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Canadian Field Crop Genetics Improvement Cluster, Activity 11: Barley Genetics

Principal Investigator

Thin Meiw (Alek) Choo

Research Institution

Ottawa Research and Development Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC)

External Funding Partners

This project is part of the $10.3 million Canadian Field Crop Genetics Improvement Cluster funded by the Canadian Field Crop Research Alliance (CFCRA) and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) through the Industry-Led Research and Development Stream of the Growing Forward 2 AgriInnovation Program. Grain Farmers of Ontario is a founding member of the CFCRA.

Project Start

April 2013

Project End

March 2018


  • Develop breeding lines and select for high yield and resistance to Fusarium Head Blight (FHB).
  • Develop genetic markers for selecting FHB-resistance and desirable agronomic traits.
  • Develop barley lines based on their content and physiochemical properties of beta-glucan.


  • The development of high-yielding, FHB-resistant barley cultivars may increase the profitability and competitiveness of farmers, the agri-food system, rural communities, and Canadian industry.
  • The identification and implementation of molecular markers associated with resistance to DON accumulation may reduce time and cost for developing FHB-resistant cultivars.
  • The development of high beta-glucan barley may enhance human health and wellness through food, nutrition and innovative products.

Scientific Summary

Barley is a major crop in Eastern Canada. Barley provides a good source of energy for livestock and raw material for malting industries, while barley straw is in demand by livestock producers for animal bedding. Fusarium head blight (FHB) is the most destructive disease of barley in Eastern Canada. Once infected, the fungi can produce multiple mycotoxins, including deoxynivalenol (DON), which are harmful to human and animal health. Malting and brewing companies refuse to purchase barley contaminated with over 1 ppm of DON. DON contamination occurs frequently in Eastern Canada; therefore, high-yielding and FHB-resistant barley cultivars are urgently needed for Eastern Canada, particularly in six-row barley. Selection for FHB-resistance in an artificially inoculated FHB nursery is expensive and labour intensive. Each sample needs to be ground into flour and the flour to be subjected to an ELISA antibody assay to determine its DON level.

The project aims to identify morphological, biochemical, and molecular markers that are associated with resistance to DON accumulation for use in marker-assisted selection for FHB resistance and to develop NIR technique for screening breeding lines for low DON to reduce cost and labour requirements. We plan to develop barley lines based on their content and physiochemical properties of beta-glucans. Since 2013, we have released three six-row covered cultivars (AAC Mirabel, AAC Montrose, and AAC Vitality), one two-row covered cultivar (AAC Purpose), and one two-row hulless cultivar (AAC Starbuck). These new cultivars yielded well in Eastern Canada. AAC Starbuck contained low DON in response to FHB infection. Many breeding lines have been evaluated for resistance to DON accumulation under artificial inoculation conditions at Ottawa and Charlottetown. Some have shown low level of DON and further evaluation is in progress. Barley lines with high levels of beta-glucans (>8%) have also been identified and they are now being tested for field performance across Eastern Canada.

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