Technology research programs

Trace Organics and Trace Elements

Trace Organics and Trace Elements

UltraWAVE microwave digestion system

Grain samples digested using an UltraWAVE microwave digestion system for trace element analysis.

Our research and monitoring relates to pesticides, mycotoxins, fungal biomarkers, and elemental analysis, including heavy metals, in grain. We develop, evaluate and validate analytical methods. We also monitor samples from the Harvest Sample Program and from grain export shipments. Our research focuses on how factors such as sampling, processing, agronomic practices, or environmental conditions affect the presence of pesticides, mycotoxins, heavy metals and other elements, and fungal biomarkers, such as ergosterol, in grain.

Our relevance to the grain sector

Our work directly supports a number of Canadian Grain Commission activities and helps the Canadian grain industry on topics related to grain safety.

Through cargo monitoring, we generate data for Statements of Assurance. These statements give exporters and importers science-based assurance that Canadian grain meets safety requirements.

Through the Harvest Sample Program, our research provides a scientific basis for a number of grading factors, including Fusarium-damaged kernels and ergot. Our program also monitors how tolerance levels for grading factors manage the presence of mycotoxins in Canadian grain.

Through our monitoring and research, we can assess trends in the occurrence of pesticides, mycotoxins, trace elements, and heavy metals in grain over time or across geographic regions. By analyzing grain that is suspected to be contaminated the Canadian Grain Commission and private grain companies can identify contaminated grain and prevent it from entering the grain handling system.

Program manager

Dr. Sheryl Tittlemier

Find out about Sheryl Tittlemier's expertise, affiliations and contact information.

Microbiology and Grain Genomics

Microbiology and Grain Genomics

Microorganisms infecting wheat kernels after incubation

The growth of microorganisms infecting selected wheat kernels on an agar plate.

We research and monitor pathogenic, quarantinable and toxigenic microorganisms, such as moulds and bacteria, associated with Canadian grain and products made from Canadian grain. Our program develops new tools and employs new technologies for the detection, identification and characterization of these microorganisms. We use newly developed and validated methods to investigate how agronomics, environment and processing affect microbial communities naturally associated with crops and grain products.

We also use genomic technologies to look at differences in DNA sequences that are characteristic among microorganisms as well as grain crops. This allows us to continuously update our DNA testing methods to identify new microbes and crop varieties. Our reference databases currently contain DNA profiles of over 800 varieties.

Our relevance to the grain sector

The Official Grain Grading Guide assigns grades based on a sample’s ability to meet tolerances for various grading factors. These factors can directly or indirectly affect the quality and safety of Canadian grain. Our program provides scientific evidence to establish and update grading factors and tolerances linked to microorganisms such as ergot, Fusarium damage, mildew, smudge and Sclerotinia.

We also conduct an annual survey of Fusarium on samples submitted by producers as part of the Harvest Sample Program. This survey monitors the occurrence and frequency of Fusarium species and populations associated with Fusarium head blight in eastern and western Canada. The survey’s statistics give producers, grain handlers and others valuable information for managing the risk of Fusarium head blight on the farm and throughout the grain supply chain.

Monitoring of high-risk microorganisms in exported grain provides surveillance data to support official documents for grain exports and also ensures market access and grain safety.

Our crop variety identification research ensures that new varieties will be captured in our grain monitoring, supporting both the annual Harvest Sample Program and the work of inspection services at the Canadian Grain Commission.

Program manager

Dr. Sean Walkowiak

Find out about Sean Walkowiak's expertise, affiliations and contact information.

Grain Biotechnology

Grain Biotechnology

Placing DNA samples on real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) instrument.

Testing for genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) is done using real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

Our program develops and evaluates DNA-based methods for identifying and quantifying genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in grains. We are ISO 17025 accredited to carry out GMO testing using real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR). PCR is used to amplify, that is to reproduce, the DNA sequence of the gene of interest so that GMO analysis can be performed with high sensitivity.

We monitor export wheat shipments for wheats of other classes and ineligible varieties. The identification of wheat varieties is based on differences in their DNA sequences. We also provide varietal purity certification of malting barley cargoes. Varietal identification analysis supports the Harvest Sample Program and the Canadian Grain Commission’s grain inspection services.

Our relevance to the grain sector

Many countries require that grain and food products containing GMOs are labelled. As well, many importing countries have tolerances for GMOs that can be present in non-genetically modified grain shipments. Several importers of Canadian grain routinely test for the presence of unapproved GMOs, including the European Union.

Monitoring the variety composition of export cargoes is a key element of grain quality assurance. When kernel visual distinguishability was eliminated as a requirement for variety registration in 2008, the industry implemented a declaration system for western Canadian wheat and the Canadian Grain Commission increased variety monitoring to protect the reputation of Canada’s wheat for consistent quality.

Program manager

Dr. Tigst Demeke

Find out about Tigst Demeke's expertise, affiliations and contact information.

Analytical Services

Analytical Services

We oversee the Harvest Sample Program and conduct the analyses used to produce letters of analysis for Canadian grain exporters who request that specific cargos be tested. We measure a wide range of quality and grading factors, including protein content, dough strength, DON levels, moisture content, ash content, particle size index, Falling Number, gluten index and wet gluten content. We monitor and maintain Canadian calibrations for several types of measuring devices. These include near-infrared instruments internal to the Canadian Grain Commission and two common types of grain moisture meters.

In 2021, we demonstrated that all the requirements were met to receive ISO /IEC 17025 accreditation for measuring moisture content by forced air oven, ash content and crude protein using combustion nitrogen analysis (CNA). The Standards Council of Canada gave us these internationally recognized accreditations as a formal recognition of our ability to produce accurate and reliable results.

Our relevance to the grain sector

International accreditation, as well as our other science-based standards of quality for Canadian grain, are key elements of Canada’s grain quality assurance system. These standards are used throughout Canada’s grain handling system so that grain quality is maintained from farm to port. The analyses and tests that we perform provide an impartial assessment that ensures the dependability of Canadian grain for international customers. Our calibration services ensure instruments generate accurate and reproducible results.

Through the Harvest Sample Program, we collect thousands of grain samples every year from across Canada. These samples enable us to develop, monitor and verify grading factors and tolerances to ensure they reflect processing needs, which helps maintain Canada’s reputation as a consistent supplier of high-quality grain. Samples also are used throughout the Grain Research Laboratory to study the effects of environmental conditions on grains as well as other research projects.

Program manager

Kerri Pleskach, MSc

Find out about Kerri Pleskach's expertise, affiliations and contact information.

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