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sector_ico_Agrifood_trans Agrifood

Optimize soil-plant interactions to maximize root exudation that increases carbon sequestration and agroecosystem resiliency

  • Project Leaders: Jean-Thomas Cornelis
  • Institutions: University of British Columbia (UBC)
  • Budget: $199646
  • Program/Competition: Genomic Innovation for Regenerative Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Program (GIRAFF)
  • Genome Centre(s): Genome British Columbia
  • Fiscal Year: 2022
  • Status: Active

The agriculture industry relies on fertilizer to provide crops with nutrients and minerals needed to meet ever growing demand for food. Fertilizer contains nitrogen, sourced from natural gas, and phosphorus and potassium which are mined. The raw materials needed to manufacture fertilizer are increasing in price, driving up the cost of food while also contributing significant GHG emissions. The Canadian Government seeks to reduce nitrogen-based fertilizer use, targeting a 40-45% decrease in emissions by 2030. To meet this goal, new agriculture techniques are needed that allow crops to grow with less fertilizer, while meeting global food demand. 

Researcher Jean-Thomas Cornelis at the University of British Columbia, in collaboration with the BC Blueberry Council, the BC Hazelnut Growers Associations and BC Grain Producers Association, are investigating how plants grow under nutrient reduced conditions, and the impact fertilizer has on nutrient acquisition and carbon sequestration at the tip of plant roots. 

Using modern genomic tools, the team will identify genes involved in nutrient acquisition, what drives their expression and under what conditions. Over the next 18 months the team aims to understand how plant roots respond to nutrient limitations and what genes and metabolites are made. They also seek to understand if increased root exudation under nutrient limited conditions favour nutrient acquisition.  Finally, they also hope to understand if increased root exudates under moderate nutrient limitation increases soil carbon storage.

Understanding the interface between roots and soil will build toward new agricultural practices and strategies that foster natural capacities, and support Canada’s climate targets.