Hairy Canola Meets the Crucifer Flea Beetle

With financial support from a number of producer and industry organizations, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientists at the Saskatoon Research Centre are developing a hairy type of canola that will naturally deter flea beetles from feeding on canola seedlings.

Details on the research activities of Dr. Margie Gruber and Dr. Julie Soroka are available on their science profile pages.

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Video Transcript

[Fade up from black.]

[Canada wordmark and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada signature. The title of the video appears on screen.]

Text on screen: Hairy Canola Meets the Crucifer Flea Beetle

[Fade to black.]

[Fade up from black to reveal a field of canola in bloom.]

[Crickets and birds chirping.]

[Canola field cross fades into a close-up shot of a tiny beetle crawling on a leaf.]

Male narrator:
This tiny flea beetle may look harmless enough, but come spring and warm, dry weather...

[Cross fade to a still photo of canola sprouts in a field. They have been badly damaged by pests.]

...he, and a few billion more can strip an emerging canola crop in days.

[Cross-fade to a still photo of a canola plant covered in flea beetles.]

[Cross-fade to a shot of a tractor spraying a field with pesticides.]

[Modern-sounding electronic background music.]

Each year, Canadian canola producers spend tens of millions of dollars on chemicals...

[Cut to a close-up shot of two tiny flea beetles on a leaf.] control insects that prey on tender, young canola plants.

[Cut to a close-up shot of a young canola plant in the field.]

Even with chemical applications, flea beetles still account for more than $250 million in crop damage annually.

[Cut to a different close-up shot of a young canola plant in the field.]

Most vulnerable to attack are the cotyledons...

Text on screen: cotyledons

...the first delicate leaves to emerge from the ground.

[Cut to an overhead shot of cotyledons growing in a laboratory setting.]

They're filled with vital nutrients that help kick start the young plant.

[Cut to a photo of cotyledons covered in flea beetles. The cotyledons are full of holes and are obviously being eaten.]

If flea beetles get a foothold during this stage of growth, there's little chance the plant can survive.

[Cut to a shot of a small plane flying over a field.]

[Cut to a shot of a large sprayer tractor near an out-building full of supplies. The tractor is reversing towards large barrels of pesticides.]

In the past, the only hope for canola producers has been to use pesticides.

[Cut to a shot of the large sprayer tractor driving through a field applying pesticides to the crop.]

But escalating costs, chemical deregulation, and the long-term threat of increased health risks from contaminated air, soil, and ground water...

[Cut to a photo of a small polluted stream. Discarded styrofoam, plastics, and other industrial waste can be seen sitting in the water and on the stream bed.]

...has made the search for green alternatives that much more urgent.

[Cut to a shot of the outside of the Saskatoon Research Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The camera pans the building then comes to rest on the sign on the front lawn.]

But now, Saskatoon research scientists may have found the answer. A natural, chemical-free way to curb flea beetle damage.

[Cut to a shot of Dr. Margaret Gruber standing in a laboratory with another scientist. They are talking and Dr. Gruber is pointing at the experiment that the other scientist is currently working on.]

Dr. Margaret Gruber manages the secondary metabolism and development lab for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Saskatoon.

[Cut to an interview shot of Dr. Gruber inside a laboratory.]

Text on screen: Dr. Margaret Gruber, Research Scientist-Secondary Metabolism and Development Lab, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Saskatoon Research Centre

Dr. Gruber:
In our experiments in the lab and field we were investigating what flea beetles do on different types of plants and plant surfaces. Whether they feed or don't feed.

[Cross-fade to an extreme close-up shot of a flea beetle walking onto, and then off of a hairy canola cotyledon.]

For us it was very exciting because we found that when flea beetles encountered plants with plant hairs, well they just ran around on the hairs and then they jumped off and went elsewhere for a meal. And so that left our plant undamaged.

[Cross fade to a shot of a scientist working with his head down. The camera pulls back to show Dr. Gruber entering the room holding a clipboard.]

Male narrator:
For the past 10 years, Dr. Gruber and her team have been working with a plant called Arabidopsis...

[Cut to a shot of Dr. Gruber and her team member examining canola seedlings in the lab.]

...a close relative of the canola plant which has naturally growing hairs on its leaves.

[Cut to a microscope photo of the hairs on the leaves of an Arabidopsis plant.]

Knowing its genome, the scientists have been able to extract a gene that expresses hair growth...

[Cut to a close-up photo of the tiny hairs on an Arabidopsis plant. A graphic showing the different stages of genome replication appears on screen. The graphic shows how the genome responsible for hair growth develops throughout the early growth process. Text titles appear to identify each replication stage.]

Text on screen: First genome replication

...and introduce it into a canola plants genetic code.

Text on screen: Second genome replication and outgrowth

It has been a slow and meticulous process.

Text on screen: Hair branch formation

But now, after many trials...

Text on screen: Hair branch extension

...Dr. Gruber says they're very excited about they've found.

[Genome replication graphic and text fade out from the screen. The close-up of the Arabidopsis plant fades out quickly afterwards.]

[Fade out to an interview shot of Dr. Gruber sitting in a laboratory. There are several bunches of Arabidopsis plants in the background.]

Dr. Gruber:
When we transferred one of the hair genes from this model plant, Arabidopsis...

[Dr. Gruber points to the bunches of Arabidopsis in the background.]

...into canola, we found a very exciting thing.

[Cut to a close-up image of a canola seeding containing a hair gene from the Arabidopsis plant. The plant is heavily covered in tiny hairs.]

The new canola plants had between 250 to 1000 times the number of hairs on the young seedling leaves and stems.

