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The overall aim of this project is to develop a joint training and cutting edge research program based on "state of the-art", technologies that will strengthen the research partnership between the University of Pretoria in South Africa, the Leeds University, UK and VIB Ghent, Belgium in legume improvement, which is of major agronomic importance both in the EU and in Africa. This aim will be achieved through short and longer-term periods of staff exchanges between the African and European partners and networking activities between the three institutions. The ultimate goal of this project is to achieve more rapid progress in advancing current knowledge and concepts through joint endeavour leading to joint-author high citation index publications and possibly also patents. In this way we will establish a long-term research cooperation between the three institutions based on active technology and scientific knowledge application and transfer.

In general, nodule development is a complex process that has been insensitively studied for many years. However, key questions remain concerning the orchestration of bacterial infection, nodule development and nodule senescence in relation to the senescence of the whole plant. As with other major crops, grain legume production can be severely restricted by environmental stresses. However, little information is available on the mechanisms that cause the breakdown of symbiosis particularly during stress. The mechanisms that trigger the end of symbiosis in development-dependent and stress-induced nodule senescence remain to be characterised.

This project is focused on nodule development from the point where the bacteria are taken up by the plant cells, develop into bacteroids within symbiosomes and start to fix atmospheric nitrogen to the point where symbiosis ends and the nodules loose the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen. Although the initial steps of nodule development, mediated by the bacterial Nod factors have been intensively studied, relatively few traits that have the potential to contribute or enhance nitrogen fixation in agricultural practices have been characterised in terms of molecular and protein biology. This project will address this issue directly and contribute to current knowledge and concepts of nodule development and sustainability. The proposed joint research effort is based on the interfacing and interdisciplinary skills and knowhow of each of the partners.

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Foyer CH, Lam H-M, Nguyen HT, Siddique KHM, Varshney RK, Colmer TD, Cowling W, Bramley H, Mori TA, Hodgson JM, Cooper JW, Miller AJ, Kunert K, Vorster J, Cullis C, Ozga JA, Wahlqvist ML, Liang Y, Shou H, Shi K, Yu J, Fodor N, Kaiser BN, Wong F-L, Valliyodan B, Considine MJ. (2016) Neglecting legumes has compromised human health and sustainable food production. Nature Plants 2:16112. 10.1038/nplants.2016.112
Pillay P, Kunert KJ, van Wyk S, Makgopa ME, Cullis CA, Vorster BJ. (2016) Agroinfiltration contributes to VP1 recombinant protein degradation. Bioengineered 7(6):459-477. 10.1080/21655979.2016.1208868
Kunert K, Vorster BJ, Fenta BA, Kibido T, Dionisio G, Foyer CH. (2016) Drought stress responses in soybean roots and nodules. Frontiers in Plant Science 7(1015) 10.3389/fpls.2016.01015 PDF
Naidoo SIM, Laurie SM, Odeny DA, Vorster BJ, Mphela WM, Greyling MM, Crampton BG. (2016) Genetic analysis of yield and flesh colour in sweetpotato. African Crop Science Journal 24(1):61-73. 10.4314/acsj.v24i1.5 PDF
Sainsbury F, Jutras PV, Vorster J, Goulet MC , Michaud D. (2016) A Chimeric Affinity Tag for Efficient Expression and Chromatographic Purification of Heterologous Proteins from Plants. Frontiers in Plant Science 7:141. 10.3389/fpls.2016.00141