Canola farming’s future brightened by genetic breakthrough

Dec 22, 2023

A revolution in canola farming is on the horizon, thanks to the University of Guelph’s groundbreaking research. Biochemists Michael Emes and Ian Tetlow have pioneered a method that could skyrocket canola yields by as much as 250%. This breakthrough began with transferring a starch-branching enzyme from corn into Arabidopsis, a model plant closely related to canola. 

The results were astonishing. The genetically modified Arabidopsis plants were not only larger but also produced a significantly higher number of seeds — from 11,000 to an impressive 50,000 per plant. Encouraged by these outcomes, the researchers applied similar genetic modifications to canola. 

Using CRISPR and traditional genetic modification techniques, they knocked out specific genes and inserted the maize genes. The modified canola plants exhibited a 50% yield increase, with more stems and thicker stems, which could imply better drought tolerance — a critical trait in the face of climate change. 

Research associate Liping Wang played a key role in these experiments, highlighting the importance of drought resistance in the current climate scenario. The modified canola not only promises higher yields but also shows resilience under stressful conditions like heat and water scarcity. 

The research team is now poised to take their findings from the lab to the field. Planned field trials in various Canadian provinces and possibly Montana will test these genetically engineered canola plants in real agricultural settings. 

This research, a part of the Agriscience Research Cluster for Canola and funded by the Canadian government, stands at the forefront of agricultural innovation. While commercial availability may still be a decade away, the potential impact on canola farming and global food security is immense, marking a significant step towards more sustainable and resilient agricultural practices. 

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