GE3LS research looks at the important ethical, environmental, economic, legal or social issues of where genomics and society intersect. Genome Canada kicks off a series on GE3LS researchers with this profile of Matthew Schnurr, Ph.D., Associate Professor, International Development Studies, Dalhousie University.
Where did you grow up? Toronto.
Apart from your present one,
what’s the best job you ever had? Swim Instructor.
What’s your academic/research
background? How did it lead you to GE3LS research? I started off as a student in
the natural sciences studying agricultural biotechnology, then got interested
in examining the political and social implications of these new tools.
How would you describe your
research to a group of Canadian students? Why is your work important to
them? My work
explores the potential for genome-enhancing agricultural technologies to
alleviate poverty and hunger for small-scale African farmers. These
questions should resonate with anyone concerned about issues of global poverty
What kind of response has
there been to your research? What impact have you seen? My work seeks to
amplify the voices of farmers within these debates. The response from
policy makers and development donors in Africa has been positive as most
stakeholders agree that for a technology to be widely adopted it must reflect
the priorities of the end user.
What’s the most unusual or
unexpected thing about your work as a GE3LS researcher? The debate
over new biotechnology is politicized and polarizing. I’ve been surprised
by how fervent people are on both sides of the ideological divide.
What do you think is the
biggest issue facing genomics in the next decade? In my view it’s the new suite of gene editing
technologies that make genomic manipulation more accessible and more available
than ever before, In particular, I believe there is an urgent need for social
scientific research into the social, political and ethical impacts of this
Finally, we’re all going out
later for karaoke. What song do you sing and why? Toto’s Africa – it’s my place and my song!
The Invest Nova Scotia Fund is helping entrepreneurs and researchers across the province use genomics to innovate and solve problems.
Genomics is the science of understanding, interpreting and harnessing DNA code to solve problems in new ways.
The fund’s independent board of directors announced today, Feb. 15, an investment of $325,000 in Genome Atlantic, a Halifax business organization specializing in DNA-based solutions.
Genome Atlantic will work with entrepreneurs and researchers to advance 25 DNA projects over the next three years. The organization will also focus on initiatives that drive growth in key sectors, like oceans, aquaculture and fisheries, agri-food, forestry, oil and gas and sustainable energy.
“Invest Nova Scotia’s support will help us advance more projects,” said Steve Armstrong, president and CEO of Genome Atlantic. “We are excited to introduce genomics to more entrepreneurs and researchers and have greater impact across the province.” Apple growers are already benefitting from working with Genome Atlantic. The organization is helping producers in the Annapolis Valley perfect varieties like the Honeycrisp apple and boost sales through a national project called the Apple Breeding Consortium. “
We are thrilled to be working with Genome Atlantic and Nova Scotia scientists on perfecting our products,” said Joan Hebb, horticulturalist at Scotian Gold Cooperative Ltd. in the Annapolis Valley. “Finding the right variety of apples for our unique climate is key, as we continue to strive for excellence and compete in the marketplace.”
“Invest Nova Scotia is funding smart, innovative projects that strengthen whole regions and sectors of our economy,” said Invest Nova Scotia chair Kenneth Deveau. “Now, Genome Atlantic will be able to work with more entrepreneurs and researchers, increasing our capacity for innovation and strengthening our economy, particularly in rural Nova Scotia.”
Invest Nova Scotia was established in 2014 as an independent fund for granting economic incentives. Projects must spark innovation, be collaborative, measurable and sustainable and advance the strategic goals of the ONE Nova Scotia Coalition.
For more information on Invest Nova Scotia, visit http://www.novascotia.ca/business/invest/. For more information on Genome Atlantic, visit http://www.genomeatlantic.ca/ .
How genomics can lead
to better outcomes for those with bipolar disorder
Two psychiatrists at Dalhousie University and the Nova
Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) have plans to apply genomics to the development of
some much-needed clinical tools for the early detection and treatment of
bipolar disorder. Success could bring significant improvement to the lives of
those with the condition.
Dr. Martin Alda, the Killam Chair in Mood Disorders at
Dalhousie, and Dr. Rudolf Uher, Dalhousie’s Canada Research Chair in Early
Intervention in Psychiatry have received $975,000 to pursue their goal in a
three-year research study, which started in early 2019. The two psychiatrists also run successful
research programs with NSHA.
