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Scientists A Step Closer To Better Canola

Canadian scientists have helped crack the genetic code of Brassica rapa, but there s still more work to be done before canola s entire genome is sequenced.

Canola was formed from a hybridization event between two founder species and so now geneticists are focusing on the other species, a cabbage-like cousin used to create the Cinderella oilseed crop.

Sequencing canola is more complicated because of these two genomes, so in a way it is helpful to have these two originating species, said Isobel Parkin, co-principal investigator on the $4.3-million Canadian Canola Sequencing Initiative.

It s a tough nut to crack, but worth it, she said. Determining the DNA sequence of crops will allow researchers to better understand the mechanisms of the plant, and to map traits of interest. This information can then be used by breeders to develop crops that are more disease resistant, drought-tolerant, location-suitable and higher yielding.

Scientists from the National Research Council of Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada contributed to an international consortium that has sequenced the genome of Brassica rapa, also known as Polish canola. Brassica is a group of plants in the mustard family that also includes vegetable crops such turnip, broccoli and Chinese cabbage.

The Canadian initiative aims to produce genome sequences for each of the ancestral Brassica species that has led to the development of the major commodity oilseed crops: canola, mustard and Ethiopian mustard. With advances in DNA technologies, the B. rapa genome was mapped in less than two years, and for under $1 million. By comparison, it took 13 years of work and approximately US$2.7 billion to fully sequence the human genome, a task completed in 2003.

The cost a sequencing a genome has come dramatically down, and it keeps going down, said Parkin. There s been so many advances in the technology and the ways we actually do sequencing.

Canola (B. napus) is Canada s most lucrative oilseed crop, contributing more than $13.8 billion annually to the Canadian economy. It was originally developed as a crop in the 1970s.

Brassica rapa is still grown as an oilseed crop in Canada because it s suitable for regions with shortened growing seasons, such as Alberta s Peace River region.

daniel. [email protected]

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