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Crop disease research at Trent gets $1.98M

The Ontario government has pledged $1.98 million to support genome analysis work at Trent University, aimed at fighting fungal diseases in crops.

The funding will back work led by forensic science professor Barry Saville, which it’s hoped will yield new information to fight plant pathogens, including a multi-species platform for detecting and identifying pathogens in the environment, novel ways of screening early in plant breeding, and plant varieties with new resistance traits.

The work being funded examines fungal diseases that are a “major contributor to the world’s food crisis and a threat to the limited global forest resources,” the university said in its release Thursday.

“In Canada the loss to the wheat crop because of leaf rust fungus can be $100 million annually. There is also a new race of wheat stem rust, discovered in Uganda, which threatens wheat production on a global scale. Further, sudden oak death has caused dramatic losses to oak and other trees in parts of the U.S. and Europe. It now poses a major threat to Canadian forest and horticultural resources.”

“My research incorporates new advances in genome analysis and brings together research expertise from across Canada, individuals funded by past and present federal governments, to pursue major advances in our knowledge of fungi and fungi-like organisms causing plant disease,” Saville said in Trent’s release.

“The knowledge gained will direct novel means to fight these diseases and provide the basis to identify emerging disease variants, ultimately leading to improved sustainability of agricultural production and a more secure food supply for the people of Ontario.”

“Combined with the recent provincial and federal infrastructure announcements to support and expand the University’s new DNA and Health Sciences Centre, this funding will ensure a strong future for innovative research at Trent and will further contribute to the economic health and well-being of the entire Peterborough community,” Trent president Bonnie Patterson said in the release.

The funding for Saville’s research will flow through the provincial research and innovation ministry’s $94 million Ontario Research Fund – Research Excellence (ORF-RE) program.

Local MP Dean Del Mastro noted in the same release that a number of federal agencies such as Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, Natural Resources Canada, the Canadian Forest Service and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will put up “substantial” in-kind support for Saville’s research.

The Innovation Cluster, Operitel and Trent University have also pledged monetary and in-kind support to the multi-year project, Trent noted.

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