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Food Matters

Food Matters

Giving science a seat at the table

Carrying canola forward

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Whether you’re coating a baking pan or sautéing squash, you’ll likely reach into your cabinet for a kitchen staple: cooking oil. One of the healthiest of these oils is canola oil, and now, a team of researchers has taken a new step in improving the oil’s source: the canola plant.

The researchers, whose home institutions span the globe, sequenced the genome of the canola plant, also known as Brassica napus, and published it in Science last week. The plant’s genome sequence is a valuable resource for researchers working to improve the plant and make increased production of this useful crop possible.

With the “hereditary blueprint” of canola in hand, researchers are no longer “working blindly” to improve canola, according to co-corresponding author and University of Georgia professor Andrew Paterson, who I communicated with via email. Knowledge of the canola genome can help researchers make the plant more resistant to disease, as well as improve a variety of its other traits.

Improving the plant's traits will be useful for more than increasing production of cooking oil low in saturated fat and high in omega-3 fatty acids, however. That's because once the oil is removed from the seed of the plant, the leftover portion of the seed is used as feed for livestock and poultry.

Does all this canola talk have you considering whipping out your pots and pans? Canola can reach high temperatures before it begins to break down, so the oil is useful with variety of cooking techniques, from stir-frying to baking. Try these brownies, made with canola oil instead of butter, for a sweet treat.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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