Canola AgriScience Cluster

Sustainable, reliable supply for a changing world

The Canola AgriScience Cluster is five-year research program funded through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) and the canola industry. Announced in 2018, this initiative will invest over $20 million in funding into six areas of research to advance two priorities of the Canadian canola industry:

  • Sustainably and profitably increasing production and quality characteristics, and
  • Differentiating and demonstrating the quality of canola products to meet new and existing customer requirements at a competitive price.

To further support the Canadian canola industry, the Canola AgriScience Cluster was amended in 2019 to include activities focused on blackleg and verticillium stripe. This amendment injects another $5 million in joint funding, comprised of nearly $3 million through AAFC’s Canadian Agricultural Partnership and $2 million from Alberta Canola and SaskCanola, towards canola research to grow a sustainable, reliable supply for a changing world.

The critical research being carried out under the Cluster program will fill knowledge gaps and lead to new innovative technologies in sustainable canola production which are expected to expand canola’s economic value and propel the industry toward our 2025 strategic goals.

Theme 1: Differentiated quality and enhanced environmental performance in food processing

Nutrigenetics, canola oil, and glucose tolerance: Does SCD1 genotype modulate a person’s response to canola oil?

Principal Investigator: David Mutch (University of Guelph)

Purpose: The long-term outcomes of nutrigenetics research are expected to lay the foundation for personalized dietary recommendations to help prevent the development of chronic diseases. Canola oil has been linked to various health benefits including improved blood lipids, reduced platelet aggregation, and increased glucose tolerance. However, not everyone experiences these benefits to the same extent. This project will investigate if the health benefits associated with canola oil are influenced by a person’s genotype, by examining if difference in the stearoyl-CoA desaturase (SCD1) gene influences blood glucose regulation following the consumption of canola oil. It is anticipated that the results of this research will help to reconcile some of the discrepancy in the scientific literature regarding the effects of canola oil on blood glucose regulation, as well as providing strong support for future whole-genome studies into how genetic variation influences the various health benefits associated with canola oil.

Novel extraction of oil and antioxidants from canola seed, and functional evaluation of oil, meal, protein & antioxidants from novel extraction in comparison to current commercial oil & meal

Research team: Martin Scanlon (University of Manitoba), John Shi (AAFC Guelph), John Lu (AAFC Lethbridge), Yachaun Zhang (AAFC Lethbridge), Jim House (University of Manitoba), Usha Thiyam (University of Manitoba), Rick Green (KeyLeaf)

Purpose: Concern about the environmental footprint of the use of organic solvents means that alternative technologies are being considered for oilseed extraction. The objective of this project is to develop innovative “green” extraction processes and technologies to produce high quality canola oil and meal protein with rich active health-promoting components while eliminating the need for solvents and high temperatures from the process. The project will examine the performance of two non-organic solvent technologies – supercritical carbon dioxide extraction and microemulsion extraction. Technical evaluation of the extraction processes and the finished products will provide guidance for further investigation and cost/benefit analyses, positioning the canola industry for continued sustainable growth.

Theme 2: Differentiated quality and sustainable livestock production using canola meal

Gut health and digestive physiology of nursery pigs fed canola meal-based diets

Research team: Tofuko Woyengo (South Dakota State University), Joy Scaria (South Dakota State University)

Purpose: There is an identified need for alternative feeding strategies to improve the gut health of pigs. This activity will determine the effects of including canola meal in diets for nursery pigs on gut health and digestive physiology and will evaluate dietary canola meal on the growth performance and gut health of Escherichia coli-challenged nursery pigs. Results from this activity could demonstrate that inclusion of canola meal into feed formulations will reduce gut infections in pigs, and the economic losses associated with gut infections, leading to increased production efficiency and improved sustainability metrics. This research could increase the competitiveness of the Canadian canola industry by increasing demand for canola meal in formulating swine diets.

