Génome Canada

Génome Canada

March 25, 2011 12:24 ET

Genome Canada Investment in Applied Genomic Research Strengthens Forestry, Environment, Health and Agriculture Sectors

Minister Goodyear announces $60 million for 16 research projects which will benefit Canadians

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - March 25, 2011) - Genomics research that will aid in identifying threats to our forests and to the safety of our food and help to develop new treatments for livestock diseases, are among several projects which will receive funding by the Government of Canada through Genome Canada. These investments demonstrate how genomics can be applied for the benefit of Canadians, while creating jobs, strengthening Canada's reputation as a global leader in science and innovation, and yielding important economic returns for these sectors of the economy. The Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology, made the announcement of a $60 million investment in sixteen new Genome Canada applied research projects that will use genomics research to improve key sectors of the Canadian economy.

"Our government is investing in forestry, the environment, and health for the benefit of all Canadians," said Minister of State Goodyear. "Today's investment in 16 projects will help generate benefits in areas of strategic importance to Canada."

Each of the sixteen research projects will focus on important questions and challenges faced in their respective sector and involve end-users of the technology. In the forestry sector, for example, researchers will explore the many ways to make Canada's forests more sustainable, including identifying common tree diseases; using genomics to develop short-rotation, fast-growing trees for use in biofuel production; and, studying the use of phytoremediation, a process that uses plants to clean up pollutants.

In the agriculture sector, researchers will seek to improve the health of our livestock and crops, including conducting research into cattle and pig populations as well as creating the next generation of wheat.

Within in the health sector, researchers will study potential new treatments for cancer and rare diseases, while one project will see researchers participate in an ambitious international partnership that is working to understand the function of each one of the 20,000 genes found in the human genome.

"This competition is part of Genome Canada's mandate to fund a wide range of large-scale genomics research projects through a competitive process", said Dr. Pierre Meulien, President and CEO of Genome Canada. "We are proud of the process and the results which are a testament to the high level of excellent applied research being carried out in this country". 

Lay summaries for the successful projects are attached.

Genome Canada is a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to developing and implementing a national strategy in genomics and proteomics research for the benefit of all Canadians. Since 2000, Genome Canada has received $915 million in funding commitments from the Government of Canada to which has been added approximately $1 billion in co-funding commitments from other organizations to finance innovative, large-scale research projects in genomics and proteomics as well as Science and Technology Innovation Centres. This additional funding was secured in partnership with the regional Genome Centres, through the development of collaborative relationships and partnerships with the private, public and venture philanthropist organizations both in Canada and abroad.

Backgrounder

2010 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition
Summaries of Successful Projects
   
   
Project Leaders: Patrick Tang and Judith Isaac-Renton
Lead Genome Centre: Genome British Columbia 

Maintenance of Canada's precious fresh water supplies. Canada's watersheds are among our most important natural resources, providing water for drinking, agriculture, industry and recreation. Currently, the health of our water systems is monitored at the tap, well downstream from the potential sources of pollution. Genome Canada is funding research that will allow scientists to detect changes in the watershed much sooner, saving millions of dollars in downstream drinking water treatment and monitoring as well as ensuring the long-term sustainability of our watersheds and surrounding ecosystems. 
Scientists will use the new field of metagenomics (the study of microbial communities) to compare microbes of healthy watersheds with those that have been affected by pressures from industry, population growth, environmental degradation or changing land uses. Changes in the microbial population will help to serve as an early warning of problems in a watershed. They will also develop tools to match the microbial fingerprint of contaminated watersheds to the specific source of pollution. An ongoing GE3LS-based consultation will be undertaken with stakeholders to facilitate wider adoption of this new approach to monitoring the health of watersheds, engaging with the potential polluters in a proactive manner to avert polluting events.

