Forests are a crucial part of Canada’s cultural, social and economic fabric. Their fibre powers the forest industry, generating jobs and wealth. They play a key environmental role, cleaning our air and water, storing carbon and providing habitat to wildlife. Invasive alien species and diseases, though, such as the Asian longhorned beetle, Dutch elm disease, sudden oak death and Asian gypsy moth, threaten our forests. They cause potentially irreversible damage to both the natural and urban environments and cost an estimated $800 million a year.
Most of these threats are not native to Canada, but arrive through the imported goods pathway. The best way to fight them is to detect them as early as possible through biosurveillance, so they can be eliminated before they establish themselves. Dr. Richard Hamelin of the University of British Columbia and his team are harnessing the power of genome sequencing and bioinformatics analysis to develop a new suite of tools to rapidly and accurately detect these four detrimental forest enemies. Their work will enable forest health professionals to track and determine the source of these threats, enabling the development of measures to prevent further invasions.
Dr. Hamelin’s team’s work will generate economic impacts of at least $800 million annually by protecting Canada’s forest resources and up to $2.2 billion by maintaining export markets.