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New technology focuses on native gene manipulation

The pace of canola seed innovation has increased dramatically over the last 10 years, but that doesn’t mean the industry can take a break or rest on its laurels.

As canola production and consumption has increased over the last four or five years, the amount of soybean oil used worldwide has dropped by four billion pounds. And according to David Dzisiak of Dow AgroSciences — soybean producers want that market back.

“So we would like to keep the innovation in canola moving forward to maintain our advantage,” said the Canola Council of Canada (CCC) director. “Because we still don’t have the scale and size that a crop like soybeans has.”

Dzisiak made the remark during a panel discussion at CCC’s convention in Washington, D.C., which focused on issues of genetic innovation.

Pace of innovation

“The pace of the science is truly astounding, and I think this is probably the most exciting time ever for agriculture, both because of the necessity of the increased demand that needs to be supplied and because of the ability now to create crop traits to help people live longer, healthier lives,” he said.

To make canola healthier, Dzisiak said Dow is working on adding the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) to the seed.

The long-chain fatty acid is the primary structure for the brain and eyes, and supports cognitive abilities. Today DHA is primarily found via algal fermentation and fish oil, which Dzisiak said is not appetizing or sustainable.

Although this technology is likely a significant time away from coming to market, it was noted that without advancing technology and dropping prices, these innovations wouldn’t be possible at all.

“What we’ve seen in increases in precision, increases in the density of those things … we’ve found at each and every step we are much more efficient,” said Lloyd McCall of Bayer CropScience.

Costs have decreased

He added the cost of genetic technology has also decreased as processes become more mechanized and less labour intense.

Ten years ago a data point would cost about $4 to determine, now each genetic data point costs five or 10 cents, McCall said.

Dzisiak also noted Dow is now using EXZACT Precision Technology, developed to allow the precise addition, editing, and deletion of genes in complex plant genomes.

But because the technology uses native genes and does not import genetic material, the Dow representative said there may be regulatory benefits, allowing varieties developed this way to more quickly reach wider markets.

Monsanto is also looking to the future, with eyes set on higher yields from more resistant varieties, in addition to Roundup Ready updates.

“It’s all about the sustainability of the system,” said Monsanto representative Mark Kidnie. He added future canola varieties will stack resistance traits to avoid issues seen with the development of Roundup-resistant weeds, allowing a variety of herbicides to be used.

“This is an approach we are taking across our Roundup Ready crops in terms of bringing multiple tolerance or resistance on top of each other,” he said. “It’s proactive.”

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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