Meet our scientists
Today, our scientists are busy finding solutions to problems, sometimes years before we have to confront them. They continue to acquire the knowledge we need to remain innovative. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientists have been recognized for their contributions to science and innovation at home and around the world.
Here are some key projects that have helped address some of the challenges of agriculture today:
- Plant Gene Resources of Canada exchanges genetic resources with scientists around the world to study and develop new crops
- Created in 1970 in Ottawa, the Plant Gene Resources of Canada (PGRC) mandate is to protect, preserve, and enhance the genetic diversity of Canadian crop plants and their wild relatives. This is accomplished by acquiring, evaluating, researching, and documenting plant genetic information for the purpose of crop development. PGRC recently relocated to the Saskatoon Research Centre in Saskatchewan and initiated an active research program in genetic conservation, genetic diversity and plant pathology. The PGRC also includes a Clonal Genebank of small fruit and tree fruit at the Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre Centre in Harrow, Ontario, and a Potato Genebank at the Potato Research Centre in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Canada signed and ratified the International Treaty on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and placed all of its collection into the multi-lateral system to facilitate international distribution, access and benefit sharing of germplasm.
- Discovery of gene cluster responsible for necrotic enteritis paves the way to controlling this deadly poultry disease
- A major breakthrough by scientists at the Guelph Food Research Centre, the University of Guelph and the University of Arizona has identified the gene clusters responsible for necrotic enteritis, a deadly poultry disease, and is bringing the research one step closer to developing effective controls. Necrotic enteritis (NE) is the most common disease encountered by poultry farmers today and is estimated to cost the international poultry industry US$2 billion each year. The disease is currently controlled by the prophylactic use of antibiotics, a practice that has now been banned in Europe, which quickly caused a surge in NE cases there. Concerns by the poultry industry that a similar regulation will be implemented in North America have spawned intensified research into this disease, with the ultimate goal of developing alternative control strategies.
- Significant advances in plum pox virus (PPV) epidemiology, sampling and detection and new plum germplasm highly resistant to PPV are helping Canada's stone fruit industry cope with this disease
- Plum Pox Virus (PPV) causes a serious disease affecting commercial stone fruit quality, quantity, production and export that can cause losses as high as 80-100 percent. In Europe over 10 million trees have been infected. When PPV was detected in 2000 in the Niagara region of Ontario, scientists from the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland, British Columbia, the Southern Crop Protection and Food Research Centre in London and Vineland, Ontario and the Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre in Ottawa, Ontario joined forces with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to minimize the spread of this disease. The research team developed a sensitive diagnostic test that is used throughout North America to detect PPV infected trees in the orchard. The lack of genetic material resistant to the virus has prompted scientists to use a process similar to vaccination in animals and humans where a very small portion of the viral genome is introduced into plants to trigger a natural antiviral response. This process has resulted in the creation of a PPV resistant plum variety.
- Discovery of phytotoxins linked to potato common scab disease narrows the search for resistant varieties and the ensuing development of new varieties
- Common scab of potato caused predominantly by the soil bacterium Streptomyces scabies is considered a disease of major economic importance in most potato producing areas of the world. In the early 1990s a team of researchers from the Potato Research Centre in Fredericton, New Brunswick and the University of New Brunswick isolated and characterized a unique group of phytotoxins generated by soil microorganisms responsible for the common scab of potato disease. This discovery has helped scientists around the world develop tests to identify and measure scab-causing bacteria and is helping scientists search for scab resistant potato germplasm.
- Research is increasing the international scientific community's awareness of the exact conditions needed for the survival of the probiotics added to food, then consumed as a source of intestinal flora
- Probiotics, bacteria known for their health benefits, are extremely fragile. In an unsuitable environment, they die before they even reach the intestines. A scientist at the Food Research and Development Centre in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec is doing research on micro-encapsulation, a promising method for protecting probiotics in food, the mouth and then the stomach. Encased in their microcapsule, they are able to safely reach the intestine and there fulfill all their potential for protecting people from certain diseases.
- Discovery of rust-resistant genes establishes Canada as a world leader in the frontline battle against cereal rust diseases
- The Cereal Research Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba is a world leader in the discovery and exploitation of genes resistance to cereal rusts. The resistant genes discovered by scientists in Winnipeg represent a major proportion of all known rust resistance genes to date. This information has been used to develop a number of rust-resistant wheat and oat varieties for Canadian farmers. However, the pathogens causing cereal rusts have enormous adaptability to form new virulent strains, which can overcome the genetic resistance that scientists have developed. On-going monitoring of pathogen changes, finding new genes and breeding new resistant varieties is necessary and has helped Canadian farmers avoid another epidemic - the last occurring in the 1950s, when the disease destroyed as much as 40 percent of the continent's spring wheat crop.