Their project, Early Detection of Bipolar Disorder and Optimized
Selection of Long-term Treatment, will take a personalized approach, using
genomics to develop new screening tools and fast-track treatment for individual
patients. Led by Genome Atlantic, the project has the support of a wide-range
of financial backers, including Genome Canada, the Research Nova Scotia Trust,
the Nova Scotia Health Authority, the Dalhousie Department of Psychiatry and the
Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation. The number and diversity of their
sponsors indicate the importance being placed on their work.
Nova Scotia has one of the highest rates of psychiatric
disease in the country. In the world of mental illness, bipolar disorder is rated
one of the top 10 causes of disability.
Current methods of diagnosis and finding the right
individualized response, which usually involves long-term medication, are
time-consuming. Delays can impair results, which are known to improve with
early detection and treatment.
Drs. Alda and Uher hope to overcome those hurdles to achieve
better outcomes by leveraging the role genetics plays in some key features of
bipolar disorder, including causation, the risk of suicide and the response to
long-term treatment. Using this knowledge, the plan is to achieve better
patient results by developing clinical tools for early diagnosis and treatment.
They anticipate their work could shorten the time from diagnosis to effective
treatment by at least 12 months.
Genome Atlantic spoke with Dr. Alda recently to shed more
light on their project:
Genome Atlantic: What exactly is bipolar
disorder and how debilitating is this condition?
Dr.Martin Alda: Bipolar disorder is a
serious psychiatric illness, previously known as manic-depressive disorder. It typically affects young people and runs a
lifelong course characterized by episodes
of mania and depression. Bipolar disorder is often disabling, ranking among the
top ten causes of morbidity worldwide. People with bipolar disorder are at risk
of increased mortality due to suicide but also from various physical causes
such as heart disease or diabetes. The manic and depressive episodes can be
prevented by suitable long- term treatment, but not all people respond to the
same treatments and choosing the right medication by trial and error is a
lengthy and frustrating process.
Genome Atlantic: How common is bipolar
disorder in Nova Scotia? In Canada?
Dr. Martin Alda: Bipolar disorder
affects about 2 per cent of all adults in Canada (and Nova Scotia).
Genome Atlantic: How is the condition
commonly diagnosed now, and what are the drawbacks with this process?
Alda: Bipolar disorder is typically diagnosed based on clinical
symptoms. In the early stages, the illness is often difficult to differentiate
from other psychiatric conditions such as major depression or schizophrenia.
This uncertainty of diagnosis means that many patients are diagnosed properly only
after a delay of several years. It is during this early stage of illness when
timely treatment can make the most difference in the illness outcome.
Genome Atlantic: What are the genetic links
to bipolar disorder and how long have we known about them? What are the
odds that people with these genes will go on to develop bipolar disorder?
Dr. Martin Alda: A number of studies
have established that bipolar disorder is heritable and that the genetic
factors account for up to 80-85 per cent of the overall risk of the illness.
Several genes have been discovered that increase the odds of developing bipolar
disorder, but more work is needed to clarify how these genes in combination
with non-genetic factors predispose people to develop bipolar disorder.
Genome Atlantic: Since this project will be
breaking new scientific ground, perhaps you could explain what made you think
of using these genetic links to try and develop methods for earlier detection
and better treatment for bipolar disorder? Was there a Eureka moment when
you came up with this project?
Dr. Martin Alda: From work of several
research groups including our own work,
we know that genetic factors play a role in the risk of bipolar disorder and
that they are an important factor in determining who responds to what kind of
long-term treatment. Thus, it is a logical step to start looking at the risk
genes and their combinations to come up with a set
of factors that will guide clinical
Genome Atlantic: Can you describe the new
clinical tools you aim to develop?
Dr. Martin Alda: We plan to use a
combination of clinical measures and genetic information from the entire human genome. Ultimately the tool should provide a
guide to clinical features relevant to the risk of illness and/or the
likelihood of responding to a particular medication and combine these with the
Genome Atlantic: How do you foresee these
new clinical tools changing diagnosis and
treatment of bipolar disorder?
