As a postdoc at the University of Guelph’s College of Biological Science, Liu had been working on a project transforming starch branching enzymes (SBEs) from maize into arabidopsis plants. For weeks, he’d been analyzing the interesting effects of the maize SBEs on the arabidopsis plants’ starch pathways. Then one day he realized the plants he’d been working on had grown much larger than the control plants. Not only that, but there were also far more seedpods, and their leaf and root systems were bigger, too.
“That was the beginning – I saw a really big arabidopsis plant and thought, let’s take a picture. Something has happened biologically,” Liu says.
He showed the photo to his supervisors, Guelph professors Michael Emes and Ian Tetlow.
“We’d found some interesting effects on the starch, and had done all sorts of measurements,” Emes echoes. “And then one day we stood back and looked at the plants, and we finally saw the wood for the trees. We saw these plants were really different.”
A healthy plant from a typical arabidopsis line normally bears about 11,000 seeds; the new plants bore 50,000 seeds per plant – a more than 400-per-cent increase in seed production.
“The plants were bigger, the leaves were bigger, there were more stems, there was more flowering and more seed,” Emes says. “It’s not just that there were a lot more seeds, there was a lot more of everything.
“It was one of those serendipitous events in science. If you’d asked me to produce a plant with more seeds I would have said you couldn’t get there from here,” he adds.
Liu’s focus had been on trying to analyze how the SBEs’ functions changed in arabidopsis leaves, but after this discovery his focus changed to studying the impact on seed yield and biomass, comparing transformed plants with wild-type arabidopsis plants. Importantly, the quality of the oil remained the same as for the non-transgenic plants.
The team published their findings this spring in the Arabidopsis is not a starch crop, but an oilseed genetically similar to canola, so the obvious application of the finding is in breeding higher-yielding oilseed crops for biofuels. Emes and Tetlow have already begun preliminary work with canola, but also foresee potential applications in camelina, soybeans and other crops.
While the dramatic increase in seed production might not occur as easily in canola as in arabidopsis, Liu says even a tenth of the effect would still mean an increase of 40 per cent – a substantial impact on yield.
“This is orders of magnitude different than conventional breeding,” Emes says.
But what, exactly, is going on in the plants?
The good times are here
Emes has a theory that the starch metabolism in the transformants has improved the plants’ ability to grow and reproduce.
The team is working on two lines using two starch genes from maize. In one of the new lines, there is a massive increase of starch in the leaves, which the plant breaks down overnight. In the other line, there is a bigger impact on yield; there is still an increase in starch in the leaves, but it doesn’t all break down at night, leaving a carbohydrate reserve.
“We know that carbohydrates, during seed development, come from the leaf through the vascular system and into the reproductive system. These are important to flower development and what’s called embryo abortion – the plant makes a kind of ‘decision’ on whether or not to produce seeds,” Emes explains. “Flower and seed production is limited by the supply of carbohydrates. So these plants are now saying, ‘The good times are here, let’s go for it.’ ”
Emes suspects that the wild type arabidopsis plant has an endogenous mechanism that constrains growth because it’s genetically evolved to always keep something in reserve. But in the transgenic plants, the brakes have been taken off.
If the scientists can crack the code on the maize SBEs’ effect on oilseeds, Emes sees potential applications for feedstock and oil for human consumption, as well as biofuels. He is currently seeking public and private funding to continue the project in canola.
Liu, now a regulatory scientist for the J.R. Simplot Company, says much more work is required to improve seed quality as well as yield in future breeding projects. “If you want to improve quality, if you want to improve omega-3 fatty acid or other special fatty acid content, for now I don’t have any insight on how you can improve those things, from this study,” he says. “At least, from the analysis of the arabidopsis you don’t see a change in these properties – you just get higher yields.”
But Liu is optimistic about the future applications of his work. “Genes are so powerful,” he says. “One small change could be a potential opportunity for dramatically improving crops.”
Apr. 27, 2016 - The Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF) and the University of Alberta's Faculty of Agricultural, life & Environmental Sciences (ALES) announced that they have renewed their partnership in wheat breeding. WGRF will invest $811,587 into the wheat breeding program at the University of Alberta over the next five years.
"The wheat breeding program at the U of A's Faculty of ALES is an important piece of the western Canadian wheat breeding network," said Dave Sefton, WGRF Board Chair. "WGRF has been investing in wheat research at the U of A since 2005 and, over this time we have seen the program take some significant strides towards the development of new wheat varieties and germplasm for the parkland zone."
"WGRF's support has been integral to the success we've enjoyed," said Dean Spaner, wheat breeder and professor. "This continued long-term investment demonstrates the value the wheat producers of western Canada place on our work, and is the base that attracts other investors. This announcement is a tremendous boost in confidence and responsibility, for which we are deeply grateful."
"This investment over the next five years more than doubles the previous five year commitment by WGRF," says Garth Patterson, WGRF Executive Director. "Over the last five years alone, the U of A Wheat Breeding Program has registered five improved CWRS varieties, released one germplasm line, and graduated five PhD and four MSc students. This exemplifies the great work being done at the U of A."
"We are very proud of our wheat breeding program that helps western Canadian wheat growers grow healthier, higher-yielding crops," said Dr. Stanford F. Blade, Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences. "We're also very grateful for the confidence shown by WGRF, whose support plays a pivotal role in the success we've had with our program."
The U of A breeding program focuses on Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS), Canada Prairie Spring Red (CPS-R) and the Canada Western General Purpose (CWGP) class. The goal of the program is to develop and select germplasm that will result in higher yielding varieties that are earlier maturing, have increased straw strength and protect the quality characteristics of the CPS and CWRS wheat.
