AWC - Funded Research

Application of Biotechnological Tools to Wheat Breeding

Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) Wheat Cluster Project

AWC Contribution: $52,501


Cultivar development is expensive, labour intensive, and time consuming; many years pass from the time a breeder makes an initial cross to new cultivar release. Applied biotechnology through molecular breeding and doubled haploid production improves the efficiency of bringing new gene combinations together and increases the rate at which those gene combinations are deployed to farmers. Molecular breeding is the strategic application of markers to maximize gene enrichment in breeding populations. Doubled haploid lines are true breeding lines generated in a single generation obviating the need for multiple generations of inbreeding. Marker Assisted Breeding (MAB) is an evolving technology that supplements the bread and durum wheat breeding programs to enhance efficiency in an effort to increase the rate of delivery of improved genetics in the form of new wheat varieties adapted to the specific needs of Canadian agriculture. MAB technology allows for early and efficient selection of cultivars with superior traits for pest resistance, agronomic performance, and grain quality. A problem with MAB is often knowledge and technology gaps exist between the identification of a marker and the application of the marker in breeding. The gaps revolve around marker adoption, information value (polymorphism), effectiveness (proximity to trait), validation, and conversion. Furthermore, the field of genetics is rapidly changing with technology costs declining and processing rates increasing. This is good news from the perspective of improving the efficiency of Marker Assisted Breeding, but it is immensely challenging to know which technology to invest in for molecular breeding.
Although the strains of rust are a real threat to Canada’s food supply, the rust strains that need to be used for selection in breeding resistance are not found in Canada at this time. The use of DNA markers allows breeding enhancement in the absence of the threat. The application of MAB early in the breeding cycle improves efficiency and efficacy of trait selection which in turn saves time and cost of cultivar development as the number of lines needing further field evaluation will be significantly reduced. 


  1. In conjunction with the durum and bread wheat breeders, design crosses and implement molecular breeding and doubled haploid production strategies.
  2. Bridge the gap between the identification of DNA markers to economically important traits of wheat and the implementation of these new markers in Canadian breeding programs through marker adoption, enhancement and validation in Canadian germplasm.
  3. Best fit determination, selection, and adoption of technologies to improve throughput for screening of germplasm with DNA based markers for rapid selection of traits of interest.


Dr. Ron Knox, AAFC-SCRDC, has 32 years of wheat research experience working in the areas of biotechnology and plant pathology. He oversees fully-equipped molecular genetics and doubled haploid labs located near Swift Current for performing marker development research, marker assisted selection for the durum and hexaploid wheat breeding programs, and doubled haploid production for breeding and research. He also conducts disease testing within the breeding program.  His involvement in genetic mapping of wheat has led to the development of dozens of markers for disease resistance, stress tolerance, production and end-use quality traits. He has contributed to the development of over 70 registered varieties and germplasm lines including nine doubled haploid varieties. He has authored or co-authored over 144 peer-reviewed research publications and six book chapters.