News Release: Developing new genetic tools to fight superbugs

Published: February 4th 2019

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.


Contact: Charmaine Gaudet, Genome Atlantic, 902-488-7837