Is there a single gene allele (or gene form) responsible for high yields in dry beans? Ten years ago, this might have been an impossible question to answer; today, the answer isn’t far off. In fact, researchers at the University of Guelph recently discovered a gene in canola that influences yield, and preliminary studies show the same gene exists in dry bean (Phaseolus vulgaris).
“Most breeders would say you can’t find a yield gene, because so many things contribute to yield in the end,” says Karl Peter Pauls, a professor in the University of Guelph’s department of plant agriculture. “Yield is not generally considered to be simply an inherited trait, but rather a lot of things correspond ultimately to give you a higher yielding plant.”
However, it is possible to discover quantitative trait loci (QTL) – or sections of DNA that correlate with a particular set of characteristics – and an underlying set of genes contributes to those QTLs, Pauls says.
In other words, many things contribute to high yields, and one of those factors is undeniably genetics. In this case, the gene under investigation for its effects on yield is called BnMicEmUp.
Pauls is heading a joint Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and University of Guelph three-year study examining yield/anti-yield gene alleles in dry bean, with the goal of streamlining breeding projects focused on introducing varieties with improved resource use efficiencies.
He says BnMicEmUp was discovered almost by accident, when John Chan, a PhD student, discovered the gene in embryonic cells for canola. “Since it wasn’t identified, we had no idea what its gene function might be,” Pauls says.
Another PhD student, Fariba Shahmir, took the gene and implanted it in a model plant, Arabidopsis – a close relative of canola – using transgenic tools to “upregulate” or over-express the gene in some materials, and “turn it down,” or under-express it, in other materials.
“So we had Arabidopsis plants where the gene was turned down and plants where it was upregulated,” Pauls explains. “Once you had that spread between it being over- and under-expressed, some of the effects on vegetative growth and seed production became obvious.
“If you turned the gene down you increased seed yield, and if you turned it up you inhibited seed production.”
Because the gene had an observable impact on Arabidopsis seed numbers, and this can be translated into a rough estimate of yield, Pauls’ team decided to look for the gene in dry beans – a crop they’d been working on for years. “We thought, well, let’s take a look,” he says.
Using the recently released genome sequence for dry beans, the team was able to quickly zero in on BnMicEmUp because they knew what they were looking for.
How it works
BnMicEmUp is part of a class of genes that occurs in many plant species; according to Pauls, it appears to mimic a gene type that is involved in plant stress response.
“This is how I try to explain the ‘anti-yield’ gene. I think it’s related to a brake on a car – when the conditions are not good for vegetative growth, the plant doesn’t invest in vegetative growth in its response to stress,” he says. “It’s not actively growing; it’s protecting whatever physiological processes it needs for survival. And some plants turn on the brakes early – say, in a period of drought – and are not willing to take a risk.”
In the first phase of Pauls’ study, a masters student, Yanzhou Qi, measured the activity of the gene in a range of materials that vary significantly in terms of yield potential – a small set of 20 dry bean varieties – and found what they expected: a negative but not statistically significant correlation between gene expression and yield.
In 2015, Pauls’ research associate, Yarmilla Reinprecht, bean breeding technician Tom Smith, and Annie Cheng, a summer student in Pauls’ program, conducted a field trial with an expanded set of 100 varieties. Now, Reinprecht and Erika Cintora, an exchange student from Mexico, are analyzing gene activity within samples from the large field trial, looking for correlations between gene activity and yields.
The work can also be applied to soybeans, Pauls says, as dry beans and soybeans are closely related.
“We can find the locations of that gene in the genomes, and it corresponds with yield QTLs both in beans and soybeans. And then we can begin to look at polymorphisms between different forms of this gene so that in the end we have markers for an allele from a high-yielding versus an allele from a low-yielding bean,” he says.
The next step is to get markers in the gene, which can be used to screen germplasm for positive alleles for a high-yield trait. “If we can prescreen germplasm that we use for making crosses for the genes that we think contribute to the traits we’re interested in, then we are a step ahead in breeding superior varieties,” Pauls says.
“Conventional breeding adds about one per cent per year in terms of yield potential to bean varieties. What we hope is that we’ll be able to do an even better job in terms of breeding varieties with higher yield potential.”
Yield isn’t the only desirable ingredient in new bean varieties: Pauls’ team is also working on common bacterial blight and anthracnose disease resistance, cooking qualities, folate content and nitrogen fixation. It might be 10 years before Canadian bean growers can benefit directly from the yield/anti-yield gene research, but new high yielding and disease resistant varieties, like OAC Inferno and Mist, developed by the Guelph bean breeding program, are
already making an impact.
Mar. 15, 2016 - The University of Alberta's canola breeding program, in partnership with Crop Production Services (CPS) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, has developed the first line of canola hybrid that offers double-resistance to club root, the crop's most significant disease threat.
The new hybrid cultivar has been approved and registered by CPS under the Proven Seed brand with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and is now available to growers for the 2016 growing season.
It carries a resistance gene from Mendel, a European winter canola cultivar, and a second gene from an exotic germplasm. The canola breeding program, led by Habibur Rahman, began working on these genes in 2004 in greenhouses, in the fields on South Campus and in clubroot-infested fields in Leduc and St. Albert. They studied more than 250 sources of resistance before determining the best two.
They worked on the resistance sources separately at first, locating the resistance genes in the chromosomes and developing separate individual canola lines based on the resistance of each source.
"With our partners at Crop Production Services, we then combined them to create this hybrid," explained Rahman.
The new canola hybrid cultivar, which combined the two genes, offers double resistance, as opposed to all previous clubroot-resistant cultivars which only offer single resistance.
"We expect this hybrid will offer growers more durable resistance," said Bruce Harrison, CPS' director of research, development and innovation.
