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UBC researcher using DNA biosurveillance for forest pests


October 22, 2014
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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A new $2.43 million research project, funded in part by Genome BC, has been approved to develop state-of-the-art DNA biosurveillance detection tools for operational deployment. Preventing the introduction and establishment of Invasive Alien…

A new $2.43 million research project, funded in part by Genome BC, has been approved to develop state-of-the-art DNA biosurveillance detection tools for operational deployment. Preventing the introduction and establishment of Invasive Alien Species (IAS), such as the Asian gypsy moth and other forest pests, will protect forests and trees and also maintain Canada’s pest-free status to ensure market access for Canadian forest exports, according to Genome BC.

The project is led by Dr. Richard Hamelin, project leader and professor in the Department of Forest Sciences at the University of British Columbia and senior research scientist at Natural Resources Canada (NRCan).

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Two IAS that represent urgent threats to Canada’s forest and agricultural resources are the Asian gypsy moth (AGM) and Phytophthora ramorum (PR), a plant pathogen that causes Sudden Oak Death. The establishment of these two species in Canadian forests would represent a significant trade impact and could lead to trade disruption.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has the mandate to design and implement programs that protect Canada’s forest and trees, and the legislative authority to enforce regulations that require foreign trading partners to ensure their shipments are free of IAS.

“One of the most significant technical challenges in achieving the goal of curbing foreign species infestation is the ability to rapidly detect, identify, and recognize IAS in their various life stages whether it is in the form of spores, eggs or adults,” says Cameron Duff, executive director, plant health science, CFIA. “Traditional diagnostic techniques to make a definitive identification can take months and once an IAS is on Canadian soil the treatments are costly and disruptive: the key to avoid this is to identify their geographical origin and stop them before they are loaded in a container, or on a ship.”

“The introduction of DNA based tools in standard monitoring protocols could accelerate the access of authoritative diagnostic information, aiding decision making for risk assessment and minimizing foreign threats to Canadian forests and trees,” says project director Dr. Richard Hamelin. “Establishing a link to origin is crucial to prove scientifically the source of pests and genomics can do that — this means that Canadian officials will have verifiable evidence when managing non-compliant exporters and trading partners.”

Canada’s forest sector represents 9.2% of manufacturing GDP.

In addition to Genome BC ($661,000) and Genome Canada ($810,000), investment into this research also comes from Natural Resources Canada ($490,000), the Canadian Food Inspection Agency ($320,000), and Genome Quebec ($150,000).