Canola, as we know it, is an entirely man-made species. No wild species of brassica napus (canola or rapeseed) exists in the wild.
This means researchers have to look outside the square to find new genetic material to allow them to make improvements to canola in areas such as blackleg disease resistance or reduced harvest shattering.
Luckily, canola is a member of the brassica family, one of the largest genera of cultivated plants on the globe.
This has led Australian researchers, under the 'National Brassica Germplasm Improvement Program (NBGIP)' banner, to hunt around in nations as diverse as Ethiopia and China.
They are looking for genetics that will help them make the next breakthrough.
The obscure Ethiopian mustard plant has been valuable in helping make breakthroughs in developing pod shatter resistant canola lines.
Research out of Canada, the world’s largest canola producer, has estimated annual yield loss from shattering in canola is about 7 per cent. Australian figures show that in bad cases, up to 50 per cent crop loss is possible. Hot, dry conditions often lead to high levels of pod shatter.
In trial work conducted by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI), with GRDC investment, the Ethiopian mustard was more than 10 times more shatter-tolerant than standard canola. The two species are closely enough related for it to be relatively easy to introduce the genetics into canola.
NSWDPI canola project leader Harsh Raman says the department is developing and evaluating canola germplasm from crosses made between turnip and Ethiopian mustard, and canola and Ethiopian mustard.
Meanwhile, a trilateral project involving Australia, India and China has looked at production and quality in each country through the exchange of germplasm with improved yield, quality, disease resistance and agronomic characters.
Traits of interest include yield sclerotinia resistance and drought tolerance.
Project officials said in a recent paper that there had been positive outcomes for all countries involved.
Chinese canola lines were identified which were significantly more resistant to Sclerotinia infection under Australian field conditions than the most susceptible lines.
These genotypes will be useful sources of resistance for breeding programs in Australia.
Canola quality lines from Australia will be valuable to Chinese and Indian breeding programs. And blackleg resistance in Australian germplasm will be useful in both China and India.