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Improved corn genetics for the Canadian corn industry

Principal Investigator: Lana Reid

Research Institution: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Timeline: April 2013 – March 2018

Objectives:

  • Develop corn inbreds with early maturity.
  • Develop corn inbreds with improved disease resistance to Gibberella ear rot (Fusarium graminearum) and other existing and emerging diseases.
  • Develop corn inbreds with rapid kernel dry down.
  • Develop corn inbreds for new markets and with improved agronomic traits including early season cold tolerance.

Impacts:

  • 24 new corn inbreds were developed and released through this project that offer improved disease resistance for Canadian corn growing regions and early maturity for expansion to cooler growing regions and western Canada.
  • A new type of cultivar called sugarcorn was developed.
  • As a result of the new information, technology and corn genetics developed through this project a national corn research network has been established bringing together researchers, private and public programs, and institutions to share new information.
  • The project has established a new network of early maturity research locations in western Canada.
  • The project developed and released some of the first public sources of corn genetics with resistance to Gibberella ear rot, eyespot, common rust, and northern corn leaf blight. These are now being used extensively in further studies on these diseases and being incorporated into private breeding programs to develop new corn hybrids.

Scientific Summary:

Results:

New genetics

A total of 24 corn inbreds have been developed through the research project and more than 20 field trials across Canada were conducted through the project each year. While the final results of the inbreds developed have yet to be seen (corn inbreds are used to develop hybrids), the practical implications for farmers will be beneficial. Higher disease resistance, improved cold tolerance, faster kernel dry down and early maturity are all traits Canadian corn growers are looking for.

The new inbreds developed through this research project included new disease resistance, early maturity, and dry down qualities. Disease resistance against Gibberella ear rot, eyespot, northern corn leaf blight and common rust were developed, along with identified sources of high resistance to Goss’s wilt in some of the inbreds bred for blight resistance. Early maturity inbreds are 2300-2500 CHU and have been developed to flower approximately 60-65 days from planting. Developing inbreds with faster dry down rates will offer growers new production advantages. Sufficient time for grain fill is important in plant maturity and improved dry down qualities will allow plants to maximize grain fill while drying fast enough for harvest. The research project has shown developing inbreds with faster dry down rates have eight-week moisture levels of less than 20% and some ranging 14%-16%.

New technology

A new moisture meter was developed through this research project to test kernel moisture right in the field and prior to harvest without removing the ear from the plant. Previous moisture tests required kernel samples to be tested at a lab or grain elevator, but this new in-field test offers new efficiencies for researchers and growers. The moisture meter is already being used in public and private corn breeding programs across Canada. While primarily used for research purposes, the moisture meter can also be used by corn growers in their own fields.

Additional in-field testing methods were developed through the project for evaluating inbreds and hybrids for resistance to several diseases including Gibberella ear rot, eyespot, northern corn leaf blight and common rust. This method involves inoculating the plants with the fungi and then returning several weeks later to assess resistance. These techniques have now been standardized for routine use and have been adopted by many private and public researchers.

A new type of corn cultivar was developed: sugarcorn. This corn has levels of sucrose sugar in the stalk juice that exceed those found in sugarcane, the number one biofuel crop in the world. 

Faster results

Using double haploid technology to replace some traditional breeding methods, this project has been able to cut years off the development of new corn inbreds. Researchers can now produce inbreds in two to three years rather than the traditional 10 years. Project researchers are confident this new breeding technique will deliver accurate and faster results to help breeders quickly respond to disease pressure and grower needs. 

Using molecular gene mapping techniques, the project has identified parts of the corn chromosomes that may be responsible for resistance to Gibberella ear rot, common smut and kernel dry down. These results are the start of the development of molecular markers for these traits that can be used to further accelerate the breeding process.

Training opportunities

As a result of this project, the Ottawa Research and Development Centre (ORDC) hosts visitors interested in learning about corn breeding and disease research techniques. Many of the visitors come from other research institutions and field crop companies.

Many students also received field crop development training through the project, including a graduate student in western Canada.

Successes

Twenty-four new corn inbreds were developed and released through the research project, offering improved disease resistance for Canadian corn growing regions and early maturity for expansion to cooler growing regions and western Canada. A new type of corn cultivar was also developed, sugarcorn.

The establishment of a national corn research network is an unexpected highlight of this project. More people are conducting corn research across Canada as a direct result of the new information, technologies and corn genetics developed through this research project. This surge of corn research is bringing researchers, private and public programs, and institutions together to share new information.

The project has also established a new network of early maturity research locations in western Canada.

Some of the first public sources of corn genetics with resistance to Gibberella ear rot, eyespot, common rust, and northern corn leaf blight were developed and released. Many of these inbreds are already being extensively used in further studies on these diseases and incorporated into private breeding programs to develop new corn hybrids.

Future Opportunities

The public corn breeding program conducted at AAFC’s Ottawa Research and Development Centre is one of two public corn breeding programs in Canada and lead researcher for this CFCRA project, Dr. Lana Reid is the only person releasing new public corn inbreds in Canada. Results of this research project are vital to the ongoing development and expansion of Canada’s corn industry.