Clubroot poses a serious threat to canola production in Alberta. The disease, which infects roots and restricts the flow of water and nutrients to leaves stems and pods, is spreading. Originally discovered in Alberta in 2003, nine new strains of the disease that can overcome current resistant lines were found in the province."It's common for single gene resistance to break down in time and becomes susceptible," explained Rahman. "But here, with this new cultivar, if one gene breaks down, then another guard is there."
"CPS has invested deeply in western Canadian-based research and development that provides growers with the very best in genetics to combat serious crop diseases. The U of A team has been great to work with and we are proud of the results and future possibilities this collaboration has created," adds Harrison.
The new canola hybrid cultivar is the first registered hybrid coming from the Collaborative Research and Development grant obtained in 2013 by Rahman and Crop Production Services.
"The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) is proud to support the Collaborative Research and Development Grant held by Dr. Rahman, from the University of Alberta. His research is of major significance to canola growers and will contribute to the Canadian economy. His vast experience in both academia and industry is also an asset to the success of this project. Dr. Rahman's working relationship with Crop Protection Services reinforces NSERC's priority of creating partnership opportunities between universities and industry professionals. And, because the grant includes significant training opportunities, it will also provide the next generation of HQPs with valuable experience and opportunities," said Dr. Bettina Hamelin, Vice-president, Research Partnerships, NSERC.
The research was also supported by the Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund (ACIDF), the Alberta Canola Producers Commission and later, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
"Genetic developments are among the most costly investments ACIDF makes," explained Doug Walkey. "But as an investment in western Canadian agriculture, these are the most effective investments in our future. Plant characteristics, once developed, are more environmentally friendly, cost effective and efficient than controls with machinery, labor or chemicals. ACIDF has enjoyed an excellent partnership with Dr Rahman and his team, and we look forward to future developments like this one."
"This is exactly what we were looking for when we initially invested in Dr. Rahman's work over 10 years ago," said Daryl Tuck, canola farmer and Chair of the Alberta Canola Producers Research Committee. "We are very pleased to see this option available to canola growers that have need of it.""This is a tremendous accomplishment by our canola breeding program, in partnership with Crop Production Services and NSERC," said Stan Blade, dean of the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences at the University of Alberta. "This result is a wonderful example of the types of solutions we need to help feed a growing world population and benefit Canadian farmers."
Producers are always looking for improved varieties of crops. In the case of oats, that means traits such as increased yield, good groat percentage, disease resistance and good standability.
Thanks to work by researchers at the Ottawa Research and Development Centre (ORDC) – which has the only public oat-breeding program in Eastern Canada – producers in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada now have just that.
Developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) research scientist and plant breeder Weikei Yan and his colleagues at ORDC, the new variety, AAC Nicolas, is being marketed by SeCan, a not-for-profit association of independent seed business members. It has high yield, good groat percentage, good lodging resistance and is resistant to crown rust and septoria.
“Nicolas has achieved 20 per cent higher yield than check cultivars in Quebec in the last three years,” Yan says. “Its groat percentage is the highest among high yielding cultivars and is equal to Dieter, which is currently the most favoured cultivar of the milling industry.”
Its straw strength, another important factor for growers, is also good, showing stronger straw than AC Dieter throughout research trials in Quebec and Ontario. It has a beta-glucan that is higher than the control cultivars Dieter and Rigodon. AAC Nicolas also has white, intact, and uniform groats – a new aspect oat breeders are starting to look at.
“In addition, it has good resistance to lodging and crown rust and performed well in Ontario, the Maritimes and Western
Canada,” Yan says.
Developing a new variety
The process of breeding a new variety of oat is no short-term task. It can take about 10 years, or 12 generations, from the time breeders make a cross to the time they release a new variety.
“In the earlier generation, when we cannot select for yield directly, we select for the more easily selected traits that contribute to high yield,” Yan explains.
These traits include: disease resistance, particularly crown rust; height, which is related to lodging resistance; growth vigour, which may be related to high yield; kernel size, because growers and millers like large kernelled varieties and it may be related to high yield; and hull colour, because growers like white hulls.
“Later, when we have enough seed for yield test, we select for grain yield, groat percentage and beta-glucan, oil and protein contents,” Yan says. “A superior variety has to be good or at least acceptable for all of these traits we look at.”
Yan says ORDC’s oat breeding program is as old as AAFC, originally focusing on better oat cultivars for use as horse feed.
“Originally oats were mainly used as horse feed as there were many horses used as a source of power for transportation or farm activities. Horses have been dramatically reduced in the modern times; so have the oat acreage and production in Canada and worldwide.”
In the past two decades, oat has been increasingly used as human food as it became known that oat contains a large amount of dietary
fibre, particularly beta-glucan, that can reduce bad cholesterol and risk of heart disease and diabetes if a sufficient amount of oat-based food is included in the daily diet. Research shows 70 grams of oat meal or three grams of beta-glucan can have a positive effect.
“Our current oat program is supported by the oat milling industry to breed oat cultivars that are high yielding, so growers like to grow them; high groat content, so millers can make money; and high beta-glucan, so oat product can be sold as healthy food,” Yan says. “These three things do not go together, and it is our goal to put them together.”
Yan and his colleagues continue to pursue lines that have improvement over ACC Nicolas in some aspects. “The goal will remain the same as above, though people may work from different angles, such as molecular and genomics perspective,” he adds.
SeCan and ACC Nicolas
Phil Bailey, SeCan’s eastern business manager, says the association had Yan and AAC Nicolas on its radar for several years because of the variety’s tremendous yield potential versus other varieties in the same class. SeCan has a research agreement with the oat breeding program at ORDC through the Growing Forward 2 Program.
