Sequence #5: Yes, Genomics Can Help With That

Genomics is proving to be a game changer for many resource industries critical to Atlantic Canada’s economic growth.

Nova Scotia’s Minister of Energy Geoff MacLellan recently announced details of his department’s $11.8-million commitment to Phase Two of Nova Scotia’s offshore growth strategy.

MacLellan acknowledged the important role of innovative technologies like genomics in helping to ‘de-risk’ offshore exploration and showed Genome Atlantic’s newly-produced video “Reducing the Risk”, about how genomics is contributing to a better picture of Nova Scotia’s offshore petroleum deposits.

Genomics is helping to tackle another big offshore challenge – microbiologically-influenced corrosion (MIC), which costs the oil and gas industry tens of millions of dollars a year.  Genome Atlantic joined international experts in St. John’s, NL recently for a workshop and research symposium dedicated to better understanding and managing MIC.  Check out Memorial University’s story on the event and the $7.8 million research project managed by Genome Atlantic and Genome Alberta aimed at improving pipeline integrity.  Click here for more information about the MIC research project.

Cannabis is an important emerging industry for Canada, and genomics plays an important role here too. Cultivars and breeders are using genomics to identify desired traits, accelerate breeding and unlock high-value opportunities for developing specialized strains. The Province of New Brunswick has identified cannabis as a major economic driver, and this spring, Genome Atlantic partnered with Opportunities New Brunswick and BioNB to host a panel discussion in Fredericton focused on maximizing cannabis opportunities along the entire value chain, including through genomics technologies.

In aquaculture, another important emerging industry for Atlantic Canada, genomics is driving growth by helping to boost breeding programs, reduce loss from disease and pests, and optimize feed formulas. Better feeds help keep farmed fish healthy, and Genome Atlantic spoke with two leading Ocean scientists at Memorial University who are working with researchers at Cargill Aqua Nutrition and UPEI to develop therapeutic feeds that optimize growth and disease resistance in farmed salmon.

Genomics is also bearing fruit for agricultural researchers like Dalhousie University’s Dr. Sean Myles.  Myles wrote the book – literally – on grapevine breeding programs for the wine industry and was instrumental in leading the development of Canada’s National Apple Breeding Consortium. Check out our conversation with him about the role of genomics in value-added agricultural products, particularly here in Atlantic Canada.

Five Questions for two East Coast Ocean Scientists revolutionizing disease prevention in farmed salmon

Drs. Matthew Rise (L) and  Chris Parrish.  Photo credit: Chris Hammond, Memorial University

Aquaculture is an important and emerging industry in Canada, generating approximately $1.35 billion in revenue and employing 25,000 people*. With regard to farmed salmon in particular, one of the biggest threats is infectious diseases caused by sea lice, pathogenic viruses and bacteria. High-quality, therapeutic feeds can play a big role in helping salmon to resist infectious diseases and stay healthy.

 

Using genomics, East coast scientists are partnering with international aqua food giant, Cargill Aqua Nutrition, to revolutionize its feed formulas to shield farmed salmon and their investors from the costly scourges of sea lice, and microbial pathogens. The Canadian division of Cargill Aqua Nutrition sources approximately 80 percent of their feed ingredients from Canada and sells feeds to aquaculture operators in Canada, the U.S., Mexico and Asia.

 

For insight into this pioneering endeavour, Genome Atlantic contacted two of the leading scientists involved: Dr. Matt Rise, a functional genomics specialist who investigates fish immunology and aquaculture nutrigenomics, and Dr. Chris Parrish, a lipids researcher who probes nutritional and biomarker lipids in marine food webs. Both of these scientists are faculty members with the Department of Ocean Sciences at Memorial University, where Rise also heads a sustainable aquaculture module at the Ocean Frontier Institute. He was also recently appointed to a federal government Independent Expert Panel on Aquaculture Science led by Dr. Mona Nemer, Canada’s Chief Scientific Advisor.

 

Drs. Rise and Parrish, along with colleagues Dr. Mark Fast at the University of Prince Edward Island and Dr. Javier Santander of Memorial University, have been working with Cargill Aqua Nutrition on applying genomics to nutritional science.