Project Leader: Richard Hamelin
Lead Genome Centre: Genome British Columbia

Keeping our forests healthy. Canada's forests are increasingly under threat by pests and pathogens, resulting in annual losses of about $2 billion. While identifying infectious agents and their origins is critical to preventing damage to forests, current methods rely on visual inspections - an approach that misses the many pathogens transmitted without visible symptoms. Genome Canada is funding research that is developing DNA-based diagnostic tests to identify and monitor pathogens. This will generate a number of important benefits, including preventing invasive pathogens from harming our forests, assisting the forest and nursery industries with plant and product certification and creating a competitive advantage for Canadian companies in international markets. It will also produce annual economic benefits in the tens of millions of dollars by reducing losses from disease. There are significant commercialization opportunities through the sale of these diagnostic tools on world markets. The project will undertake the largest forest pathogen sequencing effort in the world, helping to fill in gaps in our understanding of these threats.
An integrated GE3LS component will generate insights into the commercialization of these tools and examine the public policy issues and social acceptance of using genomics technologies in the current forestry management framework.

Project Leaders: Leonard Foster and Stephen Pernal
Lead Genome Centre: Genome British Columbia

Saving endangered bee populations. Bees play a major role in agriculture as pollinators of crops. This contribution is estimated to be over $2 billion in Canada and $15 billion in the United States. Over the past few years, North American beekeepers have lost colonies at an alarming rate - about three times the historic average. These colony losses are largely attributable to bee-specific infectious diseases. While some can be controlled through the use of pesticides, many of the bacteria, viruses, fungi and mites are developing resistance to these chemicals. In addition, the public is less accepting of chemical residues on what they eat. With funding from Genome Canada, researchers are developing new tools to identify disease-resistant bees as well as new treatments tailored to bee pathogens. This marks the first, industry-wide step to reverse the decline in honey bees. Successful implementation will potentially generate benefits of over $200 million annually by increasing the bees available for pollination and boosting honey production. Consumers will also benefit from improved food security. 
Economists are working with biologists and beekeepers to estimate the economic viability of the new tools as well as developing best practices to integrate them with traditional methods.

Project Leaders: Lindsay Eltis and William Mohn
Lead Genome Centre: Genome British Columbia

Towards a new range of bioproducts from forest biomass. The forestry products industry is one of Canada's largest contributors to GDP, however, its role has been diminished by increasing competition, consumer demands for higher quality products and stakeholder interest in improved forest management. A key part of remaining competitive involves better management of forest biomass - a rich source of biofuels, feedstocks and other lignin-based products such as resins and carbon fibres. Together, these could contribute more than $1 billion to GDP. With funding from Genome Canada, scientists are exploring the microorganisms found in soil that naturally degrade biomass. Unlocking the potential of forest biomass will lead to better forest management practices and improve the economics of lignin-based products.
To expedite the wider use of these innovations, an integrated GE3LS component is investigating key technological, commercial organizational, environmental and societal issues.
To expedite the wider use of these innovations, an integrated GE3LS component is investigating key technological, commercial organizational, environmental and societal issues.

Project Leaders: Carl Douglas and Shawn Mansfield
Lead Genome Centre: Genome British Columbia

Clean energy from the poplar tree. While the Government of Canada has recently mandated a five percent renewable fuel content in gasoline, current production, which is almost exclusively derived from agricultural residues, is insufficient to produce the requisite volume. It will, therefore, be necessary to develop new feedstocks for biofuel production, the majority of which is expected to come from woody plants and trees. With funding from Genome Canada, scientists are studying the genetic underpinnings of tree growth as well as the traits associated with biofuel suitability in two species of poplar. Their overall aim is to develop short-rotation, fast-growing trees that can grow in a variety of climates across Canada with wood that can be more readily converted to biofuel while minimizing the ecological footprint.
A social research component is working with scientists to examine the social and economic issues associated with establishing breeding programs for fast-rotation poplar plantations.

