OAC Prof Heading $2-Million Soybean Research Effort

May 01, 2014 - News Release

A University of Guelph scientist using genetics to improve Ontario’s most valuable crop has received nearly $2 million in government and industry support.

Prof. Istvan Rajcan, Department of Plant Agriculture, was recently awarded a Collaborative Research and Development Grant by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. Matched by funding from Grain Farmers of Ontario, SeCan Association and Huron Commodities Inc., the grant is worth a total of more than $500,000.

Earlier, Rajcan received $1.4 million from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the Canadian Field Crop Research Alliance (CFCRA). That funding was part of a $10.3- million Canadian Field Crop Genetics Improvement Cluster funded by CFCRA and AAFC through the Growing Forward 2 AgriInnovation Program.

“These substantial grants reflect Istvan’s success as a researcher and the impact of his work on the agri-food industry,” said John Livernois, interim vice-president (research).

“It’s a positive recognition of his accomplishments and our University’s research strengths.”

Rajcan uses state-of-the-art technology to pinpoint genetic markers for producing improved soybean varieties.

Ultimately, his work will allow breeders and growers to select varieties with specific traits from high yields to high protein content to disease resistance, including varieties that may help to prevent cancer and other ailments.

“We are intent on helping farmers in Canada get access to high-performing soybean varieties, and taking a scientific approach to doing that,” said Rajcan.

Soybean production in Canada has increased 450 per cent since 1980.

In the past decade, soybeans have become Ontario’s largest cash crop. Ontario farmers plant more than two and a half million acres’ worth of soybeans each year, worth more than $1.7 billion in 2012.

Soybeans are used in more than 300 products made world-wide, including food, oils, livestock feed, cleaning products, industrial coatings and car parts.

“We aim to use the latest technology to help develop innovative soybean varieties that meet the needs of various producers and industries, both domestically and internationally,” said Rajcan, a U of G professor since 1998.

He and his 15-member research team – including U of G research associate Chris Grainger, PhD candidate Robert Bruce, Prof. Milad Eskandari from the Ridgetown Campus, and Prof. François Belzile from Université Laval – are seeking to develop genetic markers for various traits such as increased yields and enhanced nutritional qualities.

Increased yields and disease resistance will help in making food products such as tofu, nattō and miso, and developing varieties with value-added nutritional traits is an important objective for Canadian soybean growers, Rajcan said.

For example, Japanese food producers want soybeans with more sugar. Demand is growing for varieties with more isoflavones -- linked to reduced risk of cancer, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease – and saponins with anti-cancer properties. Industry is seeking oil-rich varieties for edible oils and for bioproducts used to make biodiesel and car parts.

Besides looking for genetic markers, the team uses advanced genomic technologies to study how breeding has changed the soybean genome.

“We’ll be studying the changes in genetic diversity over generations of breeding activity,” Rajcan said. “We’re looking at what happened to DNA as a result of intervention of plant breeders, what changed and the implications of those changes.”

Genetic diversity is essential for such traits as higher yields and nutraceuticals, he added.

Together with his team, Rajcan has developed more than 50 soybean varieties. These include “OAC Kent,” created with retired technician Wade Montminty, which was the 2008 “Seed of the Year” winner, and “OAC Wallace,” which has been the No. 1 variety for yield in its category in Ontario for 13 years.

The latter variety is named for Rajcan’s PhD advisor, former Guelph professor Wallace Beversdorf, whose highly successful “OAC Bayfield” led to Rajcan’s own varieties.

Rajcan has also received support from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Ministry of Rural Affairs under the New Directions research program and through the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario’s Plant Germplasm Revenue Reinvestment program.

Prof. Istvan Rajcan
Department of Plant Agriculture
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 53564

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or lhunt@uoguelph.ca; or Kevin Gonsalves, Ext. 56982, or kgonsalves@uoguelph.ca.

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