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Curtis Pozniak

Curtis Pozniak

Curtis Pozniak is a professor in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan (Canada), a wheat breeder, and a geneticist with the University of Saskatchewan Crop Development Centre. His work has attracted over $40 million in funding from various sources and, in addition to supervising graduate students, he has authored or co-authored over 50 scientific manuscripts.

Curtis is one of the project leaders of Canadian Triticum Advancement through Genomics (CTAG), a four-year (2011-2015), $8.5-million project managed by Genome Prairie that supports sequencing of the wheat genome. CTAG is Canada’s contribution to the IWGSC. As part of the IWGSC, Pozniak and his team have completed the survey sequence of chromosome 6D. This result, along with the survey sequence of 20 other bread wheat chromosomes, was published in Science in July 2014. Curtis and his team are currently completing the reference sequence of chromosome 1A.

Curtis has been involved with IWGSC as a coordinating committee member since 2010.

Despite a very busy schedule, Curtis took the time to answer our questions and share his views on the value of having a high quality reference sequence and genomics technologies for wheat breeders.

What are the benefits of being part of an international consortium?

Our breeding program felt it was important to be part of an international effort so that we could ensure domestic competitiveness through transfer of knowledge from international science activities. Contributing to the IWGSC has allowed our own research program early access to genomic resources, mapping populations, and informatics expertise that would have otherwise taken years to develop. Also, working as part of a larger consortium has allowed us to participate in a number of international partnerships and collaborations to ensure our own work is cutting-edge and employing the very latest in technologies and technical capabilities.

What could IWGSC do to further help you in your work?

Our own genetic research would greatly benefit from the completion of a reference sequence of all 21 wheat chromosomes. This is an international priority that requires international support.

About Curtis 

Curtis comes from a family of farmers and musicians. He became interested in plant breeding after taking an introductory plant breeding course at the University of Saskatchewan. During his first summer intern position, in a canola breeding program, he realized that he wanted to be a plant breeder. His interest in wheat breeding was solidified during his Ph.D., at the University of Saskatchewan, where he gained a true appreciation for the genetic complexity of wheat. Always enjoying a challenge, he decided to pursue a career in wheat following the path of his Ph.D. mentor, Dr. Pierre Hucl, whose passion for wheat breeding was highly communicative.

As a breeder, how important is a high quality reference sequence?

One of the big challenges of genetic research is to link genotype to phenotype, and it is this association that is important to applications in plant breeding. However, there is still a considerable gap in our understanding of the genes that underlie desirable phenotypes. Having access to a complete genome sequence that is ordered and anchored to genetic maps will allow us to quickly link phenotypes to the sequence. With a high quality reference sequence, it will become increasingly common to identify desirable genes (alleles) responsible for traits. Although the task of associated genes will become increasingly easier with a reference sequence, it will still be critical for breeders to generate the precise phenotyping information that is required to support identification of gene associations.

So far, you have worked with different degrees of sequence quality, how has that impacted your work and what were the most significant challenges for breeders?

Access to the wheat survey sequence has been very useful to aid DNA marker discovery in wheat, and we have developed several DNA markers for important traits that we target in our breeding program. However, our current goal is to identify the casual genes underpinning phenotypic variation in our breeding programs. A completed reference sequence would greatly speed this process, as has been the case in other crops where a complete genome sequence is available.

How will having a reference sequence will impact the farmers in Canada?

Our current efforts to support the completion of a reference sequence has resulted in the identification of numerous DNA markers that we are already deploying in our breeding programs at the University of Saskatchewan. In fact, one of our newest durum wheat cultivars, CDC Fortitude, was developed in part using DNA markers that were identified from early access to the reference sequence of chromosome 3B.

According to you, what is the value of genomic technologies for wheat breeding?

Genomic technologies have played a major in my own breeding program. Since 2005, I have developed 11 wheat cultivars (mostly durum wheat). All of these cultivars were developed in part using genomic assisted breeding. Indeed as sequencing technologies advance, we will gain a better understanding of the allelic variation present in our germplasm collections so that we can design appropriate breeding strategies to maximize genetic gain.

Curtis Pozniak

For more information:
Pozniak page at the University of Saskatchewan
Pozniak projects on the IWGSC website:
- Chromosome 6D Survey Sequencing
- Draft reference sequence publication in Science
- Chromosome 1A Reference Sequencing