DNA Testing — A Powerful Tool for Growers Straight From the Lab

by | May 1, 2023 | Seed Testing

Over the past few years, bacterial leaf streak has become a growing concern across the Prairies. Until recently, there was no test for this disease, so it was something we had to monitor closely. However, with the help of Alberta Agriculture and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), we were able to develop a molecular test for it.

The disease spreads quickly under ideal conditions and has been known to cause significant yield losses because it affects photosynthesis on the leaves due to a yellow streak that follows the veins in the leaf.

I am working with Kelly Turkington at AAFC to understand more about this disease and how this test can be used. Initially, we did a soft launch with this test and received about 200 samples.

There’s still little known about how to manage this disease, so we decided to do some experimental work to determine the actual DNA test and find out the threshold that would cause significant yield losses. We will take samples from our clients with various levels of infection. It’s only through DNA testing that we can identify the pathogen, as it can’t be identified on a plate.

At this early stage, the team has been able to determine the levels of the disease, ranging from non-detected to high risk. Most of the samples come back as low to moderate risk. It’s worth noting that the seed that came off last year is likely still infected, as the pathogen can survive on the seed, so best management practices are recommended until the threshold for the level of disease is better understood.

DNA Tests Growing in Importance

This test, and others, showcase DNA testing as an incredibly sensitive, accurate, and fast tool that producers can rely on for timely results.

Incorporating DNA testing into the laboratory has been a game-changer in terms of monitoring and managing the genetic makeup of certain plant varieties, such as the Sm1 gene for midge tolerance. Using DNA tests, we can quickly detect any changes in the level of refuge needed and monitor any movements within the variety.

DNA plays an important role in managing soybean cyst nematode, which we anticipate seeing in southern Manitoba soon. The 20/20 Seed Labs tests can detect the nematode at any stage of its life cycle, from egg to cyst.

Weeds are an ongoing challenge we face as an industry, and one of concern is Palmer amaranth, which is herbicide-resistant and can easily be mistaken for native red root pigweed. To ensure that our samples are free from Palmer amaranth, we use DNA testing to identify any suspected cases.

Seed, soil and plant tissue testing using DNA has a wide range of applications that will have benefits to both growers and researchers. 20/20 Seed Labs has the team and the technology to keep leading in the field.

Watch/listen to our podcast below where Marc Zienkiewicz chats with me about DNA testing and the growth potential for this technology in the seed world.

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Sarah Foster

President and Senior Seed Analyst, 20/20 Seed Labs - Sarah Foster is a registered seed technologist, senior seed analyst and president of 20/20 Seed Labs — a company she started in 1989 which provides testing services for all crop kinds, including extensive quality and seed health analysis, molecular testing and accredited crop inspection. Involved in the seed industry since the late 1970s, Foster studied and qualified as an accredited seed analyst at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge, England. Her work experience includes seven years with Sharps Seed International (Advanta) in the United Kingdom, and five years with the United Grain Growers in Edmonton after immigrating to Canada in 1984.