CGEn-led Canadian genomics team joins international initiative to study and protect global biodiversity.
Every spcies on Earth possesses a characteristic genome, shaped by millions of years of evolution. Through the study of genomes—the complete genetic and inheritable information of an organism—we can explore life’s diversity, better understand how species are related, how they develop together to create ecosystems, foster conservation, and uncover the biology of health and disease for all living things.
The Earth BioGenome Project aims to resolve in detail the genomes of all complex life on Earth. With new funding of approximately $6.5 million, Canada is now joining this global initiative through the Canadian BioGenome Project, led by Dr. Steven Jones, Scientific Director of CGEn-Vancouver node and Co-Director and Head of Bioinformatics for Canada’s Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre (GSC; part of the BC Cancer Research Institute) and Dr. Maribeth Murray, Director of the Arctic Institute of North America at the University of Calgary. Other CGEn scientists included in the project team are Dr. Stephen Scherer, Scientific Director of CGEn-Toronto node and Chief of Research at Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, and also, Dr. Ioannis Ragoussis, CGEn-Montreal node at McGill Genome Centre.
“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 principles of health and disease, for individuals and populations,” says Dr. Jones, who is also a Scientific Director of CGEn Vancouver node. CGEn is a federally funded national platform for genome sequencing and analysis with nodes at the GSC, The Centre for Applied Genomics at Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto and the McGill Genome Centre. “We are proud to contribute CGEn’s expertise and technology to this important endeavor, which has been made possible through substantial recent advances in genome sequencing technology and computational biology.”
Canada possesses significant biodiversity, having approximately 80,000 plant and animal species in environments ranging from desert to the arctic. Many of these species are under threat due to rapid changes in climate and other human-led impacts on our environment. In collaboration with scientists, Indigenous peoples and conservation groups, this project will embark on the task of determining the genetic diversity of Canada’s plants and animals through genomic sequencing.
In 2018, CGEn launched the CanSeq150 program to perform de-novo genome assemblies for 150 species deemed important to Canada’s biodiversity and conservation. The program has sequenced species ranging across the various classes of animals (vertebrate and invertebrate) and plants with economic, cultural, social or environmental significance to Canada. More than 100 species are already selected for sequencing through the CanSeq150 program. The CanSeq150 program has provided a platform for biologists, ecologists, population geneticists and other scientists who have in-depth knowledge and expertise in species of interest to work with genomic scientists to generate valuable data that can help advance research in important biological and conservation related areas. The addition of this Canadian arm of the Earth BioGenome project will lead to tangible benefits to Canada in wildlife conservation, recovery and monitoring.
“Genome BC recognizes the urgent need to develop and address international systems to monitor and protect our rapidly changing environment,” says Dr. Federica di Palma, Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President, Sectors. “Applications of this data are real-time, and it builds on our strengths in genome sequencing in this province.”
Initially the project will identify approximately 400 species that would benefit from a fully sequenced genome. The species will be 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 will also work 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 geospatial platform of genomics data and information from the project. The data generated will also be freely available to scientists in Canada and worldwide.
This project was funded through Genome Canada’s 2020 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition: Genomic Solutions for Natural Resources and the Environment.