 

The pair’s large-scale collaboration with Cargill actually consists of two large-scale research projects  sponsored by Genome Atlantic and Genome Canada, funded in part under Genome Canada’s Genomic Applications Partnership Program (GAPP): a completed $3.8 million investigation into single pathogen infections to produce a Biomarker Platform for Commercial Aquaculture Feed Development; and an ongoing second project, worth $4.5 million, dealing with the development of diets to combat co-infections from multiple pathogens and tagged as Integrated Pathogen Management of Co-infection in Atlantic Salmon.

 

The first project produced a new method to evaluate how diet affects farmed salmon’s growth and immune response at the gene and cellular levels. While it remains important to measure fish weight and growth, the new biomarker gene expression platforms developed by the scientists and their collaborators provide more detailed information on the impact of diets and feed ingredients on fish metabolism and immune response. This is needed in order to gain a more complete picture of the impact of novel diets on fish health and growth performance.

 

From individual salmon, the researchers use “gene chips” (also DNA microarrays) representing 44,000 different genes, as well as lipid biochemistry, to screen for diet-responsive biomarkers of fish health. The research team, including graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and technicians, use the genomic data to develop and use smaller panels of biomarker genes in a technique called “multiplex qPCR”. These panels of about 30 genes allow the researchers to rapidly collect detailed information on how novel diets and feed ingredients affect growth, metabolism and immune responses.

 

It is estimated that the use of therapeutic feeds could save the Canadian aquaculture industry approximately $60 million annually, while decreasing the use of chemical treatments and minimizing the risk of disease in aquaculture salmon.

 

Drs. Rise and Parrish also worked together on a highly successful project with fellow researchers at Memorial and Dalhousie universities that validated Camelina sativa, a plant commonly known as camelina or false flax, as a cost-effective, sustainable substitute for wild-sourced fish meal and especially fish oil.

 

The harvest of foraged fish used for animal feed has been stable during the past 30 years (FAO), but the animal feed industry increases at about three percent annually so the percentage use of fish products in feed must decrease. Plant oils and plant protein concentrates are viable alternatives to animal ingredients, and camelina has potential health benefits for fish in addition to growth support.

 

The $6.1 million camelina research project managed by Genome Atlantic, was done with principal support from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s Atlantic Innovation Fund. The results enabled the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to approve a Genome Atlantic application to allow mechanically extracted camelina oil as a feed ingredient for farmed salmon and trout.

 

*Sources:Canadian Aquaculture Association and Statistics Canada (2016)

 

 

The Questions

 

Genome Atlantic: How did you come up with the idea of applying genomics and nutrition to prevent disease in farmed salmon?

Drs. Matt Rise and Chris Parrish:  It has become self-evident for humans that eating healthily can help prevent disease. We know that dietary ingredients such as the types of fats we eat have important health implications. So extending work on salmon nutrition from a focus on uniform weight gain to reducing dependence on antibiotics and other interventions was a natural next step. Not only did we want to look at disease prevention through the use of safe and sustainable dietary ingredients, but also to understand the mechanisms that underlie these processes.

 

Nutrigenomics, the use of genomics tools and techniques to study how nutrients influence gene expression, is a rapidly growing area of both human and animal (including fish) health related research. At the Ocean Sciences Centre of Memorial University, we are fortunate to have excellent research infrastructure and collaborations (e.g., with Cargill) for aquaculture nutrigenomics research.

 

GA: Can you briefly describe how genomics has been used in your two recent research projects: first with single pathogen infections and now with co-infections from multiple pathogens in farmed salmon.

MR &CP: Both of our GAPP (Genomic Applications Partnership Program) projects involve close collaboration between our lab groups (with the Rise lab focusing on genomics and the Parrish lab focusing on lipidomics), Dr. Richard Taylor (Cargill Aqua Nutrition) and many other collaborators with the goal of using functional genomics tools and techniques to accelerate development of novel grower and clinical diets for farmed salmon.

 

The first GAPP project (which was recently completed) focused on diets to combat salmon diseases such as infectious salmon anemia (ISA, caused by a virus) and salmonid rickettsial septicemia (SRS, caused by a bacterium).  The current GAPP project uses similar genomics tools (such as DNA microarrays, also called ‘gene chips’, used to screen the expression of thousands of genes simultaneously) with the goal of developing diets to combat co-infections of salmon (for example, a primary sea lice infection with a secondary viral or bacterial infection).

