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Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI)
Federal Research Centre
for Cultivated Plants

Dr. Peter Wehling

Groß Lüsewitz
Rudolf-Schick-Platz 3a
18190 Sanitz, Germany

Ms Annett Sitte
Tel: +49(0)38209 45-200
Fax: +49(0)38209 45-222
E-mail: zl@  jki.bund.  de

Erwin-Baur-Str. 27
06484 Quedlinburg, Germany

+49(0)3946 47-701/-702/-704/-530
Fax: +49(0)3946 47-255
E-mail: zl@  jki.bund.  de

Institute booklet

Bioeconomy and crop species diversity

Traditional crop species potentially may add to sustainable crop rotations in agriculture. However, if they represent "orphan crops" from a plant-breeding perspective, they often lag behind the major crops with regard to profit contribution and, thus, appear less attractive to farmers. As a consequence, they tend to disappear from agriculture.

Next to neglected crops, there are plant species which have not yet been grown in Germany's agriculture, although they potentially may serve as renewable resources for a sustainable bioeconomy. We are interested in which ways genetic diversity may be used to promote orphan as well as novel crops which have potential to foster a sustainable bio-based economy.

Russian dandelion – From the wild type to a sustainable resource crop for natural rubber

singel plant of Russian dandelion in soil
Russian dandelion, wild type
two rows with Russian dandelion with yellow flower heads
Field of flowering Russian dandelion plants

High-quality rubber is produced in the roots of Russian dandelion, which possibly makes this plant a regional, sustainable alternative to imports from rubber-tree plantations overseas. Using Russian dandelion in such a way requires sophisticated breeding approaches, in order to adapt this more or less undomesticated plant species to the requirements of economical crop farming.

Genetically, Russian dandelion is relatively unexplored so far and as a cross-pollinated species with a strong self-incompatibility system it is not an easy object for breeding purposes. Nevertheless, in collaboration with external partners we have put a focus onto making this undomesticated species amenable to plant breeding.

This includes characterization of gene bank accessions as well as more advanced pre-breeding lines in field and greenhouse trials with regard to agronomical relevant traits. By means of current methods of genome analysis and bioinformatics, we develop molecular markers which may be used as selection tools for identifying and merging favorable gene variants in breeding lines.

Nitrogen fixation potential of legumes

The integration of legumes into crop rotation is of central importance for sustainable and resource-conserving (resilient) agricultural production. In contrast to other crops, legumes are able to form a symbiosis with soil bacteria and fix the nitrogen (N) from the air. With this biological N fixation (BNF) they cover their own N requirements, but also enrich the soil for subsequent or accompanying crops. In organic farming, legumes provide the primary source of nitrogen; in conventional farming, their incorporation into crop rotations can save mineral N fertilizers. The production of N-fertilizers is one of the most energy-intensive inputs for agriculture and generates about 55% of the fossil energy required for agricultural production.

Recent information on the influence of breeding on the BNF performance of leguminous plants and its relationship to the genetic yield potential is limited, because the measurement of BNF is difficult. An interesting group of methods for measuring BNF, which integrate it over the entire lifetime of the plant, are based on ratios of stable isotopes (15N/14N) in the plant substance. The heavier isotope 15N is enriched in organic matter and in the soil, and thus in N taken up from the soil, compared to N from the air. The detection of genotype differences requires fine gradations of the measured values in as large a measuring range as possible.

The initial goal is the development of test systems under controlled and field conditions, which allow differences in the BNF performance of genotypes of different leguminous species (commercial cultivars, gene bank material, wild species) to be determined, as well as the transfer of biologically fixed N to accompanying plants in mixed cultures with leguminous plants.

Dr. Christoph Germeier



Biomass potentials of Andean lupin and white lupin in intercropping systems for sustainable bioenergy production

Experimental field in the field, growing on each side in a row Andean lupins and corn. This is called mixed culture cultivation.
Intercropping of Andean lupin and maize as bioenergy crops
Trial plots individually harvested with a biomass harvester.

In this project we examine whether and to what extent the integration of lupins with high biomass potential into novel cultivation systems may allow to exploit ecosystem services of leguminous crops for energy crop cultivation. The system of intercropping Andean lupin (Lupinus mutabilis) with maize (Zea mays) is to be based on the breeding methodology of combining optimized partners that have been tested and selected for their suitability for combination with the respective complementary partner species.

This will result in a more sustainable biomass production and an increase in the crop species diversity in this area. The project aims at contributing to novel, more versatile crop rotations, higher diversity in the agricultural landscape and a gain in public acceptance of energy production.

The Thünen Institute of Organic Farming and the Professorship of Agrartechnology and Process Engineering of the University of Rostock as well as the Agricultural Institute (LLA) in Triesdorf as a subcontracted participant are our co-operation partners in this joint research project.

Dr. Steffen Roux