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Unique biological approach to tackling mountain pine beetle


January 14, 2008
By Pulp & Paper Canada

Calgary, AB, and Vancouver, BC — A team of BC and Alberta scientists are launching a research project to examine t…

Calgary, AB, and Vancouver, BC — A team of BC and Alberta scientists are launching a research project to examine the interaction between the mountain pine beetle, the fungal pathogen it carries and pine trees. The initial two-year project with a value of $4 million, is being funded equally by Genome British Columbia and Genome Alberta.

In British Columbia 13 million hectares has already been devastated by the infestation – the largest ever in Canada – and in Alberta well over 1.5 million trees have also been damaged.

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“In Phase I of this project we will do something that has never been done – we are investigating the interactions between the three different kinds of organisms at the level of their genomes. What are the characteristics that allow this bug, carrying this infectious agent, to damage this tree in these conditions? The knowledge about how these distinct biological systems interact with each other will support more accurate and far reaching forest harvesting and management decisions for Canada and other lumber-producing nations,” said Dr. Joerg Bohlmann, a UBC forestry scientist, recognized globally for his expertise in tree genomics, who is a project co-leader.

The other project co-leader is Dr. Janice Cooke, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta. She says that “The multidisciplinary team that we have been able to bring together for this project has critical expertise that allows us to investigate interactions between the mountain pine beetle, its fungal associates, and pine trees in an integrative fashion. The genomics resources that we are developing will make it possible to research these interactions in a completely new way.”

Other scientists from the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George and the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre in Vancouver are also participating.

Dr. Bohlmann went on to add that this project is a natural extension of Genome British Columbia’s significant investment in Forestry Genomics Research Projects, $25 million to date, which have been at work for seven years. While this first phase of the Mountain Pine Beetle Project is being funded by British Columbia and Alberta, it is expected that a more comprehensive national and international effort with an additional $10 million budget will follow.

Scientists at the University of British Columbia have also noted that the pine beetle infestation is not the only climate-related threat on the horizon and that experts in both the forestry and agriculture industries recognize that other combinations of pest-pathogen systems, not unlike the pine beetle-fungus system, either could emerge or already currently exist in the Province.

These systems could include attacks on other tree species including fruit trees as well as other agriculture crops. Today, there is very little knowledge of these systems and how better decisions could be made to minimize their negative impact.


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