“One of our goals is to acquire rights to varieties through long-term research agreements,” Bailey says. “We fund the oat breeding program, get access to varieties and make them available to SeCan members who then multiply the seed and make it available to all farmers in
Eastern Canada. We do the promotion for it, create the seed guide and help sellers sell it.”
Bailey says SeCan is very excited about this new variety and preliminary analysis by Quaker Oats Company (Quaker), to evaluate ACC Nicolas’ quality is showing promise as well.
“There are different end uses for oat milling markets such as Quaker oats and horse feed markets,” Bailey says, adding Quaker has done initial testing on AAC Nicolas to evaluate its quality and it is showing great promise.
“Everything so far looks positive. Quaker and Weikei work closely as well and Quaker will analyze small amounts of seed, then evaluate on a bigger scale.”
SeCan distributed high pedigree seed to its members in the spring of 2015 so they could multiply it. “Several produced it and were very happy with its performance,” Bailey says.
This season, SeCan members will once again bulk up the seed hoping to make it commercially available on a large scale to all growers in 2017.
Feb. 8, 2016 - The Western Grains Research Foundation is investing $20 million into wheat breeding and $1.4 million into barley breeding at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Research Centres in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta over the next five years.
The funds, derived from farmer check-offs on wheat and barley sold in Western Canada, represent the biggest ever industry investment in AAFC research. According to a news release, it will underpin AAFC's scientific capacity in plant pathology and physiology, entomology and grain quality, and will enable specialized research equipment upgrades in support of all disciplines.
This partnership with WGRF will support AAFC research on:
- Potentially devastating wheat and barley diseases, such as Fusarium head blight;
- Enhancing insect resistance;
- Environmental stresses, like drought and flooding; and
- Developing genetic markers for plant breeding selection.
WGRF has been investing farmer's wheat and barley check-off dollars into breeding research since 1994. The WGRF's investment dollars are derived from the 30 cents per tonne check-off received from farmers on wheat and 50 cents per tonne on barley sold in Western Canada. A University of Saskatchewan study commissioned by the WGRF estimated that every check-off dollar invested in varietal development of wheat and barley returned $20.40 and $7.56, respectively, in value for farmers.
Thin Meiw (Alek) Choo, a breeder at the Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre in Ottawa, is working with a team to develop high-yielding, FHB-resistant barley cultivars for Eastern Canada. Photo courtesy of Thin Meiw (Alek) Choo.
Barley is the fourth-largest crop in Eastern Canada, after the standard rotation crops of soybeans, corn and wheat. Approximately 150,000 hectares of land in Eastern Canada were seeded to barley last year, which led to a harvest of 460,000 tonnes of grain.
Fusarium head blight (FHB) is a serious concern in barley. “The outbreaks of FHB vary from year to year, with 2009 and 2010 most severe in Eastern Canada,” says Thin-Meiw (Alek) Choo, a breeder at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre in Ottawa (now called the Ottawa Research and Development Centre). “The disease, caused principally by Fusarium graminearum Schwabe, can result in mycotoxin contamination such as DON in the grain. During those years, many barley crops were contaminated with DON.”
AAFC breeders have developed several barley varieties (see sidebar for agronomic details) that have proven more resistant to Fusarium head blight than many others. These include AAC Starbuck (released in 2014), AAC Azimuth (2013), AC Minoa (2010) and Island (2002). Choo reports, for example, that under natural conditions in Prince Edward Island from 2004 to 2012, Island contained only 0.2-2.1 mg DON/kg while susceptible cultivars contained up to 17.6 mg DON/kg. During the epidemic year of 2010, AAC Azimuth contained only an average of 1.7 mg DON/kg, while susceptible six-row cultivars contained an average as high as 5.1 mg DON/kg.
AAC Azimuth and AC Minoa are well adapted to Ontario, AAC Starbuck is well adapted to Quebec and the Maritimes, and Island is well adapted to all of Eastern Canada. These performance differences mostly relate, says Choo, to the varying climatic conditions of the regions.
Breeding program update
The present barley-breeding program run by Choo and his colleagues Richard Martin, Allen Xue, Marc Savard and Barbara Blackwell, continues to develop high-yielding, FHB-resistant barley cultivars for Eastern Canada. “Many elite lines are now under intensive testing,” Choo notes. “We have crossed our local varieties with FHB-resistant germplasm from different places in the world and have produced many breeding lines from these crosses. Some of them have been screened in our FHB nursery and are now under evaluation for agronomic traits.” The team has 12 elite lines now being evaluated in the Maritime Barley Registration and Recommendation Tests, 10 elite lines in the Quebec Barley Registration and Recommendation Tests, and 10 elite lines in the Ontario Barley Orthogonal Trials. “Hopefully,” Choo says, “some of them will be released as new varieties in the next few years.”
In terms of specifics on genetic resistance, Choo say there is no major resistance gene for FHB in barley and that this makes improvement for resistance a slow breeding process. “Because of this, we use an indirect approach to mitigate the severity of DON contamination in barley,” he says. “Two-row barley is more resistant to DON accumulation than six-row barley. Hulless barley contained less DON than covered barley, and black barley is more resistant to DON accumulation than yellow barley.”
Choo and his colleagues have found black barley to be more resistant to DON accumulation because it contains higher total phenolic content than yellow barley. In lab tests, the phenolic acids in black barley have been shown to inhibit the growth of F. graminearum and F. culmorum. Black barley also contains flavonoids, which also play a role in FHB resistance. Some flavonoids have been shown to severely inhibit the growth of F. graminearum and other fungi on culture medium. In addition, preliminary results indicate that black barley contains more lignin than yellow barley, and lignin/lignification may create some physical barriers to inhibit Fusarium growth.
