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Dow AgroSciences unique facility a benefit to Saskatchewan’s bioscience research cluster

March 24, 2017

The Saskatoon research cluster at the University of Saskatchewan and Innovation Place technology park is a hotbed of innovation. Vibrant organizations located here contribute great things to the bioscience industry as a whole. One example is the Dow AgroSciences Global Canola Research Centre.

Anyone involved in agriculture in Saskatchewan can tell you that canola is kind of a big deal. Canola alone contributes $27.6 billion to the Canadian economy annually, supports some 250,000 jobs and $11.2 billion in wages, and generates one-quarter of all farm cash receipts. Canola oil has high levels of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids making it a favorite among health-conscious consumers, and once the seeds have been crushed for their oil, the meal can be used to create high-protein feed supplements for animals.

The Dow AgroSciences Saskatoon location has everything you need to run a canola operation, all in a single building; almost everything can be handled in-house. This unique facility is fully integrated, with a greenhouse and a wide variety of labs: double haploid, molecular, quality and pathology. Staff expertise ranges from plant breeding to agronomy.

The facility’s primary focus is on breeding canola seed that produces high-oleic, heart-healthy oil. This canola is part of Dow AgroSciences’ Nexera brand, which focuses on superior quality, Omega-9 oils. The Nexera-line hybrids created at the Saskatoon facility are also bred to resist pod shatter and clubroot disease, with improved blackleg resistance.

Dow AgroSciences has created a number of innovative tools to support the development of Nexera canola hybrids. In collaboration with a third party, they have developed a high-throughput automated Near-infrared (NIR) system. This machine – one of only three in the world – allows a single operator to screen hundreds of nursery samples per day for protein, oil, fibre and chlorophyll content. 

One way the Dow facility contributes to the Saskatoon cluster is through the Genome Prairie project: “Enhancement of Commercial Utilization of Canola Oil and Meal by Manipulation of Cellular and Sub-Cellular Metabolism” (nicknamed CUC). Co-led by Jocelyn Ozga from the University of Alberta and M. Tahir of Dow AgroSciences, the ultimate goal of CUC is to help Canada’s canola industry meet increasing demand for high-quality, healthy oils, as more people look to improve their diets. The CUC project aims to improve the quality profile of canola—the oil, for human consumption; and high-protein meal for animal feed. This is accomplished by testing different canola genes to enhance oil and protein levels, while reducing fibre and saturated fatty acid content.

According to Chris Barker, Genome Prairie’s Chief Scientific Officer, the Dow AgroSciences facility in Saskatoon is essential to the success of the CUC project.

“Dow provides unique, elite germplasm to the project, which ensures the knowledge will be rapidly commercialized,” Barker says. “And, because the Dow facility in Saskatoon is the global testing hub for their canola breeding programs worldwide, breakthroughs made by the CUC project can be immediately available internationally.”

Barker views the Dow facility as an asset to the Saskatoon research cluster. It is also a testament to the cluster’s strength that a multinational organization like Dow AgroSciences would set up their Global Canola Research Centre here.

“I think the fact that Dow set up such a major operation in Saskatoon shows how much potential they see in this area, as well as their commitment to producing the best canola varieties they can for Western Canadian producers.”