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Bravely facing modern challenge of building phytotron for 30m Euros

Scientists from Belarus and Russia plan to jointly implement a major project to hybridise plants
By Andrey Afanasiev

At a cost of 30m Euros, a phytotron is to be built — to grow new kinds of plants under controlled conditions. “Using rotation, it will be able to emulate conditions in any part of the globe, allowing us to take orders from various countries, including Chile and Bolivia,” notes Professor of Genetics Victor Dragavtsev, the Chief Researcher of the Agro-physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences, a member of the Linnean Society of London and an Honoured Scientist of Russia.

The project has been approved by the State Duma Committee of the Russian Federation for Science and High Technologies, which has suggested funding from the Russian Ministry of Agriculture: the decision is yet to be taken. Since the project is being jointly organised with Belarus, funds could be allocated from the Union State budget. Once money has been released, it will take a year to design the phytotron and another year to build it.

“If Russia creates the phytotron with Belarus, both countries will benefit,” emphasises Prof. Dragavtsev. The project will enable us to reduce the number of possible hybrid crossings by 200 times while recognition of genotypes could rise 1,100 times. The phytotron will work in artificial and natural light. “On sunny days, the roof could open, allowing the plants to use sunlight,” he explains. Accordingly, it should be built in a place with enough access to light. However, the resulting heat could disrupt optimal conditions. “Ideally, it would be built in a moderate climate. St. Petersburg has too many cloudy days but it could be built somewhere between Minsk and St. Petersburg,” he adds.

The phytotron is to focus on cereal crops. “We’ll use crops from around the world but especially from Belarus and Russia. The potential is huge: we could raise wheat yields from the Urals to Sakhalin by 60-80 percent,” he asserts.
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