Lab Canada

$2M supports soybean research

Guelph, ON – A University of Guelph scientist using genetics to improve Ontario’s most valuable crop has received nearly $2 million in government and industry support.

Prof. Istvan Rajcan, Department of Plant Agriculture, was recently awarded a Collaborative Research and Development Grant by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. Matched by funding from Grain Farmers of Ontario, SeCan Association and Huron Commodities Inc., the grant is worth a total of more than $500,000.

Earlier, Dr. Rajcan received $1.4 million from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the Canadian Field Crop Research Alliance (CFCRA). That funding was part of a $10.3- million Canadian Field Crop Genetics Improvement Cluster funded by CFCRA and AAFC through the Growing Forward 2 AgriInnovation Program.

“These substantial grants reflect Istvan’s success as a researcher and the impact of his work on the agri-food industry,” said John Livernois, interim vice-president (research).

Dr. Rajcan uses state-of-the-art technology to pinpoint genetic markers for producing improved soybean varieties.

Ultimately, his work will allow breeders and growers to select varieties with specific traits from high yields to high protein content to disease resistance, including varieties that may help to prevent cancer and other ailments.

“We are intent on helping farmers in Canada get access to high-performing soybean varieties, and taking a scientific approach to doing that,” he said.

Soybean production in Canada has increased 450 per cent since 1980.

“We aim to use the latest technology to help develop innovative soybean varieties that meet the needs of various producers and industries, both domestically and internationally,” said Dr. Rajcan.

He and his 15-member research team – including research associate Chris Grainger, PhD candidate Robert Bruce, Prof. Milad Eskandari, and Prof. François Belzile from Université Laval – are seeking to develop genetic markers for various traits such as increased yields and enhanced nutritional qualities.

Increased yields and disease resistance will help in making food products such as tofu, natt and miso, and developing varieties with value-added nutritional traits is an important objective for Canadian soybean growers, Dr. Rajcan added.

For example, Japanese food producers want soybeans with more sugar. Demand is growing for varieties with more isoflavones — linked to reduced risk of cancer, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease – and saponins with anti-cancer properties. Industry is seeking oil-rich varieties for edible oils and for bioproducts used to make biodiesel and car parts.

In addition to looking for genetic markers, the team uses advanced genomic technologies to study how breeding has changed the soybean genome.

“We’ll be studying the changes in genetic diversity over generations of breeding activity,” said Dr. Rajcan. “We’re looking at what happened to DNA as a result of intervention of plant breeders, what changed and the implications of those changes.”