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Canadian Effort Will Bring New Tools for Crop Breeding

By January 22, 2018No Comments

Rapid population growth, a changing climate, and increasing constraints on land, water, and nutrients threaten global food security. Canada must dramatically expand agricultural production to meet increased demand and to offset predicted declines in crop yields in tropical and subtropical countries. This will require that plant breeding be accelerated in Canada, with the goal of developing high yielding, climate-adapted and “planet friendly” varieties.

Currently crop genomic data are rapidly growing in quantity but the ability of crop breeders to easily utilize the data for the benefit of developing new crop varieties is lagging. DivSeek is an international initiative that aims to accelerate plant breeding by leveraging the genetic diversity in the world’s live collections and seed banks (“genebanks”). To be effective, a unified, coordinated and cohesive database is necessary to allow breeders and farmers to access this important information.

Genome Canada, Genome British Columbia and Genome Prairie are collaborating to support the development of an online DivSeek Canada bioinformatics resource on Compute Canada’s state-of-the-art advanced research computing system.

“This investment holds international significance and is the culmination of years of collaboration,” says Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President, Sectors, at Genome BC. “DivSeek Canada will ensure that these resources are available and accessible so that people from around the world can make use of this information to develop better and more resilient crops.”

Led by the University of British Columbia’s Dr. Loren Rieseberg, and involving a team with members from BC, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, the project will deliver integrated, user-friendly tools tailored to the sunflower, flax and lentil breeding communities initially as a demonstration, that can then be extended in the future to other Canadian crops with significant genomic resources.

“The value of this project for the Canadian agricultural industry cannot be underestimated. The project will develop key resources needed by Canadian crop breeders and farmers,” said Marc LePage, Genome Canada’s President and CEO.

“This investment in the Canadian team is intended to trigger additional international support for coordinated efforts that will facilitate equitable global access and benefit sharing of digital sequence information,” said Genome Prairie President and CEO Dr. Reno Pontarollo.

This collaboration is valued at close to $800,000 and was funded through Genome Canada’s Emerging Issues Program. Genome BC and the Global Institute for Food Security have provided substantial funding along with other partners.