ARCHIVED - Canada-China working together to boost canola production

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November 03, 2008— Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

NRC and China are combining their research expertise to develop higher-yielding varieties of canola (Brassica napus) — a crop that currently contributes more than $11 billion to the Canadian economy.

Over the next three years, the Oil Crops Research Institute (OCRI) of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the NRC Plant Biotechnology Institute (NRC-PBI) in Saskatoon will cooperate on genomics research designed to identify the genes that affect canola oil yields and the plant's capacity to adapt to various environmental stresses. OCRI will contribute up to $300,000 toward genomics research at NRC-PBI, and will also send a scientist to Saskatoon to work with NRC researchers.

"For the first time, China is investing directly in agricultural research in Canada to advance a crop that is important to both countries," says Dr. Roman Szumski, Vice-President of Life Sciences at NRC. "This collaboration will increase both countries' reputations for excellence in agricultural research, creating a competitive advantage for Canadian and Chinese agricultural producers."

According to Dr. Faouzi Bekkaoui, who manages NRC-PBI's Oilseed Crop Genomics Program, the spark of collaboration originated from initial contacts between scientists of both organizations. Then, NRC was invited to participate in a November 2007 workshop on the genomics and genetic improvement of canola and related Brassica species. The workshop included participants from Huazhong Agricultural University and OCRI, which specializes in research on canola and other oilseeds such as peanuts and soybeans. "They were very keen to collaborate with us, and so we hosted a follow-up meeting in May 2008 to focus on specific research areas," says Dr. Bekkaoui.

Participants at the November 2007 workshop on Brassica genomics in Wuhan, China. Left to right: Drs. Shengyi Liu, Hong Wang, Mark Smith, Gopalan Selvaraj, Jitao Zou, Raju Datla, Pierre Fobert and Faouzi Bekkaoui.
Participants at the November 2007 workshop on Brassica genomics in Wuhan, China. Left to right: Drs. Shengyi Liu, Hong Wang, Mark Smith, Gopalan Selvaraj, Jitao Zou, Raju Datla, Pierre Fobert and Faouzi Bekkaoui.

"One of the unique aspects of this agreement is the sharing of intellectual property between both organizations to support crop improvement and commercialization in each country," notes Royal Hinther, business development officer for NRC-PBI. "Also, OCRI has plenty of rapeseed germplasm at its disposal. Chinese germplasm could benefit Canada and our germplasm could benefit China."

Under the agreement, one of the research priorities is to sequence two chromosomes of Brassica rapa — also known as Chinese cabbage — a crop that is used for breeding canola. NRC and OCRI will also complete a draft map of the B. napus genome. This research project is part of a collaboration involving Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and other partners.

"OCRI has strong expertise in classical plant breeding, while NRC-PBI has strong expertise in genomics and biotechnology, so our two organizations are complementary," says Dr. Bekkaoui. "This collaboration will build a foundation for future research through the sequencing of Brassica rapa and the draft of Brassica napus. The resulting data will advance our understanding of the molecular processes underlying canola seed composition, quality, oil yields and disease resistance."

"Our ultimate goal is to increase the oil content of canola," adds Dr. Bekkaoui. "They have some cultivars with higher oil content that we would like to use as models to understand the genetic basis, by identifying the genes that lead to higher oil content."

Dr. Wilf Keller, Research Director of NRC-PBI, and Dr. Han-zhong Wang, Director of OCRI, at signing ceremony in Saskatoon for the Canada-China canola research agreement.
Dr. Wilf Keller, Research Director of NRC-PBI, and Dr. Han-zhong Wang, Director of OCRI, at signing ceremony in Saskatoon for the Canada-China canola research agreement.

"Canada exports a lot of canola to China, but this agreement should not affect the current volume of trade between the two countries," Dr. Bekkaoui comments. "Even if OCRI develops novel varieties that produce more seeds or more oil, China will likely continue to be a big importer of Canadian canola." Adds Hinther: "China has a vested interest in Canada increasing its own production so they will have a more secure supply of canola."

"This agreement makes eminent sense, given that canola was developed in Canada," says Dr. Han-zhong Wang, Director of OCRI. "Food and energy shortages are escalating and increasing canola productivity is something that can help these global issues."

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada
613-991-1431
media@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca

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