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Researchers getting a better read on canola-destroying fungus

Canola generates about one-quarter of all farm crop receipts in Canada, so any problem is a serious threat for producers.

That includes blackleg, a fungus that's spread widely over Western Canada, and can cause serious damage to crops.

Recently, researchers completed the first large-scale resequencing of the blackleg pathogen in the world. This resequencing helps them get a good understanding of Canadian populations of blackleg.

Knowledge of the pathogen’s genetic variability and population structure is key to developing new strategies for better crop protection and improved blackleg resistance in Canadian canola crops.

With the cost of DNA sequencing rapidly dropping, AAFC Biology Study Leader (Plant Pathology) Dr. Fengqun Yu's Saskatoon-based research team was able to select 162 strains taken from Western Canada in two separate decades, giving a clearer picture than any seen before.

From their study, they found that while blackleg has relatively similar genomes throughout Saskatchewan and Alberta, Manitoba has a much greater diversity in genomes.

This can increase the complexity of crop protection strategies since so many different strains need to be dealt with in different ways.

Knowing so much more about blackleg means that producers will have better knowledge to take on problems that come up due to the fungus.

"Canola is an incredibly important crop in Canada, and blackleg is one of the biggest disease-based threats growers face. This research is really exciting," said Yu, "Because now we have the information we need to really understand the unique genetics and variations of blackleg-causing pathogen strains across Canada. Armed with this knowledge, we can develop modern disease-resistant cultivars and discover new solutions to better help growers protect their crops from this serious disease."

Yu says that she's thankful for all the help she received from the canola industry and producers during the research.

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