Natural resource management decisions made by Canadian communities, Indigenous peoples, industries and regulators need timely and relevant information regarding risk and impacts of human activities, especially in the context of climate change.
Canada’s natural resources are globally recognized assets and our population values biodiversity, clean water and distinctive ecosystems. The country is at a critical juncture with competing interests between rising societal pressure for environmental sustainability and natural resources development. A unique, non-invasive way to monitor biodiversity is through environmental DNA (eDNA). eDNA is the genetic material shed from organisms into their environment and can provide non-destructive, rapid, cost-effective and accurate biodiversity information.
Led by Caren Helbing (University of Victoria), Valérie Langlois (Institut national de la recherche scientifique), Jérôme Dupras (Université du Québec en Outaouais) and Louis Bernatchez (Université Laval), the iTrackDNA: Non-Destructive Precision Genomics for Environmental Impact Tracking in a Global Climate Change Era project will build end-user capacity through innovative, accessible, socially responsible genomics-based analytical eDNA tools.
“iTrackDNA is about enabling confident use of eDNA methods by professional and amateur scientists alike,” explains Dr. Caren Helbing, Professor of Biochemistry and Microbiology at the University of Victoria. “It’s a game changer for environmental surveys and resource management.”
Valued at close to $12-million, this collaborative pan-Canadian project will offer new and important details for governments, First Nations, NGOs, and industry groups to standardize eDNA information. Creating a set of standards will support sound decision making to support ecological surveys for species-at-risk monitoring; invasive species management; and granting permits and permissions for energy, mining, forestry, manufacturing and infrastructure projects.
“Genome BC is pleased to support this vital research,” says Dr. Federica di Palma, chief scientific officer and vice president of Sectors. “We are at a critical moment in the future of our planet; eDNA offers a non-invasive way to monitor our past and present biodiversity so better decisions can be made.”
The impact of the research is far-reaching. Better monitoring tools could help detect live pinewood nematodes and improve wood treatment efficacy testing to facilitate Canadian forest products trade (worth $33.2 billion in 2019), substantially reduce the cost of managing aquatic invasive species (e.g., $3.6 billion annually in Ontario alone) through early detection, and protect valuable ecosystems.
“By 2025, eDNA will undoubtedly become a mainstream assessment tool as many countries start investing in eDNA technology” highlights Dr. Valérie Langlois, Professor of Ecotoxicogenomics at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) in Quebec. “The iTrackDNA project is poised to help Canadians reach high environmental quality standards and position Canada as an international leader on eDNA standards adoption, policy development and testing”.
This project was funded through Genome Canada’s 2020 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition: Genomic Solutions for Natural Resources and the Environment, as per the announcement by François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, on July 22, 2021.