Science Edition - Ongoing Projects

CAP Update: Sustainable, reliable supply for a changing world

The Canola AgriScience Cluster is a partnership between Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the canola industry under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership. Over a five-year period, this initiative will invest $20 million in research aimed at sustainably growing the canola industry. This includes the following 16 projects to optimize yield and quality, improve nutrient and water use efficiency, and enhance integrated pest management practices. These projects were initiated in 2018.

Manipulating agronomic factors for optimum canola harvest timing, productivity, and crop sequencing

Principal investigators: Brian Beres, AAFC Lethbridge

Purpose: Objectives for this project are to (1) understand how manipulations to seeding density, hybrid maturity rating, and swath/straight-cut timing alter crop yield and quality, (2) refine best practices in relation to the determination of optimal swath/straight-cut timing as plant density changes and as subsequent changes to canopy architecture, whole plant moisture, seed colour and moisture changes occur, (3) determine how the integration of seeding density, cultivar selection and harvest management system influence canola canopy architecture (pods and branches per plant and per unit area, for example), and (4) provide an economic analysis for low versus high seeding density systems, and straight-cut versus swathing scenarios.

Enhancing yield and biomass in canola by modifying carbohydrate metabolism

Principal investigator: Michael Emes, University of Guelph

Purpose: In a previous study, when the Arabidopsis endogenous leaf starch branching enzymes (SBEs) were replaced with maize endosperm homologues ZmSBEI or ZmSBEIIb, the Arabidopsis plants demonstrated significant increases in starch biosynthesis and a dramatic increase in seed production. The result was a 250 per cent increase in total seed oil produced per plant. This project will conduct lab research to see if the corn genes could provide a yield benefit for Brassica napus plants.

Weeding out secondary dormancy potential from volunteer canola

Principal investigator: Sally Vail, AAFC Saskatoon

Purpose: Volunteer canola is becoming an ever-increasing problem. Secondary dormancy, which allows for shed canola seed to remain viable for years in the soil, is a heritable trait that can be selected against in breeding programs. This study will look for the genomic regions harbouring the genes controlling secondary dormancy in Brassica napus, to identify molecular markers to facilitate selection. Once these markers are identified, the project will scan B. napus lines for lower secondary dormancy, perhaps identifying parent lines that are less likely to become volunteer canola plants in the future.

Advancing the functional, nutritional and economic value of protein in Canada

Principal investigator: Robert Duncan, University of Manitoba

Purpose: Brassica napus varieties with enhanced protein and nutritional qualities could revolutionize meal utilization and functionality in Canada. Objectives of this study are to (1) screen several Brassica populations for diversity of protein quality and digestibility, and (2) map the genes responsible for protein quality and digestibility. It will also (3) compare conventional, cold pressing and modified processing methods for their impact on protein quality and digestibility.

Improving nitrogen use efficiency and soil sustainability in canola production across Canada

Principal investigator: Bao-Luo Ma, AAFC Ottawa

Purpose: This project will address four objectives: (1) Assess agronomic and economic responses of canola crop to nitrogen (N) fertilizer management in terms of nitrogen use efficiency (NUE), seed yield and crop standability; (2) improve NUE, crop productivity and lodging resistance of canola plants through best N management practices under different soil and cropping system conditions; (3) identify root architecture traits for efficient N acquisition, high NUE and strong anchorage strength; and (4) investigate the taxonomic and functional response of the soil microbiome to N management in terms of soil sustainability and N cycling.

Making of a more sustainable canola: Using genetic diversity to improve nitrogen use efficiency

Principal investigator: Sally Vail, AAFC Saskatoon

Purpose: Nitrogen is usually the biggest input cost for canola production, yet very little is known about N uptake and utilization in Brassica napus plants, especially for the spring type. This research project will advance the Canadian body of understanding using two main experiments – one under controlled conditions and one with a multi-environment field trials – to characterize whole-plant architectural characteristics and N-partitioning patterns of a diverse collection of B. napus. Data generated through these experiments will be used to test potential screening methodology and new rhizosphere N-cycling related traits. Discovery of natural variation within B. napus will be linked back to the agronomic management discoveries in Bao-Luo Ma’s project noted above.