Dr. Martin Alda: Our proposal falls
under the now much-talked-about concept
of precision medicine. Most areas of medicine including cancer treatment or
cardiology are moving towards tailored treatments based on individual patient
characteristics rather than one prescription fitting all.
Genome Atlantic: What benefits would they
bring to patients and their families?
Dr. Martin Alda: Our hope is that the
improved treatment will reduce the risk
of the illness and will shorten the time to an effective treatment selected to
fit the patient’s clinical and genetic profile.
Genome Atlantic: This project is a
three-year endeavor so can you briefly outline what you intend to do over that
Dr. Martin Alda: Most of the work is to
be done here at Dalhousie and in the Nova Scotia Health Authority. Exactly
speaking, it is not a three-phase project, but some parts of it will take a full
three years (and possibly longer). Our proposal has several aspects and some
are closer to clinical applications than others. We expect that any new discoveries
and decision tools will need to be further tested
before being implemented in clinical practice.
Genome Atlantic: If you succeed in
developing these new genomic diagnostic tools, how soon could Nova Scotians
expect to see them adopted for general clinical use?
Dr. Martin Alda: We expect that at least
some of the tools will be ready by the end of the project; some may take
Genome Atlantic: Are there other psychiatric
disorders where you think genomics could provide the keys to better diagnosis
and earlier or better treatment?
Dr. Martin Alda: Not only bipolar disorder
but other forms of severe mental illness such as schizophrenia or depressive
careers in Atlantic Canada, thanks to genomics
trained scientists, one from Brazil and two from Canada, attribute their ability
to forge careers in Atlantic Canada partly to their experiences as doctoral
students or as postdocs working on Genome Atlantic-supported projects.
“Well, the CGP quite literally changed my life,” said Dr. Tiago Hori, recently appointed Director of Innovation at Atlantic AquaFarms in Orwell, PEI. He joined the CGP – shorthand for the Atlantic Cod Genomics and Broodstock Development Project – as a Memorial University doctoral student from Brazil and helped build genomic data for Atlantic cod. He also used these resources to conduct functional genomics analysis of cod’s molecular response to stress.
The $18.4 million
project, developed in partnership with Genome Atlantic and roughly
half-financed by Genome Canada with matching funds from other sources, worked
closely with aquaculture companies to find cod genes related to economically-relevant
traits such as increased growth rates, disease resistance and stress tolerance.
The aim was to reduce production costs to the point that cod aquaculture could
become commercially viable in Atlantic Canada.
“For one thing, I would not have come to
Canada,” said Hori, without the project’s associated stipend, most of which
came from Genome Canada. “Perhaps, more interestingly, it also almost
completely changed my career.”
He explained, “When I
first joined CGP, my role was supposed to be centered on the generation of
physiological data and the use of a few molecular tools to characterize the stress
response of cod. In 2006, I was supposed to spend six months in Newfoundland at
Memorial University doing one of my own physiology experiments. However, the
tanks that CGP had ordered for me burnt down alongside the factory that made
them. I kid you not!”
In the aftermath, he
was redeployed to work on a heat shock experiment to help Dr. Matthew Rise at
Memorial, a principal investigator doing stress tolerance research for the CGP.
“That’s when I started doing genomics, and I really never went back,” Hori
Hori completed his
PhD in Biology during the highly successful $6.1 million camelina project, funded
through the Atlantic Canada Opportunity Agency’s Atlantic Innovation Fund, and
supported by Genome Atlantic. His role there was to provide training and
secondary supervision, including assisting graduate and doctoral students with
their analyses and sample collection.
The study found
camelina to be an excellent match to the fatty acid composition required in the
diets of farmed fish, and ultimately resulted in government approval of
camelina as a feed ingredient for farmed salmon and trout.
Dr. Stefanie Colombo, Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair in Aquaculture Nutrition, Dalhousie University, is another camelina project veteran. She offered an unqualified “yes” too, when asked if the experience helped her research career.
As a Memorial University
doctoral student, she recalled her part in the study provided unusually well-defined
deliverables for a PhD project. That factor enabled her not
only to work more purposefully, but also to develop the creative freedom to
pick up on what she had learned on each round of experimentation and figure out
how to apply it to the next.
