The Agricultural Institute of the ELKH Centre for Agricultural Research (ATK) celebrated the 50th anniversary of the opening of its Phytotron plant breeding infrastructure with a scientific conference. At the event held on November 24 in Martonvásár within the framework of the Hungarian Science Festival, the Director of the Institute and researchers presented the role of the Phytotron in plant research, the basic and applied research carried out there and their outstanding achievements. To date more than 5,100 experiments have been completed in the plant breeding chambers, resulting in 2,700 scientific publications and 1,400 educational articles. The results of experiments implemented there have led to 72 PhD theses and the award of 15 DsC degrees.
In his welcome speech, Miklós Maróth, President of ELKH highlighted the leading role of the 73-year-old ATK Agricultural Institute in the field of agricultural research. He praised the work of the researchers thanks to which the Institute has become an international leader in corn and cereal breeding. He stressed that there is a constant need to develop new, innovative technological methods and to explore the possibilities for direct exploitation of scientific results in areas where, also thanks to the Phytotron, the Institute is at the forefront. He mentioned some of the main strategic directions and program initiatives identified by the ELKH Secretariat to develop the research network. These included the launch of an internal innovation program to support the protection and leveraging of intellectual property in the research network, programs to ensure the conditions for researcher mobility and successful participation in Horizon Europe and other international grant applications, and the introduction of a new multi-pillar funding model to encourage researcher performance and excellence.
In his welcome speech, Ervin Balázs, full member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS) and the Chairman of its Department of Agricultural Sciences passed on the congratulations of Tamás Freund, President of HAS in emphasizing that the Academy has always considered the plant breeding facility providing controlled conditions as a very important infrastructure. Phytotron's inclusion in the Top 50 domestic research infrastructures is proof of this. By building on the scientific achievements of the past half century, the Institute’s researchers can continue their exploratory agricultural research and lay the foundations for future success.
In his opening lecture Ottó Veisz, corresponding member of HAS and Director of the ATK Agricultural Institute presented the role of the Phytotron in modern plant research. With around 50 planting chambers of different sizes and functions, experiments can be carried out in a programmable and reproducible way and independently of external environmental conditions. Here, climatic conditions in any part of the world can be reproduced, environmental factors important for plants can be controlled and the effects of individual climate elements on plant development can be determined separately.
Thanks to upgrades over recent decades, the Martonvásár plant breeding experimental facility has become one of Europe's most important large-scale plant research facilities. Over recent decades the Phytotron has provided an excellent platform for a wide spectrum of research that has evolved with the demands of the times. In the years following its opening the facility was used primarily for research aimed at programmed changes in agronomic character, and later to provide an optimal controlled environment for research in biotechnology, floral biology, plant genetics and plant life sciences.
The first major reconstruction took place in 1989. By then, the scientific concept of using the Phytotron had changed significantly. The primary use has been in genomics, molecular cytogenetics and breeding research. In the second half of the 1990s, the importance of agroecological research and climate impact studies increased and the study of environmental issues in crop production also came into focus.
Around the turn of the millennium the facility’s technical profile was expanded to include the study of the molecular cell biology of plant sexual processes, research into molecular plant genetics and biology, cytogenetics and gene banks, and molecular breeding research. The Phytotron therefore offers excellent opportunities not only for basic research of great theoretical importance, but also for direct breeding activities.
At the commemorative meeting, 11 scientific presentations were given by senior researchers from the ATK Agricultural Institute on relevant research topics carried out at Phytotron in recent years:
- Redox regulation of wheat development and stress response
- The role of polyamines in plant stress tolerance
- Current issues in relation to temperature acclimation
- Species-specific gene-transfer programs for wheat improvement supported by structural genomics research
- The role of the Phytotron in establishing and maintaining crop safety in cereals
The experiments carried out over the past 50 years have made a significant contribution to the theoretical and practical research results of the ATK Agricultural Institute, but the full exploitation of the Phytotron has been made possible by the experiments implemented for domestic and foreign universities, research institutes and development companies.