Vancouver, Canada — Metal pollution is a global issue often caused by activities such as mining and smelting operations, industrial production and use, and domestic and agricultural applications of metal-containing compounds. Water that flows through sites contaminated with metals can dissolve and transport toxic levels of metals such as copper, zinc, iron etc. into local waterways, which can be harmful to fish and fish habitat. While many stakeholders and governments cooperatively work to mitigate the harmful effects of metal contamination, more information is needed to understand the impacts of low levels of metals and metal mixtures on fish health and other aquatic species.
A collaboration between a proposed gold, copper, silver and molybdenum mine, the Seabridge Gold KSM project, and the Gitanyow Fisheries Authority (GFA) has presented an opportunity to apply ‘omic’ approaches to gain more information on the impact of heavy metals on aquatic ecosystems.
Funded by Genome BC and GFA, Dr. Vicki Marlatt at Simon Fraser University (SFU) is applying environmental DNA (eDNA) methods to more efficiently and economically monitor local fish populations in this future mine site. She is also working to develop other methods using protein analyses (proteomics) to enhance current fish health monitoring regimes with the goal of obtaining more comprehensive indicators of the harmful effects of low level metals and metal mixtures in fish.
The project team will develop and implement eDNA methods to detect the presence or absence of a fish species in the Nass Watershed. They will also determine whether eDNA methods can be a viable alternative to more costly, labour intensive visual or fish trapping surveys traditionally used to monitor fish species distributions.
“Not only does this project enable the validation of new genomic technologies, the plan is in place before the mine site is actually up and running” said Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President, Sectors at Genome BC. “This foresight will enable a much more comprehensive baseline, and ongoing analysis, as the Seabridge Gold project gets underway.”
This project will also contribute to a more thorough characterization of the baseline environmental and biological attributes of these surface waters prior to mining activity. This information will be invaluable for monitoring aquatic ecosystem health at this future mine site and further developing/applying new ‘omic’ methods once the mine is in operation.
This direct investment was made through Genome BC’s GeneSolve program, designed to bring industry and academia together to find solutions for sector challenges.