Canada’s greenhouse vegetable industry generates more than $1 billion from retail sales and exports. Its top three crops are tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, produced mainly in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec. In an extremely competitive environment, plant diseases are an enormous burden on growers, causing up to 20 per cent crop loss. There is a strong demand for genomics-based technologies to mitigate these losses.
Drs. David Guttman, Darrell Desveaux, and Adam Mott of the University of Toronto have discovered a previously uncharacterized family of genes that allow plants to show broad-range disease resistance against bacteria and fungi. Further, it is extremely difficult for pathogens to overcome the resistance linked to these genes. Now Dr. Guttman and team are working with the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre and its reverse genetics platform (developed with earlier Genome Canada funding) to further develop these Broad Range Resistance genes, as they are known, to protect against multiple pathogens, reduce losses and increase yield. The result will be new varieties of vegetables that give Canadian growers a competitive advantage.
Vineland will take this gene technology from its translation through to the commercial release of new plant varieties with improved disease resistance, within five years of the end of this project. Annual benefits of around $26 million will start to accrue to the Canadian greenhouse industry within the same timeframe. The enhanced competitiveness of Canadian growers will lead to sustained growth, expansion of operations and further job creation. Additional benefits will be seen as Vineland re-invests its licensing revenue from the new vegetable varieties into further research, driving innovation throughout the entire horticultural sector.