 

We have been able to correlate gene expression with the ingredients in the diets as well as with diet-induced changes in chemical composition in tissues.

 

GA: Do you see other areas of aquaculture where genomics could play an important role in solving pressing problems?

MR & CP: Doing lipid nutrition and biochemistry research alongside genomics work has greatly helped us understand mechanisms involved in responses to diet and implications of dietary alterations. In turn this has helped us define minimal levels of key components of fish oil and fish meal and of maximal levels of alternatives. We have been working very hard on effects of diet ingredients on salmon generally, but a great next step would be to reverse the approach and to look at matching individual strains of salmon to make the best of available diets. This would be akin to eating based on your genetics.

 

In addition to the area of nutrition, genomics research will contribute to many other areas of aquaculture such as breeding (for example, the selection of broodstock with rapid growth rate, resistance to stress and disease, and other traits of interest) and the development of effective diagnosis and vaccines to combat infectious diseases.

 

GA: Does this line of inquiry that marries genomics and nutrition have potential applications beyond marine life?

MR & CP: Certainly. The field of nutrigenomics is an emerging science which is gaining a lot of attention in the field of human nutrition. Our work at the interface of nutrigenomics and lipidomics is showing that salmon immune responses can be manipulated by varying dietary raw materials such as plant products and functional ingredients.  The research on salmon may provide hints regarding how immune system function in other vertebrates (such as humans) may be influenced by nutrition.

 

GA: In your experience, how important are academic-industry partnerships in advancing research in your fields?

MR & CP: For us this is a key component as we are completely up to date with the latest advances and challenges associated with the feed industry. We also get very quick feedback on our scientific results.

 

Our GAPP projects involve large research teams including graduate and undergraduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and technicians in our labs, as well as other academic collaborators (such as Dr. Mark Fast at the University of Prince Edward Island and Dr. Javier Santander at Memorial University) and industry collaborators. These academic-industry partnerships provide excellent opportunities for personnel in our labs to work closely with industry scientists to solve real-world problems.  The knowledge generated in our research translates directly to gains for the industry partner, in this case, Cargill Aqua Nutrition.  By accelerating the development of health-promoting diets for farmed salmon, our research also directly benefits aquaculture production.

New offshore research funding announced

“Combining genomics with geology has the potential to provide us with the clearest picture yet of petroleum deposits in Nova Scotia’s offshore.”

Andy Stone, Director of Business Development, Genome Atlantic

 

The Nova Scotia Department of Energy recently announced a four-year, $11.8-million commitment to the second phase of its Offshore Growth Strategy.  In his remarks at a press conference held to outline details of the offshore research strategy, Energy Minister Geoff MacLellan noted four main components of Phase Two of the research strategy:

  • Collecting core samples and high-resolution mapping information of the ocean bottom and sub-bottom;
  • Working with Morocco to reconstruct seismic images from 200 million years ago when Morocco and Nova Scotia separated;
  • Updating the Play Fairway Analysis with new information from offshore drilling results; and
  • Building new areas of research and strengthening existing research capacity.

 

Genome Atlantic’s partnership in the announcement reflected the Province’s recognition of genomics as an important continuing element in its offshore research strategy. Minister MacLellan shared the Genome Atlantic video “Reducing the Risk” as an example of a leading-edge innovative approach to offshore development.

 

The video documents “Microbial Genomics for De-risking Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration in Nova Scotia” (link to story )a $4.9-million, three-year project that is using genomics to help create a comprehensive snapshot of Nova Scotia’s offshore with the goal of making it more attractive to oil and gas companies.

 

Andy Stone, Genome Atlantic’s Director of Business Development who spoke at the event, explained that, “In simple terms, the genomics research is tracking microorganisms that eat underwater petroleum. These microorganisms cluster in petroleum seeps that originate from under the seafloor. Combining genomics with geology has the potential to provide us with the clearest picture yet of petroleum deposits in Nova Scotia’s offshore.”

