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Dr. Andrew Sharpe

New leader for USask’s leading-edge food security research program

Renowned plant molecular geneticist Dr. Andrew Sharpe (PhD) will lead the next phase of the University of Saskatchewan’s (USask) Plant Phenotyping and Imaging Research Centre (P2IRC), which will focus on using digital breeding techniques to create climate-smart crops and on artificial intelligence and digital data acquisition tools to enhance the yield potential of large-scale food crops.

“Andy has played a prominent role in building this collaborative program that will fundamentally elevate Saskatchewan and Canada’s position as a global powerhouse in agricultural research,” said Karen Chad, USask vice-president research, who provides oversight to P2IRC.

The P2IRC multidisciplinary program, which aims to transform seed and plant breeding of large-area crops essential to global food security, is funded mainly by a $37.2-million Canada First Research Excellence fund and is managed by the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) at USask.

As the seven-year program launched in 2015 begins the second phase of its work, Sharpe will oversee the bridging of the research conducted into outcome-oriented projects that can be adopted by breeders, agri-business and a wider industrial community. In addition to the digital breeding and data acquisition tools, the program will include a focus on understanding the plant root system to enhance the breeding process. 

Sharpe’s appointment as director was recently approved by the P2IRC Institutional Oversight Committee which includes representatives from USask, GIFS, the Canadian Light Source, and the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy. Sharpe succeeds Maurice Moloney, former P2IRC program director, who retired from GIFS on November 30, 2018. 

As GIFS’ director of genomics and bioinformatics, Sharpe has been the P2IRC lead for the Phenometrics Theme which uses new digital tools to select key traits (phenotypes) within a plant that improve yield and disease resistance and then links these traits to variants in the plant’s genetic makeup (genotypes). This innovative work enables breeders to select plants that will have the most desirable traits in subsequent generations. 

Through partnerships with other Canadian and international universities and numerous private and public organizations, including the National Research Council Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the P2IRChasbuilt a foundation of research which includes new platforms to image plants involving field and aerial sensors, artificial intelligence tools, satellite imaging, robotics, and big data analytics.

“P2IRCis leading the way in Canada and beyond in the areas of phenotyping and imaging,” said Sharpe. “The collaborative nature of our work across so many disciplines and our partnerships with academia, government, industry and international development organizations are paving the way for the discovery of new technologies that will impact agriculture here at home in Saskatchewan and around the world.”

Sharpe played a key role, along with USask’s Curtis Pozniak, a researcher and wheat breeder in the USask College of Agriculture and Bioresources, in helping to sequence the bread wheat genome as part of the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) initiative. The breakthrough discovery announced last summer will revolutionize how research is undertaken in the world's most important crop and ultimately ensure the crop can continue to feed a growing global population.

Sharpe received a PhD in plant genetics from the University of East Anglia in 1997 while working at the John Innes Centre in the United Kingdom. Prior to joining GIFS, he held senior research positions at the National Research Council Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. He has co-ordinated several projects to establish genomics and molecular genetics resources in other crops such as canola and lentils. 

P2IRC involves more than 250 researchers and graduate students from GIFS and a wide range of USask colleges, the Crop Development Centre in the USask College of Agriculture and Bioresources, the Canadian Light Source, and the Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation which operates a cyclotron on campus capable of creating radioisotopes for all forms of biological imaging. The Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy is the lead partner on policy research.

For more information, visit http://P2IRC.usask.ca

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For more information, contact:

Jennifer Thoma
Media Relations Specialist
University of Saskatchewan
306-966-1851

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