Distinguished Alberta and BC scientists tackle mountain pine beetle infestation with unique biological approach through genomics

    CALGARY and VANCOUVER, Jan. 10 /CNW/ - Today a team of BC and Alberta
scientists are launching a research project to examine the interaction between
the mountain pine beetle, the fungal pathogen it carries and pine trees. The
initial two-year project with a value of $4 million, is being funded equally
by Genome British Columbia and Genome Alberta.
    In British Columbia 13 million hectares has already been devastated by
the infestation - the largest ever in Canada - and in Alberta well over
1.5 million trees have also been damaged.
    "In Phase I of this project we will do something that has never been done
- we are investigating the interactions between the three different kinds of
organisms at the level of their genomes. What are the characteristics that
allow this bug, carrying this infectious agent, to damage this tree in these
conditions? The knowledge about how these distinct biological systems interact
with each other will support more accurate and far reaching forest harvesting
and management decisions for Canada and other lumber-producing nations," says
Dr. Joerg Bohlmann, a University of BC forestry scientist, recognized globally
for his expertise in tree genomics, who is a project co-leader.
    The other project co-leader is Dr. Janice Cooke, Assistant Professor of
Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta. She says that "The
multidisciplinary team that we have been able to bring together for this
project has critical expertise that allows us to investigate interactions
between the mountain pine beetle, its fungal associates, and pine trees in an
integrative fashion.
    The genomics resources that we are developing will make it possible to
research these interactions in a completely new way."
    Other scientists from the University of Northern British Columbia in
Prince George and the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre in Vancouver are
also participating.
    Dr. Bohlmann went on to add that this project is a natural extension of
Genome British Columbia's significant investment in Forestry Genomics Research
Projects, $25 million to date, which have been at work for seven years. While
this first phase of the Mountain Pine Beetle Project is being funded by
British Columbia and Alberta, it is expected that a more comprehensive
national and international effort with an additional $10 million budget will
    Scientists at the University of British Columbia have also noted that the
pine beetle infestation is not the only climate-related threat on the horizon
and that experts in both the forestry and agriculture industries recognize
that other combinations of pest-pathogen systems, not unlike the pine beetle -
fungus system, either could emerge or already currently exist in the Province.
These systems could include attacks on other tree species including fruit
trees as well as other agriculture crops. Today, there is very little
knowledge of these systems and how better decisions could be made to minimize
their negative impact.

    Genome British Columbia is a research organization which receives a
portion of its funds from the Province of British Columbia. GBC invests in and
manages large-scale genomics and proteomics research projects and science and
technology platforms focused on areas of strategic importance such as human
health, forestry, fisheries, agriculture, the environment and ethics.

                               RESEARCH PROJECT

    -   Canada is home to ten percent of the world's forests and is a leader
        in sustainable forest management.

    -   Two-thirds of the land mass of British Columbia is forest, one
        quarter of that is lodge pole pine.

    -   Forestry is a $7 billion industry in British Columbia - the
        province's largest industry.

    -   British Columbia is in the midst of the largest ever bug infestation
        in Canadian history.

    -   The range of the mountain pine beetle stretches from Mexico to north-
        central Alberta with an expected variation in cold tolerance

    -   Winters of late have not been cold enough so far to kill off the pine
        beetle larvae therefore the problem has not been contained.

    -   The fungal pathogen to be studied, Ophiostoma clavigerum will have
        its complete genomic structure sequenced.

    -   To date no large-scale genome sequence information exists for bark
        beetles of any species.

    -   Genomics techniques are already being used to survey the mountain
        pine beetle populations across 12 different regions in BC and

    -   All three phases of the research project were reviewed by an
        international peer review panel and received the highest rating.

    -   Genome Alberta is the newest of the regional genome centres, and is a
        not-for-profit corporation focusing on genomics research as one of
        the central components of Alberta's Life Sciences Initiative.

For further information:

For further information: Linda Bartz, Ph: (604) 637-4373, Email:
lbartz@genomebc.ca; Julia White, Ph: (604) 637-4378, Email:

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