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Genomics in Agricultural Pest Management

Status: 
Past
Competition: 
Competition in Applied Genomics Research in Bioproducts or Crops (ABC)
Sector: 
Agriculture and Agri Food
Genome Centre(s):
Ontario Genomics
Project Leader(s):
Miodrag Grbic (University of Western Ontario)
Fiscal Year Project Launched: 
2008-2009
Project Description: 

Greenhouse vegetable production is a growing industry in Canada, with Ontario alone home to more than 1700 acres of greenhouse vegetables – the largest concentration in North America.

These crops make a significant contribution to the province's economy, with greenhouse tomatoes, cucumbers and pepper crops bringing in a combined gate of more than $550 million in 2006-2007. But a tiny mite that can reproduce every seven days during the hot summer months is poised to wreak havoc on this industry. Already, insects and mites destroy 13 percent of all potential crops.

Spider mites feed on more than 1000 different plant species, causing yellow flecks on the surfaces of leaves that can reduce the yield from those plants. Currently, many growers use chemical pesticides to try to eradicate the pests – a major source of environmental pollution that contributes to the destruction of wildlife. These pesticides are also becoming less effective, as the spider mites’ resistance to major pesticides is growing. As global warming intensifies, researchers expect spider mites to pose a serious threat to crops grown in the fields, as well as those housed under glass.

This project will create tools and technologies to control spider mites, based on our success in mapping the entire genome of this mite. Our team combines expertise in genomics, bioinformatics, genetics, biochemistry, population biology, plant biotechnology and plant breeding. We will use high-throughput genomic technologies to analyze plant resistance to spider mites, and we will evaluate the consequences to the pests of eating resistant and susceptible plants. By studying the interaction between plant genes and pest genes, our goal is to combine pest and plant genomics, inserting pest-resistant genes in plants so that they can resist spider mites. We will also develop tools to turn off pest-specific genes, opening up a new tool for pest control, and will develop new strategies to reduce the ability of these pests to reproduce.

Creating this new, environmentally sound approach will negate the use of chemical pesticides and decrease energy consumption in agriculture, by employing this sustainable pest-control strategy. Our project will increase Canada's competitiveness in this vital aspect of our knowledge-based economy.

Integrated GE3LS Research: An Analysis of the Canadian Regulatory Landscape as it Pertains to Biotechnology Research
GE3LS Project Leader: Mark Perry, University of Western Ontario
Summary
This genomic research project aims to create the next generation of non-toxic pest-control methods. However, this project also raises important societal questions given that governments and industry have not yet addressed appropriate ways of regulating genomic technologies as applied to agriculture. Even though promising technologies are already upon us, the regulatory system and policy framework exhibit some degree of uncertainty when dealing with biotechnological innovation. Partly this is because the Canadian public is often given conflicting messages as to what these technologies involve and how the regulatory system operates. We aim to contribute to improving this situation by providing a thorough analysis of the Canadian regulatory landscape that pertains to biotechnology research.

First, we will study what types of intellectual-property models yield the most benefit for everyone concerned, including industry, government and the public at large. The objective is to identify effects of intellectual-property rights on research, compare intellectual-property rights and licensing policies among several designated countries and regions and recommend better ways of managing intellectual-property rights. We will study two closely related subjects: the ability of researchers to use the techniques of genomics for maximum societal benefit, and the development of policies to ensure sustainability and respect ethical values when exploiting the fruits of genomic research.

Second, we will examine Canadian government policy and legislation regarding the regulation of genetically modified products and their place in agriculture. We will examine current Canadian policy directions as well as several policy alternatives that may be better-suited for the aims of governments in harvesting the fruits of biotechnology.

Finally, we will carry out a study of material-transfer agreements among various research groups working in a multi-regional research project such as this one.