You are here

Genomics of abiotic stress resistance in wild and cultivated sunflowers

2014 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition – Genomics and Feeding the Future
Agriculture and Agri Food
Genome Centre(s):
Genome British Columbia
Project Leader(s):
Loren H. Rieseberg (University of British Columbia), John M. Burke (University of Georgia)
Fiscal Year Project Launched: 
Project Description: 

It’s not easy being a plant. Drought, flooding, salt and low nutrient levels negatively  affect plant growth and lower crop productivity. These environmental stresses have the  greatest impact on our highly adapted domesticated crops while their wild plant relatives  have evolved mechanisms to help them overcome these challenges. Understanding  these mechanisms will enable cultivated crops to be grown in previously unsuitable  habitats and in the face of changing climatic conditions, thus feeding a rapidly growing  global population. Sunflowers are ideal for this project, as they are limited by  environmental stresses but have wild counterparts adapted to a variety of extreme  environments.

Dr. Loren H. Rieseberg of the University of British Columbia and John Burke of  University of Georgia are leading an international team investigating why wild plants are  more resistant to environmental stresses. The team is focusing on the sunflower, a $20  billion crop that is the only oilseed in the Global Crop Diversity Trust’s list of 25 priority  food security crops because it is grown widely in developing countries. The project will  identify and fully characterize the genetic basis of stress resistance in sunflowers and  create resources that will enable partners from the public and private sectors to  efficiently breed stress­resistant, high­yield cultivars. The team will also develop models  to predict likely yields of the new cultivars in different soil and climate conditions across  Canada and develop strategies to overcome barriers to R&D caused by international  treaties on the use of plant genetic resources thus ensuring the maximum use of new  plant materials developed from this project for growers in Canada and around the  World.  

The expanded sunflower production made possible in Canada by the new cultivars is  expected to yield some $12 million USD annually within five years of the project’s end  and up to $230 million USD annually after ten years. Worldwide, the impact will be  substantial, as no other oilseed can maintain the stable yields across as wide a range of  environmental conditions as that predicted for the new sunflower cultivars.