Canola meal to improve efficiency and sustainability of dairy production: filling knowledge gaps

Research team: Chaouki Benchaar (AAFC Sherbrooke), Karen Beauchemin (AAFC Lethbridge), Fadi Hassanat (AAFC Sherbrooke)

Purpose: This project aims to fill knowledge gaps about the effects of feeding canola meal to dairy cows on greenhouse gas emissions, and on the carbon footprint (i.e., amount of CO2 equivalent emitted/kg of milk) of milk produced from cows fed canola meal (versus soybean meal) under Canadian confinement dairy production systems. The study will determine the optimal inclusion level of solvent-extracted canola meal in dairy cow diets (versus soybean meal) to mitigate enteric methane emissions, reduce nitrogen excretion and enhance milk performance, and will establish the carbon footprint (cradle to farm-gate life cycle analysis) of milk produced using canola meal (versus soybean meal) under dairy confinement farming systems. The research will demonstrate whether sustainability (environmental and economic) of dairy production can be improved by using canola meal as the main protein source in dairy cow diets.

Understanding the impacts of canola meal on gut microbiota and potential pre-biotic effect of enzymatically-released bioactive fiber components and the long term effects of high levels of canola meal inclusion on sow and litter performance

Research team: Bogdan Slominski (University of Manitoba), Martin Nyachoti (University of Manitoba), Anna Rogiewicz (University of Manitoba), Ehsan Khafipour (University of Manitoba)

Purpose: This activity builds on the positive developments from Growing Forward 2 research and will look to further optimize the use of high inclusion levels of CM in poultry and swine diets. More precise formulation of diets would result in reduced feed cost and environmental pollution, while achieving optimal animal performance. This research would also demonstrate that the benefits to be gained from enzyme supplementation are not only from improved nutrient digestion and feed efficiency but also from improved gut health. Specifically, improved gut health as a result of prebiotics formed from the hydrolysis of canola meal fibre components, including non-starch polysaccharides (NSP), would benefit the poultry and swine industries by controlling enteric infections, and therefore obviating the need for in-feed antibiotics. Developing and adopting antibiotic-free feeding programs is a major goal of the poultry and livestock industries.

Accurate determination of the contribution of canola meal to metabolizable protein supply in dairy cows

Research team: Daniel Ouellet (AAFC Sherbrooke), Hélène Lapierre (AAFC Sherbrooke), Édith Charbonneau (Université Laval)

Purpose: For dairy producers and nutritionists, it is essential to understand the feed value of ingredients such as canola meal (CM) to adequately formulate dairy rations in order to optimize performances, and minimize feed cost and the environmental footprint of dairy farming. The optimal utilization of CM in dairy diets is limited by the lack of information on why CM improves milk production in dairy cows and the factors that influence that response. The proposed research intends to decipher where this positive impact of CM is coming from and why the predicted metabolizable protein (MP) supply is under-estimated with CM-based diets. Identifying the “correct” N kinetics of CM into the rumen and an understanding of the mechanisms behind the milk advantage can be used in diet formulation programs to improve diet performance and profitability. Knowing the real contribution of CM to the MP supply will give more confidence to nutritionists and producers to include CM in their rations.

Evaluation of canola meal as compared to soybean meal in practical California rations: effects upon long term lactational performance, reproductive performance and metabolic disease

Research team: Peter Robinson (University of California, Davis), William Van Die (Cloverdale Dairy), Nadia Swanepoel (University of California, Davis)

Purpose: Research to date on feeding CM has been instrumental in demonstrating the advantages of CM on milk production and components, but has only examined these parameters over short periods of time (i.e., 3 to 4 weeks). While milk production is important, reproduction and culling are equally important to the dairy industry. There is no data on effects of CM vs other protein meals as they relate to reproduction and culling. This study will determine if improvements in milk production can be sustained when CM is fed from calving through the critical periods when the cows withstand negative energy balance, and are bred. Large numbers of cows are needed to assess effects of dietary nutrients on reproduction and culling due to the large number of co-variables (e.g., lactation number, milk production, season, body condition score), and Cloverdale provides an ideal setting to capture such data. This study will provide information regarding use of CM and SBM in this unique market with respect to milk production, health and reproduction of dairy cows. Positive results from this research will provide further explanation of canola meal’s advantages in dairy diets.

