U of S Researchers Help Lead Wheat Genome Sequencing Breakthrough


Curtis Pozniak

An international consortium of scientists co-led by the University of Saskatchewan has been able to crack the code for understanding the order of about 90 per cent of the highly complex genome of bread wheat, the most widely grown cereal in the world.

“This new wheat genome sequence is an important contribution to understanding the genetic blueprint of one of the world’s most important crops,” said Curtis Pozniak, a plant scientist with the U of S Crop Development Centre in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources. “It will provide wheat researchers with an exciting new resource to identify the most influential genes for wheat adaptation, stress response, pest resistance and improved yield.”

A combination of advanced software, computer programming and bioinformatics tools enabled the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) to use existing sequencing technologies to look at virtually the entire wheat genome. This will complement existing IWGSC strategies that are studying one chromosome at a time.

The consortium expects to have the complete picture of the wheat genome puzzle (17 billion base pairs)—with a clear idea of how the genes are ordered—within two years’ time. Given that the wheat genome is five times the size of the human genome, previous estimates suggested this work would take four or five more years.

“The computational tools developed by NRGene, which use Illumina’s sequence data,  combined with the sequencing expertise of IWGSC has generated a version of the wheat genome sequence that is better ordered than anything we have seen to date.  We are starting to get a better idea of the complex puzzle that is the wheat genome,” said Pozniak.

The result will be much greater precision in the breeding process.

“Imagine that you have a blueprint for the order of important pieces of the wheat genome puzzle. With that information, it becomes far easier to assemble the puzzle more quickly into new and improved varieties,” said Pozniak. “But this sequence is just the first step. There is still much work to do to define the function of each of the genetic pieces so that breeders can identify the very best genes in the gene pool.”

Though the work was done on just one variety of bread wheat (Chinese Spring), the new knowledge will serve as the backbone to unlock the genetic blueprint for traits in other varieties as well, significantly accelerating global research into crop improvement, he said.

Nils Stein of IPK Gatersleben in Germany said the new sequence represents “a major breakthrough” for the consortium’s efforts to deliver an ordered sequence for each of the 21 bread wheat chromosomes.

Co-ordinated by the IWGSC, the project uses Israel-based NRGene’s DeNovoMAGICTM software with Illumina’s sequencing technology.

The public-private collaborative project is co-led by Stein, Pozniak, Andrew Sharpe of the Global Institute for Food Security at the U of S, and Jesse Poland of Kansas State University. Other project participants include Tel Aviv University in Israel and the French National Institute for Agricultural Research.

Funding was provided by Genome Canada, Genome Prairie, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commissions and the Western Grains Research Foundation through the Canadian Triticum Applied Genomics (CTAG2) project; Kansas State University through the U.S. National Science Foundation Plant Genome Research Program; and Illumina, Inc.

IWGSC Executive Director Kellye Eversole said the preliminary results are impressive and will complement existing genomic information the consortium has gathered over the past decade. Making available the ordered sequence for each wheat chromosome that precisely locates genes and genetic markers along the chromosomes will provide invaluable tools for wheat breeders, she said.

Results of this new approach will be presented at workshops at the Plant and Animal Genome Conference taking place in San Diego from Jan. 9 to 13. All data will be available in the IWGSC wheat sequence repository at URGI-INRA.

Wheat is the staple food for more than a third of the global human population. As the global population grows, so too does its dependence on wheat. To meet future demands of a projected world population of 9.6 billion by 2050, wheat productivity needs to increase by 1.6 per cent each year. Saskatchewan supplies 10 per cent of the world’s total exported wheat and is Canada’s most important grain-producing region.

Word to the Wise: Don’t Mix Canola and Sugar Beet in Your Rotations


With a solid sugar beet industry, Taber, Alta., and the surrounding area is home to more than 200 sugar beet producers. Sugar beet cyst nematode is controlled mainly by crop rotation in southern Alberta, which seems to hold population numbers at a low level that is non-damaging to crops, says the University of Manitoba’s Mario Tenuta, Canada research chair in applied soil ecology. However, he warns throwing one crop into the mix could be detrimental.

“Sugar beet cyst nematode can thrive on canola, another mustard family crop. The key thing here is that growers don’t mix canola and sugar beet in their rotations,” he says.

