Feeding a Hungry World as Climate Changes
Genome Prairie’s research in Crop Adaptation Genomics (CAG) is helping traditional crop breeders develop frost-hardy crops better suited to Canada’s short growing season.
In Canada’s tough climate our agricultural crops need to be tough, too. As a result, researchers are learning how to isolate the genetic factors that trigger low-temperature adaptation in plants – such as winter wheat – so that these factors can be bred into other crops such as spring wheat and barley.
The key to cold tolerance in grain crops lies in the complex interplay of genes and proteins. Wheat has one of the most complex genomes of all grains because it evolved from the natural crossing of several different grasses. As a result, the mechanism for cold tolerance involves a signalling cascade of thousands of genes. By studying rye, wheat’s simpler, hardy cousin, Genome Prairie researchers are applying this knowledge to test new frost-resistant spring and winter wheat varieties.
Over the course of the four-year project, researchers expanded the genetic map of the winter wheat variety Norstar to include over 2,000 markers. Researchers found unique gene sequences present in Norstar that were either altered or absent in cold-sensitive varieties. In addition, the CAG team identified:
A cluster of 28 regulatory genes, several of which have a role in cold tolerance and are different in cold-tolerant and cold-sensitive wheat varieties. Over 12,000 wheat genes that change their expression pattern in response to exposure to cold.
In addition to the Core Binding Factor (CBF) genes our genome wide microarray analysis has identified over 12,000 genes which change expression due to exposure to cold. This observation confirms the complexity of the plant’s responses to an ever changing environment and has provided a number of additional potential regulators of cold tolerance. Through the comparative analysis of wheat to the more cold tolerant rye we have also identified 11 CBFs in rye which may be the source of its improved cold tolerance.
Combining these results with a highly successful wheat breeding program, CAG researchers developed several new spring wheat lines with improved cold tolerance that are now in the variety development process. In addition, an interactive winter wheat survival model developed as part of the CAG website, uses daily weather data from all three Prairie Provinces as well as the Czech Republic. This web-based model is widely used by farmers to determine the best crop varieties to plant based on historical weather data and projected climate change. The model also provides researchers with better estimates of crop survival.
CAG has played a foundational role in the development of new spring wheat lines that reduce the risk of frost damage, extend the growing season, reduce herbicide expenditures and increase productivity.
The project developed expertise in the region by providing 118 person-years of employment for highly qualified personnel.
Brian Fowler, University of Saskatchewan
Chris Barker, Genome Prairie
Genome Canada Contribution:
Provincial Funding (SK):
Other Funding Partners:
Complete (2006 - 2011)
Genome Canada 2006 Competition III