Feasibility of using Trichomalus perfectus for biological control of cabbage seedpod weevil in the Prairies

Principal investigator: Héctor Cárcamo, AAFC Lethbridge

Purpose: This study will test the benefits and risks of introducing the parasitoid wasp Trichomalus perfectus to the Prairies. This wasp provides effective parasitism of cabbage seedpod weevil in Europe and it has appeared as an adventive species in Quebec, where it can reach high levels of pest control. Objective one of this study will assess the efficacy of T. perfectus for managing seedpod weevil. This will be done in Quebec. This study will also identify potential non-target weevils and parasitoids from insect samples collected on the Prairies and from field sites in Quebec and Ontario. Finally, the study will refine a CLIMEX model to predict whether the Prairie climate will support this new wasp.

Integrated approaches for flea beetle control II: incorporating the impacts of plant density, ground predators, and landscape-scale predictive models in the management of flea beetles in the Canadian Prairies

Principal investigator: Alejandro Costamagna, University of Manitoba

Purpose: Flea beetles are one of the major pests of canola in Western Canada. Canola growers need strategies to improve the efficiency of seed treatments, and flea beetle management in general. This study will address research gaps that could improve flea beetle management. These include the effect of plant density in flea beetle management, the effect of stem feeding damage on the flea beetle control, the role of natural enemies on flea beetle management, and regional predictive models for flea beetle abundance.

Genetic resources for flea beetle resistance in canola

Principal investigator: Dwayne Hegedus and Chrystel Olivier, AAFC Saskatoon

Purpose: Given the regulatory scrutiny of neonicotinoid seed treatments, researchers are looking at alternatives, including natural plant defences. Currently, Brassica napus canola varieties have no natural resistance to flea beetles. This project builds on work begun by researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the University of Saskatchewan that identified lines of B. napus producing hairs (‘trichomes’) on their leaves and stems. These hairs deter flea beetles by disrupting their normal feeding behaviour. This project will conduct greenhouse and field trials with naturally-hairy B. napus lines, identify genes/loci responsible for hair production in Brassica species, and provide trichome-bearing lines and/or associated markers to the canola breeding community.

Improving the management of sclerotinia stem rot of canola using fungicides and better risk assessment tools

Bao-Luo Ma with AAFC Ottawa shares this close up photo of a canola stem cross-section. His study on improving nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) includes an objective to identify root architecture traits for nitrogen acquisition, NUE and anchorage strength.

Principal investigator: Kelly Turkington, AAFC Lacombe

Purpose: Sclerotinia stem rot continues to be the most damaging and difficult-to-manage disease of canola in Canada. Recent research shows that spore DNA assessment of petals (using qPCR) holds promise in stem rot risk assessment. Objectives of this project are to (1) refine the use of qPCR analysis and investigate the potential for using spore traps instead of canola petals, (2) understand the role and impact of relative humidity, rainfall, and temperature on inoculum production and disease development, (3) evaluate the efficacy of very early fungicide applications alone or in conjunction with later applications for management of stem rot, (4) develop a better understanding of factors (e.g. seeding rate) that causes variability in flowering and how this influences fungicide response at various crop growth stages, and (5) and (6) develop a better understanding of how inoculum availability and environmental conditions prior to and during the flowering period influence stem rot risk and the efficacy of different fungicide application timings.

Development of a biosensor for sclerotinia stem rot disease forecasting in canola

Principal investigator: Susie Li, InnoTech Alberta

Purpose: The goal of this project is to develop an in-field real-time sensor to monitor plant disease pathogens, specifically the sclerotinia stem rot pathogens. The sensor would notify the farmer, via cell phone, when a disease outbreak is imminent. Li and the research team have already developed a biosensor that could work, but more research is needed. Objectives of this study are to (1) transition the spore detection technology/device from a large instrument to a portable chip that can be easily applied in the field, (2) establish the correlation between disease severity (per cent petal infection) and inoculum level (number of spores in the air) under controlled and field environments, and (3) verify the technology in the field.