“My part of the
project,” Colombo said, “was to evaluate the lipid biochemistry and growth of
Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout and Atlantic cod that were fed diets containing
camelina oil and meal.”
She added, “I was
allowed and encouraged to publish my results, which was motivating for me to
produce data. The project provided this established framework which gave me a
roadmap and stability to excel in my studies.”
A native of
Brantford, Ontario, Colombo did her undergraduate degree at the University of
Guelph in marine and freshwater biology. Later, scouting for a job, she landed one
at Scotian Halibut Ltd., Clark’s Harbour, Nova Scotia, her first encounter with
Atlantic Canada. The company’s collaborations with the National Research Council
in fish nutrition inspired her to do graduate study at Dalhousie, and then a
chance meeting, during an annual conference of the Aquaculture Association of
Nova Scotia, introduced her to Genome Atlantic and the prospect of a PhD
project with Dr. Chris Parrish within the camelina undertaking.
Her PhD completed,
she took up a postdoc position at Ryerson University, Toronto, but kept an eye
on Atlantic Canada for future opportunities. One arrived in familiar territory.
During the camelina project, she spent time with Dr. Derek Anderson and his lab
in the Dalhousie Faculty of Agriculture. The experience, she believed, proved
an asset when a faculty position there opened.
Today, she is a
marine biologist specializing in aquatic nutrition. She uses genomics “as a
tool to help answer questions related to nutrition in aquaculture. My work
explores the area of nutrigenomics.”
Dr. Kyle Gardner, a research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Fredericton, New Brunswick, maintains that his work on a Genome Canada project “was an important component in keeping me in the Atlantic region and fostering collaborations with local researchers from academia and government.”
A Cape Breton native
he is now a quantitative geneticist with expertise in bioinformatics. As a
postdoc research associate, he worked with Dr. Sean Myles at Dalhousie between
2012 and 2015 on a project that explored how new genomics technologies can help
make traditional crop breeding more efficient, cost-effective and accurate. The
project, Exploiting the Full Potential of the Next Generation DNA Sequencing
for Crop Improvement, was led by Myles, funded by Genome Canada and supported
by Genome Atlantic.
“The Genome Canada
project I was involved with aligned well with my interests in bioinformatics
and complemented the other work that was going on in the Myles lab, such as
developing high throughput genetic markers for future tree fruit – apple –improvement,”
“With the Genome
Canada award, we were able to put together a team to develop some novel tools
to efficiently generate more complete DNA marker data from low coverage DNA
sequencing in non-model organisms, such as apples,” he said. “Essentially the
method that was developed, in conjunction with Dr. Daniel Money (University of
Cambridge) and Dr. Myles, allows you to get more DNA marker information out of
the same DNA sequence dataset at no extra cost. This method, and associated
software, has now been used in many different species study systems from wheat,
corn, and grapes to house sparrows and corals.”
Fast forward to today
Today, Hori’s and
Colombo ‘s expertise is focused on bettering aquaculture, while Gardner’s know-how
targets improvements in potato breeding.
As a bioinformatician,
Hori worked on harnessing functional genomics and structural genomic tools for the
aquaculture industry, in his previous role as the Director of Genomics at the
Centre for Aquaculture Technologies (CAT). “My main role was to figure out how genomic technologies can be
applied to aquaculture in an economically feasible way,” he said. “That means
testing many different approaches and algorithms and being up-to-date with
technologies like sequencing and microarray. I also share the load of the
bioinformatics analysis for clients.” More recently, he was appointed Director
of Aquaculture Innovation with Atlantic AquaFarms, where he will focus on
actively driving the application of genome-based and other innovations to
improve aquaculture production and sustainability.
His participation in Genome
Atlantic-supported projects has played a role in keeping him in the region. “I
could have gone west,” he said, “because I worked quite a lot with salmon, but
my wife is from Newfoundland, and the people I know and work with are in the
Atlantic region.” Hori still works closely with many of the people he
encountered on the CGP and camelina projects, especially Dr. Rise and Dr. Kurt
Gamperl, professors, Ocean Sciences, Memorial University, and Dr. Mark Fast, Associate
Professor of Fish Health, Atlantic Veterinary College, University of Prince
Colombo’s current research
at Dalhousie’s Truro, NS campus, aims to discover sustainable new ways to
improve nutrition and aquaculture production.
