Success stories

Shared priorities Agriculture Environment Fisheries Forestry Health

Shared priorities

In this section, you will find stories about how teamwork accelerates innovation and delivers results for Canadians.

  • Unique collaboration wins praise — and results

    The Genomics R&D Initiative funds collaborative research projects that combine resources and expertise to deliver impressive results. The Food and Water Safety project develops new genomics-based tools to detect food- and water-borne microbes in hours rather than days and with near-perfect accuracy. Early and accurate detection protects the health and safety of Canadians and means fewer costly food recalls. The Quarantine and Invasive Species project applies genomics against the threat of these species to better protect Canada's environment and multi-billion dollar agricultural trade.

Quarantine and Invasive Species project (2011-2016)

The Quarantine and Invasive Species project involved 29 scientists and their teams from six departments/agencies and 285 collaborators. It developed faster and more accurate ways to detect, identify and trace the origin of quarantine and invasive species. These species have the potential to cause millions of dollars in economic losses and irreversible environmental damage. The project's innovative DNA extraction protocols and extensive reference database of DNA barcodes improve regulatory/policy decisions to secure access to global markets and ease the regulatory burden for Canadian producers.

  • Advances in genomics technologies create opportunities—and some challenges

    A key to the successful outcomes of the Genomics R&D Initiative has been to ensure Canadian researchers have the tools they need to explore the almost infinite potential of genomics to enhance the health, safety and economic well-being of Canadians. Next-generation sequencing, for example, has enabled a dramatic reduction in the time and cost involved in DNA sequencing. Researchers of the Quarantine and Invasive Species project have used this technology to identify species. They have also developed the bioinformatics capacity needed to analyze the massive amounts of genetic data generated —an essential part of their new, rapid identification methods.

  • Using DNA bar codes to tell friend from foe

    As a result of the Quarantine and Invasive Species research project funded by the Genomics R&D Initiative, Canada now has the capacity to quickly and accurately identify thousands of organisms, from insects to plant viruses, which can cause billions of dollars in damages. Researchers extracted genetic material from specimens gathered in the field and the vast collections held by federal departments, assembling a huge database of DNA bar codes. Now, DNA can be collected from an unidentified species, compared to the DNA in the database and, in a matter of hours and with near-perfect accuracy, identify whether it is an invasive alien species or a harmless native—many of which can look remarkably alike, even under a microscope. As well as helping to keep these pests out of Canada, this capacity has already been used to assure trading partners such as India and Malaysia that shipments of yellow peas and soybeans from Canada are pest-free.

  • Accelerating innovation in Canada's fruit industry

    With funding from the Genomics R&D Initiative, researchers at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have demonstrated how genomics can increase the speed and lower the cost of innovation in Canada's fruit industry, a business worth more than $900 million annually. To enhance the variety and quality of their produce, Canadian growers often import new varieties of plants from other countries. These plants must be field-tested under tightly controlled conditions for as many as three growing seasons to ensure they are disease-free before they can be grown commercially. The scientists developed a genomics-based test that can detect a plant virus in a sample of a plant or the soil in which it is growing. This could reduce the time needed to clear an imported variety for commercial use to a few weeks or even less and reduce the cost of the approval process by as much as 90 percent.

  • Old DNA the foundation for new identification technologies

    With funding from the Genomics R&D Initiative, researchers at six federal departments have extracted DNA from thousands of specimens of a wide range of organisms collected over many decades. This capacity is essential to take advantage of the speed and accuracy of genomics-based testing to identify pests and pathogens that can endanger our health, safety and economy. Working with specimens of everything from plant viruses to finfish preserved in a variety of ways—some of which were close to 200 years old—the researchers experimented with a variety of techniques in order to determine the method that would deliver the most consistently high quality DNA from each type of specimen. Federal departments now use these best practices or Standard Operating Protocols. These protocols help to assure trading partners that our identification procedures are scientifically valid.

  • Tsunami shows invasive species travel in surprising ways

    Research funded through the Genomics R&D Initiative has confirmed that potentially invasive species can travel to Canada via sea-borne debris. In October 2013, a Japanese fishing boat—apparently a small part of the horrific impact of the tsunami that struck Japan two-and-a-half years earlier—washed up on Vancouver Island. Using new genomics-based testing methods and a DNA database, scientists quickly and positively identified several of the mussels clinging to the boat's hull as a species native to Korea. It can be very difficult to distinguish one species of mussel from another based on appearance alone—examining their DNA signature allows near-perfect accuracy. Although this Korean species is not a major threat, its rapid, accurate identification alerted authorities in Canada and the U.S. to yet another pathway that alien species may use to reach our shores.

