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Fungi-Resistant GM Canola Passes Lab Tests

Atechnique used already against viral diseases has been put to lab-scale tests that show it can help canola plants fight off sclerotinia and other fungi.

University of Alberta biochemist Nat Kav and his research team introduced an antibody gene into a plant to see if it would have any effect against sclerotinia stem rot.

Canola plants with the new gene were found to have a “high degree” of tolerance to the disease, slowing its progression and limiting its severity, the U of A said in a release Feb. 17.

But the technique also seems to have spurred the same reaction in the gene-altered canola plants against two other fungal diseases: blackleg and alternaria black spot.

Kav’s findings showed the genetically modified (GM) canola plants could tolerate the disease to the point where the stems don’t break, the plants remain healthy and strong enough to be harvested, and canola yields are unaffected, the U of A reported.

Kav said he’s also testing his GM plants for resistance to Alberta’s most-feared canola disease, clubroot. That study is seen as complementing other research at U of A, aimed at breeding clubroot-resistant canola.

“TWO OR THREE SEASONS”

The work by Kav’s team could have an even broader impact worldwide, the U of A noted, if the sclerotinia-resistant gene in question can be put to the test against the disease in other susceptible crops, such as carrots, oats, corn, sweet peas, broccoli, cauliflower or any of about 400 others.

“You never know what’s going to happen in another plant species until you do it,” Kav said cautiously in the U of A release. “Nature is full of surprises.”

Kav, who’s also the associate dean of academics in the U of A’s agricultural, food and nutritional science department, said he plans to seek an “industrial partner” who can help test the lab-level results in the field.

“You need at least two or three growing seasons to have robust data and do it at multiple sites,” said Kav.

Thus, the U of A said, any commercial product developed from the team’s findings is still “years away.”

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