December 16, 2013
$2 million allocated for seven new genomics-driven projects
Vancouver, BC – Seven new innovative research projects have been funded through Genome BC’s Strategic Opportunities Fund (SOF). The SOF program, with funding provided by Genome BC and several partners, aims to catalyze new projects and initiatives of strategic importance to BC’s economic sectors. These investments are increasingly recognized for providing foundational research and the projects provide an important basis for future research.
Environmental monitoring is an area in which genomics is positioned to make significant impacts. Bullfrogs are an important sentinel species and very good indicators of environmental health. They can be used as ‘bioindicators’ for monitoring the health of an environment or ecosystem and alert us to the presence of different pollutants before other elements in the ecosystem begin to show signs of an environmental toxin.
However we don’t know much about the bullfrog at the molecular level and there is an emerging need to understand the changes in their DNA when they are exposed to pollutants. Enter Dr. Inanc Birol with the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre and Dr. Caren Helbing at the University of Victoria. Their project – A leap in technology: Frog reference genome assembly and annotation – aims to sequence and assemble the genome and transcriptome of the bullfrog. Frogs are particularly disposed to provide a very sensitive and effective biological sensor because they require suitable habitat in both the terrestrial and aquatic environments, and have permeable skin that can easily absorb toxic chemicals.
These traits make frogs particularly susceptible to environmental disturbances, and thus frogs are considered accurate indicators of environmental stress: the health of frogs is thought to be indicative of the health of the biosphere as a whole. They also act as a nutrient source in the ecosystem and a food source for other animals so impacts on frogs have far-reaching effects.
The first step in developing tools to use bullfrogs as effective bioindicators requires the blueprint of their genome. By building this reference genome this project offers a foundation on which to develop genomic tools to monitor the bullfrog, and other sentinel species.
The SOF program has a total investment of $11.5 million to date. The initial investment of $5.5 million from Genome BC, has been leveraged to bring in another $6 million in co-funding from partners. Genome BC does not provide grants, rather it hosts funding competitions where proposals are internationally peer-reviewed and only the highest rated proposals will receive investments. “Genome BC continues to look for projects that will generate a basis for further research as well as translational projects that have direct impacts for British Columbians,” says Dr. Alan Winter, President and CEO of Genome BC. “The dollars that we invest are always leveraged to attract more dollars and expertise to our province.”
Other projects funded in this round include:
- Bioinformatic identification of tumour-specific targets led by Steve Jones & John Babcook of the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre & The Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD) respectively,
- Mining for treatable intellectual disabilities led by Clara van Karnebeek & Wyeth Wasserman of the UBC Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics,
- A test for triage oral precancer led by Catherine Poh & Aly Karsan of the BC Cancer Agency,
- Metabolic engineering for new medicines led by Katherine Ryan of the BC Centre for Disease Control,
- Single virus genomics led by UBC’s Curtis Suttle, and
- New cancer imaging agents led by David Perrin also from UBC.