  • Aphid database already at work for strawberry growers

    For every insect that can damage or destroy a food crop, there can be hundreds of others that look just like it. The ability to tell them apart quickly and accurately can be worth millions of dollars. Strawberry growers in Nova Scotia trying to deal with a destructive complex of viruses carried by aphids are already benefitting from research funded through the Genomics R&D Initiative. Many species of aphids can colonize strawberry plants, but only a few carry the virus complex. Using conventional methods, it can take a week or more to make a positive identification and by then, it may be too late to take action: the aphids may have spread to other fields and an entire year's crop lost. Now, using new, validated applications for next-generation sequencing and the extensive database of DNA sequences —both developed under the GRDI—aphids found in Nova Scotia strawberry fields can be identified with near-perfect accuracy in a matter of hours. Scientists use this information to help strawberry growers identify the aphids that could damage their crops, enabling fast response and timely management before the number of aphids start to climb and then move to other fields and continue to spread viruses.

  • Genomics reinforces value of historic collections

    Supported by the Genomics R&D Initiative, federal researchers have demonstrated how a specimen collected in the 19th century can have a 21st century application, helping to identify plant pests and pathogens quickly and accurately. Using traditional methods, it could take weeks to determine with any confidence whether something suspicious found in a shipment of grain, for example, was a damaging pest or a harmless species. A mistake could put Canada's trade in that commodity at risk, or allow an invasive species into Canada. The research team has extracted and catalogued DNA from thousands of specimens of pests and pathogens. This has given Canada the capacity to use new genomics-based technologies that enable fast, accurate identification of an organism—often in less than day—by comparing the DNA of the suspect organism against the DNA sequences of known organisms in the database.

Food and Water Safety project (2011-2016)

The Food and Water Safety project involved 53 scientists and their teams from six departments/agencies and 148 collaborators. It addressed risks from foodborne and waterborne bacteria estimated to cost Canada more than $12 billion annually. It developed an integrated federal system to manage massive amounts of genomic data and developed technology to reduce isolation-detection turnaround times from five days to less than eight hours for some pathogens of concern. This will significantly increase Canada's ability to respond to pathogen outbreaks in Canada's food production and water systems.

  • GRDI-funded research builds Canada's reputation as food safety leader

    The Genomics R&D Initiative investment in the Food and Water Safety research project has returned extensive benefits to Canadians, enhancing what is already one of the most respected food safety systems in the world. The unprecedented collaboration enabled by the GRDI—more than 50 researchers and their teams from six federal departments were involved—led to the development of genomics-based tools and techniques that provide food safety authorities with the means to detect and track the source of potentially deadly contaminants far faster and more effectively than ever before. Some processes that once took days can now be completed in hours. The project has attracted international attention, with officials in other countries expressing amazement at how Canada was able to assemble such a large and diverse team of researchers to work on shared priorities, and deliver such impressive results at a cost many times less than what other countries have invested in this type of research.

  • Bioinformatics: adding computational muscle to food and water safety

    Researchers working on the Food and Water Safety project funded by the Genomics R&D Initiative developed the bioinformatics capacity needed to ensure Canadians enjoy the full potential of genomics to enhance the safety of Canada's food supply. In 2008 for example, with Canada trying to trace the source of a deadly outbreak of listeriosis, it was possible to sequence virtually the entire genome of the Listeria bacteria, with millions of base pairs, in just three days. This level of detail allows unrivalled precision in identifying and tracking the source of a contaminant. Without bioinformatics, it would take months to interpret the data, leaving investigators to rely on an older, less accurate method to track the source of the contamination. Today, this bioinformatics capacity can analyze data almost in real time, adding an important new dimension to Canada's national network for foodborne disease surveillance.

  • Canadian innovation in food safety poised to hit commercial market

    With funding from the Genomics R&D Initiative, federal researchers have collaborated in reducing the time it takes to identify E. coli O157: H7 in food to as little as 20 minutes. Initial research led to the development of a genomics-based test that cut the time needed to detect the potentially deadly bacteria in a sample of food from several days to less than one day, enabling much faster response to incidents of food contamination. Then, scientists took it a step further and developed an automated version of the test, allowing identification of the bacteria in less than half an hour, enabling even faster response times. The testing device has been patented and licensed to a Canadian company with plans to market it internationally.