In terms of yield, 26 varieties of barley were compared in the 2014 Ontario Cereal Crops Committee spring barley trials in three areas of Ontario (see www.gocereals.ca/bat3.php). The averages for each area were 98, 89 and 76 bushels per acre. “Chapais has been the dominant barley variety in Eastern Canada for many years and now, many varieties have out-yielded Chapais,” Choo notes. “We expect that future barley varieties will have higher yield, be
better resistant to FHB, and be better resistant to lodging. In addition, malting barley and food barley varieties will be developed to provide some niche markets for Eastern Canada.”
Newest barley varieties
Island is a two-row, spring feed, non-malting barley cultivar developed by the Eastern Canada Barley Breeding Group, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. It is named after the province of Prince Edward Island and was registered in mid-2002. Island is well adapted to Eastern Canada. The plant has erect juvenile growth, green coleoptile, blue-green leaves and intermediate flag leaf attitude. Other characteristics include purplish auricles, fine, dark green and waxy stems, a v-shaped collar and a straight neck. The spike is two-row type with tapering shape and lax density. The spike is medium length with nodding attitude, rough awns, medium (equal to the length of glume) and rough glume awns, purplish lemma awn tip and green glume awn tip. The kernel is covered, long and medium width, with long rachilla, short rachilla hairs, yellow aleurone and incomplete horseshoe basal marking. Island is susceptible to net blotch, scald, septoria leaf blotch, spot botch, and leaf rust, but highly resistant to powdery mildew and moderately resistant to barley yellow dwarf virus and Fusarium head blight.
AAC Azimuth is a six-row hulless non-malting barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) cultivar developed by the Eastern Canada Barley Breeding Group, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. AAC Azimuth was registered in early 2013. It is well adapted to the province of Ontario. The plant shows erect juvenile growth, blue-green leaves, upright flag leaf attitude, white auricles. Other characteristics include thick, dark green and pronounced waxy stems, a v-shaped collar and straight neck. Its spike is six-row type with parallel shape, medium density, medium length, erect attitude, smooth lemma awns, longer than the length of glume with smooth glume awns, green lemma awn tip and green glume awn tip. The kernel is hulless with medium length, medium width, medium rachilla length, short rachilla hairs, yellow aleurone and incomplete horseshoe basal marking.
AAC Starbuck is a two-row, hulless barley cultivar developed at the AAFC Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre. It was registered in mid-2014. AAC Starbuck is well adapted to Quebec and the Maritimes. The plant has erect juvenile growth, green coleoptile, green leaves, upright flag leaf attitude and purple auricles. The waxy stems are fine, medium green, and pronounced with a v-shaped collar and straight neck. The spike is two-row type with parallel shape, lax density, long spike, horizontal attitude and rough lemma awns. It is longer than the length of glume, with rough glume awns, green lemma awn tip, green glume awn tip. The kernel is hulless with medium length, medium width, long rachilla and rachilla hairs, and yellow aleurone. It is susceptible to net blotch, spot blotch, scald, and speckled leaf blotch. The variety is resistant to powdery mildew and leaf rust, and low in DON content (Fusarium graminearum Schwabe). It is moderately susceptible to net blotch and spot blotch. It is resistant to scald and barley yellow dwarf virus and moderately resistant to powdery mildew. This variety is susceptible to leaf rust and low in DON content.
AC Minoa is a two-row; spring feed barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) cultivar developed by the AAFC Eastern Canada Barley Breeding Group and registered in 2010. It has high yield, high test-weight and good resistance to powdery mildew and DON accumulation. AC Minoa performs well in the state of New York and in the province of Ontario.
Nov. 30, 2015 - Limagrain Cereals Research Canada (LCRC) has hired Jason Reinheimer as its senior breeder, effective Feb. 15, 2016. Reinheimer brings 14 years of experience in cereal breeding, including from his most recent position as senior wheat breeder/manager with Australian Grain Technologies (AGT). In this position he established and managed a multi-disciplinary team developing leading wheat varieties for Western Australia.
Reinheimer has a degree of agricultural science, with a major in plant breeding, and a Ph.D., both from the University of Adelaide. He also has been responsible for durum and triticale breeding and hybrid wheat development while at AGT.
"Jason brings a wealth of breeding experience, research expertise, and the leadership we were looking for, along with enthusiasm and a strong track record of collaborative research" says Erin Armstrong, CEO of LCRC.
Limagrain Cereals Research Canada is a partnership between Limagrain and Canterra Seeds. Its goal is to develop new leading cereal varieties that meet the needs of western Canadian farmers and their customers. Based in Saskatoon, Sask., LCRC will work in partnership with public and private programs in Western Canada and around the world.
Research from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) is destined to help producers in Eastern Canada produce high quality, hard red winter wheat suitable for bread production or for blending with other wheat varieties, such as western hard red spring wheat, to supply local milling companies.
“Local producers are challenged to access this market due to western production of hard wheat even though, at times, local mills have trouble accessing enough hard wheat for their operations,” says Gavin Humphreys, a research scientist with AAFC’s winter wheat breeding and genetics program, who is building on research conducted by Radhey Pandeya from 1992 to 2012 and Judith Frégeau-Ried from 2012 to 2014.
Frégeau-Ried submitted the original hard red winter wheat research proposal to the Canadian Wheat Breeding Research Cluster because it was discerned that while there was adequate research and breeding in soft winter wheat, there was a need for breeding in hard red winter wheat.
“AAFC was well placed to take on this activity because there is an active hard red winter wheat program in Western Canada from which we have sourced some of our initial germplasm and parents for crossing,” Humphreys says. “And the size of eastern hard red winter wheat production is presently too small for private plant breeding companies to invest very much, if at all, in the breeding of hard red winter wheat.
