Biomonitoring 2.0: A high-throughput genomics approach to comprehensive biological assessment of environmental change (2010)


Bioproducts & Environment


Sustainable development of the Canadian economy requires wise stewardship of our environment and natural resources; this is particularly true given the anticipated impacts of climate change. Biomonitoring seeks to describe and understand biological diversity at multiple ecological levels, both as a means to learn the typical mix of species that can be found in different habitats, and to establish “biological early-warning systems” that can tell us when environmental stresses are reaching a critical point. Canada is recognized as a world leader in biomonitoring, however, current practices have limitations.  They are personnel-intensive, which limit the frequency and intensity of sampling, particularly in remote areas. Also, present biomonitoring methodologies focus on a very limited subset of all species that can be found at a given location. Our project introduces ‘Biomonitoring 2.0’, a system based on cutting-edge DNA-sequencing technologies and state-of-the-art computational analysis, which will simultaneously reduce sample costs while dramatically increasing the knowledge gained from biological samples. Our test bed for this new system is Wood Buffalo National Park, a globally unique region spanning Alberta and the North West Territories that is under considerable threat from oil sands activities and other human impacts, in spite of its remoteness and protected status. By integrating our new genomics tools and technologies into a well-established Canadian biomonitoring framework, we will greatly increase our potential to manage our cherished national resources. The project team has been working closely with stakeholders including industry, government departments, First Nations and Métis, and environmental organizations. By developing a sophisticated, yet user-friendly Web-based portal, with client-based customized tools, we will be able to communicate much richer summaries of environmental health and impacts to society, through direct interactions with local stakeholders.