Ontario genomics projects awarded $2.5m

Projects include developing gene chip to select lower-stress sows, genomics-derived assay for coccidiosis management in poultry.

December 11, 2019

3 Min Read
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University of Guelph

The University of Guelph announced several genomics research projects let by the university will receive more than $2.5 million under the Ontario Regional Priorities Partnership Program (ON-RP3).

Funding for eight genomics projects across Ontario — including seven initiatives led by University of Guelph researchers — worth a total of $2.95 million was recently announced by Bettina Hamelin, president and chief executive officer of Ontario Genomics.

“Genomics technology and innovation is absolutely critical for the continued growth of Ontario’s agriculture and agri-food sector,” Hamelin said. “By bringing industry and researchers together, these eight projects will create more jobs, keep Ontario competitive and provide amazing growth opportunities for Ontario’s farmers and our rural economy.”

The announced projects will receive a total of $1.95 million from the Agricultural Adaption Council (AAC) and Ontario Genomics through Genome Canada, as well as industry contributions worth $975,000, the announcement from the university said. The funding will support proof-of-concept stage projects using genomics technology to address specific challenges and opportunities in Ontario agriculture and agri-food.

University of Guelph will receive $2,566,751 for projects led by researchers in the Ontario Agricultural College, the Ontario Veterinary College and the College of Biological Science.

For one of the funded projects, professor Ray Lu in the University of Guelph department of molecular and cellular biology (MCB), will use his $480,001 award to refine novel technology developed in his lab to help pig breeders identify lower-stress sows.

From among 300,000 breeding sows in Ontario, 15% of piglets currently do not survive to weaning. Half of those piglets — or about 650,000 animals — die each year from crushing or savaging by sows, meaning a $12.9 million loss to the Ontario pork industry each year as well as animal welfare concerns, Lu said.

He said reducing those losses even by 10% “would bring about $1.3 million in savings to the Ontario pork industry annually and would represent an improvement in animal welfare, which has become increasingly important for the growth and sustainability of the pork industry.”

Lu said he aims to produce a prototype gene chip for DNA markers that will enable breeders and farmers to identify sows less likely to harm piglets.

He works with Alliance Genetics Canada, one of the largest breeding companies in Canada and a co-leader of this newly funded project, along with their collaborator, the Canadian Centre for Swine Improvement.

Other University of Guelph projects to receive funding include:

  • Christine Baes, department of animal biosciences: breeding livestock to cope with changing climate, especially extremes in temperature and humidity. Industry partner, Semex Alliance. Funding: $499,899.

  • George van der Merwe, MCB: development of a genomics-based beer yeast performance database for the Ontario craft brewing industry. Industry partner: Escarpment Laboratories. Funding: $366,165.

  • Praveen Saxena, department of plant agriculture: cold tolerance in Ontario hazelnuts. Industry partner: Ferrero Canada. Funding: $274,058.

  • John Barta, department of pathobiology: genomics-derived assay for improving coccidiosis management in Ontario poultry. Industry partner: Ceva Animal Health. Funding: $366,628.

  • Milad Eskandari, department of plant agriculture: increase soybean yield while improving quality in specific traits like protein to help food-grade industry in Ontario. Industry partner: SeCan. Funding: $180,000.

  • Elizabeth Lee, department of plant agriculture: genomics-based technologies to improve winter wheat breeding. Industry partner: Grain Farmers of Ontario. Funding: $400,000. This wheat breeding project was conceived and submitted by the late Ali Navabi, a former wheat breeder and plant agriculture professor who died this past March.

ON-RP3 is a regional program that follows key recommendations from a 2018 Ontario Genomics report called "Genetics for Agriculture & Agri-Food: Ontario’s Strategic Opportunity." That report involved consultations with numerous stakeholders, including the University of Guelph.

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