Integration of ecophysiological models in plant breeding - Identification of environmental and genotypic factors involved in the adaptation of soybean cultivation in northern France
17/09/2019 INTERNAL NEWS 242
PhD thesis offer - call for application of a CIFRE ANRT thesis submission
Integration of ecophysiological models in plant breeding - Identification of environmental and genotypic factors involved in the adaptation of soybean cultivation in northern France
Mostly used as a tool for decision-making in agriculture until now, ecophysiological models offer the possibility to simulate, on a daily basis, the growth and development of various crops in various pedoclimatic (physico-chemical characteristics of soils, temperature, rainfall, solar radiation, etc.) and agronomic (planting date and density, fertilization, irrigation, etc.) contexts. These models operate on the basis of mathematical equations relating the environmental parameters to the specific physiological and phenological characteristics of each species and/or variety.
The classical selection approach of conducting multi-site trials to select the best performing genotypes based on their average performance each year has limitations related to the lack of predictability of the data obtained for the intended purpose (Podlich et al., 1999). Understanding the performance of genotypes based on the environmental characteristics of each location becomes essential to optimizing the selection process. Ecophysiological models have the potential to respond to this problem by describing the performance of genotypes on the basis of physiological criteria and to measure their relevance via the selection objective. This original approach also allows for a deeper understanding of the physiological processes involved in plant performance improvement.
As part of the Plant Breeding Chair at UniLaSalle, a research program focusing on the use of ecophysiological models in plant breeding has been initiated. Ecophysiological models work on the complete consideration of crops in their environment, and allow the evaluation and simulation of both quantitative (such as yield) and qualitative (such as protein content) traits. They are now able to simulate complex scenarii and to test hypothesis such as agronomic practices (date of sowing, irrigation, fertilization, soil type, impact of climate change) or genetic type changes, up to the effect of a single gene in particular (Chapman, 2008). The ecophysiological model is now central to the breeding process (Chenu et al., 2017). They offer the opportunity, through an understanding of the ecophysiology of the crop, to improve selection programs (Jackson et al., 1996) by defining particular ideotypes that the breeder will strive to achieve in a more targeted way. (Rötter et al., 2015).
In this context, the Hauts-de-France region supports initiatives promoting protein independence and the reduction of inputs in agriculture. Soybean is a crop that can respond favorably to these directions. Our northern situation means that its development will require adaptation of the genotypes, not only to long photoperiods, but also to cold stress conditions during the vegetative period. The crop, apparently not irrigated, will also be submitted to water stress because exposed to very irregular rainfalls. Our goal is to understand the mechanisms of crop adaptation at these latitudes, and thus allow breeders to better characterize existing varieties and to create new varieties more adapted to our environmental conditions. More specifically, we want to evaluate how better cold tolerance could positively impact vegetative development, and at the same time root growth, in order to improve the genotype response to water stress.
The project aims to understand the functioning and adaptation mechanisms of soybean at northern latitudes using a panel of existing varieties chosen according to their maturity and performance, using an in situ and ex situ approach.
(i) In this framework, we will define the parameters of growth and development of the crop that will be used, after calibration, in predictions of scenarii by ecophysiological models.
(ii) Next, we will characterize the factors limiting the quantitative and qualitative potential of cultivation in northern regions by simulating scenarii based on historical meteorological data.
(iii) Also, we will identify the environmental factors responsible for genotype x environment interactions based on national multi-year varietal trials and define their importance in northern regions.
(iv) Finally, in a context of vegetative and photoperiodic stress, we will evaluate the phenotypic response of a panel of genotypes to these constraints and its impact on vegetative growth and root growth in order to define ideotypes.
Project duration: three years, 1st December 2019 to 30th September 2022
Gross monthly salary = 1957 euros
Required profile
Master degree or equivalent in agriculture or agronomy who was initiated in research in plant ecophysiology, plant breeding.
Requested skills: rigor, scientific curiosity, good time organization skill, able to implement and follow-up experimentations, good level of written and spoken English, mastery of applied statistics and software R.
The application, consisting of a CV, your transcripts of Master or 4th and 5th year post-baccalaureate engineer and a cover letter, is to be sent by email before September 23, 2019.
Research Unit
The thesis will be carried out within the AGHYLE research unit (UP.2018.C101, FR CNRS 3417) of UniLaSalle Beauvais to which the Plant Breeding Chair is attached for its scientific activity. The unit is a member of the SFR Condorcet and the Doctoral School "Sciences, Technology, Health" of the University of Picardie Jules Verne (UPJV).
The unit is interested in the different dynamics that can exist at the rock-water-soil-plant-atmosphere interface, and has particular expertise in the study of plant response to the pedoclimate, at different scales (since individual plant to the cultivated field).
The unit has 23 members (14 lecturers-researchers including 3 HDR, 1 research engineer, 1 technician, 4 PhD students, 3 post-doc) combining skills in geochemistry, soil science, plant and soil ecology, hydrology, hydrogeology, geophysics and analytical chemistry.
Founded by farmers in South West France in 1936, the EURALIS Group now has 12,000 members. It has a turnover of more than 1.5 billion euros and has 5,200 employees. Euralis Semences is part of the Euralis cooperative group and is positioned as one of the most important seed companies in Europe. Its international dimension and the richness of its genetic heritage explain its position among the leaders in maize, sunflower, rapeseed, sorghum and soya.
Initiated in the 1950s, the seed business is one of the Group's strategic activities. It fully meets the vocation of being the partner of excellence for agricultural professionals able to meet their needs.
The Seeds Division, through its 10 subsidiaries, is in charge of all areas of the sector: research, production and marketing. This division invests 13% of its turnover in research and development and pursues a strategy of consolidating its position in Western Europe and international development.

The PhD student will be accompanied by the following team:
- Michel-Pierre Faucon (Dr, HDR, Associate Professor in plant ecology, agroecology and soil-plant interactions), director of the thesis (UniLaSalle Beauvais);
- Bastien Lange (Dr, Associate Professor in plant sciences, biology and plant genetics), co-director of the thesis (UniLaSalle Beauvais);
- Guénolé Boulch (Holder of the Plant Breeding Chair at UniLaSalle, Associate Professor in plant breeding, plant ecophysiology), referent scientific expert (UniLaSalle Beauvais)
- Philippe MOREAU (Scientific Director, EURALIS)
- Patrice JEANSON (Soybean Breeder, EURALIS)
- Mila GARCIA (Head of Statistical and Methodological Analysis, EURALIS)
Tel: +33 (0) 3 44 06 25 59 and +33 (0) 3 44 06 93 15
Mailing address: UniLaSalle Beauvais; 19 rue Pierre Waguet - BP 30313 - F-60026 BEAUVAIS Cedex www.unilasalle.fr
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