Forestry research funded by Canada
August 15, 2011 | 11:14 pm CDT
OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(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.

2010 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition
Summaries of Successful Projects

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

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.
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

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.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.