I. Development of plant materials adapted to semi-arid temperate regions.

The present situation and future perspectives of agriculture in our zone require plant materials with a) good adaptability and high level of tolerance to abiotic stresses; b) resistance or tolerance to biotic stresses and high efficiency in response to fertilizers, thus reducing the amount of inputs needed; and c) potential to result in high quality products for the future market. To meet these goals, our approach integrates new advances in different areas of knowledge and biodiversity management, the identification of key traits affecting plant productivity and the analysis of their genetic control, and the generation of new variability, combining all of them through plant breeding as a common platform for the development of germplasm, cultivars and improved rootstocks. This main objective is organized into the following specific objectives:

I.a.  Maintaining and exploiting natural genetic variability (biodiversity).

Nowadays, it is critical to reduce the process of genetic erosion, and to take advantage of important traits present in natural variation. The geographical and historical richness of the Iberian Peninsula has resulted in a remarkably abundant biodiversity that can now be accessed by researchers in an increasingly precise fashion through the use of molecular techniques.

I.b.  Generating new variability;  identification and selection of traits of interest.

A key element in the process of selection and development of new materials is the target-oriented generation of variability and its recombination by different techniques. QTL identification enables the dissection of complex traits, facilitating their tracking in plant breeding. Classical breeding methodologies have taken advantage of new tools involving molecular markers, in the design of crosses, and throughout the breeding program; or allowing the use of gametic or somatic embryogenesis to shorten the time needed to fix a genotype in grasses. Similarly, implementation of in vitro selection, or the use of biochemical markers, will increase the efficiency of the identification and selection processes in fruit trees. A deeper knowledge of the mechanisms studied in objective II will generate new selection tools.

I.c.  Development of new plant materials.

This activity arises as a natural consequence of the two previous points. One goal is to develop plant breding in crops without private sector investment in R+D, as a consequence of the low profits involved. In other crops, the aim is to develop improved germplasm stocks to be transferred to seed companies. In the case of fruit trees, the Spanish growers demand well adapted cultivars and rootstocks that can reduce the existing vulnerability due to the dependence on foreign suppliers.