The CRB Tournesol collection at the service of biodiversity

This is the first time that an international consortium has brought together world leaders in sunflower research in the fields of ecology, economics, genetics and biotechnology, right through to sunflower ecology and breeding. Around the Horizon Europe HelEx - Helianthus Extrêmophiles project, 18 partners will be working to develop new sunflower varieties that are more resistant to high temperatures and drought, while maintaining production quality and biodiversity services.

This project begins in an ecological context where the impact of climate change is already considerable on the production and quality of sunflower seeds, and could reach -20 to -50% depending on the region in Europe.

From September 25 to 27, 2023, the INRAE Occitanie-Toulouse center will be hosting the kick-off meeting for the HelEx project. Launched last May, the main aim of this project is to use extremophilic species of wild Helianthus, the genus that includes sunflower and Jerusalem artichoke, to create sunflower varieties that are more resistant to the impacts of global warming, particularly drought and high temperatures.

Extensive work over the past 15 years has revealed the sunflower genome and identified the genes that enable varieties to respond to stress and understand the impact on yield. However, very little is known about the effects of climate change on pollinator ecosystem services such as pollen and nectar production.

In natural ecosystems, wild sunflower species are adapted to the different climates of North America and possess strategies, and therefore modifications in their genome, that enable them to maintain pollination in their environments.

HelEx will test these wild species on robotized test beds, sequence their genomes and identify genomic variations of interest for production and biodiversity. These variations will be integrated into cultivated sunflowers through conventional crosses, to test their effects on maintaining agricultural production, reducing water use and greenhouse gas emissions. The aim is also to maintain resources (pollen and nectar) for pollinators and promote biodiversity. Beyond production, HelEx will develop new breeding techniques for sunflower, study seed quality and transformation processes, and place these discoveries in the socio-economic contexts of farmers and value chains.

Funded by the European Union, and also supported by Canada, this Horizon Europe program for research and innovation brings together researchers and teacher-researchers, SMEs and industry - 18 partners in 9 countries over a 4-year period.

This project proposes breakthroughs to accelerate innovation for this crop of the future, to meet the challenges of a more resilient and ecological agriculture, and to help reduce the European Union's economic dependence on imported vegetable oils and proteins in favor of sustainable alternatives.

Modification date : 11 December 2023 | Publication date : 11 December 2023 | Redactor : PH