Unlocking the future of food: The FAO and Ontario Genomics uncover the challenges and opportunities

SynBio2024: Bonus - New Food Innovation Opportunity on Oct 10

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, alongside Ontario Genomics, is giving you a global perspective on the future of innovation in food, cleantech, and health. Join us in Toronto, from October 7-9, for the sixth edition of Canada SynBio 2024 as we explore how to break through barriers and focus on “Unlocking the Future,” so the bioeconomy can thrive, for Canada and the rest of the world.

You’ll want to book an extra night’s stay in Toronto because on October 10, the FAO, in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), will hold a stakeholder roundtable meeting on cell-based food production and precision fermentation. This is the third meeting in the series that includes developers, producers, and researchers to apply and present their original products. The call for presenters is open until July 1, additional details here.

Join us and be part of the solution as we address challenges and highlight opportunities for Canada to strengthen its leadership in the ecosystem, and how innovations and engineering biology-based technologies can truly revolutionize society on a global scale. We look forward to seeing you there!

Tech and Science Meet to Create Medical Marvels

New government funding for projects includes world-class cancer diagnosis tools and the medicinal magic of mushrooms

May 29, 2024, Toronto –

With the goal of unlocking the healing abilities of science and technology the Canadian government through Genome Canada and Ontario Genomics are giving over $13.5 million in funding to five projects in Ontario that will improve our healthcare system and ensure biodiversity in our ecosystem.

With more than 600 new cancer cases diagnosed every day in Canada, researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children and Mount Sinai Hospital have joined forces on a $6 million project to grow their tumour classification system. This platform allows doctors to identify difficult to diagnose cancers with near perfect accuracy to get patients the right care they need, faster. They also plan to expand the types of cancers it can identify and share this lifesaving technology with other countries.

Some families have a heightened risk of colon, brain and gynaecological cancer that is passed on in their DNA. Princess Margaret Cancer Centre researchers are getting nearly $800,000 to create an affordable, less invasive test to dramatically cut down on diagnosis wait times and life-long screening for people with this condition.

CGEn researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children, McGill University and the BC Cancer Research Centre are developing new technology to meet the needs of the scientific community. This $3.3 million project will develop advanced genomic services and analysis for nearly 3,000 research labs, companies and not-for-profits.

Mushrooms are more than just great on pizza, they can actually be the basis of new medicines! McMaster University researchers and B.C. biotech company, Kapoose Creek Bio, are using AI and synthetic biology to explore fungal compounds in a $2.2 million project to discover new drugs.

Most of the things we buy in the grocery store have a barcode, and Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph researchers are applying that concept to DNA of all species. Their $1 million analytics project allows scientists to identify all the animals and insects around us and track changes in their population and movements. This technology can be shared with other researchers around the world to ensure biodiversity and sustainability.

Ontario Genomics is a non-profit organization funded by the Government of Ontario and other partners. Since 2000, we’ve been involved with cutting-edge science to find homegrown solutions to challenges the world faces like climate change, food insecurity and in healthcare. Find out more at OntarioGenomics.ca.

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Maggie Blood

Innovation Communications and Public Affairs Manager

mblood@ontariogenomics.ca

Ontario Genomics Part of Province’s Research & Innovation Investment

Funding renewal means more support for game-changing solutions

May 29, 2024, Toronto –

Ontario Genomics is receiving $5 million over two years to continue our work in finding homegrown solutions to challenges the world faces like climate change, food insecurity and in healthcare.

Since our start in 2000, we’ve raised more than $3.7 billion for genomics applied research in the province which has created more than 20,000 jobs. We have over 330 projects and more than 500 partnerships. For the past 24 years, we’ve been providing the critical support researchers and entrepreneurs need to develop, protect and commercialize their IP, ensuring their innovations, and the associated wealth and jobs they create, stay here in Ontario.

Genomics is all about DNA, and it’s DNA that tells us about life in all forms. It’s the basis of biology which is fuelling biotech innovation and getting us focused on sustainability and away from petroleum-based production methods.

