It is in the Genes - PulseResearch
April 25, 2017
Lentil and pea genome sequencing research will maintain Saskatchewan's position as a world leader in the pulse industry
Although the lentil industry has seen tremendous success in terms of production and exports in Canada in the past decade, from a research perspective, the crop is behind in the area of genome sequencing.
Genome sequencing, a scientific process that traces an organism’s entire DNA makeup, has been successfully completed for other major crops such as corn and soybean, resulting in faster development of new and improved varieties. Due to the comparatively small production of lentil crops globally and the substantial costs associated with genome sequencing, there has been less research done in this area and consequently there are fewer genetic and genomic resources available for lentils and peas.
“Current Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (SPG) funded research aims to sequence the lentil and pea genomes, which will make it easier to produce competitive pulse varieties faster, as well as maintain Saskatchewan’s position as a world leader in the pulse industry,” says Dr. Kirstin Bett, one of the lead researchers and a Professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Plant Sciences.
“This research will help us stay at the forefront of lentil and pea genetics and breeding and, perhaps more importantly, help us continue to compete in the landscape with larger crops and maintain or increase lentil production in Saskatchewan,” she says.
According to Dr. Bett, genome sequencing is a complex process. It allows researchers to better understand the DNA of an organism, which better allows them to manipulate it when breeding. “The genome is like the instruction manual for a species,” she says. “It is written in four-letter code, some of which contains the genes that contribute to what an individual looks and performs like. If we can work out the ‘words’ in the manual then we can better understand the species and be more efficient at breeding.”
Ultimately, the genetic sequencing information allows breeders to integrate genomic technologies into the breeding process so that new lentil cultivars can be tailored to overcome emergent production constraints, like disease and climate patterns, as well as meet requirements for market demand, like seed types or nutritional quality.
The genetic information will also help breeders accelerate the rate of breeding, although speed is not the main goal. “The idea is not to increase the rate of varietal development so much as to maintain or increase the gains from selection. For example, having a marker for a trait like disease resistance or herbicide tolerance means we no longer have to screen in multiple generations with the pathogen or herbicide,” Dr. Bett says.
Once complete, this will mean greater precision in breeding, an accelerated rate of variety development, and ultimately, a new paradigm in crop breeding, where crops are designed with specific genome content and pre-determined trait values. The resulting superior pea and lentil varieties will help position Saskatchewan growers to overcome current and future production challenges and help our province maintain its position as a world-leading producer and exporter of pulse crops globally.
SPG Investment: $2,915,000
Dr. Kirstin Bett, Professor, University of Saskatchewan Department of Plant Sciences
Dr. Doug Cook, Professor, Plant Pathology, University of California, Davis,
Dr. Tom Warkentin, Professor, University of Saskatchewan, Crop Development Centre