The results of this project are also being used as the basis for additional graduate student research at the University of Guelph, University of Manitoba, and Western University. Some of these projects involve furthering the development of a new crop for Canada, sugarcorn. This new type of corn has been developed by ORDC to have stalk sugar levels as high as, or higher than that of sugarcane. Canada’s sugarcorn may be used for biofuel as well as the harvest of sugar for many different industrial uses.

External Funding Partners:

This research activity was part of the Canadian Field Crop Genetics Improvement Cluster led by the Canadian Field Crop Research Alliance (CFCRA).

Funding for this project was provided in part by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through the Growing Forward 2 (GF2) AgriInnovation Program and in part by CFCRA members. Grain Farmers of Ontario is a founding member of the CFCRA.

Project Related Publications:

Cao, A., Santiago, R., Ramos, A.J., Marín, S., Reid, L.M., and Butrón, A. 2013. Environmental factors related to fungal infection and fumonisin accumulation during the development and drying of white maize kernels. International Journal of Food Microbiology. 164: 15-22.

Gomez-Flores, R., Thiruvengadatha​n, T., Nicol, R., Gilroyed, B., Morrison, M. Reid, L.M., and A. Margaritis, A. 2018. Bioethanol and biobutanol production from sugarcorn juice. Biomass and Bioenergy. 108: 455-463.

Jindal, K., Reid, L.M., Tenuta, A., Woldemariam, T., Zhu, X., and Kotuluk, G. 2018. Status of corn diseases in Ontario, 2017 crop season. Canadian Plant Disease Survey. 98: 152-159.

Jindal, K.K., Reid, L.M., Tenuta, A.U., Woldemariam, T., Zhu, X., and Kotulak, G. 2017. Status of corn diseases in Ontario, 2016 crop season. Canadian Plant Disease Survey. 97: 155-161.

Kebede, Aida Z., Anne Johnston, Danielle Schneiderman, Whynn Bosnich, and Linda J. Harris. 2018. Transcriptome profiling of two maize inbreds with distinct responses to Gibberella ear rot disease to identify candidate resistance genes. BMC genomics. 19: 131.

Miller, J.D., Schaafsma, A.W., Bhatnagar, D., Bondy, G., Carbone, I., Harris, L.J., Harrison, G., Munkvold, G.P., Oswald, I.P., Pestka, J.P., Sharpe, L., Sumarah, M.W., Tittlemier, S.A., Zhou, T. 2014. Mycotoxins that affect the North American Agri-Food sector: state of the art and directions for the future. World Mycotoxin Journal. 7: 63-82 (review paper).

Reid, L.M., Voloaca, C., Wu, J., Woldemariam, T., Jindal, K., and Zhu X. 2018. CO464 corn inbred line. CJPS (pagination not complete).

Reid, L.M, Voloaca, C., Wu, J., Woldemariam, T., Jindal, K., and Zhu, X. 2018. CO463 corn inbred line. Can J Plant Sci (pagination not complete).

Reid, L.M., Zhu, X., Wu, J., Jindal, K.K., Woldemariam, T., and Voloaca, C. 2017. CO457, CO458, CO459 and CO460 rust resistant corn inbred lines. Can. Journal of Plant Science. P. 356-364.

Reid, L.M., Voloaca, C., Wu, J., Woldemariam, T., Jindal, K.K., and Zhu, X. 2017. CO461 corn inbred line. Can. Journal of Plant Science. P. 172-176.

Reid, L.M., Voloaca, C., Wu, J., Woldemariam, T., Jindal, K.K., and Zhu, X. 2017. CO462 corn inbred line. Can. Journal of Plant Science. P. 177-182.

Reid, L.M., Zhu, X., Voloaca, C., Wu, J., and Woldemariam, T. 2014. CO451 corn inbred line. Can J. Plant Science. 94: 169-173.

Reid, L.M., Zhu, X., Voloaca, C., Wu, J., Woldemariam, T., Martin, R.A., and Beres, B.L. 2014. CO450 corn inbred line. Can J. Plant Science. 94: 161-167.

Reid, L.M., Voloaca, C., Woldemariam, T., Wu, J.H., and Zhu, X. 2013. CO449 corn inbred line. Can J. Plant Science. 93: 331-335.

Reid, L.M., Zhu, X., Voloaca, C., Woldemariam, T., and Wu, J.H. 2013. CO447 corn inbred line. Can J. Plant Science. 93:323-326.

Reid, L.M., Zhu, X., Voloaca, C., Woldemariam, T., and Wu, J.H. 2013. CO448 corn inbred line. Can J. Plant Science. 93: 327-330.

Santiago, R., Cao, A., Malvar, R.A., Reid, L.M., and Butrón, A. 2013. Assessment of corn resistance to fumonisin accumulation in a broad collection of inbred lines. Field Crops Research. 149: 193-202.

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