  • Genomics brings new precision to identifying, characterizing, and tracking threats to food and water safety

    New knowledge and tools developed through the Food and Water Safety project funded by the Genomics R&D Initiative will enable Canada to better address some of the most serious threats to our food and water supply—E. coli and Salmonella Enteritidis—including the capacity to identify different strains of these bacteria quickly and with high confidence. Accurate identification is essential. For example, it can be very challenging to distinguish quickly a harmless strain of E. coli from a potentially deadly variety—and an error in either direction could have significant consequences. As part of this project, a team of scientists completed whole genome sequencing of hundreds of isolates of the toxic forms of E. coli, as well as SalmonellaEnteritidis bacteria collected from across Canada. These detailed genetic blueprints give Canada the ability to identify different strains of these bacteria with exceptional accuracy and speed.

  • Chasing E. coli: genomics research tracks dangerous contamination to the source

    Among other achievements, the Food and Water Safety project funded by the Genomics R&D Initiative has provided a first-ever national perspective on where to find potentially deadly strains of E. coli in our environment. Researchers collected and tested water samples from hundreds of watersheds and marine areas across the country, noting land use and other environmental conditions in sampling areas. By increasing the understanding of where a contaminant such as E. coli 0157:H7 is likely to enter the water, the research will enable more meaningful risk assessments and more effective risk management. Another team of scientists sequenced the DNA of the samples, enabling precise identification of various strains of E. coli, further enhancing capacity to track the source of a contaminant.

  • GRDI supports multi-department effort to strengthen food and water safety

    Funding from the Genomics R&D Initiative allowed some 50 researchers from six federal departments to work together on an unprecedented scale to enhance food safety in Canada. The five-year Food and Water Safety research project showed how such interdepartmental collaboration could be a cost-effective vehicle to deliver impressive results. Among other achievements, researchers reduced the time required to isolate a contaminant such as E. coli in food from a week to less than a day. There is now an extensive database holding the genetic signatures of thousands of known contaminants, and the bioinformatics capacity needed to use the database. Together, these achievements will support faster identification and response to the source of food contamination, and provide a foundation for future research and policy development, including measures to reduce the risk of contaminants entering the food chain in the first place.

Agriculture

  • Genomics research offers new way to protect Canada's agricultural exports

    With the support of funding from the Genomics R&D Initiative, scientists have refined an existing DNA bar code test, providing a highly accurate way to distinguish quarantine insect species from similar-looking but harmless species. This helps to ensure Canadian agricultural exports are not refused unnecessarily, and invasive species do not enter Canada by mistake. DNA bar coding involves comparing specific sections of DNA where differences among species have been shown to exist. It is fast and accurate, but not perfect—different populations of the same species can have slightly different DNA. To make sure the right sections of DNA were being used for species of concern, the scientists compared the DNA of more than 200 populations of insects from 57 different species in 24 different countries. To further ensure accuracy, they have developed three tests, using different DNA sequences for each of three groups of closely related species.

  • Oatmeal is good for you—technology is helping to make it even better

    Canada is the world's largest exporter of oats and participation funded by the Genomics R&D Initiative in an international research project will help to ensure it can maintain this position. Despite the widely recognized health benefits of oats, progress toward varieties with more heart-healthy fibre and antioxidants has been slow. The oat genome is large and complex, making it difficult and expensive to apply the marker-assisted breeding techniques used with other crops. Co-led by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the project succeeded in applying a relatively new technology called genotyping-by-sequencing to support marker-assisted breeding in oats. Now, instead of having only a handful of genetic markers to work with, oat breeders have a test that identifies tens of thousands of markers, at a cost of just $20 per variety. The project also developed the bioinformatics needed to analyse the DNA sequences, enabling breeders to select crosses with a much higher probability of success.

