-location-year yield trials will be combined with climate, soil, and genomic data using advanced machine learning models to develop genomic prediction models for developing of adapted cultivars in the north.

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FFL-JA-Forskningsmidlene for jordbruk og matindustri