Project Leaders: Sally Aitken and Andreas Hamann
Lead Genome Centre: Genome British Columbia

Adapting to climate change. Climate change is causing a mismatch between the natural genetics of trees and the locations where they grow. Seedlings that were once well adapted to a specific region are now poorly adapted to their environment due to changes caused by climate change. Over the past decade, this maladaptation is showing up in higher losses due to pests like the mountain pine beetle in British Columbia and drought-related dieback in Alberta. With funding from Genome Canada, scientists are applying state-of-the-art technologies from genomics as well as geospatial analysis and climate modeling to two of the most important western Canadian trees - lodgepole pine and spruce. Every year about $10 billion worth of timber is harvested in these provinces. The volume of this harvest is expected to decline by 35% this century. 
Scientists are sequencing seedlings to better understand what genes are involved in adaptation to local climate conditions. This will lead to ensuring that the right trees get planted in the right climactic areas, improve the long-term health of forests and generate economic benefits of hundreds of millions of dollars every year. A range of stakeholders have been engaged to better understand the socioeconomic issues involved, leading to policy recommendations for better forestry management.

Project Leaders: Michael Taylor, Marco Marra, and David Malkin
Lead Genome Centres: Genome British Columbia and Ontario Genomics Institute

Understanding childhood brain cancer. Brain cancer is the leading cause of pediatric cancer deaths. Children who survive have a much poorer quality of life due to the aggressive treatment used to fight the disease. This results in a staggering burden of suffering for them and their families as well as economic costs of over $100 million annually to the health system. Studies indicate that children with a good prognosis are often over-treated and could be spared complications by reducing the amount of treatment they receive. At the same time, children with a poor prognosis are often subjected to painful treatments which may, in fact, be futile. With support from Genome Canada, scientists are using genome wide approaches to study medulloblastomas, the most common form of childhood brain cancer, to develop markers that will more accurately classify the tumors for treatment. Researchers are also identifying genetic changes that may reveal the risk factors that predispose children to this type of cancer.
As they unravel the genetic basis of brain cancer, the research team is also working with families to determine what additional risks they are willing to assume in reducing therapy to improve quality of life. It is anticipated that the results of this research will lead to new ways to treat childhood brain cancers more effectively and to enhance the quality of life of children struck by this devastating disease.

Project Leaders: Graham Plastow, John Harding, and Bob Kemp
Lead Genome Centre: Genome Alberta

Maintaining healthy and more profitable pig production. With the mapping of the pig genome, scientists now have an opportunity to apply genomic-based tools to the pork industry. Similar tools have already revolutionized the dairy industry, providing annual benefits of over $180 million to Canada. With funding from Genome Canada, researchers are applying genomics to help reduce the impact of two of the most common diseases in commercial pig production - Porcine Circovirus Associated Disease and Porcine Respiratory and Reproductive Syndrome. Scientists are studying mechanisms in pigs that make them genetically less susceptible to these diseases, providing important new diagnostic tools for breeders and expanding our understanding of disease control mechanisms. This work will lead to new strategies for disease control in addition to new drugs, improved vaccines, and a safer food chain by reducing the use of antibiotics.

Researchers are also studying public perceptions about the use of genomic technologies to prevent disease in pork production.

Project Leaders: Stephen Moore and Stephen Miller
Lead Genome Centre: Genome Alberta

Improving the Canadian cattle herd. The beef and dairy industries contribute more than $40 billion to the Canadian economy every year. Global demand for animal protein is expected to double by 2050 and genetic improvement will be key to enabling cattle producers to meet that demand. With support from Genome Canada, Canadian researchers were directly involved with a major international undertaking to sequence the bovine genome. Now, Canadian scientists are at the forefront of developing genomic selection techniques to boost genetic improvement in cattle. Specifically, they are targeting traits that are difficult to improve through conventional means. Low-cost tests are being developed that will allow an animal's entire genome to be inferred from a relatively small number of genetic markers, giving valuable information about its breeding value at a very early age. This will bring immediate benefits to breeders, enhance product traceability and lay the foundation for the next generation of technologies aimed at environmentally sustainable production. It is estimated that this research will generate benefits in excess of $300 million over the next ten years.
Researchers are also studying public perceptions about the use of genomic technologies to enhance livestock attributes.