“For example, Dow AgroSciences has recently mothballed their breeding efforts in hard red winter wheat for Ontario.”
The current program led by Humphreys is supported through the wheat cluster with funding from Grain Farmers of Ontario, Western Grains Research Foundation and AAFC. It involves three components: breeding, disease screening and lab work.
The winter wheat breeding program focuses on hard red winter wheat although, Humphreys says, there is some work on soft red winter because it is the most important class of winter wheat grown in Eastern Canada. He runs a modified pedigreed program with all facets of a standard wheat breeding program including crosses, early generation populations, later generation yield testing, and registration testing and breeder seed production.
The researchers conduct one of the largest publicly funded Fusarium head blight (FHB) screening nurseries for winter cereals in Canada at the Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre (ECORC). There, the nursery screens material for winter wheat breeders in Lethbridge, Alta.; Winnipeg, Man.; all Ontario winter wheat breeders through the OCCC Winter Wheat Performance and Orthogonal trials and the AAFC Ottawa program.
“In addition to the field screening, in collaboration with Dr. Barbara Blackwell at ECORC, we can screen promising new winter wheat lines for their mycotoxin levels,” Humphreys says. “It is critical that we know not only the Fusarium head blight disease symptom but also the mycotoxin levels because lines with low Fusarium head blight symptoms can sometimes still have high mycotoxin.
“Nowadays, producers are being graded by both Fusarium damaged kernels and mycotoxin levels in their harvested grain,” he continues. “Therefore, new varieties need not only to have low Fusarium head blight symptoms to protect the yield but the harvest grain must be low in Fusariun damaged kernels as well as mycotoxin to protect the grade.”
Within the laboratory component, the researchers run a wheat, doubled haploid program which produces genetically pure lines skipping over the traditional eight to 10 generations of self-pollination. Last winter, in Humphreys’ first winter wheat double haploid production season, they generated over 800 winter wheat, doubled haploid breeding lines.
“This resource will be used in concert with molecular markers in the winter wheat breeding program to screen parents and doubled haploid lines for molecular markers linked to desirable traits such as plant height, leaf rust, stem rust and powdery mildew resistance,” Humphreys says. “In this we can produce double haploid populations that are pre-selected for the desired traits.”
Humphreys says the research is really just getting started because the hard red winter wheat program is new at ECORC.
In addition to FHB resistance, which the researchers can select in their FHB screening nursery, Humphreys’ program will look to develop varieties with both high grain yield and high harvest index through the development of shorter strawed varieties.
This research will have benefits over supplying the local milling companies with high quality winter wheat. Winter wheat is also an important component in crop rotation, but Humphreys says producers are challenged due to the lower yields and value of wheat compared to soybeans or corn.
According to the Canola Council of Canada, canola contributes $19.3 billion dollars per year to the Canadian economy. In his lab at the University of Alberta, Habibur Rahman is working to ensure that figure only increases in the coming years.
Rahman is spearheading a long-term breeding project that aims to broaden the genetic diversity of Brassica napus, with the goal of developing strong canola lines to use in Canadian breeding programs.
Rahman’s project is funded by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Development Grant as well as industry collaboration with Crop Production Services (CPS), a Western Canada-based subsidiary of the agri-retail giant Agrium.
According to Rahman, the narrow genetic base in B. napus canola limits continued improvement of the crop. But the progenitor species of B. napus, Brassica rapa and Brassica oleracea, contain a vast amount of genetic diversity that can be tapped to develop new hybrid parents for B. napus.
The introgression of genetic diversity from allied species is no easy task. For example, the use of B. oleracea, an allied, diploid species that includes common vegetables such as cabbage, kale and cauliflower, creates a challenge for canola breeding programs. It is very difficult to obtain a hybrid plant from crossing this species with B. napus and develop a B. napus canola plant from the progeny of this interspecific hybrid. Furthermore, B. oleracea species contain many undesirable traits for canola, such as high levels of erucic acid and glucosinolates in seeds.
To shed undesirable traits while bringing in necessary genetic diversity, Rahman and his team must run multiple breeding cycles, each cycle running for at least five years, before achieving good hybrid parents.
Ultimately, hybrid parents developed in the program will exhibit good agronomic qualities, including yield, as well as resistance to clubroot and blackleg. “We’re maintaining the agronomic standards and increasing the yield,” Rahman says.
“We are integrating genetic diversity from allied species to make parents for good hybrids – in other words, trying to develop better parents for better hybrids,” he says. “It’s a long-term project, because we improve it step by step.”
The next step for Rahman’s program will be entry into the second cycle of breeding, in which the genes from B. oleracea will be retained. “Then we’ll test the parents to make better hybrids,” Rahman says. “We’re generating thousands of lines and we have to identify which one gives the high yield advantage. We also have to identify which regions of the chromosomes carries the genes to give high yield in hybrids.”
It may be eight to 10 years before the long-term project is concluded, but in the meantime, Rahman’s program is already bearing fruit.
CPS’ partnership with the University of Alberta’s canola breeding programs goes back at least 20 years, but in 2010 a joint breeding program was established. Through the program, Rahman delivers strong inbreds to CPS, which develops hybrids using the new genetic material.
As a direct result of this collaboration, CPS has already created products designed to meet immediate needs in the industry, such as clubroot resistance. The company has submitted a registration application for a new clubroot-resistant variety that will become available in introduction quantities for the 2016 planting season under the Proven Seed brand.
