Canada's contribution to the global effort to map the genomes of complex life on Earth

·4 min read

VANCOUVER, BC, Jan. 19, 2022 /CNW/ - The health of the communities we live in relies on well functioning ecosystems that provide clean air, fresh water, medicines and food security. They also limit disease and help stabilize the climate. Typically, the greater variety or the more 'biodiversity' of plants, animals and other living things will positively impact that ecosystem's ability to thrive.

Genome British Columbia Logo (CNW Group/Genome British Columbia)
Genome British Columbia Logo (CNW Group/Genome British Columbia)

However, biodiversity loss is happening at unprecedented rates, impacting human health worldwide. Earth is forecast to lose 50% of its biodiversity by the end of this century without action to curb climate change and protect the health of global ecosystems. The Global Risks Report 2021 from the World Economic Forum ranked biodiversity loss as one of the top five threats confronting humanity.

The Earth BioGenome Project is a global effort to map the genomes of all plants, animals, fungi and other microbial life on Earth. Powerful advances in genome sequencing technology, informatics, automation, and artificial intelligence have propelled humankind to the threshold of a new beginning in understanding, utilizing, and conserving biodiversity. For the first time in history, it is possible to efficiently sequence the genomes of all known species, and to use genomics to help discover the remaining 80 to 90 percent of species that are currently hidden from science.

Canada possesses significant biodiversity, having approximately 80,000 plant and animal species in environments ranging from desert to the arctic. British Columbia is home to thousands of species and ecosystems, and some of these are at risk of disappearing from our province due to rapid changes in climate and other human-led impacts on our environment.

One of Canada's contributions to this global initiative includes the Canadian BioGenome Project, an initiative funded in partnership with Genome British Columbia through Genome Canada's 2020 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition: Genomic Solutions for Natural Resources and the Environment.

Dr. Steven Jones, Co-Director and Head of Bioinformatics for Canada's Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre and Dr. Maribeth Murray, Director of the Arctic Institute of North America at the University of Calgary are leading a collaborative effort between scientists, Indigenous peoples and conservation groups, to embark on the task of determining the genetic diversity of Canada's plants and animals through genomic sequencing.

The project is seeking to identify approximately 400 species that would benefit from a fully sequenced genome. The species are being selected based on existing and established priorities of Indigenous peoples, federal and provincial organizations, academic scientists and other conservation and wildlife groups.

Through a case study approach, the team is also working with partners to establish priorities for genomics tools development, policy recommendations for the use of genomics to maintain biodiversity and support conservation and management, and a user-friendly platform of genomics data and information specific to a particular location. The data generated will also be freely available to scientists in Canada and worldwide.

"Sequencing the genomes of Canada's plants and animals is a massive proposition that requires significant scientific collaboration—one with enormous benefits not only for better understanding the evolution of life itself but in uncovering fundamental genetic principles of health and disease, for individuals and populations," says Dr. Steven Jones.

"Genome BC recognizes the urgent need to develop and accelerate the implementation of technological innovation to monitor and protect our rapidly changing environment," says Dr. Federica Di Palma, Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President, Sectors and International Scientific Chair of the Global Earth BioGenome Project. "Applications of this data are real-time, and it builds on our strengths in genome sequencing in this province."

The Earth BioGenome Project announced this week that it is entering a new phase as it moves from pilot projects to full scale production sequencing. This new phase is marked with a collection of papers published this week in Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, describing the project's goals, achievements to date and next steps. To learn more about Earth BioGenome Project visit earthbiogenome.org.

About Genome British Columbia:

Genome BC is a not-for-profit organization supporting world-class genomics research and innovation to grow globally competitive life sciences sectors and deliver sustainable benefits for British Columbia, Canada and beyond. The organization's initiatives are improving the lives of British Columbians by advancing health care in addition to addressing environmental and natural resource challenges. In addition to scientific programming, Genome BC works to integrate genomics into society by supporting responsible research and innovation and foster an understanding and appreciation of the life sciences among educators, students and the public.

SOURCE Genome British Columbia

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