Genome British Columbia

Genome British Columbia

December 06, 2011 12:43 ET

Genome BC: Canadian Scientist Leading Revolutionary Approach to Tackling Forest Pests

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Dec. 6, 2011) - The sight of trees affected by disease -- blighted leaves, spotted needles, bare branches, cankered stems -- is heartbreaking, and often means whatever pest is attacking the trees has won the fight. These small battles are part of a much larger war being fought in Canada's forests, a war that is costing more than $2 billion annually. With our global economy, new diseases are being introduced to our forests by pests gaining entry through the worldwide movement of goods and people.

In an effort to halt these diseases, Genome British Columbia and Genome Canada are providing $4,250,116 for a new and innovative research project entitled "Genomics-Based Forest Health Diagnostics and Monitoring" which is being led by Dr. Richard Hamelin, a professor at UBC and senior research scientist at Natural Resources Canada.

Currently, the diagnosis of transmittable diseases on trees is performed mainly by visual inspection. However, this traditional approach cannot identify the many microscopic pathogens that can be transmitted without obvious symptoms. Dr. Hamelin and his team aim to change this, and are using genomics to develop a DNA-based diagnostic test to detect and monitor pathogens. Dr. Hamelin is an expert in this area and this project is a culmination of decades of experience. More importantly, this research is being done at the request of partners in both government and the forestry industry to develop an improved method to diagnose forest pests.

"Prevention is a large part of managing forest pests. In fact, once we see the damage caused by a pest, it's often already too late," says Dr. Hamelin. "With earlier and faster pest detection methods, we can act much more quickly to eradicate infections, determine where the pests originated and where they are going."

The project will generate a number of important benefits, including averting potentially detrimental pathogens spreading through our forests, assisting the forest and nursery industries with plant and product certification, and ensuring that Canadian products and materials are sought after in international markets. The solutions provided by the project are expected to produce annual economic benefits in the tens of millions of dollars.

"Forests have always been fundamental to our environment, economy and culture, and it is our duty to safeguard them for future generations," says the Honourable Joe Oliver, Minister of Natural Resources. "Investments in research projects like this one clearly demonstrate our collective commitment to the well-being of this vital natural resource."

"Canadian researchers are introducing 21st century solutions to protect and preserve forests that are fundamental to Canada's economic and social fabric," says Dr. Pierre Meulien, President of Genome Canada. "This is the kind of science that powers innovation, that powers Canada."

Dr. Jeremy Hall at Simon Fraser University is leading the social science research component of the project. His team is examining current public policies and societal issues around the use of genomics in the management of our forests and will recommend commercialization opportunities for outcomes of the research.

"This project will make significant inroads in diagnosing and hopefully reducing the effects of forest pests in Canada, and ultimately globally," says Dr. Alan Winter, President and CEO of Genome BC. "We are proud to be supporting the largest forest pathogen sequencing effort in the world."

Genome BC is funding the "Genomics-Based Forest Health Diagnostics and Monitoring" project as part of Genome Canada's 2010 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition. Appropriately, the project is being announced today at the 54th annual Forest Pest Management Forum in Ottawa. Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), FP Innovations and Boreal Genomics also fund the project.

About Genome British Columbia:

Genome British Columbia is a catalyst for the life sciences cluster on Canada's West Coast, and manages a cumulative portfolio of over $550M in research projects and technology platforms. Working with governments, academia and industry across sectors such as forestry, fisheries, agriculture, environment, bioenergy, mining and human health, the goal of the organization is to generate social and economic benefits for British Columbia and Canada.

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