The Graduate School Experimental Plant Sciences (EPS)

NWO awards 5.7 million to the “LettuceKnow” program aimed to future-proof lettuce varieties

A new 5.7 million euro research project will ensure that lettuce will be more resistant to pathogens and climate effects and will grow better in new cultivation systems.  EPS research groups from Utrecht, Wageningen and Leiden Universities will study the characteristics and genetic information of 500 wild and cultivated lettuce species. The goal to combine the best qualities of those lettuce varieties into new varieties that will ultimately end up in our salads.

The LettuceKnow project received an NWO Perspectief subsidy of four million euros. In addition, six large plant breeding companies will contribute 1.7 million euros to the project. The consortium includes twelve academic research groups, headed by Guido van Ackerveken of Utrecht University. The project is made up of four synergistic research lines: Research Line 1: Big Data headed by Eric Schranz of Wageningen University; Research Line 2: Resilience headed by Guido van Ackerveken of Utrecht University; Research Line 3: Architecture headed by Remko Offringa of Leiden University; and Research Line 4: Technology headed by Mark Aarts of Wageningen University. Fundamental to the project is a mix of transcriptome sequencing combined with plant phenotyping which will take advantage of the Netherlands Plant Eco-phenotyping Centre (NPEC).

The genomes of a number of important food crops, such as maize and tomato, have been well-studied. Breeders have already benefited greatly from this knowledge by developing new crop varieties. “But for lettuce this has not been the case, even though it is one of the larger vegetable crops’, says project leader Guido van den Ackerveken (Utrecht University). The Dutch Center for Genetic Resources (CGN) has more than 2000 cultivated and wild lettuce species from the Mediterranean and South-West Asia. The LettuceKnow consortium will map a wide range of properties for 500 lettuce lines, to develop a strong knowledge base that will give an enormous boost to research into the growth and resilience of leafy crops.