We help Atlantic Canada companies, industries and researchers use genomic insights and innovations to solve real-world problems.
Steve Armstrong, PhD
President & CEO
Impacts At A Glance:
Salmon aquaculture is an important and growing industry in New Brunswick, with the province responsible for about 60% of Atlantic Canada’s salmon production. Supporting this vital industry is important to Genome Atlantic and over the years we have aligned with local industry, government and researchers to address many of the industry’s challenges while improving its sustainability.
This month the Government of Canada announced research support for yet another Genome Atlantic aquaculture initiative – a $4.7 Million Complex Gill Health Initiative that will focus on Complex Gill Disease (CGD), a growing health challenge for salmon farming operations in both the Pacific and North Atlantic. This project, co-led by Genome Atlantic and Genome BC, will validate biomarkers of healthy and compromised gills of Atlantic salmon and use these to develop an early warning system for the development of gill disease on Atlantic salmon production sites across Canada. The resulting genomics-enabled tools for fish health will guide the management and intervention strategies for complex gill disease in Atlantic salmon.
We congratulate the coast-to-coast research team and acknowledge the generous support of project funders the Government of Canada through Genome Canada, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Genome BC, BC Salmon Farmers Association, Mitacs Canada, Memorial University, the University of Prince Edward Island, and industry partners Cermaq Canada, Grieg Seafood, and Cargill.
Genome Atlantic is proud to be a founding member of the recently formed Atlantic Tree Improvement Council (AtlanTIC), a pan-Atlantic collaborative of private and public sector organizations committed to realizing the economic and environmental benefits of tree improvement in Atlantic Canada through collaborative breeding, field testing, resource sharing and research.
In February, Nova Scotia’s Forestry Innovation Transition Trust provided funding to Genome Atlantic of $315,500 over four years to support The Atlantic Tree Improvement Council (AtlanTIC) to help support new field testing of tree improvement technologies such as genomics which have been shown to shorten breeding cycles and increase growth rate, wood quality, pest resistance and adaptation to climate change.
Adding genomics to the tree improvement toolkit can save considerable time and money for the forestry industry. For example, a recent genomics project that Genome Atlantic carried out in collaboration with a New Brunswick industry partner resulted in an estimated 10% increase in production of commercial spruce trees on a test tract of land where the project was conducted. The AtlanTIC collaborative will be a means for conducting more proof of concept applications of tree improvement technologies, and sharing the results with companies across the region.
Genome Atlantic is pleased to partner with AtlanTIC to help the forestry industry realize the economic and environmental benefits of tree improvement technologies.
The Chief Medical Officer of Canada has consistently highlighted the critical importance of COVID-19 testing capacity to support re-opening the economy, and genomic tools are proving to be invaluable in this regard. Genomics plays a vital role in detecting infections, tracking disease spread, and developing tests, vaccines and treatments. Genome Atlantic is working tirelessly to support initiatives that are responding to some of our biggest challenges in relation to the pandemic.
Genome Atlantic recently announced more than $300,000 in funding through Genome Canada’s COVID-19 Regional Genomics Initiative for two research projects – one focusing on biomarkers to predict disease severity, and the other piloting a simple, quick and inexpensive surveillance tool for screening COVID-19 in high-risk settings like long-term care facilities fish processing and meat packing plants, fishing boats, etc.
Pooling together our data about COVID-19 is one of the best, most effective ways that Canada can respond to current and future pandemics. The recent announcement of a $40 million Canadian COVID Genomics Network (CanCOGeN) is great news. CanCOGeN will undertake two related genomics projects to help us understand how the virus works, how it is evolving, and why people experience such different health outcomes. CanCOGeN will sequence the complete genomes of up to 10,000 patients and up to 150,000 viral samples and will build a bank of “virus to patient” data that will inform decision-making by public health authorities and support the development of therapies and vaccines. Of critical importance, CanCOGeN will establish and manage a framework of cross-Canada safe data sharing, coordination and analysis. CanCOGeN is led by Genome Canada in partnership with the six regional Genome Centres including Genome Atlantic, as well as national and provincial public health labs, genome sequencing centres, hospitals and universities. In New Brunswick, Genome Atlantic is working with Vitalité Health Network as part of this collaborative initiative.
There are many pieces to the COVID-19 puzzle and genomics is helping us find the answers. But how exactly? Genome Atlantic developed two short animated videos to explain. (Scroll down the web page to Special Feature: Genomics in the battle against COVID-19.) Video #1, On the Trail of Covid-19, is about detecting infections and understanding how the virus mutates while the second video, The Race for a Vaccine, focuses on tracking mutations and developing vaccines and treatments. Please take a few minutes to watch them. These videos are intended to provide a deeper understanding of how the scientific community has responded, while conveying well-founded hope.
Just as genomic technologies are critical for enabling necessary surveillance and testing so we can re-open our economy safely, they are also vital for driving economic recovery in New Brunswick’s key industry sectors such as agriculture, aquaculture and forestry, for supporting industries within Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, and for providing environmental monitoring tools that can help to guide regulators and expand vital industries in environmentally sustainable ways.
Our active projects with a New Brunswick focus currently total more than $7 million in solutions-driven R&D with another $6 million in new potential projects at various stages of business development.
Several years ago, New Brunswick forestry giant JD Irving Ltd. embarked on a project called FastTRAC to compare genomic selection and traditional breeding of white spruce. The results were impressive. Like other forestry companies, JDI uses selective breeding to naturally select superior, faster growing trees with the best traits for harvesting and industrial use. With conventional breeding practices, growers may have to wait 20 years before these traits can be assessed and the best trees chosen as breeding stock – but JDI estimates that genomics cut an estimated eight years from the process. This could translate into an increase in wood production of 10% in New Brunswick. Currently, Genome Atlantic is working with JDI and the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development on a $6 million proposal for a follow-up FastTRAC2 project focusing on two other species important to eastern Canada: red and black spruce.
In our last Briefing Note we told you about our $4.2 million oyster genomics project with L’Étang Ruisseau Bar (ERB) of Shippagan, focused on developing Canada’s first selectively bred strain of Eastern Oyster. This new strain is expected to grow 20% faster than wild-caught spat and could increase ERB’s production by 60%.
Genomics has already been proven to significantly increase the production of another New Brunswick-based aquaculture company. Over the years, Genome Atlantic has worked on several projects with Cooke Aquaculture, the latest involving their subsidiary Cold Ocean Salmon. By identifying fast-growing fish through genomic selection, our collaborative R&D project helped Cold Ocean Salmon achieve a 5% increase in annual production with a significant forecasted boost in sales.
All Genome Atlantic projects are end-user-driven and aimed at finding solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing Atlantic Canada’s economy, now and in the future. The practical application and advantages of genomic solutions is reflected in private sector investment in Genome Atlantic projects.
Private sector investment has grown from 8% in 2008 to more than 25% currently, which is a testament to how keen New Brunswick and Atlantic Canadian businesses are to invest in genomics.