National Research Council Canada-NRC

National Research Council Canada-NRC

February 13, 2009 16:01 ET

Canada's National Research Council Celebrates Long History of Ag-Biotechnology Research in Saskatoon

SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN--(Marketwire - Feb. 13, 2009) - The Government of Canada and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) are commemorating 60 years of plant biosciences research in Saskatoon and the 25th anniversary of the NRC Plant Biotechnology Institute.

NRC's long history of plant biosciences research in Saskatoon started with its role in the development of canola. Beginning in the 1950s, NRC and its partners developed a new edible oil - canola - from a plant that was known mainly for its use as an industrial lubricant. Today, NRC and its collaborators help the canola industry refine its products with state of the art technologies, which contribute more than $11 billion a year to the Canadian economy.

"The innovations flowing from Saskatoon create jobs, improve the health and quality of life for all Canadian families, and strengthen the economy for future generations," said Brad Trost, Member of Parliament for Saskatoon-Humboldt, on behalf of the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Science and Technology). "Our government is fostering significant advances in health-care research while creating a regional environment that will attract highly qualified research professionals and private enterprises. Budget 2009 - Canada's Economic Action Plan further builds on our science and technology (S&T) commitments through one of the single-largest federal budget investments in S&T to date. The plan announces more than $5 billion in new S&T spending and provides an additional $200 million to NRC to support small businesses in their efforts to undertake and commercialize research."

Building upon its research in canola and plant biosciences, the NRC Prairie Regional Laboratory in Saskatoon became a full NRC institute in 1983 - the NRC Plant Biotechnology Institute (NRC-PBI). Now a major research centre, NRC-PBI is recognized worldwide for its research in agricultural biotechnology that utilizes plants to produce bioproducts, healthy foods and supplements for the benefit of environmental and human health.

"For six decades NRC has been an important part of Saskatchewan's science and technology community," said NRC President Dr. Pierre Coulombe. "Our Plant Biotechnology Institute has worked with 90% of Saskatchewan's biotech companies. NRC is proud of its many accomplishments that have and will continue to benefit the agriculture industry and the health of Canadians."

Saskatoon is home to the NRC Plant and Wellness technology cluster initiative. More than 60 companies engaged in groundbreaking agricultural biotechnology research and development are located in this city. Saskatoon has fostered this environment where NRC, with its research, world-class facilities, and experience in delivering products to market, can partner with government, university and the private sector to develop marketable products. Saskatoon ranks as one of the most competitive cities in the world for food processing operations.


Anniversary Celebration - 60 Years of NRC in Saskatoon

NRC in Saskatoon: 60 years ago in 1948

The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) has a rich history of agricultural research in the Prairies, particularly in Saskatoon. It was here that the NRC Prairie Regional Laboratory was set up in 1948 to develop alternative uses for Western Canadian crops to reduce waste and boost farming profits.

25 years ago in 1983: Transformation of lab into the NRC Plant Biotechnology Institute (NRC-PBI)

In 1983, the laboratory officially became the NRC Plant Biotechnology Institute (NRC-PBI) with a mandate to improve crop performance and utilization for the benefit of Canadians.

Canola development in the 50s and 60s

Since the 1950s, NRC has played a key role in the development of canola. The NRC Prairie Regional Laboratory, working with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, transformed a minor crop with limited use into one of Canada's most valuable assets. Before the development of edible canola, the plant was used primarily as an industrial lubricant as it clings to metal, even in hot water and steam, making it ideal for steam engines and marine use. It had little value to Canadian farmers.

By 1964, NRC researchers, teaming with scientists from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, were able to breed new varieties of edible canola with desirable nutritional properties. A decade later, these new varieties of canola made up five million acres of the crop grown in Canada.

Today's canola industry

Scientists continued to make canola a tougher crop that is more resistant to weed killers with improved crop yield and quality, reduced maturity time, as well as resistance to diseases. Today, Canada is the global centre for canola science, growing more than 13 million acres of the made-in-Canada crop, mostly in the Prairies. The canola industry (including commercial crushers, farmers, and biotechnology researchers) contributes more than $11 billion a year to the Canadian economy, second only to Canadian wheat.

About NRC-PBI: Better crops, better markets for Canada

The NRC Plant Biotechnology Institute (NRC-PBI) is a major research centre for plant biosciences in Canada, with expertise in genomics, metabolic pathways, gene expression, genetic transformation, structured biology,
and natural product chemistry. NRC-PBI performs research and innovation in plant biotechnology in partnership with key stakeholders, to improve and diversify Canadian industry and strengthen Canada's competitive position in the global knowledge-based economy.

