Research set to strengthen Australian canola crops

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 21st October 2011

The impact of fungal diseases on canola crops could be drastically reduced according to scientists from The University of Queensland, who are trying to crack the genetic code of a close canola relative.

In a statement released today, the scientists said their research could have major ramifications for Australia’s export trade as the world’s second-largest canola exporter.

Dr David Edwards and Dr Jacqueline Batley from The University of Queensland’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, are part of an international team – the Multinational Brassica Genome Sequencing Project Consortium – that has mapped the genome sequence of the Chinese cabbage (Brassica rapa), which is a vegetable in the same family as canola.

Dr Edwards said, “Canola is Australia’s third largest crop, after wheat and barley, and a major source of healthy vegetable oil. Canola crops often suffer from fungal disease, so growing canola that has been selected for disease resistance will improve yield and quality for farmers and consumers.”

As part of the international team, Dr Batley identified genetic markers for the fungal disease ‘blackleg’, which affects canola yield and quality and is highly prevalent in Australia and Canada.

“Blackleg wiped out most of Australia’s canola crops in the 1970s and the disease continues to threaten the viability of the Australian canola industry,” Dr Batley said. “Now we can breed for resistance to it.”

Dr Batley said that progress on genome sequencing for crops like canola and wheat has been slow because of their complicated genomes, but new sequencing and assembly methods have allowed the international team to identify one million genetic markers across the canola genome, after almost 10 years’ research.

Australian Oilseeds Federation figures show Australia supplies more than one million tonnes of canola seed annually – 15 to 20 per cent of the global canola trade – to Japan, Europe, China, Pakistan and other international markets.