Meanwhile, with the threat of cereal cyst nematode heading north from Montana into Alberta, wheat producers should pay close attention to one cereal crop in particular, says Tenuta. “Winter wheat tends to be a bit more susceptible [to CCN] because it is growing in the fall, and roots are establishing and present in the soil a bit longer. The nematode can complete generations and establish earlier the preceding year,” he says.

—Kari Belanger

Plant Breeding 101


The process of plant breeding can be a long and complicated one, but we talk to three experts who boil it all down.


Syngenta Launches Apron Maxx with Intego Co-pack Targeting Root Rot in Pulses


Field of cicer arietinum l

Syngenta Canada launches a new co-pack, Apron Maxx with Intego, for western Canadian pulse growers looking to control seed and soil-borne diseases including Fusarium, Pythium and Rhizoctonia and address growing concerns posed by Aphanomyces root rot.

Aphanomyces (Aphanomyces euteiches) is a soil-borne root rot pathogen that primarily affects field peas, chickpeas, dry bean and lentils. The pathogen thrives in wet, waterlogged soils and produces spores that choke off root systems and reduce the plant’s ability to take up water and nutrients. Due to a number of factors, such as cool, wet weather over the past few years, researchers have indicated that Aphanomyces pressure has increased across the Prairies.

“The Apron Maxx with Intego co-pack recognizes the growing concern around Aphanomyces among pulse growers,” says Nathan Klages, Product Lead, Seedcare and Inoculants, with Syngenta Canada. “Through this new, convenient offering, we’re addressing the need for management tools for Aphanomyces together with a broad spectrum disease control program as part of a complete pulse Seedcare product.”

Apron Maxx is a combination of Fludioxinil (Group 4) and Metalaxyl-M (Group 12) fungicides. These active ingredients control seed rot, pre-emergence damping off and post-emergence damping off caused by Fusarium, Pythium and Rhizoctonia. Apron Maxx also helps to control seed rot and seedling blight caused by seed-borne Botrytis.

Intego (ethaboxam) is a Group 22 fungicide that also controls Pythium, while providing suppression of Aphanomyces root rot, as well as root rot caused by Phytophthora.

Apron Maxx with Intego will be packaged as two 10 L jugs of Apron Maxx with two 605 mL containers of Intego.

Apron Maxx with Intego will be available for sale for the 2016 planting season.

Podcast: Cropping Alternatives 2016 Available


Alberta Agriculture has just released the Cropping Alternatives tool for 2016. In this short podcast, Rawlin Thangaraj, a crops economist with Alberta Agriculture, updates growers on the new version of the software based crop budgeting tool.

Go here to listen: http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$Department/newslett.nsf/all/cotl24619/$FILE/16_03_Rawlin_Thangaraj.mp3

Alberta Had Most Honeybee Colonies in Canada in 2015


New numbers from Statistics Canada confirm Alberta as the top honey producing province in Canada.

“Alberta produced 42.8 million pounds in 2015, which up 20.4 per cent from 35.5 million pounds in 2014,” says Medhat Nasr, provincial apiculturist, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, Edmonton. “As well, yields rose from 125 pounds to 145 pounds per colony.”

Nasr says Alberta was also the top province for bee colony numbers in 2015 with over 295,000 colonies. “Winter mortality was also the lowest in the past 15 years, at about 10 per cent. That compares to the national average of a 16 per cent loss and the American average of 23 per cent.”

Farm cash receipts from honey sales in Alberta are approximately $75 million per year, in addition to $12 million per year from pollination service fees. The market value of honey bee contributions to the pollination of pedigree hybrid canola and canola crop production is estimated to be $650 million per year in Alberta.

Canadian beekeepers produced 95.3 million pounds of honey in 2015, up 11.4% from 2014. There were 8,533 beekeepers in 2015, 365 less than in 2014.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Production of honey
Production of honey

Chart 1: Production of honey

The total value of honey rose 10.9% from 2014 to $232.0 million as a result of increased production. The average price of honey was stable at $2.43 per pound.

On average, each colony had a yield of 132 pounds of honey, 9 pounds more than in 2014.

The number of colonies rose 3.6% from 696,252 to 721,106. This increase was attributable to favourable weather conditions that reduced winter losses, particularly in the Prairie provinces.

In Saskatchewan, honey production increased from 16.5 million pounds in 2014 to 18.8 million pounds in 2015, as a result of more colonies and higher yields.

In Manitoba, although yields were lower, production rose from 14.1 million pounds in 2014 to 16.0 million pounds. This increase was attributable to more honey-producing colonies in the province in 2015.