You are here

5 ways genomics is changing your life – and the world – for the better

Thursday, December 3, 2020

When COVID-19 hit, Canada’s genomics research community stepped up immediately with strong responses for short-term containment and long-term management of the virus. But the pandemic is not the only area where smart investments in bio-innovation are making a difference.

Genomics is the study of the structure and function of DNA in living organisms, from single-celled microbes to plants, animals and humans. Genomics technology is more powerful and affordable than ever before. Sequencing the first human genome, the complete complement of an individual’s DNA, took 15 years and cost $2 billion. Today, we can do this in 24 hours for under $1,000.

Here are five areas where genomics is making an impact:

1. COVID-19

Genome Canada launched the Canadian COVID-19 Genomics Network (CanCOGeN) in April to sequence the genomes of up to 10,000 patients and 150,000 virus samples – to decipher the virus, inform public policy, share data nationally and internationally, and generate treatments. In addition, Genome BC and Genome Canada-funded AbCellera’s rapid pandemic response platform in Vancouver contributed to the first COVID-19 clinical trial for a potential antibody treatment.

2. Precision health care

Genomics uses genetic and other molecular information to identify a patient’s health issues and develop customized treatment. In rare diseases specifically, Care4Rare Canada, a CHEO-Sick Kids Hospital program, uses genomics to deliver diagnostics, saving millions in health-care spending.

3. Environmental protection

Genomics helps create a cleaner, more sustainable environment. For example, Northern Ontario researchers are investigating the potential of engineered floating wetlands to clean up oil spills in freshwater lakes. Newfoundland researchers are using genetic sequencing to help Atlantic salmon adapt to rising temperatures.

4. Biomanufacturing

Putting clean chemistry to work using natural or engineered biological systems will grow our economy by delivering commercial solutions in health, agriculture, food and industrial applications. Our success stories like Medicago (which uses plants to produce vaccines) lead the way for innovative companies like Chinova Bioworks, Hyasynth, Oreka Solutions, and Renaissance Bioscience.

5. Economic recovery

“As Canada charts a course for post-COVID-19 economic recovery,” says Dr. Rob Annan, President and CEO of Genome Canada, “harnessing the game-changing potential of genomics to deliver homegrown solutions will help protect and improve Canadian lives.”

“I am awed and excited by the contributions of bioscience and genomics over the past 20 years. I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years have in store for Canada. Biosciences will revolutionize the 21st century as digital technologies revolutionized the 20th century.” - Dr. Rob Annan, President and CEO of Genome Canada


20 years collaborating on the future

Over the last 20 years, with nearly $4 billion in total funding, Genome Canada has supported almost 500 genomics projects in health, agriculture/agri-food, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, environment, energy and mining. Genome Canada collaborates with six Genome Centres across Canada to fund regionally relevant genomics research and innovations to benefit Canadians. Explore Genome Canada's 20-year success story and our vision for the future.;

This piece originally appeared in Maclean’s magazine special edition 2021: The Year Ahead on December 3, 2020.