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Enhancing digital plant breeding for climate change resiliency

4th annual Plant Phenotyping and Imaging Research Centre conference takes place October 23-24

Innovative digital breeding technologies designed to make plants more resilient to climate change will be highlighted at the fourth annual conference of the Plant Phenotyping and Imaging Research Centre (P2IRC) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) on October 23rd and 24th.

The event, taking place at the Delta Bessborough Hotel in Saskatoon, will be hosted by the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) at USask. The conference highlights new science and technology platforms created in the research centre’s first phase of operations and their agriculture and food production applications for its second phase.

“This year’s conference presents the opportunity to share the different innovations already created within this extensive program and to showcase their potential to transform crop breeding and provide innovative solutions to national and global food security,” P2IRC Program Director Andrew Sharpe said. “The new science developed in P2IRC will help elevate Canada’s position as a global powerhouse in agricultural research.”

The 2019 symposium, themed “Achievement. Expectations. Implementation”, will showcase the knowledge and technological solutions created in Phase I of P2IRC’s research program, and will feature talks on how those solutions may be applied to breed crops that will be more resilient to climate change—for Phase II of the innovative seven-year research and training program. The event will feature renowned researchers from across the world and Canada, as well as industry representatives and students.

Presentations at the symposium will include:

  • Enabling the next revolution in global food production through automatically labelled data sets and machine learning—delivered by Christopher Henry, associate professor in the department of applied computer science at the University of Winnipeg;
  • A collaborative platform for plant phenotyping using blockchain—delivered by Mayra Samaniego Pallaroso, P2IRC researcher and PhD candidate at USask; and
  • Exhibits from industry partners.

The P2IRC program, managed by GIFS, is a multidisciplinary program of USask funded by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) and is an internationally recognized centre of excellence in phenotyping.

“P2IRC is a truly interdisciplinary program that pools the strengths and the expertise of partners from various fields, to deliver well-rounded solutions to address global food security challenges,” GIFS Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Steven Webb said.

“GIFS is excited to support the rich research and development ecosystem at USask through the management of this program, which will ultimately contribute to addressing the issue of feeding a growing world population with limited resources and climate change implications.”

During Phase I of the Centre’s operations, the P2IRC team built a multidisciplinary program involving experts in breeding, agronomy, genetics, genomics, engineering, physics, soil science, chemistry, computer sciences, and social sciences and economics. This collaboration led to the creation of a number of innovations, including additional tools for visualizing roots in soil and for the hyperspectral imaging of crops and soils. Hyperspectral images contain highly detailed information of the subject’s image pixels, providing an additional dimension of data.   

In addition, P2IRC scientists—USask wheat breeder Curtis Pozniak and Sharpe, also the director of genomics and bioinformatics at GIFS—played a key role in helping to sequence the bread wheat genome that was published in 2018, as part of the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) initiative. The pair co-led Canada’s contribution to this initiative, working with other researchers at USask, across the country and globally.

Phase II of the P2IRC program will feature the delivery of technology to improve breeding efficiency and enhance sustainability, bringing net profit to farmers. The program will focus on using digital breeding techniques to create “climate smart” crops, as well as artificial intelligence and digital data acquisition tools to enhance the yield potential of large-scale food crops.

P2IRC involves more than 250 researchers and graduate students from GIFS and a wide range of USask colleges, the Crop Development Centre in the USask College of Agriculture and Bioresources, the Canadian Light Source, and the Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation which operates the university’s cyclotron that creates radioisotopes for all forms of biological imaging. The Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy is the lead partner on policy research.

For more details and the full schedule of the 2019 P2IRC Symposium, visit: https://p2irc.usask.ca/2019symposium/

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