Seeker Spotlight: Agricultural Sciences Client

Posted by Connie French on May 1, 2009 4:23:08 PM

We recently posted a Challenge from a Fortune 500 Agricultural Sciences client, seeking an efficient chromosome doubling method in plants, in particular with respect to the identification of an optimal mitotic arrest agent and protocol.   Although this client has chosen to remain anonymous, they have offered to share some thoughts about the Challenge with us.  This is the first time we've posted a "Seeker Spotlight" without identifying the Seeker, and we'd like to know what you think - is it still valuable for you to hear from the Seeker if you don't know who they are?  Tell us in the comments.  As always, Challenge specifics should only be discussed in the Challenge project room.

Hi Frank - thanks for agreeing to talk to our Solvers about your Challenge.  Can you tell us why you posted your Challenge on InnoCentive's open innovation marketplace?

Sure.  In posting this web Challenge, we are seeking input, not only from plant biologists, but also from experts in seemingly unrelated disciplines.   For example, Solvers with expertise in either prokaryotic or eukaryotic realms of science perhaps such as 1) the regulation, stimulation, and synchronization of cell division,  2) microtubule assembly-disassembly dynamics, 3) regulation and control of chromosome movement, 4) regulation of cell fate, and 4) a medicinal fields such as cancer research (i.e,  reduction of uncontrolled cell division) may have skill sets that are directly applicable to the Challenge.

Could you provide a bit of background about this Challenge? 

As the world's population expands, the requirement for food and fiber will become ever more important factor in the lives of tens of millions of people.  In this regard, plant breeding programs have focused on the "doubled haploid breeding process" for plant improvement.   Simply said, this plant breeding method involves 1) the creation of haploid cells or plants, 2)  mitotic arrest (i.e., chromosome doubling) in these haploids in order to provide  for fertility in the male and female floral organs, and finally 3)  the creation of seed via self-pollination.  From the perspective of the plant breeder, the generation of completely homozygous doubled haploid seed provides an opportunity to more rapidly and efficiently develop higher yielding varieties.

In spite of the importance of the mitotic arrest process, the chromosome doubling step in the doubled haploid breeding still represents a mixture of both art and science.  In many crop species, the mitotic arrest process and the survival of the resulting seedlings are both still quite problematic.   The complexity of the underlying cellular and organismal biology requires a synthesis of expertise from a wide variety disciplines. 

Why is finding a mitotic arrest agent an important problem for plant sciences?

One of the key elements in the mitotic arrest process is the inhibition of chromosome movement and the resulting formation of a restitution nucleus.  In other words, the mitotic arrest process should lead to a situation where all of the sister chromatids in a haploid (n) mitotic cell become retained within a single nucleus to create the diploid (2n) condition.  

Typically, mitotic arrest agents are used to target the spindle microtubules such that sister chromatids are unable to move to opposite poles within the cell.  This process is complicated by the fact that microtubles also serve a number of other cellular functions (cortical, pre-prophase band, and phramoplast microtubules).  As a consequence of targeting microtubule dynamics, a number of other important cellular functions are thus impacted.  In addition, claims have been made regarding  secondary negative effects of the mitotic arrest agents themselves.  In this regard and while Colchicine has often been used to arrest mitosis in plant cells, it also seems to have a toxic effect on plant survival which limits its utility.

Why did you decide to look to the InnoCentive Solver community in addressing this problem?

Doubled haploid methodology improvement has been an area to active study for the last 50-60 years.  However in spite of these continual efforts, the doubled haploid breeding process remains problematic for most crops.   The Innocentive web-based Challenge system provides a rather unique opportunity to draw attention to the mitotic arrest process and seek input from a scientifically diverse array of solvers.

Do you have any words of wisdom or inspiration about this Challenge to give to our Solvers? 

The mitotic arrest Challenge is a complex problem.  Historically, a narrow community of talented plant biologists have focused their attention on its solution and progress has indeed been made.  However, it's clear that new perspectives regarding the control of cell division and chromosome movement are needed in order to improve the doubled haploid breeding process.  Clearly, solutions to this Challenge will impact the development of new food varieties for years to come.  Thus, I would encourage Solvers from a wide array of biological disciplines to seriously consider the value that their expertise may provide in solving this Challenge.

Thanks Frank - and good luck with your Challenge.


Topics: Challenges, Seekers

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