AWC - Funded Research

A pre-breeding platform for Canadian wheat improvement

Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) Wheat Cluster Project

AWC Contribution: $103,355


Genetic resistance has long been proven to the best and most sustainable way to mitigate the damage caused to the wheat crop by diseases such as fusarium head blight (FHB), leaf rust (LR), stipe rust (YR) or powdery mildew (PM). For example, pyramiding leaf rust resistance genes and the use of race non-specific genes have been demonstrated as sustainable strategies to prevent disease resistance breakdown. Taken together, these diseases lead to yield and downgrading losses and may result in food safety issues caused by mycotoxins in the grain. FHB, LR, YR and PM are all caused by fungi for which fungicides are available. However, such management methods have drawbacks: cost, environment, food safety, etc. 

Over the last several decades, geneticists, pathologists and breeders have delivered multi-pathogen resistant germplasm that has benefited Canadian farmers. This is a continuous mission because we are constantly striving to improve multiple traits simultaneously including yield, protein, lodging, and so on, but also because pathogen populations and environmental conditions can quickly shift and, epidemic crises can arise or spread unpredictably. To make progress on multiple fronts, breeders rely on phenotyping data obtained through field nurseries, yield plots and other tests such as toxin measurements, loaf volume, protein content, etc. They also rely on genotyping data such as DNA markers. The research activities that lead to the identification of DNA markers diagnostic for desirable traits or of new resistance genes are specialized and challenging, particularly when such genes reside in non-elite background.


  1. To precisely map FHB resistance QTL on the wheat genome reference sequence;
  2. To develop breeder-friendly DNA markers for FHB resistance QTL;
  3. To identify new sources of resistance for leaf rust, stripe rust and powdery mildew for wheat improvement;
  4. To transfer some of these sources of resistance into adapted germplasm;
  5. To provide Canadian wheat breeders with:
    1. Semi-adapted germplasm carrying putative novel sources of resistance for leaf rust, stripe rust and powdery mildew;
    2. Access to a searchable database containing the collected phenotypic and genotypic data on all germplasm;

Benefit to producers:

Farmers will benefit from the development of wheat varieties with improved disease resistance. The development of improved DNA markers for disease resistance will make it easier for breeders to perform early generation selection for resistance. Diagnostic tests of breeding materials can be used to design the best crosses. The identification of new resistance genes and their introgression into semi-adapted germplasm will enhance and accelerate their adoption. The novelties of the proposed project are mostly three fold. First, the platform concept will bring in efficiency and exposure. Second, the use of robust and friendly markers for multiple diseases will provide breeders with choice and opportunities to improve the overall efficiencies of their breeding programs. Finally, it is anticipated that breeders will be interested to evaluate alien resistance genes if such genes have been introgressed into a germplasm that looks more like cultivated wheats than its wild relative or pre-domesticated original germplasm. Overall, we consider the proposed pre-breeding platform to be a long term investment in the efficiency and effectiveness of Canadian wheat breeding.


Sylvie Cloutier obtained her BSc in Agronomy from Université Laval in 1987, her MSc in Plant Science from University of Guelph in 1990 and her PhD in Biology from Université de Montréal in 1994. She joined the Cereal Research Centre of AAFC as a post-doc in 1995 and obtained a position as a research scientist in 1996. Following the closure of CRC in 2014, her program was transferred to the Ottawa Research and Development Centre where she established a pre-breeding platform for wheat. During her tenure in Winnipeg, she also worked on flax and had the opportunity to lead the Genome Canada funded project TUFGEN. During her career, she published 100 peer-reviewed scientific publications and 10 book chapters and gave numerous conference presentations, lectures and seminars. She was an adjunct professor at the University of Manitoba for 17 years and is currently an adjunct professor at University of Ottawa and University of Guelph. She serves as associate editor of two scientific journals.