Protection of canola from pathogenic fungi using ribonucleic acid (RNA) interference technologies

Principal investigator: Steve Whyard, University of Manitoba

Purpose: Whyard and colleagues have found a way to use RNA interference (RNAi), which can reduce gene expression through the application of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), to reduce sclerotinia stem rot infections. Due to RNAi’s high degree of specificity, dsRNA foliar fungicides can target just the pathogenic fungus or related pathogenic fungi, and not affect beneficial species. This would reduce our reliance on broad-spectrum fungicides. The researchers have already identified and nominated sclerotinia-bioactive dsRNA molecules. Next objectives are to synthesize dsRNAs and screen for fungicidal activity and non-target effects, develop and test topical formulations for dsRNA adhesion to leaves and durability under different environmental conditions, and assess the persistence of dsRNAs in the soil.

Resistance to Sclerotinia sclerotiorum effectors in canola

Principal investigator: Dwayne Hegedus, AAFC Saskatoon

Purpose: This project will attempt to simplify the identification of Brassica napus canola lines with tolerance to sclerotinia stem rot. Researchers will characterize substances produced by the fungus that cause the characteristic brown, necrotic (dead) lesions on the plant or which compromise the ability of the plant to defend itself against attack by the fungus. These substances will be used to identify B. napus lines from collections at plant genetic resource centres to find those that are most tolerant or resistant to individual substances. Combining the resistance traits through traditional breeding will accelerate the development of canola varieties with better tolerance or resistance to stem rot.

Canadian Canola Clubroot Cluster Pillar 1: Integrated disease management

Principal investigator: Sheau-Fang Hwang, University of Alberta

Purpose: The goal of this project is to develop management practices to reduce clubroot spore populations and prevent their buildup in at-risk areas. These practices are necessary to protect genetic resistance in canola varieties. Project objectives are to (1) characterize soil properties and pathotypes in clusters where resistance has been defeated, (2) test field pre-treatment and amendment techniques, including liming under varying spore concentrations and liming field entrances prior to clubroot introduction, (3) quantify yield loss in relation to disease severity, (4) assess the effect of cultivar rotation on clubroot pathotype structure, and (5) screen clubroot-resistance canola varieties against novel clubroot pathotypes.

Canadian Canola Clubroot Cluster Pillar 2: Developing novel resistance resources and strategies to address the new threat of clubroot to canola production on the Prairies

Principal investigator: Gary Peng, AAFC Saskatoon

Purpose: The rapidly changing clubroot pathogen population presents a challenge to effective use of clubroot resistance (CR) because the single-gene resistance can be overcome quickly. Current canola cultivars have a low diversity in CR, and many newly-identified clubroot pathotypes appear to be virulent on these “resistant” cultivars. New CR genes or gene combinations, especially those with broad-based resistance, may help enhance the efficacy and durability of resistance. For this project, CR genes from existing germplasm as well as new brassica sources will be studied for novel CR resistance mechanisms and potential pyramiding/rotation options against a wide range of pathotypes, especially the predominant pathotypes.

Canadian Canola Clubroot Cluster Pillar 3: Host-pathogen biology and interaction

Principal investigator: Bruce Gossen, AAFC Saskatoon

Purpose: The explosion of new, virulent pathotypes of Plasmodiophora brassicae (the clubroot pathogen) on canola crops in Alberta indicates that producers need management options for situations where no single source of genetic resistance is available to effectively manage all of the pathotypes of clubroot in their field. The goal of this research is to develop and validate best management practices for managing clubroot in canola fields where strong genetic resistance is not available and for slowing the spread of these pathotypes into new areas. The study examines factors that affect resting spore survival, germination and infection. Sources of quantitative (non-pathotype specific or horizontal) resistance, which has not previously been studied in detail, are also being identified and assessed to determine if quantitative resistance might be used to increase the durability of genes that confer strong genetic resistance to clubroot. This study will also evaluate strategies for deployment of clubroot resistance genes, with the aim of identifying approaches that will maximize the durability of resistance.