Group José María Corral García



Biocomputing and Molecular breeding


The aim of our research is the discovery of genes, markers, and signalling molecules associated to plant traits for improving crop characteristics, quality and productivity.

Food security, consumer preferences, health concerns, and the imminent effects of climate change are forcing breeders to find quicker and more efficient alternatives to the classic breeding methods to develop new crop varieties.

Therefore, we use the latest molecular and bioinformatics technologies for the generation, analysis and integration of multi-omic data (genome, transcriptome, proteome, metabolome and phenome) in order to disclose the genetic basis of plant complex traits.

As consequence of the exhaustive exploration of the molecular networks at different biological levels, we discover key biomarkers that will be subsequently targeted by molecular breeding, biotechnology and genome editing.


Research project: Abiotic stress in sugar beet (Beta vulgaris)

Sugar beet is the #10 most produced crop in the world (FAOSTAT, 2013). This is due to the fact that its roots are highly rich in sucrose, representing 20% of the world's sugar production (FAO, 2009) and a very important source of fuel ethanol. The unusual temperatures and drought expected in Central Europe as a consequence of the climate change are going to impact dramatically on sugar beet yield during the next decades.

Therefore, there is a growing pressure on sugar beet producers to understand the physiological and molecular mechanisms involved in counteracting water deficit and extreme temperatures in order to breed varieties with an increased tolerance to those circumstances. Therefore, the principal aim of our research is to identify those genomic/transcriptomic/epigenomic landmarks correlated with drought-tolerance and adaptation to extreme temperatures in sugar beet.

As collaborators, we count with the support of Dr. Frank Ludewig and Dr. Wolfgang Koch, sugar beet experts of KWS SAAT SE and the group of Plant Physiology of University of Kaiserslautern led by Prof. Dr. Ekkehard Neuhaus. Our objectives in these projects are:

  •   Integration of genomic, transcriptomic and epigenomic sequencing data of sugar beet varieties with different tolerances to drought and extreme temperatures.
  •   Discovery of those biomarkers associated with an increase tolerance to abiotic stresses.
  •   Disclosure of the interactions and regulatory networks underlying the adaptive mechanisms of the best performing varieties.
  •   Uncovering unknown epigenetic regulatory elements with relevance for crop production improvement.


Research project: Heat stress in potato (Solanum tuberosum)

Potato was domesticated 10.000 years ago in cool regions of the Andes of South America. Since then, it has become the third most important crop in the world becoming critical in terms of food security.

However, the yield of many economically important potato genotypes is very sensitive to elevated temperatures, and it has been estimated a decrease of global potato yields by around 30% by the 2050s due to the effects of global warming.

Although the correlation of high temperatures and inhibition of potato tuberization signal has already been observed, the genetic networks affected by heat stress remain unknown. Therefore, and in collaboration with the research Group Sophia Sonnewald, our objectives in this project are:

  •   Discovery of genes and regulatory networks associated with heat stress responses in potato.
  •   Disclosure of target-binding specificities of potato transcription factors and microRNAs involved in this process.
  •   Analysis to uncover potato genotype-phenotype interactions by multi-omic data integration.
  •   Development of diagnostic markers for heat tolerance/intolerance, concerning tuberization, for marker assisted selection of breeding programmes.


Research project: Drought stress in barley (Hordeum vulgare)

Drought is one of the main environmental stress factors that affect development and yield of crops. Although Germany is ranked as the second producer of barley of the world, during the last years, its barley production has suffered from very significant losses due to drought.

The complex molecular processes and elements controlling barley response to drought are still far of being fully understood. Therefore, in order to improve barley performance under drought conditions, PhD. Christian Schuy's work is pursuing the following objectives:

  •   Performing a transcriptome (RNA-seq) analysis of a panel of barley breeding varieties showing a wide range of biological responses after being subjected to drought stress during their development.
  •   Integrating differential gene expression data with genotype (SNP markers) and phenotype information.
  •   Exploring and modeling the regulatory pathways and networks underlying physiological differences due to drought stress.
  •   Discovering key markers, mutations or allelic variants associated to a better crop performance under drought conditions.


Research project: Improving productivity of cassava (Manihot esculenta)

Cassava, one of the oldest root crops, is considered the fifth most important crop of the world, being the primary food staple for more than 800 million people in America, Africa and Asia.

Cassava production is continuously growing as well as its importance as raw material in the production of starch. However, conventional breeding of cassava takes up several years before an improved variety can be approved. As with other crops, this process can nowadays be accelerated by combining breeders experience with sequencing and bioinformatics approaches.

Thus, with the aim of improving the most important agronomic and nutritional traits of cassava, we are, in collaboration with the research group of Dr. Wolfgang Zierer, developing the bioinformatics tools and pipelines for:

  •   Transcriptome (RNA-seq) and genome analysis of cassava varieties of Nigerian breeders.
  •   Integrating differential gene expression data with genotype and phenotype data.
  •   Modeling the regulatory networks linked to the sink-source molecular fluxes between storage roots and the other organs of the plant.
  •   Disclosing genetic markers or allelic variants of relevance for assisting breeding programs.