The time to act is now and because of this investment from the Ontario’s Ministry of Colleges and Universities, we can continue to support researchers and start-ups with their game-changing solutions so they can be scaled up and put into real world use as quickly as possible.

Ontario Genomics CEO Stephen Cummings, says, “With this provincial investment, Ontario Genomics leverages matching funds to drive game-changing innovations in Food, Agriculture, Cleantech, and Health. Our work generated a significant return on investment, created over 11,000 direct jobs and added more than $1.8 billion to Ontario’s GDP since 2013. By leading genomic applications across multiple industries, we are tapping into the Bio Revolution, a multi-trillion-dollar global market opportunity as projected by the McKinsey Global Institute. With ongoing support, we will establish Ontario as a leader in biotech and life sciences, benefiting everyone in Ontario today and into the future”.

“The Ontario government is proud to support homegrown research and innovation at Ontario Genomics,” said Jill Dunlop, Minister of Colleges and Universities. “This funding is helping researchers solve some of the biggest challenges of our time that are making a very real difference in the lives of Ontarians.”

Ontario Genomics is a non-profit organization funded by the Government of Ontario and other partners. Since 2000, we’ve been involved with cutting-edge science to find homegrown solutions to challenges the world faces like climate change, food insecurity and in healthcare. Find out more at OntarioGenomics.ca.

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Maggie Blood

Innovation Communications and Public Affairs Manager

mblood@ontariogenomics.ca

Two Big Investments in Ontario’s Genomics and Biotech Community

Governments of Ontario and Canada are helping innovative ideas become reality

Ontario Genomics is receiving $5 million over two years from the Ontario’s Ministry of Colleges and Universities to continue our work in finding homegrown solutions to challenges the world faces like climate change, food insecurity and in healthcare. Read more about it here.

With the goal of unlocking the healing abilities of science and technology, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), through Genome Canada, awarded over $13.5 million in funding to five Ontario Genomics GAPP and TechDev projects that will improve our healthcare system and biodiversity of our environment. Read all about them here.

GAPP commercializes or implements Ontario-made genomic solutions, while the TechDev program gives the innovators creating these kinds of solutions access to the cutting-edge technologies they need.

These are all exciting developments that are giving Ontario Genomics and our partner researchers the support needed to make game-changing solutions a reality so they can be put into real world use as quickly as possible.

Ontario Genomics has a 24-year history of leveraging funding to drive game-changing innovations in food, agriculture, cleantech, and health. Our work consistently generates a significant return on investment with over 11,000 direct jobs created and more than $1.8 billion added to Ontario’s GDP since 2013.

With ongoing support, we’ll establish Ontario as a leader in biotech and life sciences, benefiting everyone across the province, today and long into the future!

Turning Waste into Value: A Pathway to Upcycling

When it comes to natural resources and the climate crisis, cutting back on waste and boosting sustainability are more important than ever before. Food waste alone is responsible for half of agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions and is a major cause of environmental damage. Fortunately, innovative solutions are coming to the rescue, and one of them is waste upcycling through bioconversion, which uses naturally occurring and/or engineered microbes to convert food waste into valuable products like bioplastics.

What is Upcycling?

It’s the process of transforming waste into new products of higher value, like when someone finds an old piece of furniture on the roadside, gives it a new coat of paint, and makes it better than new. A new program called wasteCANcreate is doing exactly this, with a high-tech spin!

Ontario Genomics, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada and industry partners have come together to convert food waste (what you put into your green bin) into various products that would normally be made from oil. Microbial upcycling of food waste into bioplastics puts microorganisms like bacteria and yeasts to work to convert the food waste into bioplastics, textiles like nylon, and other useful materials.

The three main goals for this project:

  1. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from sources like decomposing food waste
  2. Eliminate our need for fossil fuels to create necessary materials
  3. Create lasting economic opportunities for Canadian industries

Novel ideas like this are being brought to life to revolutionize manufacturing processes and are a key part of the circular economy, which aims to cut waste and pollution, repair damaged ecosystems, and have a positive impact on the world economy.

