USask researcher awarded $4.2 million to battle Root Rot

University of Saskatchewan professor Sabine Banniza has received more than $4.2 million from the Strategic Research Initiative (SRI) to uncover solutions for root rot in pea and lentil crops. 

Banniza is a professor with the College of Agriculture and Bioresources and the CDC, and the Government of Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture Strategic Research Program Chair in Pulse Crop Pathology.  She said root rot in peas and lentils has become so prevalent in Western Canada, it has caused growers to stop planting the crops in some areas.

Because of the importance of pea and lentil crops as a food source, Banniza said tackling the root rot disease is of great importance.

“If you talk to growers and ask what is your biggest disease problem in pulse crops, they will almost all say root rot,” Banniza said in a press release. “The longer and more often you grow a crop, the more these crops then select inadvertently for pathogens, and that is what we are witnessing here with the root rots.

One of the strategies for in-field management of root rot that will be explored is called RNA interference.  This method involves directly targeting the root rot pathogens themselves at the genetic level, to interfere with their ability to infect and spread in the plants. 

Breeding peas and lentils for root rot resistance will be a cornerstone of this project, and use of such root rot resistant varieties will be an important and the least expensive tool for farmers. However, it takes time to develop new crop varieties with good disease resistance, so Banniza said RNA interference has the potential to be a powerful solution in the meantime.

Banniza and her team truly appreciate the funding provided by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture and the industry groups for such a large, focused and critical venture.

Last week it was announced that the federal and provincial governments announced a research project in Saskatchewan working with various agricultural organizations to focus on a variety of diseases that affect the growing fields in our country.