University of Saskatchewan brings together expertise from industry, government, producers, and academia into one thriving knowledge ecosystem: an integrated hub for sharing the latest agtech science and technology.
Our campus offers one of the world’s largest clusters for innovative agri-food and bioscience technology—including:
Major research facilities:
- Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization—International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac)
- Canadian Light Source (CLS) synchrotron
- Omics and Precision Agriculture Laboratory (OPAL)
- Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence (LFCE)
- Saskatchewan Structural Sciences Centre (SSSC)
- Saskatchewan Centre for Cyclotron Sciences (SCCS)
- Canadian Feed Research Centre
- Bioprocessing Pilot Plant
Key institutes, colleges, and centres:
- Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS)
- Global Institute for Water Security (GIWS)
- College of Agriculture and Bioresources (including the Crop Development Centre)
- College of Engineering
- Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM)
- Department of Computer Science
- Plant Phenotyping and Imaging Research Centre (P2IRC)
New versatile technologies
USask-led research teams from the Crop Development Centre and the Global Institute for Food Security have played key roles in the international sequencing of several billion-piece jigsaw puzzles—the genome of multiple crops crucial to global food security for millions of people around the world. The results will lead to varieties better adapted to climate challenges, with higher yields, enhanced nutritional quality, and improved sustainability.
In 2020, USask led an international consortium that has sequenced 15 wheat varieties around the world.
Other genomes USask has sequenced:
USask's Omics and Precision Agriculture Laboratory (OPAL) is a state-of-the-art facility that provides genomics, phenomics and bioinformatics services to Western Canadian producers, in addition to public and private research organizations
The first of its kind in Canada, OPAL combines the digital data analyses of plant genes and traits with the latest precision agriculture technologies to improve crop yield, profitability and sustainability in the agri-food sector. It offers genomics and phenomics services that analyze crop genes and traits and bioinformatics services to analyze and interpret biological data.
OPAL is a one-stop-shop for plant analyses at the molecular level, right here at USask. Through OPAL, Saskatchewan’s agri-industry now has proximity to Canada’s most integrated ‘omics’ and precision agriculture facility to analyze crop data.
Combining technologies such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS), remote aerial imaging of plants using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), and in-field environmental monitoring with genetic information can provide researchers and producers a complete profile of plant samples.
The result: world-class, at-scale capability that can meet the needs of the crop sector and support the agricultural technology innovation ecosystem--accelerated crop breeding, reduced waste and increased efficiency for agronomists, breeders, producers and other clients.
With funding from Western Economic Diversification Canada, the Global Institute for Food Security-managed initiative is a collaboration between the University of Saskatchewan, the National Research Council of Canada, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Researchers at USask's College of Engineering are applying automation and digital technology to help producers and other researchers develop improved crops. USask engineering researchers are combining machine recognition of plant characteristics with using advanced robotics to help collect data and revolutionize crop production. The results will yield to increased yields and a reduced environmental footprint, including benefits for:
- Selective and predictive agriculture
- Efficient delivery of water and nutrients
- Precision control of weeds
Remote sensing - scanning of the Earth by satellite, high-flying aircraft, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV or drone), in order to obtain information is revolutionizing agriculture.
Researchers at P2IRC are using drone images to automate the process of phenotyping—measuring crop characteristics such as germination rate, stage of growth, and yield. The data can be used to compare crops over multiple years, make crop production more efficient by reducing fieldwork, detect disease outbreaks early, and assess fertilizer efficiency.
To advance the field of digital agriculture and create better plants, plant breeders need imaging data. The emergence of high-throughput advanced imaging methods has yielded new opportunities to gather structural and functional data from plants.
The Canadian Light Source (CLS) synchrotron, a national facility of USask and Canada's only synchrotron, boasts a unique suite of experimental stations ideal to characterize plant and soil samples, including an unprecedented set of techniques specifically for agriculture research, offering high resolution and high quality data.
Synchrotron imaging tools allow for:
- detailed analysis of physical tissue structures as well as mapping of compounds (like proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates). The resulting data can be used to quantify the performance of new crop varieties and support plant phenotyping.
- detailed, high-resolution information on the physical structure and chemical makeup of a variety of agricultural products. These techniques can aid in product development, process development, and QA/QC, providing valuable insight and quantitative measurements that often cannot be obtained through other techniques.
