Pasta lovers around the world may not know plant breeder Dr. Curtis Pozniak, but they’ll get a taste of his work in the near future when they tuck into a plate of their favourite Italian dish.
That’s because 2011 marks the first year of significant commercial production of CDC Verona, a new durum wheat variety used primarily for pasta. Developed by Pozniak at the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre, CDC Verona is the first new durum variety to be released commercially in 19 years from the Centre. With Canada supplying up to 60 percent of the world’s durum needs, it won’t take long for Pozniak’s work to go global.
Pozniak wears two hats at the University. He’s a durum and spring wheat breeder focused on developing high-yielding wheat for Western Canadian farmers; he’s also a Professor, working with post doctorate fellows, and graduate and undergraduate students to help train the next generation of plant breeders. At 35, he’s already seen tremendous change in plant breeding since he completed his PhD in 2002, and there’s much more to come.
“Technology is really advancing quite rapidly in the area of genomics research and understanding key genes that influence desirable traits,” explains Pozniak.“Application of this technology to plant breeding is starting to gain steam, and will allow us to follow key genes within our breeding program using DNA testing and to identify only the most desirable individuals to put out in the field for testing.”
Pozniak and his colleagues will be helping blaze the genomic sequencing trail in wheat thanks to a recent three-year, $8.5 million research grant to begin the process of sequencing the genomes of the best Canadian wheat varieties. “That’s giving us the opportunity to look at all the genes that are present in wheat and how they contribute to yield, disease resistance and end-use quality,” he says. His research team will also be contributing to developing a high quality reference sequence of wheat as part of a larger effort coordinated by the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium.
Whether it’s breeding a better wheat for producing pasta or one that more efficiently uses resources such as nitrogen and water, Pozniak believes he and his students are up to the task.
“I think the role of plant breeders is to solve problems now and in the future,” he says. “We need to be thinking about making food production more sustainable and tackling production challenges well before they become a serious problem.”
This article is brought to you by the Canadian Seed Trade Association.