Theme 3: Increased production – yield and quality optimization for sustainable supply

Manipulating agronomic factors for optimum canola harvest timing, productivity and crop sequencing

Research team: Brian Beres (AAFC Lethbridge), Charles Geddes (AAFC Lethbridge), Breanne Tidemann (AAFC Lacombe), William May (AAFC Indian Head), Ramona Mohr (AAFC Brandon)

Purpose: Objectives for this project are to: (1) understand how manipulations to seeding density, hybrid maturity rating and swath/straight-cut timing alter crop yield and quality; (2) refine best practices in relation to the determination of optimal swath/straight-cut timing as plant density changes and as subsequent changes to canopy architecture, whole plant moisture, seed colour and moisture changes occur; (3) determine how the integration of seeding density, cultivar selection and harvest management system influence canola canopy architecture (pods and branches per plant and per unit area, for example); and (4) provide an economic analysis for low versus high seeding density systems, and straight-cut versus swathing scenarios.

Enhancing yield and biomass in canola by modifying carbohydrate metabolism

Research team: Michael Emes (University of Guelph), Ian Tetlow (University of Guelph)

Purpose: In a previous study, when the Arabidopsis endogenous leaf starch branching enzymes (SBEs) were replaced with maize endosperm homologues ZmSBEI or ZmSBEIIb, the Arabidopsis plants demonstrated significant increases in starch biosynthesis and a dramatic increase in seed production. The result was a 250% increase in total seed oil produced per plant. This project will conduct lab research to see if the corn genes could provide a yield benefit for Brassica napus plants.

Weeding out secondary dormancy potential from volunteer canola

Research team: Sally Vail (AAFC Saskatoon), Rob Gulden (University of Manitoba), Isobel Parkin (AAFC Saskatoon), Steve Robinson (AAFC Saskatoon), Steve Shirtliffe (University of Saskatchewan)

Purpose: Volunteer canola is becoming an ever-increasing problem. Secondary dormancy, which allows for shed canola seed to remain viable for years in the soil, is a heritable trait that can be selected against in breeding programs. This study will look for the genomic regions harbouring the genes controlling secondary dormancy in Brassica napus, to identify molecular markers to facilitate selection. Once these markers are identified, the project will scan B. napus lines for lower secondary dormancy, perhaps identifying parent lines that are less likely to become volunteer canola plants in the future.

Advancing the functional, nutritional and economic value of canola protein in Canada

Research team: Rob Duncan (University of Manitoba), Jim House (University of Manitoba), Janitha Wanusundara (AAFC Saskatoon), Isobel Parkin (AAFC Saskatoon), Rotimi Aluko (University of Manitoba), Lee Anne Murphy (MAHRN)

Purpose: Brassica napus varieties with enhanced protein and nutritional qualities could revolutionize meal utilization and functionality in Canada. Objectives of this study are to: (1) screen several Brassica populations for diversity of protein quality and digestibility, and (2) map the genes responsible for protein quality and digestibility. It will also (3) compare conventional, cold pressing and modified processing methods for their impact on protein quality and digestibility.

Theme 4: Sustainability and climate change – improving nutrient and water use efficiency

Improving nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) and soil sustainability in canola production across Canada

Research team: Bao-Luo Ma (AAFC Ottawa), Mervin St. Luce (AAFC Swift Current), Yantai Gan (AAFC Swift Current), Paul Tiege (Olds College), Rob Gulden (University of Manitoba), Luke Bainard (AAFC Swift Current), Gary Peng (AAFC Saskatoon), Ramona Mohr (AAFC Brandon), Cindy Gampe (AAFC Scott), Greg Semach (AAFC Beaverlodge)

Purpose: This project will address four objectives: (1) assess agronomic and economic responses of canola crop to nitrogen (N) fertilizer management in terms of nitrogen use efficiency (NUE), seed yield and crop standability; (2) improve NUE, crop productivity and lodging resistance of canola plants through best N management practices under different soil and cropping system conditions; (3) identify root architecture traits for efficient N acquisition, high NUE and strong anchorage strength; and (4) investigate the taxonomic and functional response of the soil microbiome to N management in terms of soil sustainability and N cycling.

