Making Pulse Varieties the Best for Saskatchewan - PulseResearch
April 24, 2017
What it takes to develop varieties that are well-adapted to the province.
We often hear how important breeding programs are for the success of the pulse industry in Saskatchewan, as they consistently provide growers with options for new pulse varieties with the most desirable traits for production and end-use markets.
However, we do not hear as often about pre-breeding research, which refers to all the work that is done to identify traits such as disease resistance, herbicide resistance, and nutritional quality and mobilize into a breeding program for new variety development.
Pre-breeding research is a significant area of focus for the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers’ (SPG) research program, for a number of reasons.
Not only does this work allow for the introduction of new traits into cultivated, high performing varieties, it also ensures plant breeders can adopt the latest techniques for variety development which ultimately helps get new varieties into growers’ hands faster.
Pre-breeding research also allows local researchers to collaborate with the global research community, in order to access new breeding technologies and tools that have been developed in other areas of the world, says Dr. Lisette Mascarenhas, Director of Research and Development at SPG.
“Pre-breeding is essentially about traits development,” she says.
“If there is a wild lentil that has natural resistance to diseases, but it is a low yielding type, researchers can take that trait and move it into a locally adapted, high yielding variety. You have to adapt the variety to the local area so that it performs to its maximum potential.”
Pre-breeding research has led to the introduction of important traits in current varieties, such as herbicide resistance and improved disease resistance. Ongoing work in this area is developing potential methods for developing Aphanomyces-resistant traits for peas and lentils, which could then potentially be moved into a variety adapted to Saskatchewan growing conditions.
Overall the goals of pre-breeding research are to increase yield and yield stability in pulse crops through the introduction of new and important agronomic traits. This step is crucial to the success of the breeding program, and therefore the continued competitiveness and future success of the pulse industry, Mascarenhas says.
SPG has long had a collaborative partnership with the University of Saskatchewan’s (U of S) Crop Development Centre (CDC), and earlier this year renewed its funding commitment to the CDC, pledging nearly $23 million over a five-year period to fund the CDC’s pulse breeding program.
During the course of this long-term partnership between SPG and the CDC, several important developments have been made in pre-breeding research, including the introduction and adaptation of several new technologies that have allowed for improvements in crop maturity, disease resistance, yield, and market quality in Saskatchewan-adapted pulse crops and market classes.
These include DNA technologies, such as genome sequencing and marker development, analytical techniques from infrared thermometers to synchrotron science, and field plot technologies such as GPS, zero-till drills, plot combines, irrigation, and disease nurseries.
These also include improved indoor plant growth systems involving greenhouses, growth chambers, rapid generation techniques, and improved data handling and management approaches such as classical crop science statistics and bioinformatics.
“All of these technologies serve as tools to enhance pulse crop breeding, essentially to facilitate genotyping (the DNA profile) and phenotyping (the visible expression of traits),” says Dr. Tom Warkentin, Plant Breeder at the CDC and a Professor at the U of S College of Agriculture and Bioresources.
“By using improved genotyping and phenotyping tools, plant breeders can make more efficient selections.”
But despite the strong track record, this area of research still faces challenges, Dr. Warkentin says.
“On a global scale the pulse crops we grow in Saskatchewan are relatively small, and therefore attract much less investment than the larger crops grown worldwide such as corn, rice, soybean, and wheat.”
Therefore, the major challenge will be keeping pulse crops competitive in growers’ crop rotations, which will require improved disease resistance, abiotic stress tolerance (such as tolerance to heat during flowering and pod filling), and nitrogen-fixation capability.
It will also require improved nutrient density and quality for expanded uses of pulses (such as cooking time, flavour, and milling efficiency), as well as reduced concentration of anti-nutritional factors in harvested seeds.
Finally, it will require a complete evaluation of genetic resources — in both domesticated and wild relatives, Dr. Warkentin says.
Pre-breeding Research for Agronomy Improvements
Another major focus of pre-breeding research is genomics, which refers to the study of the entire set of genes that exist within a living organism. The genome provides hereditary information for all the cells that exist within the organism and are needed for its survival.
This is very important information for plant breeding, as it can be used to better design crosses and select plants at much earlier stages of the breeding program. This information also allows plant breeders to identify the key regions of the genome that affect important complex traits of the crop, which allows for the development of molecular markers to precisely track those desirable traits during the breeding process.
Overall, the study of genomics can be used to significantly accelerate the rate at which breeders are able to make genetic improvements to crops, and develop new and improved varieties for growers.
Dr. Kirstin Bett, Plant Breeder and Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at U of S, is currently leading several research projects related to genomics in lentils.
Her research in this area builds on studies that have already developed genomic and genetic resources for improving lentil breeding. For example, previous research was able to identify important genes in wild lentil relatives for traits such as disease resistance, as well as the sequencing of the genome.
The goal of Dr. Bett’s research is to integrate genomic technologies into the lentil breeding program in order to develop new varieties that can overcome production constraints that currently affect Saskatchewan growers, such as new diseases, changes in weather patterns, pests, and weeds.
“Ultimately, having a complete lentil genome will enhance the research community’s understanding and use of key agronomic traits in lentil breeding,” Dr. Bett says. “Integration of such knowledge with key performance and end-use consumer traits will augment current lentil breeding practices and facilitate efficient cultivar development at the CDC.”
These technologies can also be used to develop traits to meet specific market demand. For example, some of Dr. Bett’s research focuses on helping to understand what makes lentil varieties more attractive to enduse markets through their visual characteristics.
Dr. Bett is also currently working on research that aims to understand flowering time in lentils by confirming which genes control days to flower and maturity, and developing markers related to key flowering time genes. The aim is that these genes can then be deployed into the CDC’s lentil breeding program.
The overall goal of pre-breeding research is to provide researchers with the tools they need to help build a sustainable, long-term future for the Saskatchewan pulse industry.
And that means supporting the development of new varieties to keep us competitive, Mascarenhas says.
“New variety development is very important — if we did not have varieties that respond to market needs, we would be unable to remain competitive globally.”
“Right now we are the world’s largest exporters of pulses, so this area is exceptionally important.”
For a list of ongoing SPG-funded research in this area, download the magazine.