University of Saskatchewan scientists use genomics to address agri-food challenges

SASKATOON - Genome Canada has awarded three of its 11 projects in the national Genomics and Feeding the Future competition to innovative agri-food research led by University of Saskatchewan (U of S) scientists.

The three projects, developed with Genome Prairie, total $23.8 million. Each will use knowledge of gene make-up and functions to improve wheat, lentil and cattle production, respectively. U of S is also a co-lead on a $9.8-million Alberta-based project to improve disease resilience and sustainability in pork production. Research outcomes are expected to significantly contribute to Canada's bioeconomy and help address global food security and safety challenges.

"The outstanding success of our researchers in this competition builds on our signature area of agriculture and demonstrates that the U of S is building significant capacity in areas where national and global food security solutions are required," said Karen Chad, U of S vice-president of research. "This new knowledge is critical to help address the projected doubling of world food demand by 2050."

U of S plant scientist Curtis Pozniak and National Research Council of Canada scientist Andrew Sharpe have been awarded $8.5 million to develop innovative genomic tools to support wheat breeding. Working with a team of scientists from across Canada, they will investigate how breeders can make greater use of untapped genetic variation and more efficiently select for desired characteristics such as yield, disease and pest resistance, and heat and drought stress resilience. The end result will be more productive, profitable and environmentally sustainable wheat varieties for farmers.

The project, also funded by the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF), is part of an international collaboration of more than 1,000 scientists worldwide, co-led by Pozniak to sequence the entire wheat genome—which is five times larger than the human genome. In Canada, wheat sales and value-added processing represent a more than $11-billion-a-year contribution the nation's economy.

With funding from both Genome Prairie and WGRF, U of S plant scientists Kirstin Bett and Bert Vandenberg will head a $7.9-million project to determine the genetics underlying the ability of lentils—a popular food crop worldwide—to grow in different environments around the world. They also plan to build a strategy to increase Canadian lentil production by three per cent annually, which equates to a $550-million increase in Canadian export revenues by 2025. Canada is the world's largest producer and exporter of lentils, in large part due to new, well-adapted lentil varieties developed over the past 25 years at the U of S.

Andrew Potter, director of the U of S VIDO-InterVac, will co-lead a $7.4-million project with British Columbia colleague Robert Hancock to develop vaccines against two infectious diseases in cattle—Johne's disease and bovine tuberculosis, a debilitating disease that can spread to humans and other domestic and wild animals. The research will involve using genomic technology to identify proteins that can stimulate an immune response to the diseases in cattle. There will also be a new diagnostic developed that will differentiate vaccinated from infected animals. The researchers plan to develop and bring to market vaccines for these costly diseases within two years' of the project's end.

With an eye to increasing the international competitiveness of Canada's pork industry, John Harding, professor of swine production medicine at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, will co-lead a project with Alberta colleagues that will create genomics tools to select pigs that are more tolerant of, or resistant to, multiple diseases. Those tools will also allow producers to manage the nutritional content of feed to optimize pig's health, resulting in reduced use of antibiotics.

The projects were announced today at the U of S by federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz as part of a national announcement of $93 million in research funding: $30.8 million of federal funding through Genome Canada; $5 million from WGRF towards three projects; and the balance from project co-funders including the Saskatchewan government through its Agriculture Development Fund.


For more information, contact:
James Shewaga
Media Relations Specialist
University of Saskatchewan
(306) 966-1851
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