 

Stone noted that the genomics work builds on the successful Play Fairway Analysis completed in 2011 which led to $2-billion in expenditure commitments for offshore exploration.  “Our genomics work will contribute to further reduce investment risk for prospective petroleum exploration companies in Nova Scotia’s frontier basin.”

 

He thanked the Department of Energy for their support and acknowledged the many partners in the current genomics research project including the Nova Scotia Department of Energy, the Offshore Energy Research Association (OERA), Genome Canada, Genome Alberta, University of Calgary, Saint Mary’s University, Mitacs Canada, and NRCan/Geological Survey of Canada who contributed to the overall research program.

He added that Genome Atlantic is currently building additional partnerships with OERA, Stantec and Dalhousie University on an offshore tidal energy project that will use environmental genomics (eDNA) to detect the presence of marine species around tidal energy installations. (Stay tuned for more information on this project in a future issue of Sequence e-bulletin.)

Five questions for a top Canadian genomics expert in apple and grape breeding

 

When it comes to new apple and grape varieties, you could say Dr. Sean Myles’ work with genomics has born enough fruit to make him one of the country’s leading plant genetics researchers.

 

Using genomics, Myles can detect and track desired traits in seedlings, which can help those developing new cultivars be certain of some fruit attributes as soon as the seeds germinate – in other words, much more rapidly than the many years needed to grow a tree and wait for it to bear fruit.  The genomic-based process is also acknowledged to be cheaper and it could also be more efficient.

 

A Fredericton, N.B. native, Myles holds the Faculty Research Chair in Agriculture at Dalhousie University.

 

Through his Apple Diversity Group in Kentville, N.S., he has amassed a very diverse apple tree collection of more than 1,000 varieties from many parts of the world, in a collaboration between Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Dalhousie University. While aiming to better understand genetic apple diversity, he also hopes to learn more about fruit biology and how to breed productive cultivars with less reliance on pesticides.

 

Currently he is involved in a 10-year project to assess new varieties of apples for traits such as disease resistance and sweetness, sequence the genomes of the fruit, and look for relationships between DNA sequences and the traits associated with them.

 

The book, Grapevine Breeding Programs for the Wine Industry, credits Myles with reviving grape breeding in Nova Scotia through his work with Dr. Andrew Jamieson, an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada fruit breeder, that has led to the development of several promising new varieties for the Nova Scotia wine industry.

 

Apples and grapes hold more than passing professional interest for Myles. His wife, Gina Haverstock, is a sommelier and the award-winning winemaker at Gaspereau Vineyards and in 2016 the pair opened the Annapolis Cider Company in Wolfville, N.S.

 

Myles’ research interests in genomics go well beyond apples and grapes, however, and he has looked into disease-resistant hops, found the gene that gives rise to blond hair in dark-skinned Melanesians, and tested commercial cannabis varieties against their marketing hype. He works with a range of industry partners, which, among others, have included the Canadian Horticulture Council, the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers Association and Anandia Labs, a Canadian cannabis research company.

 

 

 

 

 

The Questions:

 

Genome Atlantic: Five years ago in Canadian Geographic you stated, when it comes to apples, “everyone is getting out of the breeding business.” You doubted your team would ever have a breeding program for new commercial apple varieties because it was cheaper to  “buy some new chemical and go and kill the pathogens that are killing your plants than it is to grow a new apple variety that is resistant to pathogens.” Has anything changed to make you more optimistic?

 

It’s an exaggeration to say that “everyone” is getting out of the apple breeding business, but there has certainly been a significant reduction in the number of apple breeding programs in Canada.  What does make me optimistic is that we have successfully consolidated resources from coast to coast and have established a National Apple Breeding Consortium – essentially a unified Canadian apple breeding program in which our lab plays a role. Those who specialize in genomics, for example, no longer have to evaluate advanced breeding lines in the field, while those who have expertise in fruit quality evaluation in the field can focus on their particular strength without worrying about the genomics. What we expect is that, by bringing together a diversity of researchers, growers and other industry partners, each group can focus on what they do best and we can in fact accomplish more as a single national entity than we ever did as divided regionally focused breeding programs. I’m tremendously optimistic about what we can accomplish, but keep in mind that we’re playing the long game here: an evaluation of our impact can only be made after at least a decade of trying out this new model.

