Top Crop Manager

News Research
USask student awarded for research on ergot in cereals and forage


November 11, 2021
By University of Saskatchewan

Topics

University of Saskatchewan PhD student Jensen Cherewyk has been awarded the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship, which is awarded to the top tier of doctoral scholarship applicants and provides $35,000 a year for three years. Her research focuses on an overlooked compound formed by a toxic fungus in forage grasses and cereal grains that threatens human and animal food safety.

Ergot is a fungus (Claviceps purpurea) that proliferates during rainy, damp growing seasons and creates ergot body or sclerotia – black or dark-purple kernels – that replace the normal kernels of cereal crops such as rye, wheat and barley. Sclerotia contain ergot alkaloids, poisonous chemical compounds that have two different configurations—an S-form (S-epimer) and an R-form (R-epimer).

It’s known that R-epimers produce their toxic effect primarily through the mechanism of vasoconstriction, the narrowing of blood vessels, which slows or blocks blood flow.

Advertisement

Cherewyk’s research focuses on mechanisms of the S-epimer, which constitutes about 30 per cent of the alkaloid concentrations in affected grains. Historically this epimer hasn’t been studied closely or included in ergot standards because it was deemed not bioactive. Since R-epimers can convert to S-epimers and vice versa, it’s important to measure both, she said. |READ MORE