Gene editing immunizes canola against nasty fungal disease, and may cut farmer dependence on fungicides

Sclerotia are small, hard fungal bodies, which form inside infected canola stems. The sclerotia bodies fall out of the stems, enter the soil and are a source of infection for subsequent canola crops. Credit: Robert Arnason
Sclerotia are small, hard fungal bodies, which form inside infected canola stems. The sclerotia bodies fall out of the stems, enter the soil and are a source of infection for subsequent canola crops. Credit: Robert Arnason

Field trials confirmed greenhouse trial results of a new canola trait that’s sclerotinia resistant. 

Cibus is an independent trait developer that focuses on disease resistance, herbicide tolerance and nitrogen-use efficiency in canola, rice, corn, wheat and soybeans.

Peter Beetham, president and chief executive officer at Cibus, said the rapid-rate-development system the company uses is a family of technologies that enables it to edit genes yet keep the crops’ non-GM designation.

“Fundamentally, what we do is we make a spelling change in a gene and so by doing that we use the natural processes in cells of plants and then bring those cells back to a whole plant. We then take it to the greenhouse and it enters into a normal plant-breeding program,” Beetham said.

He said the outcomes are indistinguishable from what can occur in nature.

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However, the new phenotype this process creates provides plant breeders and seed companies quick access to coveted traits that take much longer to get into commercial varieties when using traditional breeding techniques.

Beetham said the initial introductions of this sclerotinia-resistance gene will reduce the amount of fungicide farmers need to apply.

“It won’t do it completely but we think by the time we get to the next generation product, we could maybe eradicate the use of fungicide for sclerotinia or white mould completely.”

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Related article:  Viewpoint: Gene-edited crop developers need to win public trust. Transparency is how they can do it
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