CPS is Canada’s largest canola seed retailer, and it also maintains its own in-house breeding institution located in Saskatoon, Sask. “Overall our program has all of the essential elements of canola breeding to produce hybrids for the western Canadian market,” says Andy Andrahennadi, senior hybrid breeder with CPS Canada. “We have a program in Australia as well, and through that we’ve been able to access valuable germplasm specifically with regard to blackleg. With regard to canola breeding in Canada, we strongly focus on yield, yield stability and disease resistance.
“Dr. Rahman’s program helps us in exploring the right genetics and other traits that we cannot spend the time to focus on, so it’s really complementary to our program,” Andrahennadi adds.
Alan Grombacher, senior inbred development breeder with CPS Canada, says the two programs have complementary “synergies,” with Rahman’s focus on development of germplasm and inbred work meshing well with CPS’ work in hybrid development. “It gives us a really wide range of genetic material that allows us to create strong hybrids, as well as the ability to be timely and address disease situations like clubroot,” he says.
The company’s strategy for developing varieties resistant to clubroot involves a multi-gene approach. With the help of Rahman’s raw materials, CPS has developed hybrids with resistance to clubroot pathotype 5x, as well as pathotypes 2, 3, 5, 6 and 8.
“The relationship with the University of Alberta is at a stage where there is lots of material coming through the system,” Grombacher says. “In the early years we were building the program and getting it rolling. But once you get to a certain point, your pipeline is full and you start producing lots of material.”
First, the bad news. The spread of Ug99 (a lineage of wheat stem rust) across eastern Africa and western Asia is slow but steady, and new strains continue to appear. There is general consensus that Ug99 will eventually arrive in North America. “In addition,” says Tom Fetch Jr., “a resistance gene that was effective against Ug99 and most other races of stem rust called SrTmp, which has been widely used in winter wheat breeding and some spring wheat breeding, has recently lost its efficacy.”
With this information in hand, you will likely agree that efforts to breed new resistant varieties by Fetch, an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) crop pathologist and Canada’s leading stem rust expert, and his colleagues at home and around the world continue to be very important.
Ug99 stem rust was discovered in Uganda in 1999 (hence the name Ug99) and is now present in 13 countries, with Rwanda and Egypt being the newest ones in which it’s been detected. Three new strains have appeared over the last few years, which brings the current total to 10. The disease is characterized by the presence of brick red, elongated, blister-like pustules that often lead to the death of the plant. Towards the end of the growing season, black spores are produced which overwinter and later can infect the alternate host (barberry shrub) in the spring. It’s estimated that 80 to 90 per cent of global wheat varieties are susceptible to the Ug99 strains. The strains are unique in their ability to attack the Sr31 gene, which was the only one protecting many of the world’s wheat cultivars.
The good news, Fetch notes, is that he and his colleagues at the AAFC Cereal Research Centre understand the disease quite well and are achieving success using genes in combination to create multi-gene stacks of resistance. Indeed, over the years, AAFC has invested over $14 million to develop new resistant wheat varieties and fund other related Ug99 work. “We’ve identified three new genes, we’re identifying molecular markers, and we’re examining other sources of resistance,” Fetch explains. “We also receive isolates from Kenya and Eritrea and test them to see whether it’s a new Ug99 strain or something else.”
The two Canadian varieties with the best resistance were AC Cadillac and Peace, but AAFC has just released a new registered cultivar called AAC Tenacious. “It has a good resistance complement, a two-gene stack, with one providing what’s called ‘seedling’ or ‘all-plant’ resistance that works throughout the life of the plant,” Fetch explains. “The other gene provides ‘adult plant’ resistance, which is not effective at the seedling stage but begins working at later stages of the plant. The genes work in tandem to restrict the size of the rust infection. The pustules will be smaller and spore production will be lessened so that the plant can tolerate Ug99 infection and still produce seed.” He notes that AAC Tenacious also has good Fusarium head blight (FHB) resistance and says that wheat breeders can use it as a dual source of both stem rust and FHB resistance.
It is expected that more varieties with this two-gene resistance stack will be released by AAFC in the near future. “As with most crop breeding, it’s a multi-year process,” Fetch notes. “For several years before he recently retired, Dr. Doug Brown at AAFC in Winnipeg developed many crosses with the ‘Cadillac’ resistance to Ug99, so a lot of his work will bear fruit in the coming years.”
Over the years, AAFC has also sent seed of resistant Canadian varieties to wheat breeders in the United States and at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico, so that breeders there can develop improved local varieties in affected areas and areas most at risk of spread. “Many fungal pathogens affect wheat, but stem rust is really dangerous and can cause 100 per cent losses in wheat over a short period of time,” Fetch explains. “In affected areas of Africa such as Kenya, where there is family subsistence-level farming, it can be devastating.”
Wind is the most common cause of Ug99 dissemination. The spores are picked up and blown long distances, causing the disease to move incrementally across adjacent countries and has been documented to traverse oceans. “If it gets to China, that would be very concerning,” Fetch notes. “We know there have been events where dust particles have blown across from China to North America, and a rust spore is equal to or even lighter in weight compared to these particles.” There is also another way Ug99 could turn up in North America – and that’s through human transfer. “Rust spores can be transported on clothes,” Fetch says. “This is how stripe rust was introduced into Australia. We don’t know how likely it is or how soon Ug99 could be introduced into North America in this manner, but the more Ug99 spreads, the greater the chance that someone – or wind currents – could bring it over here.”
Iran is of particular concern in terms of Ug99’s spread, because of a common native shrub called the barberry which is susceptible to stem rust. Ug99 normally reproduces asexually, releasing billions of spores that are mostly clonal, although mutation to new strains occurs frequently. However, if the barberry bush gets infected, sexual reproduction of Ug99 with other stem rust strains already present can occur. This allows genetic recombination of virulence genes from both parents, with the possible development of offspring with different traits than either parent and a high potential for new virulent strains to appear. Fetch has recently begun collaborating with scientists Marcia Chavez and Jose Martinelli in Brazil, as barberry is native to that country as well. They have just begun identifying the types of rust that infect barberry there.