 

 

Genome Atlantic: How difficult is it to pinpoint the commercially desirable traits in apples or grapes? Is this the most challenging aspect of using genomics in plant breeding?

 

Growers and processors are more than happy to share with us what they feel are the commercially desirable traits that should be the targets for fruit breeding.  Unfortunately for the geneticist and the breeder, they are numerous and sometimes elusive.  Growers want plants that require less chemical input to grow – that grow in a manner which reduces labour in the field – and that produce fruit that looks and tastes highly desirable to the consumer.  Disease resistance is fairly straightforward – we have several targets already that many breeders work on.  Growth habit and consumer desirability are trickier to tackle.  As a scientist, this makes things more interesting though – how do we measure what the consumer really wants and then rapidly breed for it using genomics?  The Canadian National Apple Breeding Consortium is particularly well equipped to tackle this, and it is precisely in this area of “fruit quality genomics” where we feel we can take the lead internationally.

 

Genome Atlantic: Through your connections with the U.S. Department of Agriculture you were able to duplicate its entire stockpile of apple cuttings for your Apple Biodiversity Collection. Do the Americans have any ongoing interest in your work with the collection?

 

Our work on apple genetic diversity is not only of interest to the US Department of Agriculture because of our strong collaborative relationship, but to apple researchers worldwide.  Our collection of over 1,000 apple varieties here in Nova Scotia is just beginning to reap its rewards in terms of scientific insights and there is intense interest around the globe in the results of our work on this unique collection of apples. We anticipate that we will continue collaborating not only with the USDA on projects that make use of the Apple Biodiversity Collection, but with researchers from other countries as well.

 

Genome Atlantic: How important is it for Canada and its fruit growers, particularly those in Atlantic Canada, to support using genomics in plant breeding?

 

Apple growers know how to take the long view.  When you establish an orchard, you make a business plan that extends 30 years into the future. Investing in genomics in apple breeding is highly similar: it will likely take at least 20 years before the insights we are gaining now will result in a benefit to a grower’s bottom line. This is not unique to Atlantic Canada – it’s the same everywhere in the world. With our newly established National Apple Breeding Consortium, communication between genomics researchers and industry members is improving dramatically, especially as it relates to the timelines of the deliverables from genomics, and I’m confident this will result in a win-win scenario for the Canadian apple industry.

 

Genome Atlantic: The Annapolis Cider Company that you and your wife opened in Wolfville is a new boutique beverage business built on Annapolis Valley apples. At the time, Dr. David Gray, Dalhousie’s faculty of agriculture dean, hailed the venture as “a fantastic example of science in action.”  Could this type of enterprise be a model for future business development in the region, as the dean suggested?

 

It is our sincere hope that our business becomes a model for future entrepreneurs in our region.  We believe strongly that new businesses producing novel value-added agricultural products are key to rural economic sustainability in Nova Scotia.  In turn, we’re trying hard to convince the public that consuming these products, and getting on the buy-local train, is part of the solution to our rural communities’ looming economic woes.  Everywhere we look we see people desperately desiring premium, value-added agricultural products – the demand is there! I’m convinced that if others follow in our footsteps and manage to build sustainable businesses based on products made from the agricultural land around us, we can all experience a net positive impact on our economy, our health and our society overall.

Request for Applications: New funding available for large-scale applied research in the agriculture and agri-food & fisheries and aquaculture sectors

Friday, June 15, 2018

Ottawa, ON

Today, Genome Canada, together with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), is pleased to launch a Request for Applications for the 2018 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition: Genomics Solutions for Agriculture, Agri-Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture. The Competition aims to support projects that have the potential to provide new approaches that can improve disease and pest resistance in our crops, livestock and fish, increase our understanding of soil and aquatic microbiomes, and improve our ability to monitor and assess wild fish populations.

Genome Canada and co-funding partners, including the provinces, private sector and other partners, will invest at least $60 million in successful projects, while AAFC will invest an additional $16 million through this Competition. This funding opportunity builds on the complementary mandates of Genome Canada and AAFC and provides an opportunity to bring together and maximize the effectiveness of research communities, infrastructure, and resources supported by both organizations.

