Canadian research team earns Borlaug Gene Stewardship Award

The rust-resistant wheat cultivar development team at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) earned the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) 2021 Gene Stewardship Award for their long-standing innovations and strategies to combat wheat rust in Canada and around the world.

The BGRI Gene Stewardship Award is the premier recognition for researchers serving a national breeding program or other nationally based institution for their contribution to wheat rust resistance research. The AAFC team developed a model and standard for the preservation of the important rust resistance genes that integrates pathology with genetics and the development of rust resistant germplasm with combinations of effective rust resistance genes.

The BGR, which is headquartered in Cornell’s Department of Global Development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, presented the Gene Stewardship Award Oct. 8 at the BGRI 2021 Technical Workshop.

“With a core team of wheat breeders, pathologists, cytogeneticists and molecular biologists, the AAFC team has maintained an enduring commitment protecting wheat in Canada and around the globe,” said Ronnie Coffman, vice-chair of the BGRI and professor in Cornell’s Department of Global Development. “They are collaborators who work across disciplines and borders to provide support and germplasm to develop rust-resistant cultivars.”

The team includes:

Tom Fetch, Stem Rust Pathologist
Brent McCallum, Leaf Rust Pathologist
Reem Aboukhaddour, Stripe Rust Pathologist
Ron Knox, Molecular Pathologist
Samia Berraies, Molecular Pathologist
Santosh Kumar, Wheat Breeder
Gavin Humphreys, Wheat Breeder
Andrew Burt, Wheat Breeder
Richard Cuthbert, Wheat Breeder
Yuefeng Ruan, Wheat Breeder
Robert Graf, Wheat Breeder
Harpinder Randhawa, Wheat Breeder
Colin Hiebert, Cytogeneticist
R. Kerber, Cytogeneticist
George Fedak, Cytogeneticist
L. Dyck, Geneticist
Sylvie Cloutier, Molecular Biologist
André Laroche, Molecular Biologist
Curt McCartney, Molecular Biologist
“AAFC wheat rust pathologists, geneticists, and plant breeders have worked for nearly 100 years to develop cultivars with durable rust resistance and share germplasm with wheat breeding institutions worldwide in the global effort to develop wheat security from epidemic losses to the rust pathogens,” said Fetch. “We are thrilled to be honored by the BGRI and we are committed to continued collaboration with dedicated scientists all over the world.”

Maricelis Acevedo, associate director of science for the BGRI and research professor of global development at Cornell, said “The Gene Stewardship award recognizes the unfailing commitment of teams of scientists to protect genetic resources. The award honors excellence and the collaborative spirit needed for a global, interconnected community like ours. The AAFC team has discovered and characterized some of the most important rust resistance genes in wheat, and their contributions to wheat security are unparalleled.”

In the early 2000s, Nobel Prize-winner Norman Borlaug, Coffman and a team of researchers met to galvanize support for a global consortium of scientists to tackle the problem of Ug99. In 2008, Borlaug and Coffman founded the BGRI at Cornell University with partners from around the world. Since 2012, the BGRI has presented the Gene Stewardship Award in recognition of researchers serving a national breeding program or other nationally based institution. The Gene Stewardship Award has been presented to teams from the United States, India, Kenya, Ethiopia, Australia and Nepal.


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