Latest Projects

Functional Genomics of Abiotic Stress

The FGAS project undertook research activities to identify genes that provide improved resistance to cold and drought in cereal and canola crops.

The Functional Genomics of Abiotic Stress (FGAS) project used a range of genomics and proteomics technologies to study how plants respond to various abiotic (environmental) stresses at the gene level – particularly cold – but also heat, drought and nutrient stress. Two crops of importance to Canada, Wheat and Canola along with the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, are being used as experimental systems.
The FGAS project goals included the implementation of an array of tools including field genetic resources, protein analytical technologies, DNA sequence databases and microarrays that will empower the elucidation of biological mechanisms governing stress adaptation in crops. The project team sequenced over 100,000 Expressed Sequence Tags (ESTs) in support of the wheat cold-acclimation research and are in the process of mining this data set for lead-candidate genes of possible importance to the regulation of cold tolerance in temperate cereals. Proteomics analyses are being used for identification of lead-candidate gene products whose expression correlates with cold acclimation in both Brassica and wheat plant systems. FGAS has also implemented an effective informatics infrastructure that permits the secure organization, analysis and exchange of data within and between the 2 project themes (wheat and Brassica).

Through a genomic approach, many of the genes that respond to the various stresses and increase the ability of these plants to withstand these environmental stresses were identified. Through a proteomic approach, the proteins that appear in various tissues in response to stress were isolated and analyzed. An integral component of the project was also the implementation of a bioinformatics platform used to analyze and interpret the data collected. The team was also interested in finding out whether these two very different plants utilise similar strategies and also whether there is any commonality in the strategies used for different stresses.

Environmental stress is the primary factor that limits both the range of crop plants that can be grown and the yield and quality of those crops. The knowledge gained is helping researchers apply genomics to plant improvement, through both conventional and genetic engineering approaches. This knowledge can also be applied to other crops, not just wheat and canola, and lead to a more sustainable agricultural system. In addition, the genes and proteins identified by the project may have application in areas as diverse as frozen foods and cryopreservation.

Research ResultsResearch Results
With regards to the wheat research on Low Temperature (LT) tolerance, 82,000 (ESTs) from specialized libraries have been sequenced and deposited in the public domain as a strategic contribution to the international wheat genomic effort. This data set has been used in the design of a 17,300-feature LT enriched oligonucleotide array in collaboration with 3 international partners. Protocols for high throughput identification of promoters and transcription factors have been developed and protein interaction maps have been constructed. A 1.27 million clone Bacterial Artificid Chromosome (BAC) library has also been produced and provides 5.5X coverage of the hardy wheat cultivar ‘Norstar’ genome and three 500-loci mapping populations are in place that have been specifically designed to assist in the discovery of key LT tolerance genes.

With regards to the Canola research, five custom Arabidopsis Serial Analysis of Gene Expression (SAGE) libraries have been completed and 500,000 tags have been identified. Furthermore, a 25,000-feature Arabidopsis Oligo microarray has been developed. Molecular genetic analyses have revealed over 400 genes differentially expressed upon short-term cold stress. Functional characterization is underway for several candidate genes.

An investigation of the genetic mechanisms of how plants protect themselves against abiotic stresses—cold, heat, and drought – led to several developments that mitigate against crop losses. A key receptor involved in a wide range of abiotic stresses was discovered. This critical discovery eluded researchers for over 50 years, and will undoubtedly be the basis for further developments of hardier crops. Scientists produced plant lines that protect themselves against flooding and crop lines that demonstrated increased yields.

Notable OutcomesNotable Outcomes
The FGAS team has submitted two patents for approval: Plant Proteins having an abscisic acid binding site and Methods of Hormone Profiling.
This project contributed to the creation of the Proteomics Core Facility at the University of British Columbia as well as developed a partnership between the University of Saskatchewan and the University of British Columbia.
Over 160 proteins identified associated with low temperature or osmotic stress
180,000 tags extracted from 3 SAGE libraries

Quick Facts

  • Project Leader(s):
    • William Crosby
      (University of Windsor)
  • Project Manager:

    Elizabeth Nanak, University of Saskatchewan
    Amit Shukla, University of Saskatchewan

  • Project Value:

    $15.45 Million

  • Genome Canada Contribution:

    $9.7 Million

  • Other Funding Partners:

    $5 Million

  • Provincial Funding (SK):


  • Provincial Funding (MB):


  • Project Status:

    Status (Dates)

  • Competition:

    Genome Canada 2001-2002 Competition I

Current Projects

2022 - Present

Bison Integrated Genomics (BIG)

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CanCOGeN – Canadian COVID-19 Genomics Network

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CPMN – Canadian Prairie Metabolic Network

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2020 - 2022

COV3R – COVID-19 Rapid Regional Response

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CTAG2 – Canadian Triticum Applied Genomics

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2019 to 2023

4DWheat – Diversity, Discovery, Design and Delivery

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EcoToxChip – A toxicogenomics tool for chemical prioritization and environmental management

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2019 - 2023

EVOLVES – Enhancing the Value of Lentil Variation for Ecosystem Survival

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2019 - 2022

FLOWTER – Floating Wetland Treatments to Enhance Remediation

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2019 - 2023

Genomic ASSETS (Antimicrobial Stewardship Systems from Evidence-based Treatment Strategies) for Livestock

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GENICE: Microbial Genomics for Oil Spill Preparedness in Canada’s Arctic Marine Environment

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2018 - 2021

Improving on-seed survival and performance of legume inoculants using genome shuffling

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