Project Leaders: Curtis J. Pozniak and Pierre Hucl
Lead Genome Centre: Genome Prairie

Maintaining the breadbasket of Canada. Wheat is a major Canadian crop, generating over $11 billion annually in value-added food. Current breeding programs utilize some genomic tools, but the full potential of genomics is not being realized. New breakthroughs in sequencing technology allow scientists to characterize genes at the most basic level - the DNA sequence. It is this sequence that holds the key to enhancing the rate of genetic gain in wheat. Remarkably, the wheat genome is five times the size of the human genome and is being coordinated by the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium. With funding from Genome Canada, Canadian scientists are playing a key role in the consortium, sequencing chromosome 6D which is itself larger than the genome of rice. Together with its international partners, Canada is identifying the genes that wheat breeders can use to develop the next generation of wheat cultivars.

GEL3S researchers are examining the role of public-private partnerships in wheat genomics and breeding research and will recommend strategies to maximize return on investment. This is particularly timely, given the increasing private investment in wheat genomics and breeding.

Project Leader: Mehrdad Hajibabaei
Lead Genome Centre: Ontario Genomics Institute

Early Warning System. Canada is an international leader in biomonitoring - analyzing the biological diversity of plant and animal life in a particular region. This allows scientists to establish early warning systems to alert us to environmental stresses before there is a catastrophic loss of habitat. Previous research funded by Genome Canada developed new protocols besed on the next generation of sequencing tools that enable genomic analysis of biomonitoring samples and enable a thorough assessment of ecosystem health. Now, Canadian scientists are applying these tools in a natural environment, Wood Buffalo National Park, which is threatened by encroaching industrial development. With funding from Genome Canada, researchers will use cutting edge DNA sequencing technologies as well as state-of-the-art computational analysis to create a revolutionary biomonitoring approach covering the entire spectrum of life in an ecosystem. This will reduce monitoring costs while greatly increasing the quantity and scope of derived data derived. The project has already attracted the support of major corporations, opening the door to significant commercialization opportunities.
Project leaders are working closely with stakeholders, including environmental groups, industry, government, First Nations and Metis. A sophisticated website enables end-users to customize information and provides rich summaries of environmental health.

Project Leaders: Colin McKerlie and Steve Brown
Lead Genome Centre: Ontario Genomics Institute

Understanding the function and dysfunction of our genes. Understanding the function of genes and their role in disease is one of the major challenges facing biomedical science and human health. That means understanding their normal function and what happens when they go wrong. Since this can't be done using humans, scientists use mice, which share 99% of coding genes with humans. With support from Genome Canada, Canadian scientists are taking part in an ambitious international project to understand the function of every one of our 20,000 genes. By studying the developmental problems and diseases in 280 mouse models each with a different abnormal or mutated gene, scientists are determining the effect of each mutation. This will determine whether the gene or the protein it produces could be a target for drugs or be used to diagnose disease. The commercial potential of this research is enormous - 34 of the top 100 drugs by sales in the United States came from this type of research using mouse models. Discoveries from this Genome Canada funded project will feed the Canadian biopharmaceutical pipeline and transform the human genome from a list of genes to a living blueprint.
The ethical and legal implications of this kind of research will be addressed at the same time. A part of the project will examine best practices and policies needed to improve international collaborations among researchers to enhance the process of drug discovery.