- early diagnosis of crop disease. Synchrotron-based X-ray imaging allows us to image tissues inside the plant--it is often sensitive enough to differentiate between infected and healthy tissue.
This involves developing digital and computational technologies that can be applied to agriculture, and includes the following areas of computer science: image processing, machine learning, bioinformatics, high-performance computing, software engineering, modelling, and data analytics.
USask computer scientists work with researchers and crop breeders in the USask Crop Development Centre and the Plant Phenotyping and Imaging Research Centre.
An example of a new technology is PlotVision, software developed at USask to identify individual field plots within unmanned aerial vehicle images, using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse their colour, 3D shape, and more. This work helps to predict outcomes such as harvest yield and disease resistance. Researchers can use this data to identify the most viable pesticides, fertilizers, and crop varieties.
USask houses a unique combination of tools for researchers, including the Saskatchewan Centre for Cyclotron Sciences cyclotron, which enables the use of radioisotopes to image microbial and root activity in soil ecosystems to help sustain the environment.
Combining the nuclear imaging research of the SCCS with data collected from the Canadian Light Source synchrotron, and phytotron on campus, along with the BioPETx real-time imaging detector, provides plant and soil researchers with a combination of technology platforms that is unique in the world.
With the BioPETx system, the world’s only Positron Emission Technology (PET) designed for analyzing soil and plants, researchers can study:
- Plant metabolic processes, leading to more resilient crops
- Various plant diseases
- Improved performance and climate adaptability, by linking genetic information of crop species to images
- Soil composition and remediation.
USask researchers in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources are also using non-radioactive, stable isotopes to analyze soil to improve crop productivity—studying how plants exchange carbon and nutrients with microbes and the soil.
This research will help producers use fertilizers more efficiently and soil more sustainably, leading to more productive and profitable farms and improved environmental health.
Phenometrics is the process of improving crop breeding using the power of precision digital phenotyping and genomics.
Advances in technology and computational agriculture are making it easier for researchers to discover and link plants’ phenotypes—their key traits—to their DNA sequences. New digital tools, including advanced camera systems and drones, are helping researchers determine the genetic factors that make up a plant’s phenotype. This helps breeders in their classical phenotyping assessments and makes the phenotyping process more efficient.
The USask Plant Phenotyping and Imaging Research Centre (P2IRC) develops the best platforms and technologies to image plants, both above and below ground. Once these platforms and technologies are established, they can be used in breeding programs and collaborations with agricultural partners around the world.
The benefits are as varied as:
- studying how different microbial communities that interact with plants affect overall plant wellness
- making imaging faster and more efficient through in-field and drone-based crops imaging
- scaling up from greenhouse models to crops
Focusing on plant breeding and pathology, USask’s Crop Development Centre (CDC) scientists use the latest scientific advances, genomic resources, and computational technologies to improve yields and other important agronomic traits of crops such as spring wheat, durum, canaryseed, barley oat, flax, pea, lentil, chickpea, dry bean, and fababean. The CDC has released more than 500 commercial varieties of crop kinds, a remarkable achievement in nearly 50 years of operation.
The CDC is part of the College of Agriculture and Bioresources’ plant sciences department, enabling unique access to scientific and technical disciplines and resources needed to develop new and improved crops for food and feed. CDC scientists collaborate with partners from public and private organizations in Canada and internationally, leveraging additional technical and financial resources to advance their research.
Crop Development Centre activities include:
- developing improved crop varieties for farmers and end users
- pursuing state-of-the-art scientific technologies
- developing germplasm for use and exchange with breeding institutions
- developing new crop kinds and management practices
- working in partnership with the public and private sectors
- supervising and training graduate students from around the globe
USask's Bioprocessing Pilot Plant, a research facility within the College of Agriculture and Bioresources, offers highly specialized fractionation and separation tools that are unique in Western Canada for production of plant natural products, used to isolate and extract compounds from various plants and crops. The facility helps scientists and industrial partners to develop and enhance innovative industrial processing of agricultural materials.
With its ‘industrial scale-up’ tools, the pilot plant is the ideal facility to take research and apply it to industry for commercialization. Potentially useful applications are in areas as diverse as:
- new drugs and vaccines
USask's Canadian Feed Research Centre (CFRC), located in North Battleford and funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Government of Saskatchewan, USask, Western Economic Diversification, and industry partners, works to research, develop, and commercialize new and better high-value animal feeds from low-value crops, co-products from bioprocessing and biofuels industries, and novel feed additives. CFRC provides services including:
- Analysis and custom design of feed for specific nutrition profiles
- Scaling up research findings to an industrial scale
- Advice on feed development, commercializing, and regulatory body certification
USask College of Engineering researchers are taking waste and spinning it into gold--or at least into high-value solutions.
