Success Stories

Genetic improvement of hops

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Quebec’s microbreweries do not purchase much local hops, often preferring the cones of patented varieties instead. These varieties impart beer with tropical aromas and flavours and cannot be grown in Canada. Hops also boast promising pharmaceutical potential. However, their use in this application depends on the availability of varieties containing high concentrations of molecules of interest. Varieties suited to the brewing and pharmaceutical industries must be developed, but the process currently takes a dozen years. This lead time can be significantly shortened by growing hops in a controlled environment under conditions that stimulate rapid flowering to achieve multiple life cycles per year.

This project aims to develop a controlled environment production system to accelerate the cultivation of mature hops plants from seed:

  • Select the best substrate for cultivation in pots
  • Identify the light intensity and spectral composition that promote the fastest growth
  • Determine optimal photoperiod and minimal plant growth time needed to induce flowering
  • Compare scarification treatments and phytohormones for breaking seed dormancy
Expected results

This project is funded through the Programme d’aide à la recherche et au transfert (Research and Transfer Assistance Program) by the Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur and is being carried out throughout the year 2021. Results will clarify how various agricultural practices affect the cultivation of hops in controlled environments to meet the needs of the brewing and pharmaceutical industries more rapidly and effectively with new crop varieties.

Key variables for producing hops in indoor controlled environment cultivation units will be identified, in particular: substrate porosity, light intensity, spectral composition of light and photoperiod. The project will also shed light on the use of chemical treatments to break seed dormancy. Generally, the delay between sowing and the onset of flowering can conceivably be reduced from 5-6 months to 3 months. This could speed up significantly the genetic improvement process. For example, a gene from a line with little agricultural value can be inserted into an otherwise interesting strain using backcrossing to develop a new, more disease-resistant variety more quickly.

Lastly, the successful completion of this project will position Biopterre as a unique industry expert in Canada in controlled environment hops production.

Long-term outcomes

This project constitutes a critical step in the implementation of Biopterre’s genetic improvement program for hops—the first in the country. We aim to bring together local brewing and pharmaceutical industry leaders, as well as those from across Quebec and Canada, to develop new, more disease- and pest-resistant varieties of hops with high cone yields and concentrations of molecules of interest. Some varieties will be used to brew beers with unique organoleptic profiles to indulge consumers’ taste buds, thereby supporting food autonomy as a local alternative to the currently most sought-after imported varieties. Other varieties will produce cones with a high concentration of molecules of medical interest, such as terpenes and prenylflavonoids.

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