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Combatting Invasive Alien Species: Groundbreaking research taking charge of intrusive pests and pathogens

Vancouver, BC – Outbreaks of insects and plant pathogens are threatening Canada’s capacity to provide long-term fibre supply, which is vital to our annual $33-billion forest export industry: Canadian wood products could be rejected on the global market if severe outbreaks were to occur. These invasive alien species also menace the important ecosystem services provided by forests that including carbon storage, nutrient cycling, water and air purification, soil preservation and maintenance of wildlife habitat.

As people gather today at the Premier’s Natural Resource Forum in Prince George, forestry is a major topic of discussion: BC contains vast and diverse forests and rangelands and almost 60% (55 million hectares) of BC′s 95 million hectares is classified as forest land. Forest products also account for 30% of BC′s total exports. The number of new introductions and interceptions of Forest Invasive Alien Species is escalating at an alarming rate and the key to reducing this risk is via vigilant biosurveillance to increase preparedness and facilitate early interventions. Biosurveillance is a process of gathering, integrating, interpreting and communicating essential information that might relate to disease activity and threats to plant, animal or human health.

Funded in part by Genome BC, Dr. Richard Hamelin of the University of British Columbia, Cameron Duff of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Dr. Ilga Porth of Laval University will lead a team of scientists to harness the power of biosurveillance by decoding the genomes of some of the most threatening invasive species and developing a new suite of tools to rapidly and accurately detect these detrimental forest enemies and assess the risk they pose. Their BioSurveillance of Alien Forest Enemies (BioSAFE) project, valued at $8.6-million, will enable forest health professionals to track and identify the source of these threats and use a decision-support tool to predict the risk of an outbreak and weigh management and mitigation options. Their work will be directly translated by partnering with the three most important national organizations mandated to protect Canada’s forests: the CFIA, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and FPInnovations. This will ensure that the tools developed will be implemented and deployed operationally.

“One of the challenges is that invasive species can arrive by various pathways including on wood products and live plants, through global transport pathways and by natural dispersal across borders. Asian long horned beetle, Asian gypsy moth, Dutch elm disease and sudden oak death are examples of threats that are not native to Canada, but can cause irreversible damage to both the natural and urban forests and environments,” says Dr. Hamelin, Professor, Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences. “The best way to fight them is through early detection via biosurveillance so they can be eliminated before they become established.”

There are numerous challenges facing professionals who work on preventing the introduction of invasive species. Real-time assessment presents a significant challenge because of the diversity of pests and pathogens that professionals have to contend with and the lack of knowledge about the origin and history of traded goods.

"The integration of this technology to complement our diagnostic toolbox will not only lead to more
rapid and accurate species identification, but also improved risk assessment and targeted biosurveillance activities for us and our partners," says Cameron Duff, Executive Director of Plant Health Science at CFIA. "By joining forces with experts from academia and our federal, provincial and territorial government counterparts on the design and implementation of this technology, we are also developing an integrated network to better protect Canada's forests and natural environment."

“This pioneering approach takes full advantage of the remarkable technological advances in genomics
and data science to speed up and improve decision-making to inform mitigation and management of
invasive species, says Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President, Sector
Development at Genome BC. “The partnership with CFIA, NRCan and FPInnovations means that this
research will move out of the laboratory to where it is most needed.”

This project, which builds on past investments by Genome Canada, Genome BC and Genome Quebec
will generate benefits by enabling the maintenance of our export market access and by cost avoidance
or cost minimization of up to hundreds of millions of dollars annually arising from direct and indirect
economic, social and ecological impacts of protecting our national assets against invasive alien species.

This research will enhance Canada’s capacity and preparedness in prevention and mitigation of forest
invasive species incursions by better informing pest risk assessment and management options. The
project was awarded through Genome Canada’s 2015 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition
Natural Resources and the Environment: Sector Challenges – Genomic Solutions. Funders of this work
include Genome Canada, Genome BC, Genome Quebec, CFIA and NRCan.

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About Genome British Columbia:
Genome British Columbia leads genomics innovation on Canada’s West Coast and facilitates the
integration of genomics into society. A recognized catalyst for government and industry, Genome BC
invests in research, entrepreneurship and commercialization in life sciences to address challenges in key
sectors such as health, forestry, fisheries, aquaculture, agri-food, energy, mining and environment.
Genome BC partners with many national and international public and private funding organizations to
drive BC’s bioeconomy. In addition to research, entrepreneurship and commercialization programs,
Genome BC is committed to fostering an understanding and appreciation of the life sciences among
teachers, students and the general public.
www.genomebc.ca

Contact:
Jennifer Boon
Communications Manager, Sectors
Genome BC
Mobile: 778-327-8374
Email: jboon@genomebc.ca
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