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Application of genomics to innovation in the lentil economy (AGILE)


Generating solutions




2014 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition – Genomics and Feeding the Future

Genome Centre(s)



Project Leader(s)

Fiscal Year Project Launched


Project Description

Goal: To provide Canadian farmers with faster access to better lentil varieties that will excel under Canadian growing conditions.

Lentils may be tiny, they are an outsized source of opportunity for Canadian farmers. Canada is the world’s largest producer and exporter of lentils, exporting more than $14 billion worth of lentils since 1997.Lentils are eaten around the world, easy-to-cook, and high in protein and micro nutrients, thus contributing to global food security.

Lentils have been a success for Canada, because farmers have access to high-quality and high-yielding lentil varieties that are well-adapted to Canada’s climate conditions–a result of a dedicated lentil breeding program in Canada. Breeders, however, have only been able to access a small fraction of the total diversity in existence, which hinders Canadian farmers’ ability to meet the growing global demand.

The goal of AGILE is to provide Canadian farmers with faster access to better lentil varieties that will excel under Canadian growing conditions. The AGILE team will characterize the genetic variability found in an expansive collection of lentils to determine the genetics underlying the ability for lentils to grow well in different global environments. The team, led by Drs. Kirstin Bett and Albert Vandenberg of the University of Saskatchewan, will then develop breeder-friendly genetic markers that can be used to reduce the impact of genes that cause poor adaptation to Canadian conditions while retaining advantageous genes from these strains. The team will also investigate the factors that influence farmer’s decisions to adopt lentil or not in their crop rotation, and develop a strategy to increase Canadian lentil production in a sustainable way.

Output from AGILE is expected to result in a three percent annual rate of increase in productivity, leading to a $550 million increase in export revenues, thus ensuring Canada’s continued dominance in research, production and marketing of this important crop.

Visit the project website for more information: AGILE: Application of Genomic Innovation in the Lentil Economy.

Project outcomes to date*:

  • Sequenced a global lentil collection of over 300 lentil varieties which allows development and deployment of molecular markers that will help breeders to access genetic diversity during the breeding process.
  • Partnered with NRGene of Israel to complete sequencing and assembly of two wild lentil species, providing breeders with additional resources to improve resilience in cultivated lentil varieties.
  • Sequenced a global collection of rhizobia bacteria to gain further understanding of the dynamics between lentil plants and rhizobia and how this affects productivity and quality
  • First set of molecular markers for predicting maturity is being tested. More markers will be developed and implemented in the breeding program over the next five years.
  • Partnered with research organizations in Spain, Italy, Morocco, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, and the United States to generate knowledge and resources that help develop new varieties for sustainable production in diverse growing conditions.
  • Knowledge and resources created by this project will be disseminated to farmers in developing countries through partnership with International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) and Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD)
  • Presentations made to research conferences around the world and to the DivSeek community, an international working group that focuses on enhancing crop productivity through expanding crop genetic diversity.
  • Partnering with the Plant Phenotyping and Imaging Research Center (P2IRC, funded by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund) to develop new phenotyping and crop imaging tools. AGILE will leverage shared data to develop new data analysis and visualization tools aimed at creating value for plant researchers, breeders, and growers alike.
  • Outreach to producers and stakeholders to build awareness of project goals and outcomes, including interactive Twitter feed (@wildlentils), presentations, and informal participation in producer meetings.
  • Team of up to 30 to 40 people researchers, including some 20 student research assistants and postdoctoral fellows, with opportunities to travel and collaborate with other scientists around the world.
  • GE3LS outcomes: Completed studies on aspects of UPOV 91 and its potential impact on the current funding mechanism that supports Canadian pulse research and breeding programs.  Results have been communicated to the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers. Conducted survey of growers to investigate how they make decisions on seeding lentils (or not). Further research underway to gain a better understanding of the role of various influences on growers’ seeding choices (e.g., risk orientation, personal networks, formal organizations).

*Revised July 2018