Making of a more sustainable canola: Using genetic diversity to improve NUE

Research team: Sally Vail (AAFC Saskatoon), Isobel Parkin (AAFC Saskatoon), Rosalind Bueckert (University of Saskatchewan), Raju Soolanayakanahally (AAFC Saskatoon), Melissa Arcand (University of Saskatchewan), Steve Robinson (AAFC Saskatoon), Andrew Sharpe (GIFS), Leon Kochian (GIFS), Robert Guy (UBC), Reynald Lemke (AAFC Saskatoon), Bobbi Helgason (University of Saskatchewan)

Purpose: Nitrogen is usually the biggest input cost for canola production, yet very little is known about N uptake and utilization in Brassica napus plants, especially for the spring type. This research project will advance the Canadian body of understanding using two main experiments – one under controlled conditions and one with a multi-environment field trials – to characterize whole-plant architectural characteristics and N-partitioning patterns of a diverse collection of B. napus. Data generated through these experiments will be used to test potential screening methodology and new rhizosphere N-cycling related traits. Discovery of natural variation within B. napus will be linked back to the agronomic management discoveries in Bao-Luo Ma’s project noted above.

Theme 5: Sustainability and climate change – integrated pest management

Feasibility of using Trichomalus perfectus for biological control of cabbage seedpod weevil in the prairies

Research team: Héctor Cárcamo (AAFC Lethbridge), Éric Lucas (UQAM), Luc Belzile (Institut de recherche et développement en agroenvironnement), Dan Johnson (University of Lethbridge), Scott Meers (Alberta Agriculture & Forestry), Meghan Vankosky (AAFC Saskatoon), Boyd Mori (AAFC Saskatoon), Kevin Floate (AAFC Lethbridge), Tara Gariepy (AAFC London), Patrice Bouchard (AAFC Ottawa), Peter Mason (AAFC Ottawa), Meghan Vankosky (AAFC Saskatoon), Tyler Wist (AAFC Saskatoon)

Purpose: This study will test the benefits and risks of introducing the parasitoid wasp Trichomalus perfectus to the Prairies. This wasp provides effective parasitism of cabbage seedpod weevil in Europe and it has appeared as an adventive species in Quebec, where it can reach high levels of pest control. Objective one of this study will assess the efficacy of T. perfectus for managing seedpod weevil. This will be done in Quebec. This study will also identify potential non-target weevils and parasitoids from insect samples collected on the Prairies and from field sites in Quebec and Ontario. Finally, the study will refine a CLIMEX model to predict whether the Prairie climate will support this new wasp.

Integrated approaches for flea beetle control II: incorporating the impacts of plant density, ground predators, and landscape-scale predictive models in the management of flea beetles in the Canadian prairies

Research team: Alejandro Costamagna (University of Manitoba), Héctor Cárcamo (AAFC Lethbridge), Jennifer Otani (AAFC Beaverlodge) Tharshinidevy Nagalingam (University of Manitoba), John Gavlovski (Manitoba Agriculture), Rob Duncan (University of Manitoba)

Purpose: Flea beetles are one of the major pests of canola in Western Canada. Canola growers need strategies to improve the efficiency of seed treatments, and flea beetle management in general. This study will address research gaps that could improve flea beetle management. These include the effect of plant density in flea beetle management, the effect of stem feeding damage on the flea beetle control, the role of natural enemies on flea beetle management, and regional predictive models for flea beetle abundance.

Genetic resources for flea beetle resistance in canola

Research team: Dwayne Hegedus (AAFC Saskatoon), Sally Vail (AAFC Saskatoon), Isobel Parkin (AAFC Saskatoon), Chrystel Olivier (AAFC Saskatoon)

Purpose: Given the regulatory scrutiny of neonicotinoid seed treatments, researchers are looking at alternatives, including natural plant defences. Currently, Brassica napus canola varieties have no natural resistance to flea beetles. This project builds on work begun by researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the University of Saskatchewan that identified lines of B. napus producing hairs (‘trichomes’) on their leaves and stems. These hairs deter flea beetles by disrupting their normal feeding behaviour. This project will conduct greenhouse and field trials with naturally-hairy B. napus lines, identify genes/loci responsible for hair production in Brassica species, and provide trichome-bearing lines and/or associated markers to the canola breeding community.