Successful projects will use genomics to advance the sustainability, productive capacity and competitive position of the Canadian agriculture and agri-food & fisheries and aquaculture sectors, and thereby strengthen Canada’s economy and the wellbeing of Canadians. Research that examines the implications of genomics in society, such as factors that may facilitate or hinder the effective translation of research and the uptake of genomic-based applications, will also be supported as part of the Competition.

The agriculture and agri-food & fisheries and aquaculture sectors have a history of using research to assess challenges and develop solutions. Genomics-based approaches have the potential to predict and mitigate the effects of climate change, such as understanding the response of fisheries to climate fluctuations, identifying crops and livestock that are more resilient to temperature extremes, and by reducing methane emissions related to livestock production systems.

Quotes

“Our government is pleased to invest in applied genomics research that will drive growth, productivity and global competitiveness in agriculture and agri-food, fisheries and aquaculture—sectors that are so important to our economy and the health and well-being of Canadians.”

– The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities

“Our agriculture scientists have a lot of expertise in applied genomics research. This competition will encourage the types of partnerships and collaborations that bring together the best of government, academic, and private research to create real solutions for Canada’s agriculture sector.”

– Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

“The projects we support through this Competition will build on our track record of research breakthroughs – such as sequencing the genomes of dairy cows, salmon, wheat, lentils and other Canadian staples –  which have made Canada more globally competitive in these industries.”

– Mr. Marc LePage, President and CEO, Genome Canada

Quick facts

  • Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector is considered to be one of the foundations of Canada’s economy, accounting for $111.9 billion of gross domestic product (GDP), about 8%, and employing 2.3 million people in 2016.
  • Canada is a major exporter of key foodstuffs needed for global food security, producing 2% of the world’s cereals, and 3.4% of global oilseeds and pulses.
  • The fisheries and aquaculture sector contributes $14.7 billion to the Canadian economy each year, and supports 130,000 jobs.
  • On a global scale, Canada is the steward of 25% of the world’s coastline and contributes 1% of the world’s fisheries production. Between 2011 and 2021, global fish consumption is projected to increase by 16%, with aquaculture expected to address the bulk of this increase.

Associated links

For more information about the opportunity and process and to obtain an early Expression of Interest form, please contact Andy Stone (astone@genomeatlantic.ca) or Britta Fiander (bfiander@genomeatlantic.ca).

New Brunswick becoming world leader in cannabis sector

Out of the gate, New Brunswick has positioned itself as a leader in the cannabis industry. With the legalization of recreational cannabis on the horizon in Canada, New Brunswick has identified cannabis as a major economic development driver and is putting the pieces in place to capitalize on this new opportunity.

 

Overseeing the cannabis file for the province is Opportunities New Brunswick (ONB), whose CEO Stephen Lund recently noted, “New Brunswick has an established ecosystem within the cannabis sector making it uniquely positioned to lead this transformational, cultural, scientific and economic opportunity. ONB continues to focus our efforts on strategic opportunities, like cannabis, that align with the unique assets of New Brunswick.”

 

Genomics can help.  A powerful biotechnology that combines genetics, biology and computer science, genomics is helping cultivators and breeders to identify desired traits, accelerate breeding, and unlock opportunities for the development of specialized strains and medicinal products.

 

“Harnessing the power of genomics technologies to drive economic growth in Atlantic Canada is at the heart of Genome Atlantic’s mandate. While the pursuit of opportunities in the cannabis sector is quite new to our organization, we see tremendous opportunity for these technologies to accelerate the development of both existing and new cannabis strains, reflective of customer needs and in compliance with regulatory policies,” said Steve Armstrong, President and CEO of Genome Atlantic.”

 

 

Against this backdrop, Genome Atlantic, in partnership with ONB and BioNB, hosted a panel discussion in Fredericton in early May focusing on the broad spectrum of opportunities along the cannabis value chain, including the role of genomics.