Initiative members at a workshop in the Spring of 2023.

Initiative members at a workshop in the Spring of 2023. This initiative brings together world-class academic leaders, innovative industry partners, and others to accelerate the development and testing of bioplastics for various applications.

Microbes to the Rescue!

Microbes can be used as tiny factories and are at work all around us – think about your gut flora and the microbes that help make beer, yogurt, and bread. Putting them to use helps reduce our need for traditional plastics, which are most often non-biodegradable and a significant threat to the environment. Bioplastics, on the other hand, are made from biological raw materials and decompose more easily.

Plastics are everywhere you look. Plastic bags, cutlery, containers, and toys are obvious examples, but plastics are also found in most clothing, vehicles, furniture, and even in cosmetics and sunscreens! Plastics are cheap to make and last a long time, making them hard to get rid of. In Canada alone, we produce 4.8 million tons of plastic each year and 29,000 tons end up in the environment, including our waterways.

The upcycling process involves using microorganisms to break down the waste material and convert it into organic acids. These organic acids are then used to produce biodegradable plastics and additives for other products. Biodegradable plastics can replace oil-based plastics, meaning they will be much more easily disposed of and won’t stay in the environment for centuries to come.

The upcycling process
Curbing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

When food waste is sent to landfills, it decomposes and released methane gas into the atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas and a major contributor to global warming that is over 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide! So, when we upcycle food waste into bioplastics, we reduce the waste sent to landfills and minimize the production of methane gas.

Economic Benefits

Since there’s no shortage of global waste, using it as a key ingredient for bioplastics is a brilliant idea! The food waste we have now costs us money to handle and store it while it decomposes. This means that any value extracted from this resource will help improve the economy as a whole. The process also creates a circular economy where waste becomes a valuable resource.

Upcycling food waste into bioplastics is an innovative, yet common sense solution for the very real problem of waste management facing Canada and the world. The best part is, the wasteCANcreate program is already at work perfecting this process so it can be used across the country and around the world.

Stay in the loop on exciting developments in our circular future!

This is the first in a series of blog posts detailing wasteCANcreate, Canada’s biomanufacturing opportunities, and the shift towards a circular economy. Stay tuned for more!

Blog: Look How Far We’ve Come

Happy DNA Day – Look how far we’ve come!

It was 71 years ago when scientists published groundbreaking research on the structure of DNA. That teamwork grew to become the internationally funded Human Genome Project which culminated in the most complete mapping of the human genome in May 2021. Genomics is all about DNA, and it’s DNA that tells us about life in all forms. It’s the basis of biology which is now fuelling biotechnology innovation. These technologies now have the power to move us away from environmentally damaging manufacturing methods.

After all, climate, food and health are all connected. Climate change is disastrous for food production and supply chains, as well as the health and well-being of everyone on this planet. The good news is, incredible solutions and technologies to address all of these very serious problems currently exist, likely in your own backyard!

Ontario Genomics has been leading the charge in the province since 2000 by supporting cutting-edge science to find homegrown solutions to challenges the world faces like climate change, food insecurity and in healthcare. We’ve done this by raising more than $3.7 billion for genomics applied research in the province which has created more than 20,000 jobs. We have over 330 projects and more than 500 partnerships!

Whether you realize it or not, DNA is all around us. What began decades ago as research to better understand what humans are made of, has since bloomed to include new ways of producing food and improving agricultural techniques as well as clean technology which is providing a new path to make and power the things we need.

One example is the wasteCANcreate program, which is bringing together Canadian researchers and industry partners in Aylmer, Burlington, Orillia, Vancouver and Regina spanning the energy, agriculture and food, plastic films and performance textiles sectors to bring real-world solutions to Ontario, Canada, and the rest of the world.

By using precision fermentation, microbes are used to turn food waste like potato peels into usable products like biodegradable plastics and fibres to create yoga pants! This new method of upcycling also reduces greenhouse gas emissions, replaces the need for petroleum-based plastics and is an economic boost to the province through job creation.