Specifically, she is interested in developing sustainable sources of
omega-3s in diets for farmed fish and discovering new ways to boost their
nutrition and metabolism. The goal is to produce healthy farmed fish that supply
consumers with omega-3s in ways that effectively use ocean resources. “I use
genomics as a tool to help answer these nutritional questions,” she said. “It
allows us to dig deeper into the synthesis and storage of these important fatty
She now has graduate
students working in her lab, and she also teaches fish nutrition as part of the
B.Sc. Agriculture (Aquaculture) program.
At Agriculture and
Agri-Food Canada, Gardner says he uses “genomics tools, like DNA sequence-based
genotyping, in the potato breeding program, based in Fredericton, New Brunswick.”
It takes 10-12 years to develop a new potato variety, he says, “so we are keen
to use emerging technologies to make the variety selection process more
efficient and cost effective. “
It is clear that Hori,
Colombo and Gardner are applying their knowledge to help the Atlantic region prosper.
For Hori especially, the journey has been an eye-opener. As a student at the
Federal University of Sao Carlos, Brazil when the CGP project emerged on his
radar, Atlantic Canada was well off the beaten path. “Never
heard of it,” he said. Now Atlantic Canada is home.
Young Scientist Profile: Nicole Smith, doctoral student
Hails from St. John’s, where she is currently pursuing
doctoral studies at Memorial University in Newfoundland. Her MSc in
biochemistry and BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry and Neuroscience are also from
Field: marine biology, specializing in fish immunology.
I work with Dr. Matthew Rise’s group (Department of
Ocean Sciences) and am co-supervised by Dr. Sherri Christian (Department of Biochemistry).
I met Matt, the Canada Research Chair in Marine Biotechnology, when I received
a Research Assistant II position in 2014 at the Cold-Ocean Deep-Sea Research
Facility (CDRF) located at the Ocean Sciences Center, Memorial University. I
worked full-time as a research assistant (RA) for 1.5 years, and then decided I
would like to complete a PhD with Matt and Sherri, designing a project that
uses some of the techniques and equipment that I run at the CDRF (flow cytometry
to analyze various cell characteristics including cell size, cell count, cell
surface proteins; confocal microscopy for high resolution optical imaging, and scanning
electron microscopy equipment). I still hold a part-time position as an RA at
the CDRF while completing my PhD.
• Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of
Canada (NSERC): Characterization of Atlantic Salmon Macrophage Differentiation.
Sept 2015-May 2019
• Genome Atlantic: The Effect of Functional Feed Ingredients
on Atlantic Salmon Macrophages. January 2016-January 2018
The Challenges: Part of my project, which is funded by the
National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, involves characterizing
macrophage differentiation in Atlantic salmon. Macrophages are important cells
in the immune system, and while they have been well characterized in mammals,
they have not been in fish.
In addition to characterizing macrophage
differentiation, another part of my project, which was funded through Genome
Atlantic, involves testing various functional feed ingredients (FFI) on
Atlantic salmon macrophages to determine if the FFI have immune modifying
The Objectives: As
fish in aquaculture are prone to infection, having both financial and
environmental effects, it is important to fully clarify the markers and
mechanisms behind macrophage differentiation, especially in economically
important fish such as the Atlantic salmon, so that we can better understand
how these immune cells work.
In the Genome Atlantic-funded project we want to find
out if various functional feed ingredients (FFIs) have immune modifying
properties in Atlantic salmon macrophages and whether these FFIs could potentially
be used as a safe and natural feed additive in aquaculture.
The Projects’ importance: By better
understanding the fish immune system, we can help fight and prevent disease in
farmed fish. Advances in this field will improve the sustainability of
The Exciting Part: This project calls for me to use many
different techniques including genomic techniques such as microarray and
RT-qPCR, flow cytometry, confocal microscopy and in vitro cell culture. Coming from a mammalian background (Master
of Science in Biochemistry) it excites me to apply techniques and methods used
in the mammalian world to fish research, which is a relatively new concept.
