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Global Institute for Food Security to Lead $37.2 M Innovative Agricultural Research

Funding will help the University of Saskatchewan advance its research and innovation program.

by University of Saskatchewan
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beansImage courtesy of the Global Institute for Food SecuritySASKATOON - Thanks to a just-announced $37.2-million federal investment, the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS), an institute at the University of Saskatchewan, will engage with regional, national and international partners to advance its research and innovation program: Designing Crops for Global Food Security.

Designing Crops for Global Food Security is led and managed by GIFS for the university and on behalf of a large multi-disciplinary consortium. It will combine the science of plant genomics (DNA sequencing and analysis) with crop phenotyping (identification of useful traits) using high performance computing and advanced imaging technology.

“The power of plant genomics lies in our ability to analyze massive data sets of DNA to identify which genes are needed to breed a crop with superior performance,” GIFS Executive Director Maurice Moloney said. “However, crop phenotyping is not yet a digital activity. Identifying useful traits are still done manually by plant breeders – an approach as old as agriculture itself,” he said. “If images of these traits can be digitized, they can be analysed rapidly and then used to match specific DNA sequences to agronomic traits. This will greatly accelerate plant-breeding efforts.”

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Moloney said this work will put Canada in a leading position worldwide in digital and computational agriculture.

“It will provide next-generation technologies to Canadian companies and will enable breeders in developing countries to participate in the crop genomics revolution,” he said. “It capitalizes on existing infrastructure and intellectual resources in Saskatchewan to make a whole which is much bigger than the sum of its parts."

Chair of the GIFS Board Dallas Howe said, “This investment will help GIFS contribute to global food security through transformative innovation and the development of products and business opportunities in the developed world, and will also general sustainable technologies for developing countries.”

The U of S campus is the natural venue to build this capability due to its world-class plantbreeding and agronomy as well as computer science expertise, Canada's synchrotron, a cyclotron and engineers skilled in advanced sensor technology.

The campus is also home to researchers at the National Research Council and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada who will collaborate on the program.

Karen Chad, U of S vice-president research, said, "This award is a major boost to multidisciplinary research on this campus and provides substantial, long-term support for our institutional strategy of excellence in agricultural and nutritional sciences. It also positions the university internationally as a major player in plant genomics and phenotyping."

This award will unleash the power of genomics and greatly accelerate plant-breeding efforts needed to meet the challenge of global food security as the world population grows steadily to an anticipated peak of 9.6 billion in 2050.