Genomic research funding takes step forward

Groups such as Genome Canada, Agriculture Canada and provincial commissions will contribute to a $77 million package

Agricultural researchers across Canada will receive almost $77 million over the next four years under Genome Canada’s large-scale applied research project competition.

The funding package, announced July 23 in Saskatoon by Kirsty Duncan, the federal minister for science and sport, will support eight projects that demonstrate how genomics research can be used to advance productivity and sustainability in the Canadian agriculture and aquaculture sectors.

The funding package includes a direct investment of more than $29 million by Genome Canada and an additional $47.5 from co-funding organizations such as Agriculture Canada, the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF), the Alberta Wheat Commission, the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission and the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association.

In Western Canada, five genomic research projects, including three that are led by scientists at the University of Saskatchewan, will receive funding through the Genome Canada program:

  • In British Columbia, project leader Inanc Birol at the University of British Columbia will head a $6.9 million project that aims to develop alternatives to veterinary antibiotics, which can lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
  • In Alberta, researcher Paul Stothard at the University of Alberta will co-lead a $12.1 million project that aims to develop new datasets and genomic tools that could result in more resilient dairy cows that are more capable of adapting rapidly to changing environmental conditions without compromising productivity or fertility.
  • In Saskatchewan, pulse breeders Kirstin Bett and Albert Vandenberg at the U of S will lead a $7.4 million project entitled Enhancing the Value of Lentil Variation for Ecosystem Survival (EVOLVES). The primary goals of the project are to use genetic variability to accelerate the deployment of quality traits in lentils and to improve lentil breeding efforts so that Canada can rapidly capture emerging opportunities in the global pulse market.
  • The $11.2 million 4D Wheat project (Diversity, Discovery, Design and Delivery) at the U of S will apply the latest genomic strategies to enhance wheat yields and manage disease in Canada’s most widely grown crop. The 4D wheat project, headed by project leaders Curtis Pozniak from the university and Sylvie Cloutier of Agriculture Canada will identify new sources of genetic variation in wheat, quantify the current and future value of genetic resources in wheat and promote their use through new breeding technologies.
  • In a $5.6 million project co-led by researchers Cheryl Waldner at the U of S and Simon Otto at the U of A, scientists will use genomics to develop diagnostic and computing tools that allow the livestock industry to more effectively manage genomic test data, assess risk and make more informed decision about the use of antibiotics in the livestock industry. The project, entitled Antimicrobial Stewardship Systems from Evidence-based Treatment Strategies (ASSETS), aims to promote the responsible and sustainable use of antibiotics.

A complete list of the projects that will receive funding under the Genome Canada competition can be viewed at

“Genomics research has practical real-world application, driving innovation across all sectors and building a more productive and prosperous agriculture sector,” said Duncan, who announced the Genome Canada funding package last week during the International Wheat Congress in Saskatoon.

“We know that the path to a better life starts with science and research, and Genome Canada will be a big part of that.”

Added Genome Canada president Marc Lepage: “It’s very exciting to see the ways that our different programs help enable large-scale science, pioneering technologies and the translation of discoveries into real-world applications.…

“Every day we are learning that genomics has very real, very tangible benefits in diverse sectors across Canada.”

On the Prairies, the investments in advanced genomics research will create new jobs, sustain momentum in crop and livestock research, and result in products that benefit farmers, consumers and all stakeholders in the Canadian agriculture sector, said project supporters.

New genomic research projects that involve wheat, lentils and livestock, for example, will receive more than $24 million through the Genome Canada program.

More than half of that amount — approximately $14.2 million — will be contributed by program co-funders, including producer-supported commissions and research foundations.

Provincial wheat commissions in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba pledged nearly $2 million over the next four years to support the 4D wheat project.

In a joint news release, the commissions said the cutting edge research will benefit varietal development efforts by expanding the genetic resources available to wheat breeders.

Ultimately, it will give Canadian wheat producers access to new and more productive wheat varieties, capable of producing higher yields under a wider range of environmental conditions.

“By delivering new and useful genetic material for breeders to work with, this project could be the catalyst for subsequent high-yielding and stress-resistant varieties to come into the marketplace, in turn improving farmgate profitability,” said Janine Paly, research chair at the Alberta Wheat Commission.

Added Fred Greig, chair of the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association: “Canadian growers are continually challenged to produce quality wheat under highly variable weather conditions.”

Wheat research led by Pozniak and Cloutier will allow breeders to incorporate beneficial traits into new wheat varieties more quickly, benefiting wheat producers across the country, he added.

Saskatchewan Pulse Growers will contribute nearly $600,000 to the lentil project led by researchers Bett and Vandenberg at the U of S’s Crop Development Centre.

Dave Greenshields, SPG’s director of research and development, said the introduction of new genetic resources into lentil breeding programs will ultimately result in improved lentil varieties with enhanced end-use qualities and improved marketability.

The EVOLVE project will collect and examine new genomic resources from different lentil germplasms and incorporate specific end quality traits that can be deployed in breeding programs.

“That would be our interest … would be the development of new varieties that have improved end-use qualities, so you could hopefully increase your market or develop new markets,” said Greenshields.

SPG has invested more than $2.7 over the years in lentil research work conducted by Bett and Vandenberg.

Previous SPG funding for lentil genome research enabled the sequencing of a high quality CDC Redberry lentil genome and the phenotyping and genome sequencing of many cultivated and wild lentils from around the world, Greenshields said.

“This allowed for the discovery and deployment of new agronomic and end-use traits that will benefit Saskatchewan growers for many years to come.”

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