Project’s significance for Your Career Path: I hope to become a senior scientist in industry or
government, whether that be in mammalian or fish research. The wide variety of methods and
equipment I am using in these two projects, as well as in my position as a RA,
are expanding my skills to equip me for greater roles in future research
investigations. In the immediate term these experiences are also helping with
my doctoral studies.
HALIFAX, NS – A team of Nova
Scotia mental health researchers are set to explore the genetic factors that
play a role in bipolar disorder (BD). Led
by Dr. Martin Alda and Dr. Rudolf Uher, the three-year, $975,000 research
project could lead to new clinical
tools to better diagnose and treat this disorder.
Early detection of bipolar disorder and optimized selection of long-term treatment will take a personalized medicine approach, using genomics to develop new screening tools for early detection and identify optimal long-term treatment for individual patients. Ultimately, Drs. Alda and Uher hope to engage clinicians and patients in the personalized management of BD, based on new treatment guidelines informed by this work.
“Treating BD with long-term medication can be effective,” said Dr.
Alda, chair in mood disorders at Dalhousie University and a clinical psychiatrist
and researcher with the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA). “However, no two individuals are alike and
choosing which treatments work best for individuals can take months and even
years of trial and error. With the right
genetic screening tools, we can more accurately predict which treatments are
most likely to work for certain individuals, allowing us to prescribe the right
treatment more quickly.”
Bipolar disorder (BD) is a serious, chronic psychiatric illness that affects
young people in their early 20s and recurs throughout their lifetime. BD
affects an estimated 500,000 Canadians and is one of the top 10 causes of
disability and mortality worldwide. Genetic factors influence who is at risk
from BD and how individuals respond to long-term treatment.
The risk of suicide in individuals with BD is highest in the first
years of illness – precisely the time when most treatment delays occur. A key component of the research will be to identify
the key risk factors that predict who might get the disease.
“By identifying susceptible individuals, we can implement preventive
strategies before the onset of symptoms,” said Dr. Uher, Canada Research Chair
in early intervention in psychiatry at Dalhousie University and a clinical
psychiatrist and researcher with the Nova Scotia Health Authority. “Timely diagnosis
is critical for decreasing morbidity and mortality.”
Early detection of bipolar
disorder and optimized selection of long-term treatment is supported by Genome Atlantic with funding
from Genome Canada’s Regional Priorities Partnership Program (RP3), Research Nova
Scotia Trust, Nova Scotia Health Authority, the Dalhousie University Department
of Psychiatry and Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation.
“The partnership that came together to support this project speaks to its
critical importance. Genomics technologies hold great promise for a
personalized medicine approach to diagnosing and treating mental illness, and
the ground-breaking work done by Drs. Alda and Uher could significantly reduce
the impact of bipolar disorder on the lives of patients and their families.”
Armstrong, PhD; President and CEO, Genome Atlantic
“We know more today than we ever have about the diagnosis and treatment
of mental illness – but there is still much to learn. Government is pleased to
support research projects like this one that increase our collective
understanding of mental illness while also improving outcomes for those living
with bipolar disorder.”
Randy Delorey, Minister of Health and Wellness
“One in five Canadians are affected by mental illness and addiction each
year, which includes those affected bybipolar
disorder. Early detection and genetic screening could radically alter the
effect this illness has on lives. The achievements of Drs. Alda and Uher in
clinical work, in research, in leadership, and in mentorship, are exceptional
and we are fortunate to have them working in our department and on this
very critical project.”
Dr. Michael Teehan, head of the Department of Psychiatry, Dalhousie University,
Department of Psychiatry, NSHA Central Zone
“Thanks to the
generosity and vision of our donors, DMRF is able to support world-renowned
researchers like Drs. Uher and Alda. Innovative medical research has the power
to strengthen the ability to identify, diagnose, treat and ultimately prevent
severe mental illness. Health is key to an improved quality of life. This, and
the critical role our donors play as agents of change, underscores the
necessity to continue supporting advances in health research.”
Thompson, CEO, Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation
research is a priority area for the Research Nova Scotia Trust, and we are
proud to support this work. This research will drive solutions to mental health
care for Nova Scotians.”
– Dr. Colin Dodds, PhD, Trustee of the Research Nova Scotia Trust
Halifax, NS – Bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, posing an enormous risk to the agri-food industry and to the health of Canadians. To better understand antimicrobial resistance (AMR), we need to know which genes contribute to resistance and how they spread.
