Project Search

sector_ico_Fisheries_trans Fisheries and Aquaculture

Genomic Ecological Microbial Source Tracking for Oceans Nature and the Environment (GEMSTONE)

  • Project Leaders: Natalie Prystajecky, Andrew Sheriff, Lorraine McIntyre, Nico Prins
  • Institutions: University of British Columbia (UBC)
  • Budget: $500000
  • Program/Competition: GeneSolve
  • Genome Centre(s): Genome British Columbia
  • Fiscal Year: 2023
  • Status: Active

Fecal pollution in marine waters can result in closures of shellfish farming areas and recreational beaches, leading to significant economic losses, foodborne outbreaks and reduced access to subsistence and ceremonial food for Indigenous communities. In 2016, a Norovirus outbreak associated with oysters resulted in more than 400 Canadians becoming sick and $9.1 million in losses for the shellfish industry. Currently, routine surveillance methods of marine waters are only capable of detecting general fecal contamination but cannot identify the source(s) (human vs. animal) nor the geographical origin(s) of fecal contaminants. Therefore, marine areas where shellfish are harvested often face extended closures due to pollution, yet there are limited ways available to pinpoint and address the pollution sources. Identifying the source of outbreaks would facilitate quicker cleanup and prevention of future incidents.

The Genomic Ecological Microbial Source Tracking for Ocean Nature and the Environment (GEMSTONE) team aims to develop and implement laboratory-based methods to monitor and identify fecal pollution sources in marine waters. The data generated from this two-year project will help make informed decisions about when to open or close shellfish harvesting areas and guide strategies to reduce the number of future contaminations. This evidence will also help decision-makers in the Pacific Regional Integrated Shellfish Committee and Environmental Health Policy Advisory Committee create long-term plans to reduce fecal pollution at marine shellfish harvest sites. Ultimately, this research will protect public health, reduce fecal contamination in the environment and improve access to shellfish harvesting waters.