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Eight new projects empower B.C. researchers to solve climate change challenges

Grow Opportunity, Media Partners

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(CNW) Vancouver — From kelp to hops, bees to berries, B.C. researchers are harnessing the power of genomics to solve challenges facing the province’s agriculture and aquaculture sectors that stem from climate change.

Eight new projects have received a combined $1.84 million in funding from the Genomic Innovation for Regenerative Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (GIRAFF) program – a collaboration between Genome BC and the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC (IAF) with support from the BC Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

To combat the impacts of climate change on the agricultural and natural resources of BC, a comprehensive range of solutions is required. “These projects are developing new genomic tools and approaches, that will help producers mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change,” said Federica Di Palma, chief scientific officer and vice president, research and innovation at Genome BC.

Among the eight projects are initiatives that will:


  • Breed disease and drought-resistant traits into hop varieties to enhance their resilience to climate change, with the long-term goal of revitalizing B.C.’s hops industry
  • Contribute to an early-warning system for Canadian farmers by monitoring pathogens that affect wheat crops
  • Create tools that can evaluate how well Chinook Salmon populations can handle climate events, like heatwaves, with the goal of identifying salmon stocks that are more resilient to temperature changes.


  1. Developing Disease Resistant and Climate Change Resilient Hop Varieties by Mathias Schuetz and Paul Adams, Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Applied Genomics Centre.  This project will develop genomic tools to build a selection system that will screen thousands of hops seedlings for genetic markers and determine which are linked to positive traits such as disease and drought resistance. This data will inform future efforts to breed hop varieties that have the ideal mix of traits to be climate change resistant. The genomic innovations from this project will help identify new hop varieties faster and at a scale not previously possible.
  2. KelpGen: Genomic Tools for Preserving and Restoring Canada’s Kelp Forests by Gregory Owens from the University of Victoria with participation from the University of British Columbia (UBC). Kelp forests are under threat by multiple stressors including climate change that has resulted in the loss of more than half of BC kelp forests in the last eight years. The KelpGen project will develop high-quality genomic resources for two keystone kelp forest species. By quantifying how kelp populations are related, the team will guide conservation efforts to protect genetic diversity and adaptive potential. This work will also identify the genes involved in adaptation to warmer water.
  3. Optimize soil-plant interactions to maximize root exudation that increases carbon sequestration and agroecosystem resiliency by Jean-Thomas Cornelis of UBC. This project is investigating how plants grown under slight nutrient limitations can stimulate root activity and the release of organic molecules that have an important role in plant-induced process that promote nutrient mobilization and carbon sequestration. These natural processes are thought to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation.  The proposed research will potentially identify new strategies for designing crop systems with better nutrient-use efficiency and carbon storage capabilities.
  4. Adapting cannabis for outdoor production to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by Marco Todesco of UBC and José Celedon of Aurora Cannabis. Indoor cannabis production has an extreme carbon footprint. One possible solution is to switch to outdoor production. However, current elite varieties are sensitive to day-length and will not flower until late summer, making the crop vulnerable to cold/wet weather conditions. The project aims to develop varieties more suited to outdoor cultivation for the Canadian climate.

“As a global cannabis company enabled by science, we are proud to invest in the continued advancement of cannabis cultivation that will positively impact the longevity of the industry in Canada. Our long-standing relationship with UBC has allowed for valuable, collaborative work in genomics. Our shared findings from the GIRAFF project will be applied to Aurora’s leading growing practices today and in the future and support a more sustainable industry.”

– Dr. Jose Caledon, director, breeding and genetics, Aurora Cannabis

  1. Leveraging genomic data from cereal pathogens to develop a biovigilance strategy by Gurcharn Singh Brar of UBC and Guus Bakkeren of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The project is investigating patterns in how cereal pathogens move into Canada with the goal of developing fast, DNA-based diagnostic tests. This will contribute to an early-warning system to allow producers to make more informed management decisions based on pathogen presence and risk forecasting.
  2. Identifying climatic determinants of pollinator health by Leonard Foster of UBC and Lan Tran of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The project is using models to study how landscape differences, weather patterns and food availability, in combination with pest and pathogen prevalence, will impact overall bee health. The models developed in this project will provide a better understanding of how climate change will affect bee health and help BC beekeepers, crop growers and policymakers to prepare and take preventative steps to mitigate future challenges.
  3. Biocontrol of bacterial blight in berries using bacteriophages by Siyun Wang of UBC and Karen Fong of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The bacterium Pseudomonas syringae has caused significant damage and economic loss to BC’s blueberry sector. Bacteriophages are naturally occurring viruses that can infect and specifically kill bacteria. This project seeks to design, validate, and commercialize a new bacteriophage to treat the P. syringae-induced bacterial blight of blueberries. In doing so this innovative solution will provide a green technology alternative and reduce the impact of conventional treatment approaches.
  4. Genomic tools for predicting climate change resilience in chinook salmon by Patricia Schulte of UBC. This project will create a genomic tool to determine the current climate resilience of chinook salmon stocks and their capacity to evolve increased tolerance for events, such as heatwaves. This will help guide efforts to enhance chinook salmon hatchery production as well as conservation and climate change mitigation approaches.

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