The research was conducted at the Department of Food Sciences at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH FOOD) with Professor Emeritus Lars Munck as coordinator and builds on previous work since 1963 at the Svaloef Plant Breeding Institute and the Carlsberg Laboratory.
A complete picture of the organization
Research shows how, using a fast, non-destructive, green analysis method, near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), we can get a holistic overview that reflects how the entire chemical composition of nutrients in a barley grain is altered, for example, by a mutation in a single gene. This is in contrast to current conventional plant breeding, where you don’t get an overview of all the changes the barley grain undergoes when a single gene is changed.
Lars Munck and his team studied barley grains from different barley lines using near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). In a fraction of a second, this method can provide a ‘chemical fingerprint’ (more about near infrared spectroscopy below) of barley kernels, which describes the physicochemical composition of the kernels, including nutrients. . The researchers analyzed the resulting intact spectra by comparing and calibrating them to barley lines of known composition using mathematics (chemometry).
“We were surprised by the precision that characterizes the chemical fingerprints of the grains from the NIRS spectra. At the same time, it surprised us that we would get the same classification result if we instead used the secondary nutrients / metabolites determined by a more complicated measurement method called gas chromatographic mass spectrometry as the chemical fingerprint. . By using two different types of analyzes with completely different objectives, we arrived at the same classification result ”, explains Lars Munck and continues:
“It’s consistency in a nutshell – all local fingerprints are part of the plant’s self-organizing network and affect the plant’s overall physicochemical fingerprints.”
One of the barley lines examined was found to have a higher content of the essential amino acid lysine compared to normal barley. The high lysine content gives good growth in feeding studies with pigs, but the field yield was horrendous and with low starch content.
“By analyzing high lysine barley lines that were crossed with high starch barley lines providing high yield, we were able to use NIRS fingerprint measurements to select high starch lines. both lysine and starch content, thus giving higher yields. time, the overall consistency has also enabled us to acquire knowledge about the optimal combination of genetic traits for a specific quality purpose, ”explains Lars Munck, who believes that this is a radical advance over the plant breeding today that focuses on a genetic-chemical trait. combination at a time.
“With a more holistic approach, enabled by the NIRS method – we can instead examine the full chemical fingerprints of the different plant lines, and quickly get an overview of the material available and thus target and select the lines from the variable cross pool are high quality by calibrating interesting benchmarks, ”says Lars Munck.
Global coherence – the internal self-organization of the plant
In the discipline of plant breeding, we talk about the genotype, which describes the genetic material of the plant, and the phenotype, which describes the characters that can be observed directly or measured chemically and therefore characterized by NIRS.
The approach when using NIRS phenotyping is to change the order of the plant breeding procedure to start by screening the different barley lines for all of their chemical properties represented by the fingerprints. This is done by calibrating on known barley lines which have one or more of the desired chemical properties (eg high starch content). It is only at the end, when you have selected the optimal barley line, that you thoroughly determine which genes are changed. When looking for expression for the whole organism, the use of NIRS fingerprints provides a much more nuanced result, allowing you to examine the overall chemistry of an organism rather than examining each combination of genes separately. . Because consistency ensures that all aspects of an individual’s fingerprints communicate, you can manage the overall composition from very different fingerprint positions.
“With the new method, we have bridged the great knowledge gap that exists in genetics between genotype and phenotype. Now molecular biology will finally have an outlet for its impressive library of primary genetic functions, where the result of the total contribution of modified genes to a functioning factory can be studied as a whole, ”says Lars Munck and continues:
“Molecular biology has offered crucial solutions for genetic diseases, resistance and disease vaccinations. But in this success, we have forgotten that it is not the gene that is the biological unit, but that it is is the self-organized individual who uses his internal ‘calculator’ to organize the coherence of internal interaction in a precise and repeatable way, ”explains Lars Munck.
The researchers call this interaction, which is shown in barley grains using NIRS fingerprints and which they believe can be transferred to all living organisms, overall consistency.
“When a change occurs in one or more genes of the plant or in the environment, the chemistry and implicit morphology of the whole organism changes as the plant reorganizes itself to achieve a new point of coherent equilibrium. This unifying force, coherence, was previously defined in physics between light beams and atoms in non-living matter and we have now discovered coherence in biology as a macroscopic chemical imprint, which we call global coherence. This explains how living matter can replicate itself into recognizable individuals, ”explains Lars Munck.
The importance of introducing the coherence of macroscopic chemical fingerprints into biology that coordinates physical morphological structures with chemistry is a fundamental discovery and a highly simplifying adjunct to the deep understanding of the molecular genetics of gene expression.