Latest reports, studies and research on flax

Project Project Dates Total Commitment
“The Development of Glyphosate Resistant Flax using Non-Transgenic Rapid Trait Development System (RTDS)” 2010-2013 $50,000 annually for a total of $200,000
“Total Utilization of Flax Genomics (TUFGEN)” 2009-2012 $25,000 annually for a total of $100,000
“Value Added Flax Production in Manitoba through Breeding and Agronomy and Pathology Research (VAFP)” 2012/2013 2013/2014 $40,000 annually for a total of $80,000
“Improving the Competitiveness of Flax through Agronomic, Breeding and Biotechnology Research” 2014-2018 $50,000 annually for a total of $250,000


The Development of Glyphosate Resistant Flax using Non-Transgenic Rapid Trait Development System (RTDS)

Flax (Linum usitatissimum) is an important oilseed crop for western Canada, and Canada is the world leader in oilseed flax production. Flaxseed oil is used for both edible and industrial purposes; however, it lags behind large acreage crops in the application of biotechnology to develop new input and output traits. This is because of two reasons.  First, the current cost of new transgenic trait development and registration is extremely high and therefore has not been applied to flax to date. Second, flax growers have decided not to market transgenic flax in an effort to ensure access to all major world markets.  Non-transgenic (non-genetically modified) herbicide tolerance is a trait that would add immediate value to the Canadian flax crop. Several leading Canadian flax researchers have estimated that herbicide tolerance would not only add convenience to the cropping system but also increase yield by 15-20%.  With the added advantages of herbicide tolerance and higher yield, interest in growing flax as part of the normal crop rotation in western Canada would significantly increase, leading to an increase in the flax acreage. Cibus, a plant development company located in San Diego, USA, has a non-transgenic technology, RTDS™, which can be used to develop value-added traits for flax.  In a focused research project that includes a strategic research and development collaboration with AAFC (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) and commercialization partnership managed by the Flax Council, new herbicide tolerant Canadian flax holds the potential to increase flax acres in Canada significantly, and solidifying a position as the second key oilseed crop for the country.

Cibus RTDS technology – “A new approach to trait development”

 Cibus has identified a unique product opportunity by applying a new technology known as the Rapid Trait Development System (RTDS) for the non-transgenic production of herbicide resistant plants. These products will offer Canadian farmers a superior herbicide-resistant flax crop to address their weed control problems.

RTDS is a proprietary gene targeting technology that utilizes small oligonucleotides delivered into cells to change the targeted gene sequence in situ. This system of directed gene conversion has been successfully applied in prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells of both plants and animals.

Herbicide resistant crops have had unprecedented market growth over the last five years, changing the dynamics of the crop protection business as it relates to weed control. Led by Monsanto’s Roundup Ready™ technology, herbicide tolerant crops are now grown on over 100 million acres, most of which are in the US, Argentina and Canada. Roundup Ready®, Liberty Link®, and Clearfield® crops, combined with the irrespective herbicides, have become the dominant weed control technologies in many major markets. The primary benefit for farmers is excellent weed control and the simplicity with which this technology allows the farmer to control major weed problems. The RTDS technology offers the possibility of a non-transgenic herbicide-resistant product for each of the major classes of most modern and popular herbicides. It is especially valuable when applied to plant species for which there is either no transgenic alternative or which must be kept free of transgenic materials for marketing and consumer acceptance reasons.  Visit for more information.

Major Accomplishments: Flax Glyphosate Tolerance – June 27th, 2011

  • Work continues with several varieties of Flax germplasm.  CDC Bethune is showing both high regeneration capability and good conversion rates and is currently the preferred cultivar for further experiments.
  • Glyphosate selection experiments have been initiated with encouraging results.  Further optimization of the preferred concentrations that select for mutations, while allowing sufficient opportunity for regeneration, is underway.
  • Experiments have been conducted to test the conversion frequency using the Cibus plasmid based GFP (green fluorescence protein) system on several flax lines. Results demonstrated higher than expected conversion frequencies observed for the stop GFP gene. Additional work to improve the consistency of these results continues.
  • A bacterial complementation assay was utilized to identify the G96A mutation as the preferred single mutation to confer glyphosate tolerance in the gene 2 background.  These results were confirmed upon testing the gene 1 background.


