Genomics-Based Forest Health Diagnostics and Monitoring
University of British Columbia
Research Funding Program:
Genome Canada 2010 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition
Canada’s natural, planted and urban forests are increasingly threatened by pests and pathogens. Globalization, climate change, increased human mobility, and pathogen and pest evolution have contributed to this problem. Forest disease causes annual losses of over 50 million m3 of merchantable volume in Canada, with a potential market value of over $2 billion. A prerequisite for efficient disease prevention and management is identification of infectious agents and their origin. However, current diagnosis is based primarily on visual examination, a considerable weakness given that many pathogens are transmitted in the absence of symptoms.
Researchers in this project aim to design DNA-based diagnostic assays for identification and monitoring of forest pathogens. Engaged end-users have already indicated an important role for the tool in disease diagnosis and pathogen detection, disease-free certification, and surveillance and monitoring. They will target pathogens regulated by quarantines in Canada or in key export nations, or that have been identified as a threat to Canada’s forests. The output of this research will be fully validated diagnostic tests for on-site use, or delivery as part of a high-throughput service offering to our end-users. The research team believes that the diagnostic tools developed could not only help end-users prevent introduction of invasive pathogens, but also assist the forest and nursery industries with plant and product certification, offering Canada’s corporations a competitive edge in the international forest sector.
A closely integrated social sciences and humanities component in the project will uncover and address risks associated with assay commercialization and adoption, and also examine the impact of regulation and policy on the introduction of genomics technologies to the existing forest management framework in Canada and abroad. Intended beneficiaries of the diagnostic tool include Canadian and international government departments responsible for forest protection, regulatory agencies, forest companies, and groups involved in sustainable forestry practices and conservation.
The research team anticipates this project will generate significant economic benefit from a reduction in losses to forest disease (estimated at $22M per 1% reduction annually), and from the sale of diagnostic assays and services (approximately $4M annually). The project will help to reaffirm Canada’s status as world leader in sustainable forest management, through innovative approaches that help transform and strengthen Canada’s forest industry, and provision of invaluable tools for protecting the environment and natural resources.