Improving the management of sclerotinia stem rot of canola using fungicides and better risk assessment tools

Research team: Kelly Turkington (AAFC Lacombe), Steve Strelkov (University of Alberta), Mike Harding (Alberta Agriculture & Forestry), Henry Klein-Gebbinck (AAFC Beaverlodge), Breanne Tidemann (AAFC Lacombe), Greg Semach (AAFC Beaverlodge), Charles Geddes (AAFC Lethbridge), Henry de Gooijer (AAFC Indian Head), Gary Peng (AAFC Saskatoon), William May (AAFC Indian Head), Dale Tomasiewicz (AAFC Outlook), Ramona Mohr (AAFC Brandon), Debbie McLaren (AAFC Brandon), Denis Pageau (AAFC Normandin), Barb Ziesman (Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture), Syama Chatterton (AAFC Lethbridge)

Purpose: Sclerotinia stem rot continues to be the most damaging and difficult-to-manage disease of canola in Canada. Recent research shows that spore DNA assessment of petals (using qPCR) holds promise in stem rot risk assessment. Objectives of this project are to: (1) refine the use of qPCR analysis and investigate the potential for using spore traps instead of canola petals; (2) understand the role and impact of relative humidity, rainfall, and temperature on inoculum production and disease development; (3) evaluate the efficacy of very early fungicide applications alone or in conjunction with later applications for management of stem rot; (4) develop a better understanding of factors (e.g. seeding rate) that cause variability in flowering and how this influences fungicide response at various crop growth stages; and (5) and (6) develop a better understanding of how inoculum availability and environmental conditions prior to and during the flowering period influence stem rot risk and the efficacy of different fungicide application timings.

Development of a biosensor for sclerotinia stem rot disease forecasting in canola

Research team: Susie Li (Innotech Alberta), Kelly Turkington (AAFC Lacombe), Jian Yang (Innotech Alberta), Jie Chen (University of Alberta)

Purpose: The goal of this project is to develop an in-field real-time sensor to monitor plant disease pathogens, specifically the sclerotinia stem rot pathogens. The sensor would notify the farmer, via cell phone, when a disease outbreak is imminent. Li and the research team have already developed a biosensor that could work, but more research is needed. Objectives of this study are to: (1) transition the spore detection technology/device from a large instrument to a portable chip that can be easily applied in the field; (2) establish the correlation between disease severity (per cent petal infection) and inoculum level (number of spores in the air) under controlled and field environments; and (3) verify the technology in the field.

Protection of canola from pathogenic fungi using RNA interference technologies

Research team: Steve Whyard (University of Manitoba), Mark Belmonte (University of Manitoba), Mazdak Khajehpour (University of Manitoba), Dwayne Hegedus (AAFC Saskatoon)

Purpose: Whyard and colleagues have found a way to use RNA interference (RNAi), which can reduce gene expression through the application of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), to reduce sclerotinia stem rot infections. Due to RNAi’s high degree of specificity, dsRNA foliar fungicides can target just the pathogenic fungus or related pathogenic fungi, and not affect beneficial species. This would reduce our reliance on broad-spectrum fungicides. The researchers have already identified and nominated sclerotinia-bioactive dsRNA molecules. Next objectives are to synthesize dsRNAs and screen for fungicidal activity and non-target effects, develop and test topical formulations for dsRNA adhesion to leaves and durability under different environmental conditions, and assess the persistence of dsRNAs in the soil.

Resistance to sclerotinia sclerotiorum effectors in canola

Research team: Dwayne Hegedus (AAFC Saskatoon), Hossein Borhan (AAFC Saskatoon), Yangdou Wei (University of Saskatchewan)

Purpose: This project will attempt to simplify the identification of Brassica napus canola lines with tolerance to sclerotinia stem rot. Researchers will characterize substances produced by the fungus that cause the characteristic brown, necrotic (dead) lesions on the plant or which compromise the ability of the plant to defend itself against attack by the fungus. These substances will be used to identify B. napus lines from collections at plant genetic resource centres to find those that are most tolerant or resistant to individual substances. Combining the resistance traits through traditional breeding will accelerate the development of canola varieties with better tolerance or resistance to stem rot.