“Total Utilization of Flax Genomics (TUFGEN)”

In the last decade, the popularity of flax as a food ingredient has increased tremendously. Flax seeds and oil are now available in supermarkets and health food stores alike.  Flax offers the benefits of omega-3 oils for health.  Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for human brain functions, have been shown to reduce bad cholesterol, and they mitigate the risk of heart disease.  Flax is also a rich source of plant-estrogens which are associated with reduced risks of breast, prostate and colon cancer.  Flax seeds are impressive bio-factories, making a number of specialized products such as gums that can be used in industrial processes. Durable linoleum floorings, manufactured from flax oil, are used in office buildings, hospitals and schools. Flax is used in the fabrication of a myriad of products: solvents, paints, car panels and composites to name a few.

Flax is an unusual crop in producing two distinct products – seeds and fibres – from which value can be extracted, making it a total utilization crop.  The straw produces a strong and long lasting fibre that is praised for its quality.  Linen is the most well known form of flax fibres but these fibres can also replace fibreglass in composites.  Flax straw components have also been used in the manufacture of fire logs, paper and other similar products.

The project “Total Utilization Flax GENomics” (TUFGEN) aims at enhancing flax’s usefulness, benefits and versatility by developing a strong genomics research base to assist flax breeding and improvement.  Canada is the world’s largest producer of flax, which places the onus on us to lead flax research and development.  The project’s goal is to help develop flax as a dual-purpose crop providing seeds and straw derivatives of unmatched quality and high value.

This TUFGEN project will develop a suite of genomic resources that will be used to address targeted biology-based questions.  In 2000, the sequence of the human genome was published. Only eight years later, genetic tests for the early detection and diagnosis of numerous diseases are being used as a result of this large international effort. In the same time period, the genome sequences of several other organisms including economically important plants such as rice, corn, soybean, grapevine and poplar, to name a few, have been revealed.

The time and cost needed to sequence an entire genome is a mere fraction of what it was a decade ago.  As part of this project, the flax genome will be sequenced.  This ambitious endeavour will be an invaluable contribution to flax research.  In genome sequencing, this will be the largest-ever single contribution by a Canadian team.

Other resources such as genetic and physical maps outlining the position and relationship of genes on chromosomes will be developed and made available to the research community to foster and stimulate flax research.  Gene discovery targeted at the improvement of flax properties will be conducted by a team of experts located across Canada.  A second team will perform data analysis and management, and will develop software to preserve and present the new data.  The available resources will propel flax research forward and create opportunities for advancements that were undreamt of only a short while ago.

“Value Added Flax Production in Manitoba through Breeding and Agronomy and Pathology Research”

This project will build upon a successful foundation in flax breeding, agronomy and pathology researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Research Centres in Manitoba (Brandon, Morden and Winnipeg) that develop new varieties that will meet customer demands and perform well for growers, and processors of Manitoba.  It will build upon using facilities within Manitoba such as the Diversification Centres throughout the province of Manitoba.  Augment research already ongoing at the Richardson Centre for Functional Food and Nutraceuticals, Composites Innovation Centre, and Schweitzer Mauduit.  It will also build upon the strategic plan laid out by Flax Canada 2015 and research ongoing within Natural Fibres for the Green Economy Network (NAFGEN) and Total Utilization Flax Genomics (TUFGEN).  The development of new flax cultivars in response to consumer demands are largely based upon quality parameters such as oil content, content of alpha linolenic acid, protein content, and fibre content of the straw.  In a perfectly competitive environment, producers have little control over price however specialized flax programs that utilize identity preservation may increase premiums for producers.  In addition, better yielding varieties can help producers achieve greater productivity.  Factors that can increase yield over the accepted standard are also sought after goals.

