Erik Andreasson is a professor in Plant Protection and the head of the Resistance Biology Unit at SLU Alnarp. Through the application and development of molecular tools, his research focuses on plants’ ability to respond to and resist abiotic stress and diseases. Can we develop more resistant crops through gene editing? What is the current status of potato late blight research? Read the interview below!
What is currently on top of your research agenda?
To better understand some of those genes, we have identified as potentially interesting during the many –omics studies we have conducted over the years. We want to couple them to biological functions by a combination of field and laboratory tests. We primarily do this in potatoes but are also thinking of other crops. We see it as we have performed a ‘gene discovery program’, which is now paying off.
Tell us about your latest publication.
We have published a paper with data on the complete lack of late blight if we add three resistance genes in King Edward, a very old and popular potato cultivar in Sweden. Also, I co-authored a review on how much money could be saved in main European countries if we can solve this problem with new genomic techniques (NGTs).
What led you to your particular field of research?
It comes from a genuine interest in plants. I have, since I was a child, been interested in growing plants. Just at my graduation, a university program started at SLU in Uppsala as part of the agronomy and horticulture programs with a specification in plant biotechnology, which caught my interest and I started. At that time, there was a lot of confidence that GM plants could change agriculture for the better in Europe. We will now see with gene editing and cis genes if that can also happen in Europe. You can see it as that plant biotechnology gets a second chance to link molecular biology and agriculture. Several years ago, I identified as a researcher at Lund University the persistent large problem with potato late blight as one specific research topic. This, in combination with the basic signalling research I did before, has led me to where I am today with my research.
What are the implications of your research for society?
To target the genes we have identified with the new tools we now have, I am thinking foremost about gene editing, which has been an incredible development for the last ten years. We are currently targeting susceptible genes by gene editing, which is a promising way to develop more resistant crops.
Finally, let´s say you have unlimited research funds; where would your research be five years from now?
We have many gene candidates, as I mentioned before, and to functionally validate them is a lot of work. Generally, there are still many genes and protein complexes with unknown function in plants. So we could at least have 20 researchers working with these if we had unlimited funding. In five years’ time, we would then be able to understand how they provide susceptibility and resistance better, also in combination. This can be one tool to ensure more robust crops for the future.
Thank you for a very interesting interview, Erik! We wish you the best of luck and success in your future path!
(Photo: Erik Andreasson)