Interview with Dr. Christophe Salon, member of the jury for the Innovation Awards

We set out to interview 3 members of the jury for the Innovation Awards, in order to learn a more about them and their participation in the contest. First off, let’s meet Christophe Salon, Research Director at the INRA in Dijon.


Could you introduce yourself and tell us your main areas of expertise?

After training in biochemistry and plant physiology, Christophe Salon obtained his doctorate in 1988 after composing his thesis at the INRA in Bordeaux. The research work carried out for his thesis examined the flow of carbon in the Krebs cycle in germinating seeds, which led to the first studies into flow modelling in plants. Having completed his doctorate, Dr Salon cofounded A&C Consulting, an IT firm (still in business today) where, as Research Director, he was responsible for designing software for the transfer of multi-user databases using high-speed networks. This software was intended for a range of clients, including biological research teams and multinational businesses, etc. After that, Dr Salon decided to return to “pure” biological research in 1993, as a post-doc at Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario, Canada) where he worked on carbon flow modelling for cyanobacteria. He was recruited by the INRA in 1996, as a primary scientific researcher, to work on carbon and nitrogen flow modelling in leguminous plants.

Since 2003, he has headed up several research units at the INRA. He is in charge of operational management, budgeting, commercial and scientific strategies, training and staff development and HR management. Since 2012, Dr. Salon has been Deputy Director of Research in one of the INRA’s largest Research units (the "Agro-ecology" UMR, numbering some 400 researchers and technicians), where he oversees the GEAPSI Research Group as well as the 4PMI high-speed phenotyping project (Platform for Plant Phenotyping and Interaction between Plants and Micro-organisms).

More precisely, his areas of expertise involve plant metabolism, the eco-physiology of leguminous plants and high-speed phenotyping imagery. Dr Salon has published over 70 articles in renowned academic reviews, and has spoken at around 150 conferences. He has been involved in a number of assessment bodies (ANR, CNECA, CSS, AERES, HCERES, etc.).

Regarding the study of leguminous plants, Dr Salon has served on the executive committees of several international networks (European Pulses Association, International Pulses Society), and has participated in or coordinated a large number of regional and national projects (e.g.: ANR MIRGA), as well as European initiatives (e.g.: FP6 Integrated Seed Pulses Project, LEGATO, LISA, Abstress, etc.) as well as various scientific networks.

Regarding plant phenotyping, Dr Salon has participated in various European projects (SOLACE, EUCLEG, FPPN, EPP, EPPN 2020).

Finally, since 2015, Dr Salon has represented the INRA at the International Plant Phenotyping Network (IPPN) where he develops, as part of the executive committee of the Working Group for root phenotyping, innovative new tools and methods.


What are your links to the Groupe Roullier? Can you explain how the collaboration between the INRA and the Groupe Roullier came about?

 Dr Salon has been developing a scientific, technical and industrial partnership with the Groupe Roullier in several areas, including:

  • Assistance in the design of the Centre Mondial de l'Innovation Roullier’s high-speed platform
  • Collaboration within various projects (SERAPIS and EAUPTIC) and sharing experience as a jury member for the assessment of doctoral theses, along with Jean-Claude Yvin
  • Design, testing and development of new tools and root phenotyping methods involving the use of state-of-the-art cameras and sensors, with B. Billot and S. Pluchon.
  • Development of new algorithms and workflows for root phenotyping and data management, with B. Billot and S. Pluchon.
  • Training and overseeing Master’s and PhD students within the INRA’s laboratories, or those of Saint-Malo and Dijon.


What are the current synergies that exist between the INRA and the Groupe Roullier?

In France today we have two phenotyping platforms using equipment such as rizotubes and imaging cabins, as well as highly specialised devices enabling advanced research of root systems. One is based at the INRA’s Dijon facility, and the other is in Roullier’s CMI in Saint-Malo. There is therefore a significant amount of shared expertise between our research centres in terms of plant nutrition, as well as our experimentation networks.

The synergies in question are all the more valuable given the inter-complementary nature of the expertise involved. The INRA’s core vocation is more centred around foundational knowledge - the work that occurs before the development phase - whereas Innovation at the Groupe Roullier is focused on applied research, so as to provide solutions to the issues faced by its agricultural clients. This inter-complementarity is also what provides a point of traction for our two organisations.

Finally, we are also on the same page when it comes to the end result of our work and our global outlook. The work we do is always guided by the aim of starting off with baseline research in order to reach an innovation that is tangible and useful for society, or for farmers. I think that you could even call it an obsession, given the level of our determination to serve the farming community and the general public.

“Today, we have forged a strong relationship where the level of trust goes well beyond that of an everyday partnership”. It is this relationship that has kept us collaborating with one another for over 8 years.


In your view, what is the most important criteria of a prizewinner?

 The winners will, of course, need to demonstrate R&D innovation from a scientific and/or technical standpoint, and also that there is real potential to develop their efforts for widespread use and application, while also accounting for socio-economic issues and providing a major scientific impact.

The winning candidates will present prospects for wider development, such as connected agriculture, with truly innovative solutions that respond to current issues.


What are the opportunities on offer for the winners of the Innovation Awards?

Quite simply, to make a name for themselves with the group, with a view to initiating more long-term collaborations. In addition, this competition is an opportunity for academic laboratories to develop innovative solutions in partnership with a major operator in plant nutrition.


Finally, do you have any advice for the candidates?

Demonstrate both technical and scientific credibility and reliability. The methods used will definitely be one of the most important aspects in determining the originality of each project.

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