  • Taking the guesswork out of breeding disease-resistant wheat

    The Genomics R&D Initiative has funded research that promises to accelerate the development of varieties of wheat that are resistant to fusarium head blight, a disease that renders wheat unfit for consumption by humans or animals.The infection is spreading to ever-larger areas of major wheat-growing countries around the world, including Canada. While some varieties of wheat show resistance to the disease, none are suitable for food production. They can be used as breeding stock, but it can take as long as 15 years to determine whether a new variety has potential as a commercial crop. Now, with the capacity to conduct genomics research, scientists have identified several specific elements of the wheat genome that appear to play a role in disease resistance. Combined with gene marker-assisted breeding techniques also developed through GRDI-funded research, the breeding process can be better targeted toward disease resistance, and the commercial potential of a new variety determined in as little as five years.

  • Canadian genomic research furthers quest for plants that make their own fertilizer

    With support from the Genomics R&D Initiative, researchers are edging closer to understanding how some plants can feed themselves, obtain the nitrogen they need from the air, and potentially transferring that ability to other food crops. While modern agriculture would not be possible without fertilizer containing nitrogen, it is expensive, not very efficient, and its production and use have significant environmental impacts. Scientists are searching for the genetic mechanism that allows a few families of plants, such as peas and soybeans, to get nitrogen from the atmosphere. When they sense there is not enough nitrogen in the soil, these plants allow certain bacteria to enter their root cells. It is the bacteria that fix the nitrogen from the air so it can be used by the plant. The team has identified parts of the plant's genetic apparatus that allow friendly bacterial to enter root cells. It has also identified a gene that initiates the process by which root cells change to accommodate the friendly bacteria. This is similar to the way many other plants interact with a fungus to obtain the phosphate they need—offering hope that the genetic ability to obtain atmospheric nitrogen may be transferrable.

  • Genetic discoveries open door to better control of costly soybean disease

    Research funded through the Genomics R&D Initiative is helping soybean growers minimize the chances their crops will be damaged by soybean root rot. The fungus is estimated to cost Canadian soybean growers alone as much $50 million a year, with losses worldwide of some $2 billion annually. Research focuses on identifying which genes in the soybean provide resistance to different strains of the pathogen that causes the disease. Based on these findings, a series of genetic diagnostic tests is being developed that will enable rapid identification of different strains of the pathogen in the soil, allowing growers to plant soybean cultivars with the genes most likely to provide resistance to those strains of the pathogen. The team has benefitted from and contributed to genomics-based soybean research in other countries. This valuable collaboration would not have been possible without GRDI funding, which enabled federal scientists to develop the genomics capacity needed to participate.

  • Canada part of international effort to protect global wheat crop

    Research funded by the Genomics R&D Initiative is playing a key part in the international effort to protect one of the world's most important food crops from the growing threat of fusarium head blight. The disease attacks wheat, leaving behind a number of mycotoxins that can cause serious illness in people or animals who consume food or feed made from infected wheat. Beyond its impact on the food supply, it is estimated the disease has cost Canadian wheat producers alone more than $1.5 billion in lost income since the mid-1990s. A research team has helped to identify and position many novel genes that are part of the genome of the fungus that causes fusarium head blight. Thanks in part to this work, the international research community now has access to the most complete and accurate sequencing of the genome, an essential prerequisite to understanding how the disease infects the plant. The team has also identified specific genes the fungus uses to produce a number of different mycotoxins, as well as when and under what conditions they are produced.

  • Genomics helps ease regulatory burden for Canadian soybean growers

    Canadian soybean growers owe some thanks to the Genomics R&D Initiative for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) decision to lift regulations aimed at preventing the spread of soybean cyst nematode. Despites the regulations, which included things like requiring growers to clean machinery immediately after moving it from a field where the microscopic worm had been detected, the nematode continued to spread in soybean production areas. Once established, it is difficult to control. But when it is detected at the earliest stages of infestation, damage can be limited through careful and innovative management. A team at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada developed a new genomics-based test that is both faster and more precise than the traditional method of using a microscope to look for adult nematodes in the soil. The new test detects the worm's genetic material in a soil sample, allowing nematodes to be identified quickly, in any quantity and at any stage of development, from egg to adult. With the capacity to detect nematodes at the earliest stage of infestation, the CFIA dropped the regulations and determined growers can implement measures to manage their production effectively without the need for regulatory controls.

