Canola improvements stem from afar

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Pre-Breeding Research

Victoria’s western district is home for Romanian-born grains research scientist Denise Barbulescu, but her country of birth at the crossroads of central and south-east Europe has lately been surprisingly close.

Over the past three years, research as part of the GRDC-funded National Brassica Germplasm Improvement Program has involved Denise returning to Europe – through the lens of a microscope.

Picture of a woman checking samples on a shelf.

Research scientist Denise Barbulescu checks canola
germplasm for fungal growth as part of the
GRDC-funded National Brassica Germplasm
Improvement Program at Victorian DPI’s Grains
Innovation Park in Horsham.

Denise’s more conventional journey began when she migrated to Australia with her family weeks before the fall of Romania’s communist regime in 1989. She gained a science degree at the University of South Australia and a foothold in the Australian grains industry working in the Biosciences Research Division of the Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI) for almost 10 years.

Now she is journeying back into the genetic history of European winter types of canola to help improve Australian spring types. In particular, she has been looking for genes that plant breeders can use in Australia to improve resistance to blackleg disease.

Following testing in the field and glasshouses last year, Victorian DPI researchers, including Denise, have found two promising breeding lines.

She says the project also involves examining the genetic potential for blackleg resistance in cultivated and wild canola relatives from around the world, including cabbages, cauliflowers, broccolis, turnips and swedes.

“Preliminary screening shows the cabbage family might have another two or three breeding lines containing blackleg-resistant genes,” she says, adding that further testing will look at the potential for this new genetic material to help ward off blackleg and increase the canola gene pool for plant breeders.

The scope of Denise’s work has recently expanded to include another area of canola research at the Grains Innovation Park.

She says participating in a ‘Mentoring Wimmera women’ program, run by the Horsham-based Wimmera Development Association earlier this year, has given her the confidence and skills to lead a second research project.

“The program has helped me to be more assertive and given me the courage to take on a leading role in the development of canola varieties that produce pods less prone to shattering,” she says. “This could help growers avoid the need for windrowing at harvest.”

In the past six months Denise has evaluated canola lines that have been crossbred with relatives of the crop, such as turnips and mustards, which are known for their shatter tolerance. So far, six shatter-tolerant lines have been identified, but of these, only one is considered stable.

Denise is continuing this year to search for stable genes that consistently show high levels of tolerance to pod-shatter in more than 200 crossbred canola lines developed by the University of Western Australia and Nuseed. 

More information:

Denise Barbulescu,
03 5362 2362,
denise.barbulescu@dpi.vic.gov.au