According to Ontario Genomics’ 2021 Cellular Agriculture Report, food biomanufacturing alone could explode to become a $7.5 billion industry creating 86,000 jobs by 2030, with greater growth projected in the long term. That’s why we’re involved with several food and agriculture projects and companies around the province, including the biggest Canadian cellular agriculture project ever that is led by McMaster University where researchers are developing efficient and economical ways to produce cultivated meat on a large scale.

While more commonly heard of cellular/cultivated products like red meat, poultry, seafood, foie gras and pet food are being made, dairy, eggs, honey and even chocolate are created through the same process! Food ingredients like these proteins, enzymes, flavour molecules, vitamins, pigments and fats can also be incorporated with existing products to create hybrid foods. This cellular agriculture technology is also creating textiles such as leather, wool, silk and cotton.

Amazing innovations like this may have seemed like a sci-fi fantasy years ago, but DNA is currently inspiring these kinds of creations here in Ontario. Work like this being done in this province can help propel Canada into global powerhouse status in the biotech-based economy. One way we’re helping to make this happen is through our annual SynBio conference that brings together national and international leaders in the field of engineering biology to build inter-sector partnerships.

Ontario Genomics has a very exciting partnership with FedDev Ontario for our BioCreate accelerator program that provides financial support, business and technical guidance to start-ups in southern Ontario to move the province’s biotechnology scene forward and get game-changing solutions scaled up and put into real world use as quickly as possible.

We’re currently supporting 16 companies in the health, cleantech and food and agriculture sectors, with more on the way! There are a lot of very smart and capable people doing amazing things in the province and it’s also incredibly encouraging to see that half of these companies are either run by women CEOs or have women on their leadership team. That stat alone shows science has also evolved greatly over the years, especially when you consider Rosalind Franklin’s discovery of DNA’s structure in 1953 has been greatly overlooked in the history books.

With all this in mind, we wish you a happy DNA Day – it’s incredible how far we’ve come, and you should feel a part of where we’re going!

Blog: Cracking the Rare Disease Code

EpiSign’s groundbreaking work in Ontario for the world

For years, Ontarians have been hearing about our crumbling health care system but there are many silver linings to the cloudy situation our hospitals are dealing with.

One of them is the groundbreaking work Dr. Bekim Sadikovic at Lawson Health Research Institute and London Health Sciences Centre has been doing with biotech company, Illumina. In their quest to better detect rare diseases, Dr. Sadikovic has created the clinically validated EpiSign test, which uses machine-learning algorithms and compiles them into the EpiSign™ Knowledge Database.

EpiSign: Cracking the Rare Disease Code

Thanks to funding from Ontario Genomics, Genome Canada and their Genomic Applications Partnership Program (GAPP), the EpiSign™ project is helping doctors cut down on long and agonizing diagnosis wait times by efficiently bringing answers and treatment options to more of the 1 in 15 Canadian children born with a rare disease.

Not only does this mean peace of mind and quicker access to the right support for those children, it’s critical relief to our health care system by speeding up the diagnosis process and easing the pressure on hospitals since 1 in 4 pediatric hospital beds are occupied by a child with a rare disease.

Dr. Bekim Sadikovic at Lawson Health Research Institute and London Health Sciences Centre

This incredible work has been an evolution. After all, projects like these don’t happen overnight! It takes many years of collaboration and many rounds of funding. When Dr. Sadikovic’s team applied for their first round of GAPP funding in 2019, they were able to detect 19 different disorders across 30 genes. Five years later, the most recent version of EpiSign™ has 116 different indicators covering 126 disorders. This number will only continue to grow in the years to come and while this much needed innovation was created here in Ontario, it’ll be a benefit to the rest of the world.

BioCreate Cohorts 4 & 5 are now open

BioCreate Program

Ontario Genomics’ BioCreate program is now open to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in southern Ontario looking to commercialize genomics and engineering biology enabled products and/or technologies in the health, food and agriculture, and cleantech sectors at a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of 4+.

What does BioCreate do? We provide funding, access to mentorship and business support to help companies bring new products and technologies to market.

