Mobilizing Crop Diversity

Rapid population growth, a changing climate, and increasing constraints on land, water, and fertilizer threaten global food security. Canada must dramatically expand agricultural production to meet increased demand, and to offset predicted declines in crop yields in tropical and sub-tropical countries.

This will require that plant breeding be accelerated in Canada, with the goal of developing high yielding, climate-adapted and “planet friendly” varieties.

In addition to the need to accelerate crop improvement, Canada is a signatory of the Convention for Biological Diversity and the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources in Food and Agriculture. To become fully compliant with the Treaty and other international agreements, we must develop mechanisms for sharing plant germplasm, as well as genotypic, phenotypic, and genomic information.

DivSeek Global is an international initiative that offers a potential pathway forward on both fronts. Divseek aims to accelerate plant breeding by leveraging the genetic diversity in the world’s live collections and seed banks (“genebanks”). This is to be accomplished by developing “a unified, coordinated and cohesive information management platform to provide easy access to genotypic and phenotypic data associated with genebank germplasm.”

In January 2018, Genome Canada – via its Genome BC and Genome Prairie genome centre partners - awarded a two year “Emerging Issues and Opportunities Program” grant to fund development of an online DivSeek Canada Informatics Resource.

Specific project objectives are to

  1. Consult with Canadian stakeholders to guide development of the DivSeek Canada Resource
  2. Establish such a Resource on ComputeCanada infrastructure
  3. Integrate germplasm and genotypic and phenotypic metadata for three Canadian crop communities (flax, lentils and sunflower)
  4. Deploy mapping, breeding, and visualization tools within the Resource, for use by plant breeders
  5. Develop and deliver training resources for the Resource and
  6. Provide a long term plan for the continued enhancement, crop community expansion, sustainable hosting, outreach, and stakeholder support for the Resource in Canada.

Canada played a key role in founding DivSeek and has recently agreed to host the DivSeek Secretariat. The proposed DivSeek Canada Information Hub builds on this momentum. It will not only provide a readily expandable database for Canadian crop information, but it also offers a potential model for the DivSeek Initiative globally. The proposed Resource will facilitate compliance with international agreements and represents a Canadian contribution toward a global information system for the Treaty.

Most importantly, the Resource is expected to galvanize the use of genomic information by plant breeding, thereby accelerating crop breeding for the Canadian environment. The resource will provide relatively simple and intuitive tools to efficiently search and use pertinent crop genomic data, and apply it specifically to target breeding programs. We suspect that the impact will be greatest in medium to small crop communities that have not previously had the financial resources or bioinformatics skill set to fully exploit the enormous quantity of genomic information rapidly becoming available for essentially all crops and their wild relatives.

Over the next two years, this project web site will evolve to the Information Hub mentioned above. Come back and visit us periodically to view and participate in the evolution of the DivSeek Canada initiative.