Project Leaders: Sachdev Sidhu and Charles Boone
Lead Genome Centre: Ontario Genomics Institute

Targeting cancer. Over the past decade, human antibodies have emerged as prime candidates for fighting cancer and other major diseases. With funding from Genome Canada, scientists are using cutting edge technology to develop antibodies targeted at proteins that have been associated with cancer. Scientists from the Donnelly Centre's Toronto Recombinant Antibody Technology Centre are working together with researchers from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research's Selective Therapies Program to develop a program of large scale antibody production This project will have a major impact on basic research in cancer biology, expand the options for cancer therapy and yield numerous commercial opportunities.
Researchers are also examining the ethical implications of the large-scale production of antibodies. In particular, these issues are being studied in the context of distributive justice - the equitable sharing of scarce resources among all socioeconomic groups.

Project Leaders: B. Franz Lang and Mohamed Hijri
Lead Genome Centre: Genome Québec

Reclaiming polluted land sites. Mining activities, oil and gas extraction, agriculture and industrial processes can all contaminate soil, creating a significant world-wide problem. Efforts are underway to reduce the production of industrial and agricultural pollutants at their source, but this does not address the enormous legacy sites containing trace metals that can remain in the soil for millennia. Genome Canada is funding research into phytoremediation - a promising new biotechnology that uses plants to clean up pollutants in the soil. Part of the research involves sequencing selected microbes that are most effective in soil detoxification, which will place important new data in the public domain.
Remediation services represent a market of over $30 billion in Canada and this sector has grown every year for the past decade. This project will, therefore, yield significant economic benefits for Canada, rehabilitate soil and create a healthier environment. The project will also develop a step-by-step methodology for sustainability assessments for site rehabilitation, including a toolkit for boards of directors and legal guidelines for governments and corporations.

Project Leaders: John MacKay and Jörg Bohlmann
Lead Genome Centres: Genome Quebec & Genome British Columbia

Sprucing up the forestry industry. Forestry products contribute approximately $28 billion to Canada's GDP and spruce trees account for nearly 60% of all the seedlings planted annually. Building on a decade of groundbreaking research on spruce genomics, Genome Canada is funding the development of marker technologies to identify seedlings that have superior growth and wood properties, or superior insect resistance. Genetic marker systems and biomarkers will be developed and applied to Canadian forestry programs. It is estimated that by applying "Marker Aided Selection" (MAS) to just 20% of Canadian spruce plantations, wood yield could increase by 1.5 million cubic meters per year, boosting GDP by $300 million. Using methods such as MAS also allows wood production to be concentrated on a smaller land area, allowing more forest to be set aside for conservation. Over the longer term, these methods will also enhance the competitiveness of the Canadian forestry by boosting yield and enhancing the value of its products. The project will conduct impact analyses of the economic, socio-economic as well as the legal and policy instruments that could affect the use of MAS in provincial jurisdictions and help develop high value jobs in rural communities by diversifying the "bioproduct" pipeline.

Project Leaders: Christopher McMaster and Conrad Fernandez
Lead Genome Centre: Genome Atlantic

Understanding the cause of genetic diseases. One in twelve Canadians suffers from an "orphan disease". The discovery of effective treatment for these conditions is often hampered by inadequate scientific understanding of the condition, limited resource allocation to study these diseases and the cost of new drug development. While individually rare, these diseases have a cumulative socio-economic and health effect on three million Canadians. Now, gene discovery is offering new hope for new therapies. Building on the successful Atlantic Medical Genetics and Genomics Initiative, scientists are developing new therapies to orphan disease patients in a shorter time, at reduced costs. With funding from Genome Canada, researchers are working to: discover genes responsible for these diseases; locate therapeutic targets; and identify small molecules and drug leads that could lessen the impact of these diseases. Researchers are also focusing on using or converting existing drugs to more rapidly address unmet medical needs.

As part of their work, researchers are examining the ethical issues affecting orphan disease patients including evaluating international regulatory models for orphan drugs and the needs of individual recipients.

Contact Information

  • Genome Canada
    Helene Meilleur
    Director, Communications & Events
    613-751-4460
    www.genomecanada.ca
    or
    Office of the Honourable Gary Goodyear
    Minister of State (Science and Technology)
    Steve Outhouse
    Director of Communications
    613-943-7602