A team of researchers at Dalhousie University, Simon Fraser University, McMaster University and the Public Health Agency of Canada will work to develop new surveillance tools to help identify and track these problem genes. Their $1.4 million research project, Antimicrobial Resistance: Emergence, Transmission, and Ecology (ARETE), was one of 37 Genome Canada projects announced today by federal Minister of Science and Sport, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan.
The research team led by Dr. Robert Beiko of Dalhousie University and Dr. Fiona Brinkman of Simon Fraser University are seeking to determine which genes are being shared, which bacteria are sharing genes, and how bacteria are moving between habitats. “Resistance genes can be shared by pathogenic bacteria, and these resistant bacteria also move between habitats, such as agricultural soil and farm animals,” said Dr. Beiko. “To track this process, we will develop informatics algorithms and software that will shift how we look at AMR from a static “snapshot” to a dynamic view of AMR transmission.”
Once the tools are developed, they will be rigorously tested, said Dr. Brinkman. “We will validate them using thousands of genomes of Salmonella, E. coli, and other pathogenic bacteria collected by partners in the Public Health Agency of Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.”
Ultimately, the project aims to minimize the risks posed by resistance and foster a national framework to apply genomics and bioinformatics to the “farm to fork” continuum of AMR. The integrated software modules developed through the project will be open-sourced and freely available.
ARETE is enabled through Genome Canada’s Bioinformatics and Computational Biology funding program with additional funding from The Public Health Agency of Canada, The Research Nova Scotia Trust, Simon Fraser University, McMaster University, and Compute Canada. The project is led by Genome Atlantic and supported by Genome BC.
Genome Atlantic is a not-for-profit corporation with a mission to help Atlantic Canada reap the economic and social benefits of genomics and associated technologies. Since 2000, the corporation has worked with a range of partners to enable more than $100 million in genomics R&D to benefit the region.
The microbiome is a hot topic these days, embraced by research scientists and the media alike. The microbiome refers to all the microorganisms and their collective genetic material that reside in human beings and other animals, plants, soil, and water. These communities of ‘microbial flora’ have always been with us but we’re just beginning to understand the role they play in everything from human health to mining and agriculture.
We know, for example, that not all microbes are equal. Some are harmful, some benign and some essential for the health of their hosts. Microbes can boost our immune systems and our natural resources – but maintaining a healthy microbiome is a balancing act that can be thrown out of whack by factors like diet(in humans) and chemicals (in soil and water).
This issue of Sequence explores the new frontier of the microbiome. We’ll go behind the scenes with scientists on the cutting edge of human microbiome research, meet a hard-working sequencing facility that’s a hit with genetic researchers near and far, and see why microbes are the Midas touch for gold extraction, a better tool for cleaning oil spills, and the magic in making better wines.
Genetics plays a big role in diagnosing and treating bipolar disorder (BD). Please join us for an announcement about an exciting new research project that could improve early detection and treatment of BD – followed by a panel discussion with Nova Scotia Health Authority/Dalhousie University mental health researchers Dr. Martin Alda and Dr. Rudolf Uher (moderated by Cynthia Maillet, former radio producer/host for Radio Canada & CBC) on new genetic approaches to diagnosing and treating BD.
Date & Time: Thursday, February 7, 2019, 6:00 p.m. (Reception at 5:30 p.m.)
Location: Atrium, Life Sciences Research Institute, 1344 Summer Street, Halifax, NS
Hosted by Genome Atlantic with support from Genome Canada and in partnership with the Research Nova Scotia Trust, Nova Scotia Health Authority, the Dalhousie University Department of Psychiatry and the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation.
If you’re a researcher or Atlantic Canadian company doing work (or are interested) in synthetic biology, let us know! Genome Atlantic is looking to have an Atlantic company or researcher accompany us (for free!) at the 2019 Canada SynBio Conference, March 6,7 in Toronto, Ontario. If you’re interested in learning more and joining us, please email Ktweel@genomeatlantic.ca
Are you a Canadian-based startup company working to commercialize a synbio-based product or service? Check out the Synthetic Biology pitch competition: you could win up to $25,000! Deadline to apply is January 16th. Details here.