 

“From Crop Science to Health Research – Maximizing Opportunities for Cannabis in New Brunswick” included panelists representing major players in New Brunswick’s emerging cannabis industry.  The event focused on maximizing cannabis opportunities along the entire value chain, and drew more than 70 cultivators, breeders, genetic researchers, testers and analysts, as well as senior government representatives, including Andrew Harvey, New Brunswick’s Minister of Agriculture, Mines and Rural Affairs, and several representatives from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

 

The panel opened with Meaghan Seagrave, Executive Director of BioNB, who provided an overview of New Brunswick’s strengths and opportunities in relation to this emerging industry.   Seagrave has written and spoken frequently about the opportunities for New Brunswick along the cannabis value chain.  “We have the most affordable agricultural land in North America or Europe. We’ve got solid building blocks around genomics, cultivars and seeds, all the starting components for cannabis. And we have significant agricultural expertise, about 150 years’ worth,” Seagrave noted.

 

Seagrave suggested that cannabis presents many opportunities for New Brunswick – for example, to utilize agricultural land, build research capacity, technology companies and supply chains, attract investment in new technologies, and generate new IP and exports. “But the real opportunity is in understanding the entire cannabis value chain and maximizing growth all along the way,” she said.

 

 

 

Organigram Inc. is a leading licensed producer of medical marijuana based in Moncton.  Organigram’s VP of International Business Development Larry Rogers described the company’s plans for growth as it expands its existing medical cannabis production and prepares for the adult recreational cannabis market. In March, the company opened a 100,000 square foot expansion to its Moncton production facility and plans to expand to nearly 500,000 square feet by April 2020.

 

“We believe there could be a surplus in the Canadian cannabis supply by 2020,” said Rogers, citing the European Union as one of the largest potential cannabis markets.  “The EU could become the largest cannabis market in the world in the next five to ten years and it’s a priority market for Organigram.” (The week following the panel, Organigram announced a $3.8 million investment in German cannabis company Alpha-Cannabis Germany.)

 

 

Panelist Dr. David Joly, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at Université de Moncton, started working on cannabis in 2015 through a collaboration with Organigram Inc.  The project resulted in the identification of three candidate genes in cannabis that could protect against powdery mildew, a major disease affecting cannabis.  Since then, Joly and his colleagues Drs. Martin Filion and Étienne Hébert-Chatelain at the university’s Cannabis Innovation and Research Centre have conducted research on many aspects of the cannabis plant, including growth rate and yields, often involving ongoing collaborations with Organigram and other private companies.  “Basically, we are using genomic technologies to help reduce disease and boost productivity, so there is quite a spectrum of research activity in which we are engaged,” said Joly.

 

He highlighted two current projects, one with Organigram and one with Canutra Naturals, aimed at addressing some of the industry’s most pressing issues. “Our latest project with Organigram includes looking at ways to improve cannabis productivity through microbial inoculants and developing the genomic tools to help develop strains with improved traits.  With Canutra Naturals, we’re focusing on some of the same issues but with hemp,” Joly explained.

 

 

The Research and Productivity Council of New Brunswick (RPC) is one of the largest organizations  in Canada engaged in the medical marijuana testing business and provides analytical services to about half of all licensed producers in Canada.  RPC has been working with the hemp industry since the late 1990s and started testing medicinal cannabis in 2014. Panelist Dr. Ben Forward, RPC’s Head of Food, Fisheries & Aquaculture Department, outlined the rapidly-expanding opportunities that cannabis is presenting for his organization including in relation to the recently-announced agreement RPC signed with Colorado-based Sunrise Genetics to begin genetic testing in Canada.

 

“DNA testing and analysis leads to some very important outcomes, including the ability to concretely identify cultivars to assist patients using medical cannabis to reliably access the strain that effectively treats their condition. DNA-based traceability will provide for improved product safety and the ability to authenticate shipments and batches of material to verify product origin and maintain supply integrity. Beyond that, many other R&D opportunities will arise as the industry grows,” said Forward.

 

 

The New Brunswick Health Research Foundation (NBHRF) was instrumental in last year’s announcement of two cannabis research chairs in New Brunswick. The chair at St. Thomas University will focus on research policy development, socio-economic and health-related issues of cannabis use, while the University of New Brunswick chair will address the pharmacology and biochemistry of cannabis and will conduct pre-clinical studies.

