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Canadian scientists contribute to international genome sequencing project


Saskatoon, SK Canadian scientists have helped sequence part of the genome of canola. Results from the international collaboration were published online this week in the peer-reviewed science journal Nature Genetics.

Determining the DNA sequence of crops allows researchers to understand the mechanisms of the plant, and to map traits of interest. This information can then be used by breeders to develop crops for Canadian farmers that are more disease resistant, drought tolerant, location-suitable and with increased yields.

The authors included National Research Council-Plant Biotechnology Institute scientists Andrew G Sharpe and Chushin Koh, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) scientists Isobel A P Parkin and Matthew G Links. They contributed to an international consortium that has sequenced the genome of Brassica rapa (B. rapa), sometimes known as “Polish canola”. As with many modern plants, canola was formed from a hybridization event between two founder species, one of which is B. rapa.

The Canadian initiative aims to produce genome sequences for each of the ancestral Brassica species that has led to the development of the major commodity oilseed crops: canola, mustard and Ethiopian mustard. This will improve how scientists understand key genes and ultimately lead to the development of new, more productive and profitable varieties.

Completion of the B. rapa genome is a significant milestone for global crop genomics.

The Canadian Canola Sequencing Initiative (CanSeq) is spearheaded by the NRC and AAFC, and brings together Genome Alberta and nine private partners from around the world.  The data generated by CanSeq for B. rapa contributed to the B. rapa Genome Sequencing Project Consortium, led by the Institute of Vegetables and Flowers in Beijing and BGI-Shenzhen in China.

With advances in DNA technologies, the B. rapa genome was completed in less than two years, and for under C$1 million. By comparison, when the human genome was fully sequenced in 2003, it was the result of 13 years of work and approximately US$2.7 billion.

Canola (B. napus) is Canada’s most lucrative oilseed crop, and brings in more than $13.8 billion annually to the Canadian economy. It was originally developed as a crop in the 1970s with major research contributions from AAFC, University of Manitoba and the NRC.  Brassica rapa is still grown as an oilseed crop in Canada because it can be grown in regions with shortened growing seasons, such as the Peace River region of Alberta.