Building Commercial Opportunities through Designer Oils
The development of canola as a nutritionally-superior vegetable oil is a genetic research success story. Canola currently accounts for 70% of vegetable oil products in Canada, but genomics researchers believe they can make it even better.
The canola industry is a made-in-Canada success story, contributing more than $15.4 billion annually to the Canadian economy (as of 2009-10). Developed in the 1970s using traditional plant breeding techniques, canola oil is prized for its low level of saturated fats, balanced polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, versatility, and light taste.
Through the Designing Oilseeds for Tomorrow’s Markets (DOTM) project, researchers undertook significant efforts to identify the next level of genetic information— expressed sequence tags. These small gene components help to develop a snapshot of genetic activity at various stages of plant development—for example when making seed.
The DOTM project supports Western Canadian farmers by expanding their production options, allowing them to continue to lead the world in a highly competitive market.
The understanding of canola genetics developed through DOTM has equipped researchers with better information and tools to create oil seeds with improved yield, composition, and quality. By shifting the plant’s energies away from manufacturing undesirable products such as thick seed coats and anti-nutritionals (compounds that make the seed unpalatable or difficult to digest), higher levels of oil, specialty oils and improved protein can be produced.
Some scientists believe that canola meal has a better balance of protein for human nutrition than soybeans and could even be used for human food.
Improved economic viability also offers potential for the development of environmentally friendly industrial products including lubricants, nylon, biodegradable plastics and other polymers.
In a related project, a team of experts in the areas of metabolism and genetics are collaborating to exploit the data collected from genomic and proteomic investigation of the large array of genes that are responsible for seed composition in Brassica crops.
More than 100,000 expressed sequence tags were sequenced and submitted to GenBank.
Twenty candidate genes related to the yellow-seeded phenotype were identified for further characterization.
The project has equipped researchers with information and tools to develop canola with fewer undesirable compounds by knocking out genes involved in various biochemical pathways. (For example, the metabolite glucosinolate is toxic to fish but fine for cattle feed. The metabolite sinapine creates a fishy odour in the eggs of brown egg-laying hens.)