 

Final panelist Leah Carr, NBHRF’s Director of Research Programs and Human Development stressed the importance of the research chairs in strategic capacity building as well as in informing policy decisions. She also discussed the role of clinical trials in the ‘bench to bedside’ journey from ‘medical marijuana’ to pharmaceuticals, and the need for credible clinical evidence in the rapidly evolving cannabis landscape. “Canadian patients and consumers need documented, timely, and affordable access for medical cannabis.  The importance of scientific research and clinical trials in relation to cannabinoid-based drug discovery and development can’t be overstated.”

 

 

Genome Atlantic’s Steve Armstrong, who emceed the panel discussion, wrapped up the session by thanking the speakers as well as ONB and BioNB for their collaboration in organizing and hosting the event.  “We see tremendous potential for genomic technologies to add value to the cannabis space. That was the catalyst to initiate this session today in partnership with those leading the charge here in New Brunswick,” said Armstrong.

Genome Canada Agriculture, Agri-Food, and Aquaculture Competition coming soon

Genome Canada’s Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition in Agriculture, Agri-Food, and Aquaculture is expected to be launched in June 2018.  This highly competitive funding opportunity is aimed at supporting projects that demonstrate how genomics-based research can improve health care, contribute to a more evidence-based approach to health, and enhance the cost-effectiveness of the health care system.

Projects can range from $2-8 million over four years. Successful projects in recent competitions have most often been pan-Canadian in scope and team composition.

Even though the competition doesn’t launch until June 2018, Genome Atlantic wants to ensure researchers have the resources and guidance to prepare a competitive application.  We plan to engage and support local teams by offering help with proposal development all the way through to hiring strategic consultants and expert reviewers.

In order to ensure that Genome Atlantic can provide teams with access to this support, we are asking interested researchers to fill out an early Expression of Interest form prior to May 28, 2018.

For more information about the opportunity and process and to obtain an early Expression of Interest form, please contact Andy Stone (astone@genomeatlantic.ca) or Britta Fiander (bfiander@genomeatlantic.ca).

Sequence Issue #4: 163 lives saved….and counting

Ten years ago, Newfoundland researchers cracked the genetic code of a cardiac disease that causes death in seemingly healthy young people. The disease, Type 5 ARVC, is particularly prevalent in Newfoundland and Labrador. Genome Atlantic recently caught up with researchers Drs. Terry-lynn Young and Kathy Hodgkinson to find out what’s happened since their genetic breakthrough – as it turns out, plenty.  More than 500 people have been tested and 163 people fitted with life-saving defibrillators. Watch one patient’s story in the brief, compelling video:

We also checked in with Drs. Chris McMaster and Johane Robitaille on their continuing work in orphan disease discovery and therapies. Seven years ago, McMaster launched a research project called IGNITE to improve our understanding, diagnosis and treatment of orphan diseases.  Multiple gene discoveries and therapies later, this remarkable research team continues to unlock the power of clinical genetics to improve the lives of people with orphan diseases.

Watch this brief video on how the Government of Canada’s recent announcement of $225 million for genomics and precision health research – including on orphan diseases – is bringing new hope for Canadian patients.

Genomics is a powerful tool for many sectors and is one of five pillars of the recently announced Atlantic Canada-based Ocean Supercluster. Genome Atlantic joined a recent Ocean Supercluster celebration in St. John’s, NL, hosted by Petroleum Research Newfoundland and Labrador.  Perhaps Hon. Seamus O’Regan summed it up best when he said, “We came here for the ocean’s riches. We have the expertise that can take on the world. So let’s take it on.”

Oil-eating microbes? They’re real and they may just help unlock the secret of Nova Scotia’s offshore petroleum reserves. We’ve commissioned a video to tell the story, and while it won’t wrap up for a bit, here’s a sneak peek.

Genome Atlantic is helping to “create great things from life” in Atlantic Canada’s bioscience sectors. Find out how in this Opinion Piece published in The Telegram (St. John’s, NL) and Guardian (Charlottetown, PE).

The role of genomics is expanding quickly – not just in traditional sectors but in emerging fields like synthetic biology. Ontario Genomics recently hosted Canada’s first national conference on synthetic biology which combines biology and engineering to design and construct new biological entities – or as one of the speakers put it, “Synthetic biology means engineering biology to make useful stuff.” The conference covered a lot of ground, from developing new therapeutics to reducing our climate footprint – all “useful stuff” indeed!