Advancing Big Data Science in Genomics Research

In 2013, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Genome Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) partnered on a 2013 Discovery Frontiers call for proposals, focused on advancing big data science in genomics research. This initiative was designed to support the development of tools and methodologies to integrate currently available complex data sets in the fields of ‘omics sciences with each other, as well as with phenotypic data and data from other related fields of biological sciences. It was aimed at building on past and ongoing investments in this area, the most recent being the Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Request for Applications launched in June 2012 by Genome Canada and CIHR.

The result of the Competition was announced April 30, 2014. Federal funding totaling $5.6 million was awarded to the Ontario-led project to support an unprecedented collaboration – both in Canada and internationally – to develop tools that can effectively manipulate vast amounts of data to help find cures for cancer.

Evolved (formerly Caro Meats): Creating cultivated pork belly that is identical to conventional pork belly


Global demand for meat is expected to rise by over 75 % by 2050, and conventional agriculture will have to be supplemented by new methods, such as cultivated meat production, to meet this need sustainably. The majority of cultivated meat products in development are equivalent to current processed meat options and contain additives to enhance taste and texture and provide structure.

Evolved intends to create whole cuts of scaffold-free cultivated meat that are structurally and biochemically identical to conventional meat products. Using their proprietary cell sheet engineering techniques and transitioning their products from muscle to meat, Evolved will create cultivated meat products, from any livestock species, that align with consumer preferences and consumption habits. Focusing here on pork, Evolved will develop a 4-step quality control system:

  • Create a proteomic data set (baseline) for conventional pork by acquiring and testing different cuts from different breeds of pig
  • Test the proteomic data from Evolved’s porcine samples against the baseline data
  • Perform targeted protein studies on Evolved’s porcine samples for known biomarkers of meat quality
  • Evaluate the organoleptic properties of their porcine samples against the data obtained

Moreover, the proteomic data set for conventional pork will be made open-source for access by interested parties in the cellular agriculture ecosystem.

Cell Ag Tech: Scaling up the manufacturing of fish muscle stem cells from a 2D to 3D culture system with proteomic assessments of the cells


The global seafood industry has a first-sale value of over $400B annually, and growth is forecast to continue. With commercial fishing and aquaculture unable to meet growing market demand, cell-cultured seafood can play an integral role in helping to supply the global market in a sustainable manner. As most of the seafood production in Canada occurs in the coastal regions, cell-cultured seafood provides Ontario with a unique opportunity to participate in the seafood economy.

Working with CCRM/Cytiva, a global leader in scaling up cell manufacturing, CELL AG TECH intends to grow snapper cells in 2D and 3D, to lay the foundation for commercial-scale production and commercialization. Proteomic assessments will be performed on muscle precursor cells from 2D and 3D cultures to:

  1. Determine the differences in protein expression between 2D and 3D
  2. Regulate the environment the cells are grown in to achieve optimal conditions and outcomes
  3. Better understand the nutritional value of the cells
  4. Provide data for regulatory processes.

This level of scale-up will move our organization closer to commercial scale production and price competitiveness, as well as allowing us to produce a greater number of cells for our experiments and R&D initiatives, such as valuable optimization parameters and creation of additional food product prototypes.

Ardra Inc.: Developing fermentation-based production of heme as a natural flavour ingredient


Alternatives to animal protein are targeted towards disrupting the global meat industry, a >$800B market, with total sales of plant-based foods in 2021 around $10B. To further grow the market share, plant-based foods need improvements in matching meat-based products’ flavour, texture, nutrition, and cooking behaviour. Addressing these challenges is believed to be a significant driver for greater adoption of meat alternatives and satisfying consumer demands.

A significant focus of the Canadian alternative meat industry is supplying pulse-based plant ingredients. However, Ontario has an opportunity to support the alternative meat industry and potentially enable more Canadian-produced products by leveraging its engineering biology and biotechnology expertise to supply/create ingredients to enhance these products.

Ardra’s project focuses on developing a very well understood ingredient called heme, found in animal blood, which alone provides a core element of the taste of meat. Ardra has demonstrated production of animal-free heme by precision fermentation and has active requests for larger sample amounts from several major flavour companies. Their AcCELLerate-ON project objective is to reach pilot-scale for heme production, validation of their key ingredients by these potential customers, and to establish a clear path to market.

The University of Toronto, Dr. Michael Garton in collaboration with MyoPalate: Establishing the foundational tools for cultivated pork production


Growing pork meat in bioreactors using pig stem cells has the potential to positively impact environmental and animal rights issues. However, while the technology to do this is established, it is currently prohibitively expensive. A high proportion of this cost is due to the costly external biological and chemical agents required for pig muscle development and maturation. The Garton team, in partnership with Myo Palate, proposes to design synthetic gene circuits that can be integrated with the initial stem cells and direct muscle transformation and maturation processes, obviating the need for external agents. Establishing this proof-of-concept will lay the groundwork for developing a comprehensive genetic circuit for directing pig muscle development in bioreactors.

The proposed project will lay the groundwork for improving the efficiency of cultured meat production. By introducing genetic circuits, the cells will be better able to carry out their differentiation program without the requirement for adding additional soluble factors like recombinant proteins or additives. In addition, the project will improve the safety and lower the cost of cellular agriculture by minimizing the number of components needed to culture meat. Successful completion of this project will establish an engineering biology tool kit for the production of lab-grown pork, which will benefit Ontario’s cellular agriculture food business ecosystem by enhancing cell behaviour at a sustainable cost.