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 $2 billion. While identifying infectious agents and their origins is critical to preventing damage to forests, current methods rely on visual inspections, an approach that misses the many pathogens that are transmitted without visible symptoms.
Using new genome sequencing tools, this project will sequence the DNA for a number of important forest pathogens. In the same way fingerprints can be used to identify individuals, unique DNA sequences will be used to identify different forest pathogens. Using these DNA sequences, this project will design diagnostic tests to identify and to monitor forest pathogens that are regulated by quarantines in Canada or in key export nations, or that have been identified as a threat to Canada’s forests.
The forest industry and governmental agencies have already indicated that such a tool will be important in disease diagnosis and pathogen detection, disease-free certification, and surveillance and monitoring. Better disease detection will generate a number of important benefits, including preventing invasive pathogens from harming our forests, assisting the forest and nursery industries with plant and product certification and creating a competitive advantage for Canadian companies in international markets. It will also produce annual economic benefits in the tens of millions of dollars by reducing losses from disease. Additionally, there are significant commercialization opportunities through the sale of these diagnostic tools on world markets.
A disease diagnostic tool will generate significant economic benefit from a reduction in losses to forest disease (estimated at $22 million per 1% reduction annually), and from the sale of diagnostic assays and services (approximately $4 million annually). In collaboration with social scientists and humanities experts, 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 tools to the existing forest management framework in Canada and abroad. 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.
Richard Hamelin (University of British Columbia)
For more information on the project, please visit the following websites: