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New Canola Research Targets Increased Yield and Profitability

By Jean-Paul McDonald

New research led by the University of Alberta aims to enhance the yield and profitability of canola, a vital cash crop in Canada. By delving into the genetic makeup of broccoli and cabbage, scientists hope to broaden the genetic diversity of canola, thereby improving its resilience and productivity.

Led by plant scientist Habibur Rahman, the research team is focusing on identifying key genes from a variety of Brassica oleracea species, including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale. These genes will be instrumental in breeding new lines of canola that can produce hybrid cultivars with higher seed yield, a crucial factor in the profitability of the crop.

Canola is a cornerstone of the Canadian economy, contributing approximately $29.9 billion annually and serving as a significant global export, with revenues totaling $14.4 billion each year. The majority of canola is cultivated in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, with hybrid cultivars dominating over 95% of the Canadian crop.

By leveraging genes associated with traits like early flowering and high oil content found in Brassica oleracea species, researchers aim to fortify these traits in hybrid canola varieties. Given that the oil extracted from canola seeds is its most valuable product, increasing seed yield directly impacts oil production, making it a pivotal aspect of crop profitability.

Rahman's past research has laid the groundwork for this endeavor, demonstrating the potential of Brassica oleracea genes in enhancing traits essential for successful canola cultivars. With support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grant program, Rahman's team is poised to further explore the genetic underpinnings of seed yield in canola.

Collaborating with Bayer Crop Science, Rahman and his team will develop and test hundreds of canola hybrids in field trials across the Prairie provinces. These trials will assess various traits, including seed yield, days to flowering, maturity, disease resistance, and oil content. Through genetic and statistical analyses, researchers aim to identify the specific genes or chromosome regions within Brassica oleracea that contribute to high seed yield in canola.

The resulting canola lines are anticipated to exhibit fewer undesirable traits inherited from Brassica oleracea vegetables while yielding better hybrids with enhanced traits. This continuous breeding effort seeks to maintain the favorable genes in new canola lines to ensure higher yield and other positive characteristics.

Once proven effective, the improved genetic material and insights gained from the research will support long-term efforts by Bayer Crop Science and other breeders to develop new commercial hybrids. Although developing superior hybrid canola cultivars is a time-intensive process, the genetic research being conducted is crucial for sustaining the profitability of this crop at the farm level.

The University of Alberta's collaboration with Bayer Crop Science on this project is further bolstered by support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Alliance Advantage Grant, highlighting the significance of public-private partnerships in advancing agricultural innovation.

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