Flax production in Manitoba must also be cost effective.  New flax cultivars must be able to mitigate the threats from diseases, weeds and other environmental factors and help producers reduce production expenses, while maximizing their revenue.  As such, it is important that new flax varieties have improved resistance to traditional diseases and respond to new disease pressures.  In addition, agronomic factors such as vigour, straw strength, maturity, height, stress tolerance and yield stability are also desired traits in new flax cultivars.  While providing producers with additional yield and reduced costs, the production of flax is also the backbone to a supply chain management system that produces value added products.

The flax crop can be segmented into different uses, seed and fibre, which each serve different end user markets.  Although each of these market segments has their unique opportunities and threats, the goal of this project is to accelerate the development of flax varieties for total utilization, seed and straw, through the adoption of best practice technology, agronomic methods, and breeding techniques, while being responsive to demand drivers in both domestic and global markets.


“Improving the Competitiveness of Flax through Agronomic, Breeding and Biotechnology Research”

Although the yield potential of flax is greater than 80 bushels/acre, the long-term prairie average is in the low 20’s. Developing technologies and best management practices to capture a greater share of this yield potential is the current focus of the Flax Council of Canada. Bottom line is that in order to grow acreage, farmers need higher and more consistent flax yield.

In order to achieve this goal, the Flax Council of Canada in partnership with Manitoba Flax Growers Association and the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission has been approved for funding through the AgriInnovation Program of Agriculture Agri-food Canada’s Growing Froward 2 program for a series of research projects under the theme “Improving the Competitiveness of Flax through Agronomic, Breeding and Biotechnology.” This Industry-led Research and Development stream incorporates a number of projects that are aimed at developing technologies and best management practices that will achieve our goal of improving flax yield.

Pasmo is the most prevalent disease of flax. A research project called “Management of Pasmo” will result in technologies and practices that will reduce crop loss due to this disease. This project will augment efforts made in managing rust and powdery mildew. Disease resistance is an important pillar to achieve high, stable yield.

Seed quality will be assessed. The impact of using certified seed versus farm saved seed will be evaluated. Seed size and weight will also be assessed by observing seedling vigour. Factors leading to early crop establishment would positively impact yield.

Various tillage treatments and variety selection will be evaluated as a means to mitigate the impact of soil moisture extremes in order to optimize yields. Best management practices identified by this project will help producers stabilize yields in regions that are prone to excess water conditions.

Weed management is critical to achieving high yield and low dockage. A research project entitled “Optimizing Integrated Weed Management in Flax Crops” will evaluate crop management strategies such as seeding rate, date and plant height, as ways to positively impact the competitiveness of flax.

A genomics approach to drought tolerance will be addressed by two research projects. The first project involves developing markers for drought tolerant genes. The second project is focused on identifying transcription factors that control the expression of drought tolerant genes. Drought tolerance is important as flax has a limited root system.

These technologies will be provided to our flax breeders so that drought tolerant varieties may be developed.


Improving Production for New and Growing Markets

Flax Council of Canada

Background and Objectives:

Flax is an important crop for Manitoba. It has high value as a rotation crop providing a break for disease,
insect and weed populations. It is a lower input cost crop and is a competitive alternative oilseed crop
on a net return basis. Manitoba is home to many small to medium sized food ingredient processing
companies and an emerging bio-fibre and bio-industrial sector that relies on a consistent supply of
product for their businesses.

Canadian (and Manitoba) flax production and the market have changed significantly since the discovery
of seed from the genetically modified flax variety Triffid in the EU in 2009. This event never received
approval in the EU and since the discovery of Triffid in Canadian shipments, our imports of Canadian flax
into this market have been drastically reduced. Shipments to the food market in the EU are now virtually
non-existent. New competitors, in particular from Kazakhstan, Russia and the Ukraine, have entered
traditional Canadian markets in the EU and are now competing with Canada as primary suppliers.

To read more about this subject, please read the full report.
Improving Production for New and Growing Markets