Cutting-Edge Livestock And Plant Breeding Gets A Boost

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The quest to breed better oilseeds and genetically superior cattle has been given a $4.5-million boost.

Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions is donating the money to the University of Alberta for two genomics-focused research centres.

The work done by Phytola, which focuses on the creation of oil products from Alberta crops, and to Livestock Gentec will directly benefit Alberta producers, said Stan Blade, chief executive officer of Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions, a new organization with a mandate to ally research innovation with investment in the province.

Phytola is trying to improve both the quality and quantity of oilseed crops such as canola and flax, said Carl Amrhein, U of A provost and vice-president.

“A one per cent increase in oil in canola seed, for example, represents as much as $90 million in additional value to the canola industry,” he said.

The centre, led by Randall Weselake, a professor in the department of agriculture, is also examining ways to improve the efficiency of oil production and applications of oil in nutraceutical and industrial uses.

“We’re taking a naturally occurring enzyme that drives oil formation and we’ve got the plan to make more of this enzyme,” said Weselake. “We’d like to increase the oil content even more by designing super forms of this enzyme using new high-throughput technology that we’ve developed.”

These oils could also be used as health supplements, livestock feed, and aquafeed. Members of Weselake’s team are experts in various fields including molecular biology, plant breeding, genetics, bioinformatics and oil processing.

DNA markers

Livestock Gentec, led by genomics expert Steve Moore, are using this rapidly developing branch of science to pinpoint genetic markers that indicate desirable traits and enable producers to make better decisions in their breeding programs. The research involves using DNA to identify desirable traits, such as good marbling. His scientists were major contributors to the sequencing of the bovine genome and have identified more than 125 genetic markers that could help improve cattle.

“As our agricultural producers diversify and work towards profitable crops, the future in oilseeds, lentils and a number of other areas is unbelievable,” said Agriculture Minister Hayden. “The values that we’re finding in canola around the world, and the health values that we’re finding in human diet are unbelievable.”

Hayden emphasized the export potential of canola in major global markets and the need for high-quality livestock.

“This announcement about the genomic research that is happening on the livestock side and the research that is taking place in the oilseeds in a number of crops indicate good news for the future,” he said.

“We’re already among the top producers in the world in respect to yield and quality and this research will take us up one more step. It will increase the money at the primary producer level, but it will also increase the profitability of everyone along the line.”

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“We’realreadyamongthetopproducersintheworldinrespecttoyieldandqualityandthisresearchwilltakeusuponemorestep.”

JACK HAYDEN

ALBERTA AGRICULTURE MINISTER

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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