THE University of Copenhagen in Denmark and the global player, Bayer CropScience, have successfully developed a new oilseed crop that is much more resistant to harsh growing conditions and diseases than oilseed rape or canola.
The university’s DynaMo Center of Excellence head, Professor Barbara Ann Halkier, is one of the scientists who has worked on developing the new oilseed crop with better properties.
“Oilseed rape does not grow very well in warm and dry areas. We are very happy that we have succeeded in using a groundbreaking technology on a mustard plant, which is a close relative to rape. The result is an oilseed crop with improved agronomic traits that is tolerant to global warming,” she said.
“The new crop will enable cultivation in areas that today is not suitable for oilseed crops, such as the western part of Canada, parts of Eastern Europe, Australia and India”.
Bitter defence compounds not suitable as animal feed
The mustard plant is similar to oilseed rape in many ways. It looks like a rape plant and its oil has the same attractive features with high content of mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids (e.g. omega-3 and -6 plus antioxidants and vitamins).
However, it is also a lot more robust when grown under arid conditions and upon exposure to diseases.
Mustard is therefore an obvious candidate to replace oilseed rape.
“Until now it has been an undefeatable challenge that mustard seeds are full of the bitter defence compounds that give mustard its characteristic flavour. Consequently, the protein-rich seed meal that remains after the oil is pressed out of the seeds is useless as animal feed,” Professor Halkier said.
From model plant to oilseed crop
In close collaboration with Bayer CropScience — one of the major global players within plant biotechnology and breeding — she and other scientists from the DynaMo Center have found an original solution to this problem.
The scientists from the DynaMo Center have invented a technology that can keep the bitter defence compounds out of the seeds while maintaining them in the rest of the plant so the plant can defend itself against herbivores and pathogens.
The Danish scientists have shown that the technology works in a model plant, while scientists from Bayer CropScience have implemented the technology in the fields and performed large field trials with the optimized mustard plants.
Postdoc Svend Roesen Madsen from DynaMo Center said field trials has shown the research had come a long way.
“I guess we are more than three quarters of the way towards a new robust oilseed crop that will be commercially attractive to the farmers. This is truly an exciting result,” he said.
Long search for novel oilseed crop
Scientists and breeders have searched for many years after an alternative to oilseed rape.
Rape is one of our most important sources of vegetable oil, biodiesel and protein for animal feed.
However, it is only grown in relatively cool climates and every year the farmers have substantial yield losses as rape is not very disease tolerant.
“In the 1970s a Polish farmer serendipitously found a rape plant with so low levels of the bitter defence compounds that rape suddenly became an important commercial oilseed crop,” Associate Professor Hussam H. Nour-Eldin said.
“Since the ‘70s, farmers and scientists have attempted to generate a similar variant of the mustard plant. We are proud that we invented a technology with which we can achieve this long-term goal.”
In the coming years, the scientists from the University of Copenhagen and Bayer CropScience will work towards reducing the content of bitter defence compounds in the mustard seeds even further.
They expect to have a mustard plant with mustard-free seeds ready within 2-3 years.
Source: Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen