9 May 2016

Does your company face a challenge? Contact a University


Interview with Christian S. Jensen, Senior Scientist at DLF - the world’s largest producer and breeder of grass and clover seed. With a 50% market share in Europe and 25% worldwide, DLF is a global seed company that deals with grass and clover seeds for forage, lawn use and animal feed in 80 countries. Christian S. Jensen manages DLF’s research activities aimed at improving the breeding of new varieties, and at times, this includes collaborating with SCIENCE.

Written by Katherina Killander, SCIENCE Communication

Q & A with Christian S. Jensen of DLF

Q: Could you discuss an exciting aspect of your collaborative research with the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Science, SCIENCE, right now:

A: DLF has a long tradition of close ties with Danish and European research institutions. Naturally, this includes SCIENCE. We are currently engaged in a large collaborative project where we are trying to develop crops with deeper roots.

The project has seven partners, three of which are public institutions: the University of Copenhagen, Aarhus University and Aalborg University, as well as four breeders. Research is conducted on wheat barley, grass and potatoes.

The idea of developing crops with deeper roots is based on the fact that deeper root growth provides better drought tolerance, and probably aids nitrogen intake as well. This will be badly needed in a future with greater resource scarcity.

Studying root growth is inherently difficult as it takes place beneath the soil surface. This is why, until now, research on root growth has been mostly conducted in laboratory and greenhouse environments. We don’t think that this is enough, which is why we have teamed up to move the lab into the actual field. Together with SCIENCE, we have established four, three-meter deep, v-shaped trenches that allow us to study plant root growth.

The plants are only watered from from below. This means that plants in the middle of the area will be more challenged to reach the water at the bottom. In doing so, one can discern the best best performing breeding lines from above. We couple this information with genetic markers from each plant line to determine the best varieties, while also developing markers that can tell us whether a new line has deep root growth potential.

Within the trenches, we have installed 600 plexiglass tubes with digital cameras to film plant root growth. By doing so, we don’t just get to measure how deep the roots protrude, but we are also provided with an image of root volume and root development over time.

Q: What do you hope comes out of this collaboration?

A: We hope that our work together will result in our being able to select plant lines that can be developed into new varieties, ones that perform much better under drought conditions, and hopefully absorb more nitrogen than the ones we have today.

We also hope to develop a tool, in the form of genetic markers, that enables us to quickly select new materials by way of a simple DNA test. Last but not least, we hope that together with our fellow SCIENCE researchers, we can contribute new knowledge about plant root growth.

Q: Why did you choose to partner with SCIENCE?

A: Prior to our collaboration, SCIENCE had already conducted a number of studies on root development. And, many of SCIENCE's other activities were compatible with our breeding activities as well. When it came time to select the greatest level of expertise for this collaborative project, SCIENCE was an obvious choice.

Furthermore, SCIENCE prioritises applied research. This means a lot, not just for us, but for other industrial partners, who are very product-oriented in order to conduct their business. SCIENCE also comes equipped with good templates for collaboration agreements and contracts that help avoid time-consuming negotiations.

Q: Any tips for companies that may be considering teaming up with a University?

A: If a company has a challenge that requires a specialized solution, or if you have a good idea that requires nearer inspection prior to the production phase, contacting a Danish university is a wise choice. To varying degrees, they are all involved with small and large-scale research projects with industry.

The best advice is probably to just get up out of the starting blocks and contact them. If the initial contact bears no fruit, SCIENCE is incredibly helpful in directing one to the right competencies. Researchers will quickly assess the type and scale of the project, and whether the project qualifies for possible funding from the research pools available.

Before embarking on a collaborative project, it is essential to have agreements in place. Danish legislation has already defined the general framework for the use and publication of public research results.

In many cases, individual universities will already have templates based upon these considerations, which can then be easily amended to suit case specific conditions. So just get started!