Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/4/2016 (1528 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Dennis Drewnik’s canola research is the cream of the crop.
Drewnik, 17, a Grade 12 student at Sisler High School, was named the winner of the Manitoba edition of the Sanofi Biogenius Canada competition on April 12. The budding plant biologist will now compete in the national version of the biotechnology competition, to be held May 2 and 3 in Ottawa.
Drewnik won for his research project that focuses on manipulating the genetics of canola to make it resistant to a fungal pathogen that causes blackleg. The disease destroys canola crops and costs the agriculture industry a lot of cash.
"It (blackleg) causes $1.5 billion US in damage to a variety of crops across the globe," Drewnik said. "Canola is a $20 billion industry and in western Canada its one of the major pathogens that affects our yields."
This is the second-straight year Drewnik has won the regional version of the Sanofi Biogenius competition. Last year, his project on protecting canola from the fungus sclerotinia earned him a fourth-place finish at nationals.
For his current project, Drewnik said he’s working with two different lines of canola, Westar, a variety susceptible to blackleg, and DF78, which is a resistant line, well, for now.
"In the last few years, blackleg resistance has been breaking down in all the popular varieties of canola and for this reason we need to develop new genetic resistances in order to feed a population that’s estimated to skyrocket to 9 billion people by 2050," Drewnik said.
Drewnik said the main contributor to this pathogen problem is evolution.
"One thing that farmers to do to prevent the evolution of a pathogen is rotating their crops, not growing canola on the same land year after year," Drewnik said.
"But, since canola is such an amazing crop to grow in terms of how much yield it produces and how much money you can obtain from it, a lot of farmers don’t pay attention to that and grow it in consecutive years, allowing the pathogen to evolve and those genetic resistances to break down."
Drewnik said, through his research on Arabidopsis, a canola-like plant, he’s made numerous findings, including the identification of four novel blackleg-resistant genes, two of which were previously unknown.
For the last five years, Drewnik has worked with Dr. Mark Belmonte, a plant biologist at the University of Manitoba. Belmonte said Drewnik’s passion to plant biology is remarkable.
"I don’t think there’s anything stopping him. He has been gaining a ton of momentum over the past five years that I’ve been working with him," Belmonte said. "He started from the ground up, really getting a good handle on the computational side and how to analyze large-scale data sets and now he’s getting into some of the practical or translational applications to this work."
In addition to potentially saving crops and saving the agriculture industry money, Drewnik’s work could help save the environment, i.e., cut down on the use of chemicals in crop protection.
"There are fungicides that have been developed, although a) they’re not economically sustainable and b) they are environmentally damaging, with nutrient run-off into water systems and the bio-amplification of those chemicals in our foods and other ecosystems," Drewnik said.
Community journalist — The Times
Jared Story is the community journalist for The Times. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Call him at 204-697-7206
Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.
To those who have made donations, thank you.
To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.
The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.
After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.
If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.
We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.