CANADIAN CANOLA CLUBROOT CLUSTER PILLAR 1: Integrated disease management

Research team: Sheau-Fang Hwang (Alberta Agriculture & Forestry), Steve Strelkov (University of Alberta), Rudolph Fredua-Agyeman (Alberta Agriculture & Forestry), Bruce Gossen (AAFC Saskatoon), Mary-Ruth McDonald (University of Guelph)

Purpose: The goal of this project is to develop management practices to reduce clubroot spore populations and prevent their buildup in at-risk areas. These practices are necessary to protect genetic resistance in canola varieties. Project objectives are to: (1) characterize soil properties and pathotypes in clusters where resistance has been defeated; (2) test field pre-treatment and amendment techniques, including liming under varying spore concentrations and liming field entrances prior to clubroot introduction; (3) quantify yield loss in relation to disease severity; (4) assess the effect of cultivar rotation on clubroot pathotype structure; and (5) screen clubroot-resistance canola varieties against novel clubroot pathotypes.

CANADIAN CANOLA CLUBROOT CLUSTER PILLAR 2: Developing novel resistance resources and strategies to address the new threat of clubroot canola production on the prairies

Research team: Gary Peng (AAFC Saskatoon), Habibur Rahman (University of Alberta), Rudolph Fredua-Agyeman (Alberta Agriculture & Forestry)

Purpose: The rapidly changing clubroot pathogen population presents a challenge to effective use of clubroot resistance (CR) because the single-gene resistance can be overcome quickly. Current canola cultivars have a low diversity in CR, and many newly-identified clubroot pathotypes appear to be virulent on these “resistant” cultivars. New CR genes or gene combinations, especially those with broad-based resistance, may help enhance the efficacy and durability of resistance. For this project, CR genes from existing germplasm as well as new brassica sources will be studied for novel CR resistance mechanisms and potential pyramiding/rotation options against a wide range of pathotypes, especially the predominant pathotypes.

CANADIAN CANOLA CLUBROOT CLUSTER PILLAR 3: Host-pathogen biology and interaction

Research team: Bruce Gossen (AAFC Saskatoon), Mary-Ruth McDonald (University of Guelph), Gary Peng (AAFC Saskatoon), Fengqun Yu (AAFC Saskatoon), Sheau-Fang Hwang (Alberta Agriculture & Forestry), Steve Strelkov (University of Alberta)

Purpose: The explosion of new, virulent pathotypes of Plasmodiophora brassicae (the clubroot pathogen) on canola crops in Alberta indicates that producers need management options for situations where no single source of genetic resistance is available to effectively manage all of the pathotypes of clubroot in their field. The goal of this research is to develop and validate best management practices for managing clubroot in canola fields where strong genetic resistance is not available and for slowing the spread of these pathotypes into new areas. The study examines factors that affect resting spore survival, germination and infection. Sources of quantitative (non-pathotype specific or horizontal) resistance, which has not previously been studied in detail, are also being identified and assessed to determine if quantitative resistance might be used to increase the durability of genes that confer strong genetic resistance to clubroot. This study will also evaluate strategies for deployment of clubroot resistance genes, with the aim of identifying approaches that will maximize the durability of resistance.

Theme 6: Putting innovation into action – knowledge and technology transfer

Effective KTT is critical for success, effective dissemination, and practical application of the above research. Theme 6 activities will increase the value of all Science Cluster research by assisting scientists and sharing their findings with growers and other industry stakeholders. The Canola Council’s agronomy specialists will translate research results into tangible practices that can be applied on farms. The information will also be widely available through the Canola Research Hub, a state-of-the-art online information resource maintained by the Council.

Theme 7: Maintaining canola supply and trade – blackleg and verticillium

Developing a robust system for efficient assessment of quantitative resistance (QR) in commercial canola varieties for blackleg management

Research team: Gary Peng (AAFC, Saskatoon), Debra McLaren (AAFC, Brandon)

Purpose: Blackleg is a serious threat to canola production in Western Canada and is a trade issue with seed exports to China. This disease has been managed primarily through variety resistance, including major-gene and quantitative resistance (QR), as well as extended crop rotations. QR or race-nonspecific resistance is important to sustainable blackleg management in Canada. QR plays an important role in blackleg resistance on the prairies where the industry is moving to blackleg resistance labelling for more effective utilization of genetic resources; this approach is readily applicable for major-gene resistance but not yet possible for QR because the current labeling system (R/MR/MS/S) is unable to identify QR specifically or quantitatively; this rating includes both QR and major-gene resistance. There is also the need for a reliable protocol to improve field QR assessment. The objective of this research is to develop and validate a system for efficient quantification of QR against blackleg under both controlled environment and field conditions.