- Rapid DNA technology helps identify wheat varieties with natural pest resistance, accelerating new crop development
- In collaboration with industry partners, scientists at the Cereal Research Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba have created a rapid and inexpensive DNA-based technology to help identify wheat classes and varieties. In the long-term, this information will help wheat breeders identify varieties with disease resistance, superior quality and higher yield. The technology is currently being used by the Saskatchewan Research Council to test seeds for wheat midge tolerance, an insect that has recently caused significant damage to wheat crops. Future applications of the technology may also help ensure the consistence quality of Canada's grain exports and reduce the industry's exposure to accidental or intended co-mingling of varieties.
- New model for crop tolerance to root-zone salinity helps scientists develop new salt-tolerant varieties
- Scientists and engineers at the Semiarid Prairie Agricultural Research Centre in Swift Current, Saskatchewan in collaboration with colleagues at the United States Salinity Laboratory revised the 25-year-old conventional threhold-slope model for crop tolerance of root-zone salinity, replacing it with an equation which more precisely reflects the gradual decrease in crop produciton as salinity increases from negligable. This equation led to the Salinity Tolerance Index which has been applied to most crops including wheat, barley, canola, mustard, peas, lentils, beans, camelina, forage grasses, alfalfa and hybrid poplars. These evaluations identified selected canola varieties as equal in salinity tolerance to barley and helped develop a new forage grass as well as new salt-tolerant alfalfa varieities.
- New method to extract recombinant proteins from plants is used internationally to create designer therapeutic and industrial proteins
- Researchers at the Southern Crop Protection and Food Research Centre in London, Ontario in collaboration with colleagues in Finland have developed a method to produce plant-made recombinant proteins inside plant vegetative organs. This process, known as a fusion protein strategy, increases the yield of these proteins while at the same time efficiently purifying them. It is much more simple, quick, and inexpensive and can be scaled to industrial levels of protein production. This technology raises the industry's competitiveness while at the same time improving the health and well-being of citizen throughout the world as it has already been adopted in 11 different countries.
- National Biological Collections play crucial role in identifying invasive species, resolving crisis situations, and helping save farmers millions of dollars through early control measures
- The national collection contains plants, insects and fungi preserved at the Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre in Ottawa, Ontario as well as dried cultures and
"live"viruses in Ottawa and at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland, British Columbia. Access to DNA technology allows for rapid, routine and accurate identification of specimens. The Canadian collection has helped resolve potentially catastrophic outbreaks - such as the discovery of potato wart disease in 2000 that immediately restricted potato trade with the United States, and the discovery of sudden oak death disease in a British Columbia nursery in 2003. In both cases scientists accessed the national collections to develop new assays to quickly detect the presence of these diseases. The collections have also helped scientists identify invasive weeds such as Kudzu vine and European common reed and respond quickly with appropriate control measures to minimize interference with crop production.
- National mycotoxin testing facility helps scientists to monitor and study a devastating plant disease, Fusarium graminarum, and to guide breeding research for the development of resistant cereal and oilseed cultivars
- The national mycotoxin testing facility at the Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre in Ottawa, Ontario was established as a result of repeated Fusarium epidemics in Canadian cereal crops. Scientists provide identification services and have developed a method to annually test over 15,000 grain samples for plant breeders across Canada. Fusarium graminarum, the pathogen that causes wheat and barley head blight and corn ear rot, has been one of Canada's most devastating plant diseases over the past 30 years due to its negative impact on the health and safety of consumers and animals, and on farm income. Research has helped develop best management practices to help farmers and industry minimize the disease impact and establish standards for mycotoxin levels in foods and animal feeds.
- Scientists at the Cereal Research Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba have studied the prevalence, causal pathogens, epidemiology and genetics of this disease and established screening nurseries and protocols for FHB that are used by the western Canadian cereal breeding programs to develop resistant varieties. Intensive screening of adapted and exotic germplasm has identified lines with improved resistance in wheat, barley and oats and lead to the development of new varieties of wheat.
- The discovery of naturally occurring bacterial strains has been key to developing feed additives and feeding systems to manage grains and animal feed contaminated with mycotoxins (a serious threat to livestock and human health)
- Around a quarter of the world's food crops can be contaminated with mycotoxins every year, creating an ongoing, serious threat to human health and food and livestock industries. Scientists at the Guelph Food Research Centre in Ontario have discovered naturally occurring bacterial strains that can effectively control these mycotoxins - produced by various molds - by converting them into less or even non toxic compounds. These bacterial strains are particularly effective in detoxifying vomitoxin (deoxynivalenol - DON) in contaminated grains and animal feeds which untreated can affect livestock growth through weight loss, feed refusal, nausea, and vomiting. New feed additives and novel feeding systems based on the discovered bacterial strains are currently being developed by related industries. The strains are also being used to identify mycotoxin-detoxification enzymes and genes. This may also help scientists develop effective products to eliminate the targeting mycotoxin in food and feed and develop crop varieties resistant to mycotoxin production, thus preventing the mycotoxin from entering human and animal food chains.