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Cell biosensors for rapid screening of insect attractants

2015 Disruptive Innovation in Genomics Competition
Agriculture and Agri Food
Genome Centre(s):
Ontario Genomics
Project Leader(s):
Peter J. Krell (University of Guelph), Daniel Doucet (Natural Resources Canada)
Fiscal Year Project Launched: 
Project Description: 

Phase 1 Project

Forestry and agriculture are keystone sectors of economic activity in Canada, together contributing close to 8% of GDP. Insect pests pose a continual threat to the vitality of these sectors, through widespread outbreaks and the constant influx of new species via overseas trade routes or from the US. Unfortunately, the pace at which new surveillance and mitigation tools can be developed to counter insect pests is inadequate. Genomic sciences, particularly functional genomics, have long promised to bring new solutions to recurrent and new pest problems.

Dr. Peter J. Krell of the University of Guelph in collaboration with Drs. Daniel Doucet and Jeremy Allison (NRCan) is leading a team taking a functional genomics approach to support the creation of highly sensitive surveillance and mitigation systems targeting insects. The team will characterize a family of insect genes known as odorant receptors (ORs). ORs are proteins that bind volatile odorant molecules that could be used in insect surveillance and management programs. The innovation consists of an insect cell line engineered to express OR genes. In addition, the cell line encodes a fluorescent reporter gene that is responsive to OR activation by odors. Both attributes make it possible to screen multiple insect ORs and identify hundreds of previously undescribed volatile odorant compounds.

This innovation should not only disrupt the discipline of functional genomics, but also the field of insect pest management. The management of pests, which incurs staggering costs (such as the $890 million forecast to be spent on Emerald Ash Borer), would be made more feasible and faster. Thus both in concept and in practice, this disruptive innovation would assist in preserving Canada’s position as a leading exporter of forest and agricultural products and in the development of sensitive insect surveillance tools.