Researchers are taking the byproducts and waste products of agricultural and forestry industries, as well as other low-cost sources of biomass such as used cooking oil, to create high-value biofuels such as syngas and hydrogen.
Engineering researchers are studying the value-added processing of agricultural products including storage, drying and cooling, and physical properties of agricultural and biological materials. Spanning biological sources such as flax straw, pulse start, and egg shells, the results will lead to new environmentally sustainable, cost effective processes and materials such as:
- Fibre reinforced biocomposites
- More efficient inputs for biorefinery processing
USask researchers from the College of Arts and Science are improving our understanding of plant-based diseases using advanced bioinformatics techniques and high-throughput screening technology to diagnose, treat, and even predict and prevent diseasese caused by microbes--a field known as pathogenomics.
USask researchers are cultivating methods for responsible management and conservation of the world’s soil, water, and micro- and macro- ecosystems for future generations.
USask's College of Agriculture and Bioresources Department of Soil Science is an international leader in field-based, landscape-scale research. USask researchers are linking basic micro-scale processes in action using synchrotron-based, molecular-scale studies to real world issues at the landscape and global scales--studying the interaction of soil, topographic, environmental, and ecosystem factors.
Research will provide benefits such as:
- Improved landscape mapping and modelling of soil and vegetation
- Better land management and more efficient carbon sequesttration
- New bioproducts to improve soil quality
- Improved nutrient cycling through science-based soil amendments
At the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) at USask, researchers are using DNA sequencing technologies to examine and manipulate the interaction between and among roots, soil and its micro-organismal complement, a dynamic ecosystem that has a substantial effect on soil fertility and crop health.
Exploring and manipulating root growth and regulating the rhizosphere (the soil directly around the root that contains root secretions and soil micro-organisms) could increase water and nutrient absorption and reduce root dysfunction due to infection and disease, resulting in increased crop productivity.
The research will provide benefits such as:
- Improved drought tolerance
- Enhanced soil fertility and nutrient utilization
- Improved plant protection
- Increased crop productivity
Activities on land have the ability to impact water quantity and affect water quality. USask research is improving our understanding of how agriculture management practices and urban water management affect water quality, water movement through a watershed, and soil moisture.
Researchers from USask’s Global Institute for Water Security, Global Institute for Food Security, and College of Agriculture and Bioresources are collaborating the end goals of delivering benefits such as:
- Improved water storage in soil
- The role of slopes in how water travels through soil
- Reclamation of mining sites
- Improved agriculture land-water management by understanding the effects of multiple stressors on water quantity and quality in watersheds
- Developing water quality modelling tools by understanding the interaction between the hydrology, water quality and aquatic ecology of research sites
- Developing new decision support tools for management and remediation of diffuse pollution, including mitigating impacts on aquatic ecosystem health
The University of Saskatchewan’s Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence is a world-class complex of field and science laboratories that brings together under one roof every link of the livestock production chain: from forage development, grazing management and environmental sustainability to cattle reproduction, cow-calf management and feedlot health, growth and productivity.
USask scientists in agriculture, veterinary medicine and engineering have access to new facilities and technologies, larger herds and additional acres of forage and grazing land— all near Saskatoon.
Research is on-going in areas such as:
- Animal feed quality and composition,
- Environmental sustainability
- Grazing and pasture management
- Precision manure management, maximizing soil fertility benefits and minimizing environmental risk
- Accelerated diagnostic testing for antimicrobial resistance
In addition to beef cattle research and education, the LFCE is a centre for bison reproductive work, vaccine development and disease control, and nutrition.
Animal health and management is a major research focus at USask's Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM)—researchers at WCVM are using cutting-edge technology to pursue projects with major potential benefits to the agricultural sector, including:
- Tracking bacterial outbreaks in farms across Canada using genotyping
- Preventing antimicrobial resistance using genetics
- Using telemetry to digitally monitor cattle herds
- Developing new vaccines, drugs, antibiotics, and antibiotics alternatives
- Preventing contamination of the food system
WCVM is home to Canada's only positron emission tomography-computed tomography (PET-CT) scanner unit available for clinical use in animals and for research studies—one of only 5 in North America. The device combines a CT scan – a three-dimensional X-ray – with a PET scan, which delivers information about the metabolic activity in tissues. The device can help detect cancer, brain disorders, heart disease and infections before any anatomical changes are detectable by other imaging scans.
