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Two new agricultural research centres share $4.5M funding


Edmonton, AB – Two agricultural research centres, Phytola and Livestock Gentec, have been launched with funding of $4.5 million over two years from Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions.

Research being conducted at Phytola is focused on the creation of oil products from canola and flax. Research at Livestock Gentec is helping produce healthier, more efficient cattle.

Located at the University of Alberta, the new centres bring together some of the leading international experts in agricultural biotechnology and provides connections to well-respected national and international networks.

“The research being conducted at both centres is leading-edge and making significant contributions to the issues of food security, food quality, and value-added opportunities for crop and livestock producers,” said Carl Amrhein, the university’s provost and vice-president (academic).

Researchers at Phytola are using biotechnology to develop new strategies to improve the quantity and quality of oil in oilseed plants such as canola and flax. There are two major research thrusts: increasing the quantity of the oil the seeds produce and improving the quality of the oil for nutraceutical and industrial applications.

Building on the success of the AVAC-funded Bioactive Oils Program, Phytola scientists are exploring ways to improve the efficiency of oil production in plants, which could lead to improvements in both oil content and oil quality. A major infrastructure project supported by the Canada Foundation for Innovation will ensure that several Phytola researchers will benefit from equipment supporting the development of specialty oils. Applications for the oil include products such as health supplements, livestock feed and aquafeed. In addition, industrial applications are as an alternative to petrochemicals in the creation of lubricants and plastics.

Supported by funding of $2.25 million over two years, the centre is led by Dr Randall Weselake, a professor in the University of Alberta’s department of Agricultural Food and Nutritional Science and a Tier I Canada Research Chair. Dr Weselake is known internationally for his research in the molecular biology of storage lipid biosynthesis in oilseeds. His team members are expert scientists in molecular biology, genetics, biochemistry, plant breeding, lipid analysis, bioinformatics, oil processing and functionality testing.

Researchers at Livestock Gentec are focused on providing new solutions through a greater understanding of animal genomes to help improve the competitiveness and sustainability of the livestock sector.

The information gathered from DNA sequencing helps breeders make more targeted improvements to farmed animals and helps meet the growing worldwide demand for animal protein.

Livestock Gentec scientists were major participants in the first-ever sequencing of the bovine genome and have already identified more than 125 genetic markers to improve cattle through selective breeding. More than a dozen have been commercialized and many are in the technology transfer pipeline.

The field of genomics is evolving at a faster rate than advances in computing. It’s predicted computing power will continue to double about every two years while growth in genetic sequencing has been doubling steadily every 16 months since the early 1970s and is expected to continue to do so.

Supported by funding of $2.25 million over two years and Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency funding of $1.5 million over three years, the centre, led by Dr Steve Moore, is known as a world leader in livestock genomics research, development and technology transfer.