NRC-PBI research efforts are focused on building on its leading knowledge capacity in genomics to develop plants which provide environmentally friendly products for energy and industrial uses. The institute is focused on utilizing the plant as a "factory" to produce a host of products, such as bioactives with health benefits and plant oils which can be used as a biofuel and lubricants.

Addressing priorities: Productivity, environment, health, sustainable energy

Researchers at the institute continue working to develop crops with increased yield, disease resistance, insect resistance, drought tolerance and nutrient efficiency to impact not only farmers' productivity, but address environmental, human health, and energy sustainability.

State of the art technology platforms

NRC-PBI has developed state of the art technology platforms in the areas of DNA sequencing and synthesis, bioinformatics, proteomics, hormone profiling, small molecule identification, and plant transformation.

Opportunity for firms

NRC-PBI's world-class innovative research has helped attract new companies to Saskatoon. The institute provides these companies with state of the art laboratory and research infrastructure to commercialize products and the chance to collaborate with researchers through its Industrial Partnership Facility, which opened in 2003.

Industry Partnership Facilities (IPFs) are NRC's technology innovation incubators. They accommodate and provide assistance to private companies with commercial potential with the goal for Canadians to benefit from the jobs, products and services these companies will generate in future.

BioAccess Commercialization Centre

In 2006, NRC helped to open the BioAccess Commercialization Centre. This centre offers innovative firms in the Western Canada's nutraceutical, functional food and natural health product industry the advice, knowledge and resources they need for successful commercialization.

NRC in partnership

NRC-PBI has partnerships with universities, government researchers, and industry to undertake leading edge research and product development. These partnerships build powerful networks to undertake scientific research and technology commercialization. For example, NRC-PBI and the University of Alberta are co-leaders in a genomics project involving comprehensive functional genomics of Brassica seed quality. The project focuses on the development of seed with increased oil content, yellow seed coat color and reduction of fiber and anti-nutritional compounds to improve canola meal quality.

NRC Cluster: Plants for health and wellness

Saskatoon's agricultural biotechnology cluster has evolved from a small industrial community to a major global player providing more than 1,100 local jobs. NRC's Saskatoon-based Plants for Health and Wellness technology cluster initiative is a world-leading example of how visionary thinking and careful planning can turn NRC-funded research into marketable products backed by significant private sector investment in research, development and commercialization. The cluster is a globally-recognized contributor to science and technology for health and wellness.

Cluster facts at a glance

- The cluster accounts for 30 percent of Canada's ag-biotech industry - 60 companies with annual sales of close to $1 billion.

- 30 companies in the nutraceutical and functional food sectors generate annual revenues of nearly $60 million.

- The cluster accounted for $120 million in genomics investments between 2001 and 2007.

- 1,100 people work in the cluster, including 400 research and technology professionals.

- The cluster is focused on capturing more of a global nutraceutical market already worth $172 million.

Connecting vital players

As the nucleus for Saskatoon's cluster activities, NRC has linked key partners around critical common goals. NRC in Saskatoon leverages its funding by attracting $30 million of investments from its private and public partners. These include industry, government and university which collaborate and develop groundbreaking marketable products and processes. The University of Saskatchewan, an important partner in the cluster, continues to generate a constant flow of skilled people - expanding the people advantage this cluster already enjoys.

About overall NRC Technology Cluster Initiatives

The National Research Council (NRC) is meeting the Government of Canada challenge to mobilize science and technology to Canada's advantage. NRC is partnering with industry, universities and all levels of government to build dynamic technology clusters in communities across the country. By fostering world-class R&D with a clear focus on generating economic opportunities for Canadian communities, NRC research facilities and skilled people are accelerating community-led innovation. The results: new knowledge, new skills, new partnerships and new business opportunities focused on the priorities of Canadians and people around the world - from innovations and technologies that support health and wellness to new ideas in energy, transportation, environmental and security improvements.

Contact Information

  • National Research Council Canada
    Natalie Hall
    Media Relations Advisor
    NRC Plant Biotechnology Institute
    Pamela Marfleet
    Communications Assistant
    Office of the Honourable Gary Goodyear
    Minister of State (Science and Technology)
    Gary Toft
    Director of Communications