WCVM has other extensive imaging equipment available on a fee-for-use basis, including:
- Scanning and transmission electron microscopes
- Fluorescent and laser-based microscropes
- A specialized endocrine analysis lab for measurement of peptide and steroid hormones
At the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac), researchers are developing new, multiuse platform technologies which are not specific to any particular disease or particular type of animal, things like vaccine delivery systems or vectors which can be used to deliver a vaccine to a particular area or tissue.
VIDO-InterVac is also developing new animal models which allow for reliable testing of multiple vaccine strategies. The research could have benefits such as
- Pan-coronavirus vaccines providing protection against multiple strains or cluster of viruses. The research has already led to the development of a vaccine for highly infectious and devasting Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV), could lead to cures for several coronaviruses, including Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.
- Highly cost effective, very rapidly developed control of emerging disease thanks to a vaccine platform using the common cold virus as a vector (in cows, pigs, and turkey)
- New, more effective adjuvants for human and animal vaccines—used to modify or augment the effect of the antigen in vaccine formulations
- New methods of vaccine delivery for animals during artificial insemination, and through the gut wall
- Improved targeting for new drug design focused on kinase inhibitors—a primary area of drug development for many diseases, including infections. Kinases are involved in regulating protein function, and play a central role in virtually all cellular function.
- Vaccines for prion-based disease like Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) which threaten wild and farmed deer and elk. USask researchers have already developed a first generation injectable vaccine and are working on an improved oral vaccine.
USask's Research Excellence and Innovation unit, part of the Office of the Vice-President Research, works to create significant and sustainable value for society, industry and the environment, by helping researchers turn their discoveries into solutions the world needs. Their main functions include:
- Forging strategic research partnerships with industry, government, and community partners
- Supporting high-quality research activities, including animal care and ethics
- Delivering solutions for society, industry and the environment
- Intellectual property
- Technology transfer
- Enterprise creation
- Research and commercialization legal services
The Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS), a joint collaboration between USask and University of Regina, is one of Canada's leading public policy schools.
Many of the recent developments in Saskatchewan's economy involve hotly contested science—e.g. biotechnology and the acceleration of highly industrialized precision agriculture cohabitating with organic and traditional farming; and heavy oil, biofuels, hydraulic fracturing and nuclear power as contributors to an environmentally sustainable global energy system. These are core concerns both for Saskatchewan and the global economy, as the food and energy systems we contribute to underpin global prosperity.
Researchers at JSGS in the Centre for the Study of Science and Innovation Policy are tackling questions in subject such as:
- Bioscience policy and food security
- Intellectual property rights for open innovation
- Investigating how different structures, processes and types of evidence affect decisions.
- Finding the greatest opportunities in Canada's digital landscape
- Developing digital industries in the context of global production and innovation networks
- Managing the transition to the digital future for traditional industries such as agriculture
USask's Canadian Hub for Applied and Social Research (CHASR) is a unique university-based research support and consulting service. Operating on a cost-recovery basis, CHASR offers a unique menu of research services within Canada, including gathering data on public opinion and human behaviour for researchers, government, and private sector.
CHASR supports research projects at all stages.
- Research support and consultation at the design phase;
- Data collection through tools including surveys and focus groups;
- Analysis and processing of data;
- Presentation of results through formats such as written reports and visual maps;
- Customized training services.
Researchers at USask's Edwards School of Business are studying the impact of new technologies, genetically modified foods, and agriculture innovation, examining things such as:
- consumer behaviour and marketing strategies
- diversification and profitability of agriculture
- food security and sustainable practices
USask is home to the Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture, as well as the CFI-funded National Agricultural Industrial Hygiene Laboratory.
USask researchers are studying the health and safety of workers and others exposed to the risks of modern agricultural production and other rural exposures, bridging the entire spectrum of research from basic science all the way to the study of populations and the exposures and health issues that affect them.
The research spans areas as wide as:
- Improved rural and remote dementia care
- Better ergonomics for farming equipment
- Population studies to reduce farm injuries and deaths
- Improved computer modelling and data anlysis for better lung health and reduced asthma