News

27 Jan, 2021

NewsGlobal Institute for Food Security at USask awarded over $330,000 to provide missing genetic information for key forage crop

The Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) has received a $331,870 grant from Saskatchewan’s Agricultural Development Fund (ADF) for a project to help unlock key genetic information for bromegrass, an essential forage crop for cattle.

The project, led by GIFS Director of Genomics and Bioinformatics Andrew Sharpe (PhD), has also received support from the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association (SCA) and the Saskatchewan Forage Seed Development Commission (SFSDC).

The knowledge produced by the project will allow breeders to select the most nutritious and resilient varieties of bromegrass that will extend pasture productivity, produce the largest yield and improve sustainability through an increase in the capture of carbon.

“The genomic resources that are available for other crops are currently not available for bromegrass, and that has a direct impact on the ability of breeders to improve the crop,” said Sharpe. “Our goal is to build a catalogue of genetic information that will allow breeders to be efficient in their targeting of desired traits and provide a boost to the beef industry.”

Genetic improvements to bromegrass have long been hampered by the size and complexity of its genome as well as the lack of efficient sequencing tools – equipment used to determine the order of a DNA’s chemical molecules. Capitalizing on advances in long-read sequencing technology, the project will produce a catalogue of genetic variation for the crop.

To achieve these goals, the bromegrass project will use next generation sequencing platform technologies from GIFS’ newly-launched Omics and Precision Agriculture Laboratory (OPAL), including the Oxford Nanopore PromethION and the Illumina short-read platform. OPAL, founded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the National Research Council of Canada and USask, with a strategic investment from Western Economic Diversification Canada, is a state-of-the-art facility that provides combined genomics, phenomics and bioinformatics services for the agriculture and food sectors.

“We’re excited to put the cutting-edge technology available through OPAL to work on a project that will have an impact on the future of bromegrass breeding and ultimately the livestock industry,” said GIFS Chief Executive Officer Steven Webb (PhD).

“OPAL is committed to advancing accelerated crop breeding and increasing efficiency for the agriculture and food sectors, aligning with GIFS’ mission that includes delivering innovative solutions for the production of globally sustainable food. This research is just one way we are seeking to achieve this mission.”

The findings of the research will be incorporated into breeding programs led by project co-investigator Bill Biligetu (PhD) at the Canadian Crop Development Centre (CDC) at USask to assist in speeding up the bromegrass variety development focused on better yield, abiotic (environmental) stress tolerance and higher quality.

In addition to his role as GIFS’ Director of Genomics and Bioinformatics, Sharpe is the director of the Plant Phenotyping and Imaging Research Centre (P2IRC) at USask, a digital agricultural research centre funded by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) and managed by GIFS on behalf of the university. He received his BSc (Hons) in Biological Sciences from the University of Leicester in 1988 and his PhD in Plant Genetics from the University of East Anglia in 1997, while working at the John Innes Centre in the United Kingdom. He brings significant experience in plant genetics and genomics to P2IRC and GIFS from his careers as a senior research officer at the National Research Council of Canada and at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research centre in Saskatoon.

The Agriculture Development Fund program is supported through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a five-year, $388 million investment in strategic initiatives for Saskatchewan agriculture by the federal and provincial governments.