Developing tools for the rapid screening of canola germplasm for quantitative resistance to disease

Research team: Hossein Borhan (AAFC, Saskatoon), Ralph Lange (InnoTech Alberta)

Purpose: Fungicides have little effect in controlling blackleg and the best practice is using canola cultivars with genetic resistance. Quantitative resistance (QR), also called adult plant resistance (APR), is the most favourable form of genetic resistance since it is controlled by several genes, therefore more durable. Despite its importance, it is very challenging to identify and introduce APR into canola cultivars using conventional field based assay. The goal of this research is to optimize a protocol for identifying APR to blackleg disease under controlled condition (growth chamber) and validate the result under field conditions. A rapid screening method with genome-wide association mapping approach will provide the canola industry with a valuable tool for developing new varieties.

Understanding the critical infection window that causes blackleg of canola in Western Canada

Principal Investigator: Gary Peng (AAFC Saskatoon)

Purpose: This study will help determine the relative importance of cotyledon vs. lower true-leaf infection to stem infection (the critical infection window) and blackleg on canola varieties with different levels of resistance. This information is important to developing inoculation protocols for improved QR assessment/labelling in field trials. Additionally, the results of the critical infection window will determine the optimal timing of fungicide applications, either as seed treatment or as a foliar spray at later stages. This research will improve our understanding of the infection pathway for blackleg and provide valuable information for reducing blackleg in the field.

Fine-tuning of the blackleg yield loss model in canola

Research team: Sheau-Fang Hwang (University of Alberta), Stephen Strelkov (University of Alberta), Henry Klein-Gebbinck (AAFC, Beaverlodge), Gary Peng (AAFC, Saskatoon)

Purpose: Blackleg, caused by the fungus Leptosphaeria maculans, is an important disease of canola. In order to better assess the economic impact of blackleg and to help make appropriate disease management decisions, it is important to be able to relate blackleg severity with corresponding yield losses. A preliminary yield loss model was generated that related blackleg severity to yield loss under field conditions in Alberta. While serving as a solid foundation to understand blackleg associated yield losses in Western Canada, the earlier model was based largely on data obtained with the susceptible canola ‘Westar’.  Since this is an old, open pollinated, herbicide non-tolerant cultivar, the results may have been confounded by the presence of weeds, canola volunteers and/or other diseases. The current project aims to build on the earlier work by modeling yield losses from blackleg in modern canola hybrids, making the model more accurate and more relevant to producers and agronomists. An improved model may also provide important information to the canola industry allowing accurate estimates of yield losses on a local or even regional scale.

Improving management of blackleg on canola via better flea beetle control and effective fungicide seed treatment in Western Canada

Research team: Gary Peng (AAFC, Saskatoon), Dilantha Fernando (University of Manitoba), Debra McLaren (AAFC, Brandon)

Purpose: From both a sustainable canola production and marketing perspective, it is important to manage blackleg in canola. While variety resistance is the cornerstone for blackleg management, an integrated approach, including crop rotation and chemical control, is important for continued reduction of blackleg in the field. This project will generate new information that can help improve or even revolutionize blackleg control in Western Canada by understanding the relevance of flea beetle feeding to blackleg and validating the efficacy of a novel cost-effective fungicide seed treatment to block the early infection via the feeding wounds. This research will have positive impact on our industry by addressing the risk of blackleg on both production and marketing fronts; lowered blackleg incidence/severity may have reduced inoculum load on seed and dockage.

Improving blackleg resistance durability through R-gene rotation in commercial fields on the Canadian prairies – a science-based stewardship program

Research team: Dilantha Fernando (University of Manitoba, Gary Peng (AAFC, Saskatoon), Ralph Lange (InnoTech Alberta)

Purpose: The main reason for the increase in blackleg is the breakdown of resistance (R-genes) by new races of the blackleg pathogen on canola varieties grown across the prairies. One of the methods that may mitigate the risk of rapid resistance erosion is to introduce an R-gene rotation regime where the pathogen population will not be able to adapt to any single R gene easily. This has been a successful strategy used in Australia and France. The WCC/RRC has passed a resolution in February 2017 to introduce this strategy in Canada, and the Canola Council of Canada also supports this approach. The effectiveness of this approach needs to be studied in Canada. The information will help fine tune the sequence of R genes to be deployed in rotation for maximum resistance durability. This study will provide growers with the information needed to utilize the major blackleg resistance genes currently available in canola cultivars. The information will aid in developing best management practices for extending the durability of major genes and contribute to decreasing the incidence of blackleg in Canadian canola production and the potential threat to key export markets.

