The importance of collaboration between farmers
October 2, 2017
By Brandi Cowen
It’s been almost 15 years since the Human Genome Project was declared complete. The publicly funded research project was established in 1990, kicking off an international effort to identify and map all of the DNA sequences in the human genome by 2005.
As numerous headlines in recent years have proven, science never stops presenting new mysteries for inquiring minds to puzzle out.
In April, a global team of researchers finished sequencing the barley genome. “It makes it much easier for researchers working with barley to be focused on attainable objectives, ranging from new variety development through breeding to mechanistic studies of genes,” said Timothy Close, a professor of genetics at the University of California – Riverside, in a press release. He noted the team’s findings might also prove useful for researchers studying other cereal crops, including rice, wheat, rye, maize, millet, sorghum and oats.
That news came a little more than a year after the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium announced it had unraveled the mysteries of roughly 90 per cent of the bread wheat genome. The research was co-led by Curtis Pozniak, a plant scientist with the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre, and relied on advanced software, computer programming and bioinformatics tools to map the genome. In a press release issued at the time, Pozniak noted the discovery would “provide wheat researchers with an exciting new resource to identify the most influential genes for wheat adaptation, stress response, pest resistance and improved yield.” The full genome, which is reportedly five times the size of the human genome, could be complete by early 2018.
Other crop genomes that have been sequenced in recent years include canola, soybean, common bean, sunflower and more than 90 lines of chickpeas.
Many of these projects have involved international efforts, with research teams from several countries pooling resources to address shared problems. That’s certainly the case with the clubroot genome sequencing project, led by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Hossein Borhan in collaboration with peers in England and Poland. (Watch for more on this in a future issue of Top Crop Manager). But the important work of solving shared problems isn’t just conducted in the lab. There’s a role for farmers too – a fact proven by the success of the University of Manitoba’s Participatory Plant Breeding Program, which invites farmers to collaborate with plant scientists and breeders in the development of new crop varieties.
I encourage you to keep this spirit of collaboration in mind as you gear up for another busy winter of meetings, conferences and trade shows. What problems did you encounter this growing season and how might you – and your fellow farmers – benefit by working together to solve them?
I look forward to hearing your ideas when we cross paths at those meetings, conferences and trade shows in the months ahead.