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Some highlights from 70 years of INRA rapeseed research

INRA was the first French research institute to carry out artificial selection experiments on rapeseed. This research has spanned 70 years and has resulted in many new discoveries and innovations.  Over that time span, rapeseed has gone from having a marginal presence in France to covering more than 1,500,000 hectares of land in 2015.

Rapeseed field in bloom in the Ile de France region. © INRA, CAUVIN Brigitte
Updated on 11/23/2015
Published on 09/29/2006

Major moments in INRA rapeseed research

In the 1960s, just as rapeseed was becoming a crop of some importance in France, it was severely hit by blackleg disease, caused by the fungal pathogen Leptosphaeria maculans. In 1971, INRA generated the blackleg-resistant cultivar Major via artificial selection.

In the early 1970s, controversy arose over the fact that rapeseed oil destined for human consumption contained erucic acid, which is potentially toxic. In 1973, INRA created a rapeseed cultivar—named Primor—that contains low levels of the acid. The institute then collaborated with Serasem, a private company, to produce additional cultivars, which rapidly became popular throughout Europe.

In 1973, the US embargo on soy exports led France to develop more self-sufficient livestock systems. Rapeseed was considered to be a promising alternative to soy. However, oil cakes made from rapeseed contain glucosinolates, which are unhealthy for swine and poultry. A research collaboration between INRA and Serasem led to the creation of the rapeseed 00 cultivar in 1984. Also known as Darmor, this plant contains low levels of both erucic acid and glucosinolates.

In the late 1980s, efforts were made to enhance rapeseed’s competitiveness in both food and non-food markets. The goal was to generate high-yield F1 hybrids, which is a challenge when working with self-pollinating species such as rapeseed. In 1994, INRA and Serasem created Synergy, the first rapeseed hybrid. It was the first but far from the last hybrid cultivar to be added to the French catalogue of plant varieties. In 1999, INRA and Serasem added the first lodge-resistant half-dwarf hybrids, including Lutin, to the list.

Given consumer desire for healthier foods and the shift towards increased use of renewable raw materials, INRA is now focused on developing new cultivars that can be used in diverse ways and that have limited environmental impacts.