Genetic dissection of the Rlm3-4-7-9 blackleg R gene cluster and KASP marker improvement

Research team: Hossein Borhan (AAFC, Saskatoon), Nicholas Larkan (Armatus Genetics Inc.), Isobel Parkin (AAFC, Saskatoon), Ralph Lange (InnoTech Alberta)

Purpose: The Rlm3-4-7-9 cluster is very important for the genetic improvement of canola against blackleg. The proposed research will resolve the nature of these genes by conducting fine mapping and cloning. Revealing the structure of the Rlm3-4-7-9 cluster will help with understanding the complex interaction and may allow new R genes to be developed with multiple Avr recognition properties. This pre-commercial work will provide an in-depth understanding of these R-genes, potentially leading to improved major gene resistance and a corresponding decrease in blackleg incidence. In addition, this project will improve the efficiency of molecular makers so that growers can detect the blackleg races in their fields and make informed varietal selections. This will contribute to decreasing the incidence of blackleg in Canadian canola production to address potential threats to our key export markets.

Verticillium disease etiology and nursery

Research team: Dilantha Fernando (University of Manitoba), Mario Tenuta (University of Manitoba), Sheau-Fang Hwang (University of Alberta, Stephen Strelkov (University of Alberta), Maria del Mar Jimenez-Gasco (Penn State University)

Purpose: Verticillium stripe, caused by the fungus Verticillium longisporum, was first found in canola in Canada in 2014. Very little is known about this disease in Canada but studies in Europe have shown it to cause significant yield loss in both spring and winter types of Brassica napus. This research is an integrated and collaborative approach to addressing the major research priorities needed to understand and manage the disease in Western Canada. A series of projects will address major questions that need to be answered about this disease, namely: How to improve the identification of this disease? Can the pathogen be rapidly quantified in the soil? How does the pathogen behave in Western Canada? What is the genetic diversity of the pathogen? What is the relationship and interaction between V. longisporum and L. maculans? Fundamental to the success of this activity is the establishment of a test field or nursery. The nursery will provide support for activities including soil and plant materials for method development, longevity of the pathogen, screening of canola lines, disease development and yield effects and outreach to growers and industry. Understanding the biology of the pathogen and how it behaves in Western Canada will provide valuable information for producers, agronomists, and researchers that overall will help reduce potential disease impact.

Genetics and genomics of Brassica-Verticillium interaction

Research team: Hossein Borhan (AAFC, Saskatoon), Isobel Parkin (AAFC, Saskatoon), Nicholas Larkan (Armatus Genetics, Inc.), Ralph Lange (InnoTech Alberta), Christina Eynck (AAVC, Saskatoon), Stephen Strelkov (University of Alberta), Sheau-Fang Hwang (University of Alberta), Rudolph Fredua-Agyeman (Alberta Agriculture and Forestry)

Purpose: Verticillium stripe is an emerging soil-borne disease of canola in Canada requiring a multi-faceted research initiative to mitigate the potential risks posed by this pathogen. Examples of risk to canola production are yield loss, restriction of canola exports and reduction of farmland value when the pathogen becomes established in the soil. Resistant cultivars have proven to be the most cost-effective and environmentally sound approach for managing biotic stress. The two main requirements for genetically-based disease management is knowledge of pathogen virulence and plant resistance genes. The proposed research aims at developing tools for genotyping and monitoring changes in the pathogen, Verticillium longisporum, understanding the genomics of pathogen virulence and the genetics/genomics of canola defense. This research will provide an understanding of Verticillium stripe resistance with output of genetic markers for resistance as well as insight into the infection process. This information is a vital first step in providing tools for managing the disease in the future.

Funding partners


Research outcomes aimed at sustainably growing the canola industry

5-year agreement (2018-2023)

7 areas of research