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A new international research project receives 27 M EUR (203 M DKK) to develop more productive crops

ENVS will receive a great part of this.

2019.06.13 | Klaus Condé Christensen

Microbiologists from the Department of Environmental Science, AU, has together with an international research team received 27 M EUR (203 M DKK) from the Novo Nordisk Fonden – 2.7 M EUR (20 M DKK) goes to Department of Environmental Science. The research project will create basic knowledge on interaction between the complex microbial communities inside and nearby the plants. The ambition is to increase food production and secure sufficient food to the growing world population by a smarter and more sustainable agriculture based on biological techniques.

 INTERACT will focus on the essential and mutually beneficial interactions between plants and microbes underground

The World’s food production will be challenged in the near future on food security to a growing population on a sustainable basis and with minimal environmental footprint on Nature and at changing climatic conditions. This increases demands of agricultural crop productivity and is the background for Collaborative Crop Resilience Program (CCRP) – a new 6 year Danish-American research project funded by the Novo Nordisk Fond with 27 M EUR (203 M DKK).

There is s a need for new knowledge on how plants benefit from the microorganisms surrounding them and how this knowledge later can be transformed to environmental friendly measures to promote sustainable food production and quality. Internationally there is great interest and extensive research in the use of microorganisms and ’biologicals’ as replacement of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and growth promotors. However, there is a lack of fundamental understanding of interactions between plants and soil microorganisms for this to become a success. The CCRP program has the ambition, size and time perspective to significantly contribute to acquire a fundamental understanding that later can be turned into practice.  

The grant is the largest single grant until now to an agricultural research project in Denmark.

To achieve the goals the international research team works across disciplines, combining eukaryote and  prokaryote genetics, protein biochemistry, analytical chemistry and plant physiology with biodiversity assessment of microorganisms and advanced mathematical modelling. The research team aims at delivering knowledge and tools for evidence based development of new resilient crops in sustainable interplay with microorganisms. The goal is to improve productivity, reduce the need of fertilizers and pesticides and decrease the negative environmental impact of agricultural food production. To achieve these overall goals, the research team will investigate how the plants interaction with complex microbial communities can contribute to resilient crops.

A unique research program with different expertices

Head of department and professor Carsten Suhr Jacobsen, who coordinates the project at Department of Environmental Science, Aarhus University, says:

”With this grant we can now investigate basic unresolved questions about the mechanisms, that control the interplay between plants, bacteria and protists in soil and bring the existing knowledge a major step forward, not least by combining knowledge among the participating scientists. The size of the project and the collaboration between the universities make this a unique project at the international scale.”

 “For the first time, researchers will examine in depth the underlying biology of how the roots and leaves of plants interact with bacteria. This can help to reduce the use of fertilizer and pesticides by promoting natural bacterias that coexist with the plants. The goal is to create more efficient and more sustainable agriculture and pave the way for the next green revolution,” says Claus Felby, Head of Life Science Research and Industrial Applications Promoting Sustainability, Novo Nordisk Foundation.

Read more on the homepage of Novo Nordisk Fonden

The Collaborative Crop Resilience Program will be carried out by researchers from the University of Copenhagen, Aarhus University, North Carolina State University and the Technical University of Denmark – each of which has strengths in agricultural or biological research. The overall program has three subprojects:

  1. MATRIX will focus on the abundant but poorly studied interactions between plants and microbes above the ground.
  2. INTERACT will focus on the essential and mutually beneficial interactions between plants and microbes underground.
  3. InRoot will provide knowledge and tools for the science-based development of new crop varieties and associated microbial interventions.

The reasearch group at Department of Environmental Science, Aarhus University consist of professor Carsten Suhr Jacobsen, senior scientist Anne Winding and senior scientist Peter Stougaard and is part of the INTERACT subproject. The research group will among other activities establish a bioinformatic and sequencing facility that will aim at describing the composition and activity of the complete plant rhizosphere microbiome based on rRNA-sequencing. Interactions between microorganisms and protists in the root zone will also be thoroughly studied to increase understanding of interplay between plants, bacteria and their predators. Finally, the group will develop new technology to clarify the function of some of the many genes microorganisms possess, without us presently understanding the functions of.

More information

Professor Carsten Suhr Jacobsen

Senior scientist Anne Winding

Senior scientist Peter Stougaard


Department of Environmental Science, Staff, Public / media