British prime minister Boris Johnson has promised to ease 
restrictions on genetically modified and gene-edited crops now that the country has left the European Union and its strict rules on the technology.  | Reuters illustration

British scientists experiment with gene editing

CRISPR-Cas9 technology has been used to determine that increasing glucosinolate levels in crops can improve nutrition

When United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson came to power in July 2019 during the country’s Brexit transition to separate from the European Union, he pledged to sidestep Europe’s grip on curtailing development of genetically modified and gene-edited foods. Since then, field trials of gene-edited brassica crops conducted by scientists at the John Innes Centre […] Read more

The degree of variability in sprouting can be a problem when farmers expect to harvest the entire crop at one time. | File photo

Random seed germination has DNA at its heart

British researchers study how seeds germinate at different times to hedge their bets and increase chances for survival

What triggers seeds to germinate? Even though they may be genetically identical, why does each seed choose its own time to sprout? It comes down to randomness and the way this genetic behaviour causes cells to become different from each other. Spring brings stronger light, warmer temperatures and water, all of which trigger a seed […] Read more

Hailing Jin, left, is a professor of genetics in the department of plant pathology and microbiology at the University of California, Riverside. | nature.com/Xiaoming Zhang photo

Fighting fungi, trojan horse style

Troop carriers found: Advance RNA soldiers sent by both sides to soften things up ahead of fungal invasions

New research has revealed a vital step in developing eco-friendly fungicides by taking a cue from how plants launch molecules to fight fungal invaders, and how they suppress the genes that make them dangerous. Biological cells manufacture tiny round structures called extracellular vesicles, also known as exosomes. Their role in responding to invading micro-organisms in […] Read more


To counteract the impact of drought on crop seeds,  scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed an innovative two-layer coating that will provide seeds with both water and nutrients during the critical germination stage. MIT.edu/Felice Frankel photo

Engineering crop seeds to resist drought

With persistent global warming and heatwaves threatening to be more intense and more frequent, many arid regions and areas experiencing significantly less rainfall will be under increasing agricultural stress. The shifting balance between water supply and demand will be one of the biggest challenges facing farmers in the years to come. To counteract the impact […] Read more

Scientists at Princeton University have studied the underground life of plants to find out whether plants invest differently in their roots when planted alone compared to when they grow alongside neighbours.  |  File photo

Plant roots duke it out for space underground

Just as plants compete for sunlight stretching upward and outward, so their roots move through the underground to source water and nutrients. A plant’s investment in its root structure is a combination of both the volume of root branches and the way in which they spread. They may grow directly down or spread out horizontally […] Read more


Gregory Tylka, a professor with Iowa State University’s plant pathology and microbiology department, says soybean cyst nematode doesn’t always cause above-ground symptoms, which means farmers and agronomists must look for it on roots or collect soil samples. | Iowa State University photo

Soybean cyst nematode spreading rapidly

The nematode was found in 24 new counties and rural municipalities in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec from 2017-20

Researchers at Iowa State University have found soybean cyst nematode is rapidly spreading. SCN is the most damaging pathogen to soybean crops in the United States and Canada. First found in the U.S. in 1954, latest estimates show that it results in about $1.5 billion in annual yield losses They can also make plants more […] Read more

Colorado State University researchers studied conventional versus integrated field management, intensive rotational grazing, improved feed/supplements, breed comparisons, cattle life cycle management, feedlot versus grazing, fertilizer use changes and organic beef production. | Maria Johnson photo

Study suggests ways to reduce beef emissions

A recent study by researchers at Colorado State University looked at different strategies for reducing greenhouse gasses emitted during beef production. Researchers found the industry could achieve a 50 percent reduction in certain regions by enhancing some ranch management practices. However, in regions where GHG emission reduction practices are already in place, the gains are […] Read more

Scientists Gary Feng and Haile Tewolde test how fast water can infiltrate into soils that were fertilized by commercial inorganic fertilizer and those manured by poultry litter. | Photo courtesy Gary Feng

Poultry litter’s efficiency as fertilizer studied

Researchers discovered a significant positive impact on soil, which was less compacted and could hold much more water

Every year, poultry farmers raise millions of broiler chickens, turkeys and laying hens, and in 2019 Canadian chicken production generated $2.8 billion. Along with all the meat and eggs comes millions of tonnes of poultry litter. Much of it is spread on crops as fertilizer. While this practice is convenient, scientists at Mississippi State University […] Read more


Researchers have learned that goats use fungi to create enzymes that help them eat otherwise hard-to-digest material. However, these enzymes are also more efficient at creating methane, and learning how to reduce them in an animal’s digestive system may also reduce methane emissions. | File photo

Goat guts may hold methane emission secrets

Researchers from California have discovered a possible mechanism for much of the methane blamed on cows and goats

Goats are known to have a highly diverse community of microbes in their gut and can break down the toughest of plants. Understanding this unique microbiome could lead to the development of new biotechnologies to extract sugar and nutrients from plants and produce sustainable products such as fuels, commodity chemicals, and other materials. While studying […] Read more

Oat protection comes from avenacins, which are antimicrobial compounds found in the plants’ roots and they offer protection against soil-borne diseases like take-all. | File photo

Researchers unlock oats’ resistance to damaging weed

The root-rot fungal pathogen take-all is deadly to cereal crops and grasses, except oats; scientists say they now know why

Take-all is a root-rot fungal pathogen deadly to cereal crops and grasses. It can cause huge yield losses to wheat and other cereal crops — except oats. Oat protection comes from avenacins, which are antimicrobial compounds found in the plants’ roots and they offer protection against soil-borne diseases like take-all. In contrast, wheat and other […] Read more