By Jim Radtke, Ph.D.
Plant breeding has driven the development of canola as an edible oilseed crop. In the 1960s, Canadian breeders took an industrial oilseed crop called rapeseed and selected for an edible oil profile, significantly reducing erucic acid to create “Canadian oil low acid” (canola) with excellent edible oil quality. But they were not done. Further advancements were made to change the crop into high yielding hybrids and the use of biotechnology (integrating foreign DNA) added resistance to herbicides, allowing for better weed control and crop management.
More recently, a new tool has been added to the plant breeder’s toolbox called gene editing. Plant breeders have known for years that mutations, or small changes in plant DNA, were responsible for variations among species. They could even induce those changes in plants, but these changes were not predictable and hard to manage. Gene editing changes this situation. Now, precise edits can be predictably made exactly where they are needed to develop a new trait in a plant without the addition of foreign DNA. More importantly, gene editing can be used by plant breeders as part of conventional breeding programs to develop new traits faster and more precisely than ever before.
Cibus is using gene editing technology to develop several traits for canola that will be valuable to growers. Pod shatter reduction is an example.
Cibus is a leader in gene editing and works with breeding partners to develop new traits in canola and other crops. Its RTDS® (Rapid Trait Development System™) is a suite of technologies used to develop useful traits in crops. A tool exists to make accurate edits in plant DNA without disrupting other gene activity as was experienced in previous efforts to make mutations in plants. RTDS® technologies not only can “knock out” functions of genes (as another technology called CRISPR can do), but it can also be used to modify the “spelling” of genes in a plant so that they do something different than they did before. And these technologies can be applied in elite commercial genetics to accelerate bringing a new trait to market.
Cibus is using gene editing technology to develop several traits for canola that will be valuable to growers. Pod shatter reduction is an example. While some hybrids today have excellent levels of pod shatter tolerance, Cibus is working with key partners to ensure that growers have access to the pod shatter reduction trait in their favorite hybrids from their preferred providers. Another target is Sclerotinia (white mold) disease resistance. There are no good native genes available to breeders for Sclerotinia resistance, but there are several pathways that can be modified with gene editing to develop that trait and give growers more options to keep canola healthy and productive. Another trait that will be important is Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE). This is a very complex trait, but Cibus has ideas where gene editing could be used to significantly improve canola’s ability to efficiently use soil nitrogen and still deliver expected yield – a most important trait at a time when input costs are increasing!
More traits are on the way in canola and other crops from Cibus as it continuously looks for opportunities to add value for growers. The more breeders learn about plant genes, the more we will be able to apply editing tools to improve plants to meet increasing global demand for food, feed and fiber in the face of a changing climate.
Jim Radtke, Ph.D., is senior vice president of product development at Cibus in St. Paul, Minn.