Harnessing Genomics to Improve Crops
Consumers are increasingly demanding that crops provide them with such wholesome qualities as high fibre, antioxidants, a low glycemic index, and a balanced mix of minerals and vitamins. Obtaining these qualities requires crops that are able to survive harsh growing conditions and remain productive in the face of climate change, while also producing the quality and yields that allow farmers to stay competitive.
Dr. Ravindra Chibbar, Canada Research Chair in Molecular Biology for Crop Quality, is helping farmers reach those goals by using genomics to improve the quality of wheat and barley, and of pulse crops like lentils and chickpeas. Chibbar is bringing together the expertise of molecular biologists, biochemists, cereal chemists, plant breeders and food scientists.
Chibbar is aiming to improve the profile of slow-digestible carbohydrates in cereals and pulses. Carbohydrates in these crops provide protection against diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, and are a major source of calories. Chibbar is also targeting winter wheat, which produces high yields, uses moisture efficiently, protects against erosion, out-competes many weeds and avoids disease, but which struggles against the challenging winters of the Canadian Prairies.
So far, Chibbar has described genes that contribute to carbohydrate composition, seed dormancy and winter hardiness. He has also produced a wheat bacterial artificial chromosome library and genetic maps of wheat and barley.
Chibbar’s application of genomics is opening up new ways to use biotechnology to improve crops without requiring genetic modification.