Research Axes

The Centre SÈVE brings together some sixty university researchers from: Université de Sherbrooke, Université Laval, McGill University, Université de Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal, Université du Québec à Trois -Rivières, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, the Université de Moncton and Carleton University. This team is joined by scientists from colleges (Cégep de Sherbrooke), government (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada), the private sector (Research and Development Institute for Agri-Environment (IRDA) and Centre de Recherche sur les grains (CÉROM)), and many students of all university cycles. Researchers at the Center SÈVE also collaborate with their colleagues from the industry. The Center SÈVE is distinguished by the extent and the networking of its multidisciplinary expertise.

The research activities of the Center SÈVE revolve around four axes:

Axis 1 – Plant engineering for the production of food, medical, industrial and ecological goods and services

Despite spectacular progress, much remains to be done to take full advantage of the genetic potential of plants and the possibilities they offer for solving agronomic, industrial, medical or environmental problems. On a fundamental level, our members are interested in the molecular, cellular and physiological determinants that explain the development and functioning of plants. On a practical level, they seek to improve crops and develop useful plant systems for applied purposes. We adopt various strategies with a view to understanding and efficient use of plant systems, based on established disciplines such as genetics and biochemistry as well as on newer technologies such as epigenetics, molecular genetic improvement (precision breeding), gene editing, metabolic engineering, synthetic biology, molecular farming, and vertical horticulture. Topics covered include biosynthetic pathways of specialized metabolism for the production of compounds of pharmaceutical interest, the transcriptome as a reference base for improving the taste and aroma of foods, the use of plants for soil phytoremediation, the use of plants as “bio-factories” for the production of vaccines and therapeutic antibodies and the development of green infrastructures dedicated to our well-being in urban environments.

Axis Managers: Dominique Michaud and Isabel Deagagné-Pénix

Axis 2 – The health of plant production and food security

The study of plant-environment interactions is essential for the development of strategies that promote plant health in changing abiotic and biotic environments. Several dangers threaten crop yields and food security: 1) the presence of old and new pathogens and pests; 2) declining pollinators; 3) climate change (drought, flooding, length of seasons, snow cover, warming), to name a few. Fortunately, advances in the field of plant-environment interactions have provided many innovative solutions and promise further developments in this direction: 1) optimization of beneficial plant-microorganism interactions; 2) crop adaptation to climate; and 3) modulation of the plant’s environment in favor of its growth. Often the result of a synergy of fundamental and applied scientific initiatives, these strategies ensure the development of more sustainable and eco-responsible production while reducing the need for chemical inputs. Cutting-edge technologies, such as phenotyping, the use of drones, digital data analysis, “omics” sciences, and artificial intelligence, represent some of the most promising methods for developing the tools needed for the future of plant biology.

Axis Managers: Hugo Germain and Isabelle Laforest-Lapointe

Axis 3 – Productivity of agricultural systems and sustainable development

The Centre SÈVE is interested in greenhouse and open-field productions, their diversification, and the optimization of crop management. To achieve sustainable production systems, management must be more efficient through the judicious use of resources and the development of methods such as biological inputs and precision agriculture that allow gains in yield, quality, and nutrition. Crop management should also aim to reduce environmental impacts through, for example, regenerative agriculture. Because biodiversity is an important ecological and economic value, our members make connections between nature-based solutions, agricultural yield, and landscape-scale management. From a soil health perspective, the future of agricultural production requires more diverse crop sequences. These could include extended rotations, intercropping, perennial crops, ground covers, as well as tree crops. The large and diverse plant community will support more robust soil biodiversity, making the agroecosystem more productive and resilient. Similar approaches will be applied to greenhouse crops, considering the constraints linked to this more controlled environment. Work on plant protection products and environmentally friendly fertilization methods make crops more resistant to climate change or biotic stress.

Axis Managers: Joann Karen Whalen and Donald Smith

Axis 4 – Plant production: at the crossroads of science and society

This axis aims to recognize the necessary contribution of disciplines complementary to those of the life sciences in the development of knowledge and solutions promoting plant production. By advocating synergy between disciplines associated with the life sciences and other areas of expertise, our members want to facilitate the integration of knowledge into society. For example, our mathematicians conceptualize the complexity of plant structures and infer intra- and inter-system variability and relationships spatially and temporally. Our engineers design tools for users (mechanization, optimization of procedures, analysis algorithms, AI, and others). Our chemists reveal key physicochemical processes in plants and in the environment at micro- and nanoscopic scales and contribute to the formulation of new agricultural processes and products to increase productivity while respecting the environment. Our university and college pedagogical experts prepare future generations for an ever-changing world. Finally, our members in social sciences seek to better understand the issues, needs, and interests of stakeholders, with an emphasis on the participation and action of the communities concerned. The Centre SÈVE has also given itself the mandate of encouraging participatory research that includes citizens

Axis Managers: Pierre Dutilleul and Jane Morrison

In this sense, the Center SÈVE develops technologies that respect the environment and healthy bioproducts. It also collaborates with contributors from various disciplines to assess the environmental and social impacts of its research results.