[Cross-fade to a shot of Dr. Gruber and an unidentified woman walking in a flowering canola field.]

Male narrator:
Creating a viable plant in the lab is one thing, but testing it out in the field against hungry flea beetles is something else. Dr. Julie Soroka knows all about that.

[Cross fade to a shot of Dr. Gruber and Dr. Soroka examining a canola plant in the canola field.]

As the team's leader in field trials, she's also an entomologist and the resident expert when it comes to flea beetle behaviour.

[Cross-fade to a close-up of an individual touching and examining young canola cotyledons.]

Dr. Julie Soroka:
With the right combination of heat, sun, and a vulnerable canola crop...

[Cross fade to an interview shot of Dr. Soroka in a canola field. Two other scientists can be seen examining seedlings in the background.]

Text on screen: Dr. Julie Soroka, Research Scientist, Entemology Lab, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Saskatoon Research Centre.

...flea beetles can eat at a fantastic rate. We are monitoring flea beetle feeding on the hairy canola traditional cultivars.

[Cut to a shot of a flea beetle on the leaf of a canola plant.]

We're observing their behaviour and if we notice that they avoid the plants or if there is less feeding or feeding pits on the hairy canola...

[Cut to an extreme close-up shot of someone examining the young leaves on a hairy canola plant.]

...we know that we've been successful.

[Cross fade to a shot of the interior of a laboratory. A female scientist, wearing a white lab coat, walks into the frame and then back out of the frame.]

Male narrator:
Back at the lab, research technician Jennifer Holowachuk...

[Cut to a close-up shot of Jennifer Holowachuk sitting down in front of a microscope.]

...gets set to examine how the tiny flea beetles react when confronted with a hairy canola leaf.

[Cut to a close-up shot of Jennifer looking into the microscope. She turns and looks to camera.]

Text on screen: Jennifer Holowachuk, Research Technician, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Saskatoon Research Centre.

Jennifer Holowachuk:
Here we have two young canola leaves. As you can see...

[Cross fade to a shot of two young canola leaves. The one on the right is regular canola. The one on the left is hairy canola. There is a single beetle in the shot.]

...the one on the right is the non-hairy control. The one on the left is the very hairy seedling. You can see how the flea beetles are reacting when given a choice. They prefer not to feed on the very hairy leaf and will walk or jump off.

[Cross fade to a shot of a canola farmer, John Germs, driving a tractor in front of storage silos.]

Male narrator:
News of these latest research findings has caught the interest of canola producers across western Canada.

[Cut to a close-up of John taking a handful of canola out of one of the silos.]

Text on screen: John Germs, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Canola farmer John Germs:
Any opportunity that we have to use green products versus dangerous pesticides and chemicals, in my books, is a tremendous opportunity for long-term sustainability for my family and my kid’s future.

[Cut to an interview shot of Tim Nerbas, a canola farmer from Waseca, Saskatchewan. A field and old barn can be seen in the background.]

Text on screen: Tim Nerbas, Waseca, Saskatchewan

Canola farmer Tim Nerbas:
I would love to see that this trait comes out in the canola. That it's accessible for producers to use. That we have the choice.

[Cut to a shot of a canola field in bloom.]

I think society as a whole would jump on this whole-heartedly because it's something that just deters the bug to go elsewhere...

[Cut back to the interview shot of Tim Nerbas.]

...then we don't require the use of insecticides to control it.

[Cross-fade to an interview shot of Gary Maze, a canola producer from Unity, Saskatchewan. Steel silos can be seen in the background.]

Text on screen: Gary Maze, Unity, Saskatchewan

Canola producer Gary Maze: Well, as a producer, I think it shows a lot of potential. Anytime you can reduce your pesticide use, especially insecticides, I think it's well worthwhile. Being brought in to some of the state of the art canola and that would certainly be a big boost for producers.

[Cross fade to Dr. Gruber approaching one of her team members inside a laboratory.]

Male narrator:
Although there's much to be excited about with the latest research, Dr. Gruber says there's still some refining to do to achieve their goals.

[Cross fade to a male lab technician filling sample dishes with a laboratory eyedropper. Several shots of technicians working in labs follow.]

Dr. Gruber:
We're in the final phases of the research now; adjusting the genetic composition so we can have a robust plant, consistent hair length, and greater coverage over the seeding leaves and stems.

[Cross fade to an interview shot of Dr. Gruber. A male lab technician is working in the background.]

We're also developing resistance in the hairless cotyledons. Some of these new plants are in field trial this year. That's very exciting. We expect to have a seed available for plant breeders to incorporate into registered varieties in about 3 years.

[Cross fade to a shot of canola farmer, John Germs, harvesting dry canola seeds by hand.]

Male narrator:
That will be not only good news for Canadian canola producers, but a big step forward in helping make our environment a greener, healthier place for generations to come.

[Cross fade to several shots of canola in bloom.]

[Retro-sounding electronic background music fades up.]

[Fade to black.]

Text on screen: Thanks to: Dr. Margaret Gruber, Dr. Julie Soroka and their staff at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and their graduate students and colleagues at the University of Saskatchewan. French translation: Dr. Chrystel Olivier. Produced in the facilities of Media Access and Production (eMAP). University of Saskatchewan.

[Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada signature]

Text on screen: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

[The logos from the research and funding partners fade up onto the screen. Partners include the Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission, Western Grains Research Foundation, Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund (ACIDF), Alberta Canola Producers Commission, and the Canola Council of Canada.]

Text on screen: © Her Majesty the Queen in the Right of Canada, as represented by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2010.

[Canada wordmark]

[Fade to black.]

[Retro-sounding electronic background music fades out]

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