  • Protecting PEI potatoes

    Genomics research capacity developed with funding from the Genomics R&D Initiative played a key role in protecting Prince Edward Island's potato industry after potato wart disease was detected there in 2000, leading the U.S. to impose an immediate ban on potatoes from PEI. In an attempt to prove the discovery was an isolated occurrence, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency began the time-consuming process of examining hundreds of thousands of soil samples from PEI farms under the microscope, the only test available at the time. Looking for a better approach, researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada developed a new genomics-based test through GRDI-supported research, allowing a soil sample to be tested in hours instead of days. The U.S. accepted the findings of the new test—that the fungus was confined to just one small section of one farm—and agreed to lift the ban, months earlier than might otherwise have been possible. The test also played a key part in pre-empting a possible ban when potato wart was detected in two other fields in PEI in 2012. Since then, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has adopted the Canadian method as its own standard test for potato wart.

  • Yellow peas: a case of mistaken identity

    Research funded through the Genomics R&D Initiative is helping to protect millions of dollars in profits on Canada's yellow pea exports to India. Since 2004, when the damaging nematode D. dipsaci was detected in a load of Canadian yellow peas, India has required every shipment from Canada to be inspected for the presence of the microscopic worm. If it were found, the shipment would have to be fumigated at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Thanks to genomics-based testing developed under the GRDI, Canada has been able to demonstrate that the nematode identified in Canadian peas in 2004 and many times since as D. dipsaciwas in fact a harmless but virtually identical relative, D. weischeri.

Environment

  • Applying toxicogenomics to new and emerging environmental issues

    A research project funded by the Genomics R&D Initiative at Environment and Climate Change Canada is showing how genomics can enable precise identification of the causes of environmental problems. Already, the city of Montreal has used this research to support its decision to invest $250 million in an ozone-treatment system for wastewater. Even treated wastewater can contain thousands of bacteria, viruses, pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals. Using traditional methods, it is very difficult to determine which of those may be responsible for a specific problem found downstream of the treatment outlet. The researchers have demonstrated that, with toxicogenomics—the study of how an organism's genetic information responds to a toxin—it is possible to pinpoint exactly which toxins are causing the problem. The same techniques are being used to determine the extent to which oil sands development may be adding to natural toxicity from the bitumen that has been leaching into the ecosystem for thousands of years.

  • Fecal forensics track sources of water contamination

    Research funded by the Genomics R&D Initiative is transforming the way municipalities in Canada and around the world manage water safety at public beaches, often increasing effectiveness while reducing costs. For decades, towns and cities have checked swimming areas for fecal bacteria contamination by testing for E. coli. If the E. coli level was too high, the beach would be closed to swimming. It was usually assumed the fecal contamination was sewage overflow or pet droppings washed into the waterway after heavy rain. Using new genomics-based test methods, researchers at Environment and Climate Change Canada discovered that E. coli in water samples from beaches often matched the DNA fingerprint of E. coli from seagulls and Canada geese—not sewage or pet droppings. Now that the source of contamination can be identified with confidence, municipalities can better target mitigation measures. In Ottawa, for example, rather than investing in an expensive renovation of its sewage system, the city has installed overhead wires at some beaches to discourage gulls and geese. The research findings have generated interest from cities around the world.

  • Protecting biodiversity through understanding amphibian diseases

    Genomics-based test methods developed as part of a project funded by the Genomics R&D Initiative at Environment and Climate Change Canada are allowing more accurate, efficient, and sustainable tracking of diseases that threaten Canada's frog populations—diseases that have been responsible for large die-offs of frogs in Canada and other countries. While previous methods of testing for infection usually meant the animal was sacrificed, the new technique is non-invasive—a swab of the amphibian's skin is taken, and then tested for genetic markers of the disease. This is especially important from a conservation perspective, since a number of species of frogs in Canada are already listed as endangered. The genetic information being collected may lead to new ways to protect native frogs by, for example, explaining why the virulence of a specific infection can vary significantly among different populations of the same species.

Fisheries and oceans

  • Revealing new discoveries of Canada's redfish

    Based on research funded by the Genomics R&D Initiative, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is re-examining its approach to managing redfish stocks off Canada's east coast. Genetic markers identified by the scientists revealed that the Atlantic fishery includes not one, but two distinct species of redfish. Although very similar in appearance, the two species (the Acadian redfish and the deepwater redfish) are different populations that frequent different depths and regions of the Northwest Atlantic. By enabling a precise way to distinguish the two species, the research has enabled a greater understanding of redfish stock structure and contributes to more informed management strategies. For examples, it played a role in the 2010 decision by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada to classify the Northwest Atlantic population of deepwater redfish as 'threatened'.

