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Improving the Value of Seeds to Farmers and Producers

Research focus: GIFS will develop new technologies that enhance the quality of seeds and make them more robust and resilient to insects, thereby improving the value of seeds to farmers and producers.

Increase the hybrid vigour of seeds: Increase the size and strength of seeds compared to either of the seed’s parents that can be maintained in subsequent generations.

Reproduce seeds through apomixis: Apomixis (reproducing seeds asexually) results in offspring that are genetically identical to the parent plant but are reproduced asexually. This offers a new route to making hybrids in crops that currently have no F1 hybrid seeds.

Create perennial cereal grains: Most commercial cereal grains are annuals – they must be re-planted each year from seed. This can be harmful to fragile soils, particularly those found in arid climates such as sub-Saharan Africa. Perennial cereal grains offer the possibility for subsistence farmers in developing countries to enrich the soil with organic matter and improve sustainability while continuing to improve yields.

New technologies developed in each of these areas are equally applicable in developed and developing nations. In the developed nations, seed production is one of the most significant input costs. In developing nations where farmers routinely save seeds, these technologies will improve quality and yield.

Immense Benefits to Farmers in Canada

  • Wheat, canola and pulse crops account for over 80% of Saskatchewan’s crop exports, and Canada exports over 20 million tonnes of wheat each year. Saskatchewan also produces over 40% of the world’s lentils and 10% of the world’s canola.
  • Reduced need for insecticidal sprays would reduce input costs.
  • Herbicide resistance, which is also propagated through seed, would result in increased yield and improved soil quality in several major crops worldwide.
  • More resilient crops would decrease the risk of crop failure and boost farmer incomes.
  • Perennial cereal grains would mean that farmers wouldn’t have to re-plant crops each year and the carbon footprint of farm operations would be reduced. Growing seasons would also be longer and root systems more extensive and therefore competitive against weeds and more effective at capturing nutrients and water. Farmers would benefit from higher-quality seeds and would be able to use them repeatedly, thereby realizing a higher return.

Benefits to Developing Nations

  • Crops could be bred to grow in areas where it is currently very difficult for them to grow, such as on the sides of mountains.
  • Farmers could use saved seed repeatedly and reduce production costs.
  • Lower input costs would help build an economic cycle that would reduce reliance on the developed world for food.

GIFS Research Chair in Seed Biology

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GIFS Research Chair in Seed Biology is working to develop crop-breeding tools that could change the way hybrid seed can be made. A world leader in asexual seed formation, or “apomixis”, a naturally occurring form of plant reproduction where a flowering plant produces seeds without pollination, Dr. Sharbel’s research on a transition (sexual or asexual seed development) species called Boechera has resulted in the isolation of two genes, APOLLO and UPGRADE, which appear to have a pivotal function in the transition to apomixis. This is now being tested in canola.

At GIFS, Dr. Sharbel is leading a multi-national team of over 20 postdoctoral researchers, technicians and graduate students. Many of the staff working in Seed and Developmental Biology followed Dr. Sharbel from Germany to Saskatoon to work in this important research area.

The Global Impact of Seed Issues

  • Saskatchewan produces 40% of the world's lentils and 10% of the world's canola.
  • Demand for cereal grains (for food and animal feed) is projected to reach three billion tonnes by 2050.
  • Canada exports over 20 million tonnes of wheat each year and is the largest exporter of canola.