Stem rust has been uncommon in wheat and barley in Canada for over 60 years, because wheat breeders and pathologists have ensured varieties with good resistance were produced. Albert Tenuta, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) field crop pathologist, stresses that although a lot of attention is put on Ug99, there is also the possibility that a new stem rust race could develop here in North America.
Having said that, Tenuta and Fetch are both hopeful as a great deal of breeding work is being done. There also are new fungicides always being developed which are very effective against not only stem rust, but other cereal rusts such as stripe and leaf rust. “However, we need to be vigilant,” Tenuta says. “We now have two generations of growers that haven’t seen stem rust, but we do talk about it in presentations on other invasive species, so hopefully some awareness is there. We are covering our bases from both a monitoring and surveillance perspective – in collaboration with AAFC and the wheat industry – and taking proactive measures.”
On June 19, 2015, Canada formally ratified the 1991 Act of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV 91), following an amendment to its Plant Breeders’ Rights Act (PBRA) with Bill C-18 (the Agricultural Growth Act) in February.
Bill C-18 was designed to reduce regulatory red tape and ease restrictions on private investors in the sector.
“Canada is now recognized internationally as having a UPOV 91 compliant PBRA,” says Denis Schryburt, acting manager of the media relations office at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). “Most UPOV members are already meeting UPOV 91 requirements, including many of our key trading partners, such as Australia, the European Union, Japan, South Korea and the United States.”
Canada has been a member of UPOV, or the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, since 1991. UPOV’s stated mission is to “provide and promote an effective system of plant variety protection, with the aim of encouraging the development of new varieties of plants, for the benefit of society.” Since its formation in 1961, UPOV’s system of plant variety protection has undergone three revisions – in 1972, 1978 and 1991.
As Canada’s first Plant Breeders’ Rights Act was established in 1990, it was based upon the 1978 UPOV Convention.
According to Schryburt, the revised PBRA extends greater protection to plant breeders and encourages innovations in variety development. Specific changes to the Act include an extension of the duration of protection of new varieties from 18 to 20 years, an allowance for breeders to sell a variety in Canada for a year before applying for PBR protection in order to “test the market, advertise, or increase stock.”
Another change provides automatic provisional protection for a new variety from the date of filing, which allows applicants to claim rights to the variety while applications’ “grant of rights” are pending. The existing system allows for the propagation of material intended for sale, and for the sale of that material, but in the new PBRA, plant breeders may also reproduce, import, export, condition and stock for the purposes of propagating seed intended for sale.
Some media buzz has lingered on another element of the revised PBRA relating to the “Farmers’ Privilege,” an exemption to the breeder’s right that allows farmers to save, store, condition and reuse seed of a PBR-protected variety. However, a provision in the PBRA prohibits “brown bag seed” – or the illegal sale or purchase of protected varieties without permission from rights holders. “Selling brown bag seed was an infringement under the old PBRA, and it will continue to be so under the revised PBRA,” Schryburt explains. “Revisions to the Act also may allow breeders to exercise rights on harvested material such as grain, resulting from brown bag seed.”
Growing the cereal industry
UPOV 91 has opened new avenues for growth in the Canadian seed industry. This July, Canada’s Canterra Seeds and international agricultural cooperative Limagrain announced a new cereal breeding partnership in Canada, an arrangement made possible by the passing of Bill C-18.
The new partnership, Limagrain Cereals Research Canada, will develop new cereals varieties, with a focus on wheat, from its Saskatoon, Sask. base.
But other changes are happening at the grassroots level. According to Brent VanKoughnet, executive director of the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers’ Association (MWBGA), the updates to Canada’s system have laid the groundwork for discussions about the producers’ role in the future of cereals breeding in Canada – a conversation cereal producer organizations have begun.
In December of 2014, all eight Western Canada wheat and barley check-off based producer organizations gathered to begin to explore options for producer involvement in wheat and barley innovation. With financial and facilitation assistance from Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF), a working group was formed.
This February, the Working Group issued a Request for Proposals, with the goal of studying options for a new or revised Canadian wheat and barley breeding approach that offers producers a distinct role and protects and preserves producers’ interests.
VanKoughnet says producers likely have a range of choices – from propping up the existing public cereals research system, to taking a much greater leadership role in developing and/or participating in public/private partnership models. Currently, revenues from selling Certified seed do not adequately provide a return for any outside investors, leaving the cereals industry vulnerable to taxpayer funding and the federal government of the day. “No private investor can currently find a way to justify a significant investment in wheat breeding in Canada, because there isn’t an adequate value capture mechanism,” he says.
“Producers can benefit from many motivated players in the game, competing with the best innovation. How do we keep as many of the bright minds as possible, public and private, interested and engaged to fight like heck to put the best varieties in front of producers?”
At this early stage, VanKoughnet says there is no obligation that all the participants come to an agreement about what the ideal model looks like.
One thing is clear, however – VanKoughnet says every producer group he’s talked to has expressed the need to sustain and strengthen public research. “Nobody sees a logical and long-term sustainable way to stay competitive in cereals without a strong public research capacity,” he says. “Everyone sees the benefit of a strong public system and varying degrees of private-producer and public partnerships.”
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National Invasive Species ForumTue Feb 28, 2017
AgExpoWed Mar 01, 2017
Central Ontario Agriculture Conference Fri Mar 03, 2017
National Farmers Union - Ontario ConventionFri Mar 03, 2017
Re-Tooling the Diagnostic Toolbox Soils and Crops 2017Mon Mar 06, 2017