Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

June 17, 1999

Agriculture news: biotechnology & corn; soy studies; transgenic alfalfa

A devastating corn disease could be history in the next few years, thanks largely to the efforts of Ontario producers and researchers from the University of Guelph.

U of G scientists and researchers from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Ottawa are exploring two methods for increasing resistance to Fusarium graminerarum ear mold in corn. The research could give Ontario an edge in corn production.

"If we can solve the fusarium problem, Ontario corn producers will be able to grow a unique, toxin-free crop," said U of G Prof. Peter Pauls, Department of Plant Agriculture.

Fusarium, a fungal disease, attacks the roots of plants such as potatoes and corn. It blocks the xylem, preventing water from travelling through the plant. This causes wilting, white mold on corn kernels and crop devastation. The situation is more critical in the United States, but fusarium-contaminated corn is still a threat to Ontario livestock producers and millers who use or process corn for feed.

The researchers insert fusarium-resistant genes into corn, then breed it. In nature, the agrobacterium might spread disease-causing or "pathogenic" genes through the plant. But researchers remove these pathogenic genes and replace them.

Another approach is to develop faster and more effective screening of naturally occurring fusarium resistance in corn. This method minimizes time and space requirements in plant breeding programs.

"This research could have significant implications for the future of Ontario corn crops," Pauls says. "If it proves to be successful, Ontario could market fungal toxin-free corn in about five to 10 years."

Contact: Prof. Peter Pauls, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 2460

Researchers at the University of Guelph and University of Toronto are studying whether unhealthy blood cholesterol levels can be lowered by increasing soybean consumption.

A clinical trial involving the U of G's Laboratory Services Division is investigating blood cholesterol levels in participants receiving soy-based food products.

"We are hoping to find that the isoflavones in soybeans have a positive effect on cholesterol levels," said Chung-Ja Jackson, a researcher at the Guelph Centre for Functional Foods (part of Laboratory Services Division), who is collaborating with U of T researcher David Jenkins, Department of Nutrition. "If they do, we may be able to make dietary recommendations for people who are trying to lower their cholesterol levels."

Some of the group's findings were presented at the Canadian Federation of Biological Societies meeting in Winnipeg this month. The potential ability of isoflavones to reduce blood cholesterol is a new addition to the growing list of soy's health benefits. Isoflavones have already been shown to help prevent other health problems such as colon, breast and prostate cancer, as well as menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis.

Jackson's role is to measure levels of isoflavones in soy foods eaten by volunteers as well as levels of isoflavone metabolites in the participants' urine. Changes in blood cholesterol levels are measured at the University of Toronto.

Contact: Chung-Ja Jackson, (519) 767-6236

Kinder and gentler cattle vaccines may become a reality, thanks to the development of an oral cattle vaccine by a University of Guelph research team.

The researchers are trying to produce a transgenic line of alfalfa that carries a bacterial gene. The alfalfa is designed to produce a natural antigen to help boost bovine immune response to a type of pneumonia in cattle.

This study involves Prof. Reggie Lo, Department of Microbiology; Prof. Patricia Shewen, Department of Pathobiology; and Prof. Judith Strommer, Department of Plant Agriculture.

"Traditional vaccination by needle injection requires rounding up and restraining the cattle and is costly and stressful to animals," Lo said. "If we can create an oral delivery system using transgenic alfalfa, we can simply mix up the alfalfa in the regular feed."

The team is creating the oral vaccine system using a well-understood gene from the bacterium Pasteurella hemolytica, a major disease-causing pathogen. The researchers will transfer the bacterial DNA into the recipient alfalfa plants. Once the transgenic alfalfa line is established, the researchers will determine whether the gene is producing the bacterial antigens as planned. They will then feed the transgenic alfalfa to the cattle to see whether an immune response occurs in the cow's respiratory system. If the oral vaccine is successful, further research to create transgenic alfalfa lines expressing other antigens will be explored.


Prof. Reggie Lo, Department of Microbiology, (519) 824-4120 Ext. 3363/4394/

Prof. Patricia Shewen, Department of Pathobiology, (519) 824-4120 Ext. 4453/4759/

Prof. Judith Strommer, Department of Plant Agriculture, (519) 824-4120 Ext. 2759/6469/

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120 Ext. 3338

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