Program Highlights:
  • Direct, non-repayable funding of $150,000.
  • Access to 18 months of intensive business mentorship and critical infrastructure provided by Ontario Genomics’ strategic sectoral and regional partnerships.
  • An investor showcase for each cohort, giving companies the opportunity to pitch to investors and potential partners.
Biocreate header with three phases
Application Steps and Dates

Interested? Review the Program Guide for more information on BioCreate, including eligibility requirements and evaluation criteria, then fill out the BioCreate intake form and a representative from our team will reach out to discuss your project idea. Eligible applicants will be invited to submit an application.

If you have questions, please contact BioCreate@ontariogenomics.ca.

The deadline to submit an intake form for Cohort 4 & 5 is June 23, 2024. Additional details and the application process can be found on the BioCreate page.

Complete the intake form now to find out more about your company’s eligibility!


The BioCreate program is supported by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) and Ontario Genomics. The current budget is greater than $7 million over five years.

Canada SynBio 2024 – Unlocking the Future

Registration for Canada SynBio 2024 is officially open!

Canada’s premier engineering biology event happens October 7-9 in Toronto.

The 6th annual Canada SynBio conference gives national and international engineering (synthetic) biology leaders the chance to connect, create inter-sector partnerships and help Canada become the major player in the global bioeconomy we know it can be. This year’s theme is Unlocking the Future.

Along with the networking opportunities are hearing from experts in the field. We are excited to announce our first keynote speaker: Dr. Cindy Gerhardt, Founder and CEO, Planet-B.io. Dr. Gerhardt is a visionary and innovator who spearheads a national open innovation ecosystem for biotech and food tech in the Netherlands. Her guiding principles are simple: respect people, animals and our planet.

Dr. Cindy Gerhardt, Founder and CEO, Planet-B.io

Our dynamic conference program features a wide range of presentation topics including:

  • Cellular agriculture
  • Bioconversion
  • AI and health
  • Strategy and policy frameworks
  • Training
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Mining solutions

You’ll also get the chance to participate in immersive networking events and be inspired by cutting-edge academics, start-ups, and established industry leaders.

Register today to take advantage of early-bird registration rates. Prices go up on June 1.

If you’re interested in becoming a partner at Canada SynBio, please email Luana Fiorotto at LLanglois@ontariogenomics.ca.

Ontario Genomics Welcomes New Interim Leadership

As an update to the recent resignation of our President and CEO, Bettina Hamelin, Ontario Genomics is thrilled to announce our interim leadership team, effective Monday April 1.

We are pleased to share that Stephen Cummings, a familiar face from our board of directors, will be stepping into the role of Interim CEO on a part-time basis over the next six months. Under the direction of the Board of Directors and in close collaboration with our management team, Stephen will oversee the strategic direction of our organization and support the Board in the recruitment process for the new President and CEO. Stephen brings over 30 years of extensive experience in financial and executive leadership roles. His nine-year tenure on our board, coupled with his expertise in strategic business advisory as CEO of Rizolve Partners and private equity / venture capital, uniquely positions him to guide us through this transition period with a steady hand.

Additionally, Jordan Thomson, currently serving as our Vice-President of Strategic Partnerships and Programs, will assume the responsibilities of Interim COO for the next six months. In this role, Jordan will provide continuity of Ontario Genomics operations in close collaboration with our management team, overseeing the daily operations and managing the team. Jordan’s impressive 16-year career spanning industries such as chemical process development, strategy, and business support, makes him an ideal candidate for this role. His track record of driving growth and fostering partnerships within Ontario Genomics underscores his commitment to our organization’s mission.

Together, Stephen and Jordan will collaborate closely with the Board of Directors and leadership team to ensure continuity, success, and a seamless transition for Ontario Genomics. Their collective expertise and dedication will propel us forward as we continue to innovate and make meaningful contributions to the genomics and engineering biology landscape in Ontario and beyond.

Please join us in welcoming Stephen and Jordan to their new roles! We thank you for your continued support and partnership as we embark on this journey together.

Ontario Genomics Welcomes New Interim Leadership