The HelEx project
European sunflowers tap into Helianthus' natural defenses against drought.
HelEx is a 4-year research and innovation project supported by the EU’s Horizon Europe funding program.
The 5.5 million euro project aims to identify molecular and genetic strategies for adapting sunflower cultivation to climate change while improving its environmental footprint.
The main objective is to create new sunflower varieties more resistant to drought and extreme weather conditions, using Helianthus Extremophilus varieties and applying new plant breeding techniques (NBT).
HelEx : advancing sunflower resilience in the face of climate challenges
Abiotic stresses, especially drought and heat, significantly impact plant physiology, development, and consequently, crop yield.
In Europe, drought has a pronounced effect on agriculture, particularly affecting sunflower producers. Wild plant species, especially among the 49 Helianthus species native to North America, have evolved to withstand such stresses.
These species have developed resilience strategies to thrive in extreme environments, such as deserts and high-altitude areas. They maintain high pollinator attractiveness, crucial since they are self-incompatible. Sunflower attractiveness to pollinators is influenced by visual and volatile cues, as well as rewards like nectar and pollen, which can be affected by environmental conditions.
Pioneering Sunflower Resilience Through Wild Genetics and Advanced Technologies
HelEx aims to harness the genetic and molecular mechanisms developed by wild Helianthus species to adapt to extreme climates.
The goal is to integrate these mechanisms into cultivated sunflowers to maintain seed quality and pollinator resources. Several projects have focused on sunflower tolerance to drought and other abiotic stresses, primarily at the molecular level.
HelEx seeks to go beyond existing knowledge by developing innovative phenotyping methods using AI, producing multi-omics networks, and identifying new haplotypes from wild Helianthus species.
The project also aims to improve sunflower breeding programs, addressing challenges like the narrow genetic base of cultivated sunflower and the complex nature of desired traits.
Through multidirectional communication and stakeholder engagement, HelEx aims to maximize its impact and promote sustainable agricultural practices.