  • Shaping the Management of Northern Dolly Varden Charr

    With support from the Genomics R&D Initiative, genomics research conducted at Fisheries and Oceans Canada has allowed for the re-opening of an important fishing ground for Indigenous people in Canada's North. The northern Dolly Varden charr is an important part of the diet, traditions and culture of the Inuvialuit and Gwich'in peoples in northern Canada. The species exists in six small populations and is particularly sensitive to habitat change and other stresses. In recent years, two of the populations dropped to critical levels, leading to fishing bans in some areas. However, with little understanding of how different populations mixed with one another, it was difficult to judge whether the bans were effective. The scientists identified genetic markers that provide an accurate way to differentiate fish from different populations, allowing more accurate assessments of the size of each population. Management actions by Fisheries and Oceans Canada are better informed and evaluated—already allowing for the re-opening of one local fishery that had been shut down for more than 10 years.

Forestry

  • Cutting tree breeding down to size

    A research project funded by the Genomics R&D Initiative at Natural Resources Canada has developed novel methods that will revolutionize tree breeding. Among other management measures, Canada's forest industry plants some 650 million trees every year.These trees are bred for strong growth, resistance to disease, adaptation to climate, and desirable wood characteristics. Unfortunately, tree-breeding is a slow process—it can be 20 years or more before a tree reveals whether it has the hoped-for traits. The scientists are studying the genomes of mature trees to identify genetic markers associated with the most desirable characteristics. This enables breeders to select trees at a very early stage, based on their genetic make-up, rather than waiting decades to see which specimens have the characteristics they want.

  • DNA-based test helps protect Canadian forests

    With funding from the Genomics R&D Initiative, researchers at Natural Resources Canada were able to develop a new, DNA-based test for Sudden Oak Death, a fungus-like disease that has killed a wide variety of trees and plants in California and Oregon.In an effort to keep the disease from gaining a foothold in this country, Canada restricts imports of plants from areas where the disease has been found. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) also checks plants in garden centres for Sudden Oak Death, testing leaf and soil samples for early signs of the disease. In the past, a garden centre could be quarantined for a month waiting for results of a test. The test developed by the GRDI is far more accurate, and is done in 24 hours. In use by the CFIA for several years, the new test has been adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other countries are considering it as well.

  • Genomics saves money, time and trees — and creates a new business

    The capacity to conduct genomics research, delivered through the Genomics R&D Initiative, enabled researchers at Natural Resources Canada to accelerate approval of a new biocontrol agent needed to address a growing infestation of balsam sawfly threatening commercially important forests in western Newfoundland. The scientists knew of a naturally occurring virus that would attack only the balsam sawfly, but approval could take many years. Using genomics, the researchers showed that, genetically, their virus was largely similar to another virus already approved for use against another species of sawfly. As a result, many tests and trials did not have to be repeated—the virus was approved years earlier and at far less cost than would have been possible otherwise. Subsequently, a New Brunswick entrepreneur obtained a commercial license for the virus, and started a company to produce and market the biocontrol agent around the world.

Health

  • Genomics research to better manage risk of Listeria

    Research funded by the Genomics R&D Initiative will help to reduce the risk posed by listeriosis—the foodborne illness responsible for the deaths of 24 Canadians during an outbreak in 2008. With any foodborne illness, the earlier the source of contamination is identified, the sooner action can be taken to limit the spread of the infection. Researchers at Health Canada identified genetic markers to differentiate among hundreds of different strains of Listeria, the bacteria that causes the disease. The project includes developing an automated test, so investigators can determine quickly whether Listeria collected in one place is the same strain as Listeria collected somewhere else—a key to figuring out the source of contamination. The researchers also found that the same markers can be used to determine the resistance of different strains of the bacteria to different types of sanitizers—information that will help food processors ensure their sanitation procedures are as effective as possible.

  • Health Canada researchers leading the way to safer stem cell treatments

    Research funded through the Genomics R&D Initiative is helping to overcome a major hurdle on the way to realizing the huge potential of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to treat a wide range of ailments. MSCs have a unique ability to help other types of stem cells repair damaged tissue but, like all stem cells, they also have the potential to mutate and become cancerous. And, just as they help other stem cells make repairs, they can also help cancerous stem cells grow more cancer. With a team of international collaborators, researchers at Health Canada have identified a series of protein and gene changes that indicate whether a particular MSC has a high probability of becoming cancerous. Based on these findings, the researchers are now focused on developing a rapid test platform clinicians could use to screen MSCs to ensure their safety prior to use in treatment.

  • Immunotoxicogenomics: big word—big potential

    With funding provided through the Genomics R&D Initiative, researchers at Health Canada are using genomics technologies to study how exposure to certain chemicals can cause people to develop an allergy to something that has never bothered them before. The relatively new field of immunotoxicogenomics involves identifying changes to gene expression in immune cells when different chemicals are introduced. Using chemicals known to cause changes in immune responses, the researchers are looking for a link between the changes they see in immune cells when a particular chemical is introduced, and the physical manifestations observed when animals are exposed to the same chemical. It is believed that, eventually, these methods could help reduce the incidence of new allergies—testing proposed new food additives, for example. As an added benefit, immunotoxicogenomics has the potential to significantly reduce the need for using animals in testing the safety of chemicals.

  • Canadian researchers leading development of better, faster, less costly ways to test safety of chemicals

    Research made possible by the Genomics R&D Initiative has enabled Canadian researchers to place themselves among the leaders of a revolution in regulatory toxicology—the science behind the regulations that help to ensure everything from the medicines we take to the air we breathe is as safe as possible. Traditionally, toxicity has been studied by dosing laboratory animals with a chemical—usually much more than would ever be encountered in daily life—and watching for the effects. It is a slow, expensive and somewhat inexact process. At Health Canada, researchers are showing how toxicogenomics can bring unrivalled precision and speed to regulatory toxicology, allowing researchers to see how different amounts of a chemical affect cells at the molecular level—and not only what the chemical does, but how it does it, all while reducing the need for animal testing. Their efforts have earned Canada a place on a prestigious international committee developing global strategies for toxicogenomics in regulatory policy.

  • Canadians win international recognition with new HIV test

    Canadian researchers, supported by the Genomics R&D Initiative, have developed a faster and more effective test for drug resistance in HIV—an achievement recognized as a significant contribution to the global effort to eradicate AIDS. Detecting and responding to drug resistance in HIV at an early stage is critical, lest a drug resistant variety become established in a population, setting off a new epidemic of untreatable HIV. Conventional testing for HIV drug resistance involves freezing a blood sample and delivering it to a specialized lab for analysis. This is a particular challenge in sub-Saharan Africa, where testing facilities are limited, and transportation and refrigeration can be unreliable. The DNA-based test developed by researchers at the Public Health Agency of Canada requires no refrigeration, can analyze dozens of samples at once, and detects mutations in the virus that indicate drug resistance at a much earlier stage. The new test is already being rolled out in Africa and other parts of the world.

  • Salmonella: genomics investment leads to faster, more accurate identification

    Funding from the Genomics R&D Initiative played a key role in enabling the development of new, genomics-based test that significantly reduces the time and cost involved in tracking the source of Salmonella contamination in the food supply. Using the traditional method, which involves animal testing, it takes four days to identify the type of Salmonella found in a sample of food—knowing the type is key to tracking the source of the contamination—and the test can be done by only a handful of specially equipped labs. Developed by researchers at the Public Health Agency of Canada in collaboration with colleagues in the U.K. and Austria, the new test identifies the Salmonella type in less than a day. Already accredited by the International Organization for Standardization, the new test can be done by almost any lab at minimal cost, so it's also ideal for routine surveillance for Salmonella at food processing plants.

  • Stage is set for breakthrough in food safety

    Funding from the Genomics R&D Initiative has supported the development of a genomics-based tool that will enhance the ability of food safety investigators to track the source of one of the most common causes of food poisoning in Canada: campylobacter, which sickens as many as 400,000 Canadians a year. Although it is incredibly common, finding the source of an incident of campylobacter contamination has been almost impossible, because there was no way to identify specific strains of the bacteria—until now. Researchers at the Public Health Agency of Canada have identified a set of genes in the bacteria that acts like a fingerprint for a particular strain. Using this so-called "DNA bar-code," food safety investigators will be able to identify a specific strain of campylobacter in a matter of hours, and in turn, quickly and accurately identify and address the source of the contamination.