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Genome Canada virtual townhall on the future of genomics in Canada

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Genome Canada’s Nov. 30, 2021 virtual townhall explored the game-changing role genomics is playing in the fight against COVID-19 and in tackling other grand challenges—from rare disease to climate change resilience. As part of an ongoing dialogue on the future of genomics in Canada, the townhall welcomed more than 340 participants, including researchers, government officials, industry representatives and members of the public, to share their diverse perspectives on how to increase Canada’s genomics impact for the benefit of all Canadians—and the world. 

Genome Canada’s Nov. 30, 2021 virtual townhall explored the game-changing role genomics is playing in the fight against COVID-19 and in tackling other grand challenges | L to R: Elder Claudette Commanda, an Algonquin Anishinabe from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, who is Special Advisor to the Dean on Reconciliation at the University of Ottawa, provided a traditional welcome. Dr. Rob Annan, President and CEO, Genome Canada and Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, Chief Scientific Officer, Genome Canada led the discussion and fielded questions. Dr. Nehal El-Hadi, Science and Technology Editor at The Conversation Canada, moderated the session.

L to R: Elder Claudette Commanda, an Algonquin Anishinabe from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, who is Special Advisor to the Dean on Reconciliation at the University of Ottawa, provided a traditional welcome. Dr. Rob Annan, President and CEO, Genome Canada and Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, Chief Scientific Officer, Genome Canada led the discussion and fielded questions. Dr. Nehal El-Hadi, Science and Technology Editor at The Conversation Canada, moderated the session.

Townhall highlights

Image: TWITTER TAKEOVER Farah Qaiser, Director of Research and Policy at Evidence for Democracy took over our Twitter account to live-tweet from the townhall. [Click to view]

Discussion highlights

Increasing Canada’s genomics impact (overarching themes)

  • We are in the early days of a Bio-Revolution, driven by the confluence of genomics, big data, artificial intelligence, gene editing and synthetic biology. For example, it took about 15 years and several billion dollars to sequence the first single human reference genome—but today we are sequencing human genomes for a few hundred dollars.
  • The potential of genomics for healthcare and the importance of mission-driven genomics research and innovation is driven by a collaborative and aligned ecosystem of partners.
  • Talent retention remains a challenge for Canada. World class research and innovation is driven by diverse, well-trained and supported people.
  • Engaging diverse communities and stakeholders across society is essential to identifying the challenges genomics can help us solve. And also essential to solving them.
  • More support is needed to create the conditions for companies across the bioeconomy to emerge and grow—and to create clearer opportunities for new investors to enter the genomics ecosystem. Bridging industry needs with research and innovation in genomics will be key to Canada’s economic growth and global competitiveness.  
  • Internationally, we see that successful innovation hubs are powered by collaboration between government, academia and the private sector. Organizations like Genome Canada are vital to facilitating that collaboration. 

Saving lives and revolutionizing healthcare

Collaborating to fight COVID-19

  • COVID-19 has renewed appreciation, trust and interest in science—and specifically highlighted the importance of genomics for Canadian and global health.
  • The Genome Canada-led Canadian COVID-19 Genomics Network (CanCOGeN) is playing a vital role in Canada’s pandemic response through its mission in large-scale SARS-CoV-2 and human host sequencing to track viral origin, spread and evolution, characterize the role of human genetics in COVID-19 disease and to inform public health decision making. The impact: increased national sequencing capacity, data sharing/infrastructure and collaboration that will be key to Canada’s preparedness for the next pandemic and other major public health challenges.
  • Strengthening Canada’s genomics capacity is vital for effective pathogen surveillance, public health decision making and future vaccine development in Canada and internationally.

Tackling rare disease and other major health challenges

  • Genomics-enabled precision health tools are speeding up diagnoses and improving health outcomes and disease management for Canadians—including tackling rare disease, cancer and other inherited diseases.
  • Genomics means that we can personalize our approach to health and disease. We can read what is effectively the software of living things. Our capacity in this area has been completely transformed in 20 years.
  • A “One Health” approach (addressing the interconnectedness of people, animals, plants and their shared environment) is key to strengthening Canadian, and global, health security. Genomics can play a lead role in this.
  • Countries around the world are shifting to a mission-driven approach to genomics impact to address health and other grand challenges. The U.K. is pursuing an ambitious plan over a decade to centre genomics in their healthcare strategy (learn more).

Climate change and the environment

Leading climate action

  • Genomics can help mitigate climate change by improving carbon capture through agricultural practices and soil management. It can also help us map and understand the impacts of climate change on organisms.
  • Genome Canada is invested in large-scale research initiatives harnessing genomics to better understand the impacts of climate change and monitor biodiversity (learn more about recent projects).

Driving environmental sustainability and greener growth

  • Where there are living organisms, there’s DNA—and that means there is the potential for genomics to have an impact. Scientists are using genomics to map and monitor biodiversity on our planet. For example, environmental DNA (eDNA) tools are enabling us to identify organisms in various environments using seawater, soil and even air samples.
  • Genomics is enabling new environmental remediation techniques and greener growth for energy industries—including mining and oil & gas.
  • Genomics is driving economic growth through the creation of new companies, the creation of intellectual property and value generated by genomics-enabled solutions.

Agriculture and food security

  • Genomics-enabled tools and solutions are building climate change resilience and strengthening Canadian agriculture, agri-food, fisheries and aquaculture industries.
  • Genomics is playing an important role in increasing food quality, safety, production and security—creating higher value products, growing a more diverse global market share and increasing Canadian exports.

Join the conversation

Collaboration is key to realizing the full potential of genomics and maximize our impact. We look forward to ongoing discussion and engagement as we roll out our mission-based strategy in the new year. We invite you to stay connected to us via our website and our newsletters, to engage with us on social media, or to reach out via email: [email protected].

Visit our virtual hub on the future of genomics, to access: