Marla Roth

Growing up just west of Edmonton, Alta., 31-year-old Marla Roth didn’t expect to wind up in plant science.

“I didn’t grow up in farming, but I did grow up on an acreage, which actually really sparked my interest in nature and natural plants and wildlife. But when I finished high school, I studied business management and ended up in real estate, of all things, because it seemed easy,” the recipient of a 2021 Canadian Plant Breeding Innovation Scholarship says with a chuckle. “I didn’t fully appreciate the fact that your interests are what make you good in your career.”

She decided real estate wasn’t for her, so attended the University of Alberta and went into environmental sciences. In 2019 she found a position in a plant breeding and plant pathology lab and is now working on her master’s degree studying clubroot in canola.

“Because I have a passion for protecting the environment, I think that any effort that goes towards protecting a crop and ensuring harvests are successful also benefits the environment,” she says.

She’s researching how the mineral lime, which makes soil more alkaline, might affect the clubroot pathogen.

“Since there are different pathotypes of clubroot, if we use lime on some of them, we can identify whether lime is able to suppress those pathotypes present, or whether those pathotypes are resistant to alkaline soil. We might be able to target breeding efforts to produce resistant cultivars that are pathotype-specific,” she says.

“If one field has a pathotype that just can survive very alkaline soil, we might have to produce a cultivar that can target those very resistant pathotypes. In other words, we’re thinking that some strains of clubroot are a lot more durable than other strains, so that will tailor breeding efforts to target different pathotypes.”

Nadir Erbilgin, professor in forest entomology and chemical ecology at the University of Alberta, says Roth has a unique knack for getting to the bottom of complex issues.

“When I solve a problem, I weigh three factors: time, cost and how much experience I have with the problem. Determining the status of each one of those helps me figure out how much help I might need with it or if it’s something I can do largely on my own,” Roth adds.

2021 Canadian Plant Breeding Innovation Scholarship Sponsors: