The CFIA Chronicle

Edition 2 – July 2017

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BioSAFE Project Uses Genetic Blueprints to Study Forest Enemies

BioSAFE Project Uses Genetic Blueprints to Study Forest Enemies

Canada is the largest forest product exporter in the world, exporting $33 billion dollars of products to about 175 different countries annually. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is teaming up with Natural Resources Canada and FPInnovations to decode the genomes of insects and pathogens that threaten Canada's thriving forest export industry through a new project called BioSurveillance of Alien Forest Enemies (BioSAFE).

Funding for the project was awarded through Genome Canada's 2015 Natural Resources and the Environment: Sectors Challenges – Genomic Solutions competition. BioSAFE research is a proactive investment against the potentially devastating financial and environmental effects of forest enemies.

Invasive insects and pathogens lead to an estimated $800 million per year in damages.

Understanding the genetic basis of invasive species and diseases is essential for developing new tools to detect and combat these forest enemies. BioSAFE will use genomics —the study of organisms' DNA, to better understand the threats these enemies pose to forest health, industry and the environment.

CFIA Chief Science Operating Officer, Cameron Duff, along with Dr. Richard Hamelin of the University of British Columbia and Dr. Ilga Porth of Laval University, will lead a team of scientists on the $8.6-million project. The team will be developing a new suite of analytical tools that can test a sample, like an insect egg or larvae, and based on DNA, identify if the sample is an invasive pest within hours.

The tools will be used to detect four of the most damaging invasive forest pests and diseases, including:

  • Asian long-horned beetle
  • Dutch elm disease
  • Sudden oak death
  • Asian gypsy moth

Monitoring invasive species is a challenge because it can be difficult to pinpoint their origin as well as where and how they spread. When assessing epidemics, scientists are racing against the clock to identify how species spread and how to eradicate or control the problem.

Canada's 347-million hectare forest lands are vulnerable to these quick-spreading insects and diseases, with over 20 million hectares of Canadian forests suffering from damages.

Affected trees yield fewer products and threaten export opportunities. The CFIA restricts the entry of products containing dangerous insects and diseases, as do governments in other countries.

The project has major positive implications for both the environment and trade. It's anticipated that the tools will significantly cut down on the time required to analyze import and export shipments of plants and forestry products, reducing delays and cost for both industry and inspecting authorities.

"By joining forces with experts from academia and our federal, provincial and territorial government counterparts to design and implement this technology, we are also developing an integrated network to better protect Canada's forests and natural environment," says Cameron Duff, Chief Science Operating Officer, at the CFIA.

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Did You Know?

Our scientists monitor the health of domestic and wild animals by testing over 400,000 samples every year.

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