Genome British Columbia - Genome Genomics

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Harnessing microbial diversity for sustainable use of forest biomass resources

Project Leaders:
Lindsay Eltis, William Mohn

Involved Institution:
University of British Columbia

Research Funding Program:
Genome Canada 2010 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition

Canada’s forestry, chemical and energy industries, collectively worth ~$150 billion to our economy (~12% of GDP), must undergo a paradigm shift to remain competitive into the 21st century and beyond. Sustainably managed forest biomass can be a key driver in this by providing a source of biofuels, chemical feedstocks and other lignin-based products such as resins and carbon fibres. The potential economic benefit to Canada of a successful shift is very conservatively estimated at ~$1 billion/yr to the forestry industry alone. An essential component of this is ensuring sustainable management of forest resources. Moreover, the development of biocatalysts for conversion of lignocellulose will allow the industry to meet emerging economic and environmental imperatives.

This research programme will address these challenges by exploring soil microbial communities for the discovery and development of: (a) biocatalysts to improve the carbon efficiency and economics of production of lignocellulose-derived products; and (b) novel environmental genomic tools for assessing forest management practices.

The proposed program will have major economic, social and environmental benefits by helping to sustainably and economically unlock and exploit the considerable potential of Canadian forest biomass. More specifically, the technologies we seek to develop will significantly impact at least three major industries (forest products, chemical products and energy), while affecting several others (e.g., automotive). The forest products industry is one of Canada's largest contributors to GDP, but its role has diminished due to increasing competition from plantation forests in the Southern Hemisphere and Asia, demand from consumers for improved product quality and public demand for greater sustainability.

Overall, this research will result in products and means to maximize the sustainable, economically viable development of Canada’s forest resources.