HALIFAX—Eight climate change research projects were announced today by Genome Atlantic, in partnership with Research Nova Scotia. The projects bring genomics problem-solving capabilities to wide-ranging areas of Atlantic Canada’s economy, from the lobster fishery to soil management.

The initiative was made possible through a new $124,530 Small-Scale Climate Change Fund (SSCCF) set up by Genome Atlantic, with support from Research Nova Scotia.

Each approved project received an award ranging from $5,000-$20,000. Projects were eligible for funding in excess of $5,000 if they had co-funding partners.

“We were very impressed by the number and quality of applications we received for these relatively small, but potentially important, genomic research projects aimed at alleviating the effects of climate change,” said Dr. Kristin Tweel, Genome Atlantic’s Director of Sector Innovation. “Having Research Nova Scotia as a partner meant we were able to fund twice as many awards as we could have done alone, so we are very grateful for Research Nova Scotia’s visionary outlook and support,” she said.

“Climate change poses serious and far-reaching challenges for Nova Scotia,” said Stefan Leslie, CEO of Research Nova Scotia. “That’s why Research Nova Scotia is proud to partner with Genome Atlantic on the Small-Scale Climate Change Fund. These research projects will help mitigate the effects of climate change on our region and promote sustainability and resilience in our traditional industries.”

The SSCCF is designed to kick-start short-term, proof of concept research, with preliminary results expected by May 31. The purpose is to test potential genomic-based solutions to problems affecting businesses, industries, organizations or governments in Atlantic Canada and to provide the basis for larger future scientific investigations.

The successful projects include initiatives that relate to potato wart, sampling for harmful algal blooms in freshwater, the genetic value of the Milking Shorthorn Dairy breed, the heat threshold of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia mussels, invasive earthworm identification, detection for the impending arrival of a new oyster parasite, the affordability of livestock forage grown with rejuvenated soil microbiomes, and the risk to the Maritime lobster fishery from a disease decimating lobster landings, south of Boston, Mass.

Applicants had to ensure their research would be applied by engaging an end-user – an industry/association or government partner – to be part of the application. They also had to show how their initiative could impact climate change and lead to a larger funded research project.

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For more information contact:

Charmaine Gaudet, APR, Director of Communications, Genome Atlantic
CGaudet@genomeatlantic.ca | 902-488-7837 (Halifax, N.S.)

Stephanie Reid, Director, Marketing & Communications, Research Nova Scotia
Stephanie.Reid@researchns.ca | 902-223-9450 (Halifax, N.S.)

Approved Small-Scale Climate Change Projects

Milking Shorthorn Dairy Cattle in the Maritimes
Growing domestic interest in Canada’s relatively small population of Milking Shorthorn dairy cattle has sparked the need for genomic evaluations in the breed. The moderate-sized breed has gained a reputation for its high efficiency in converting forage to milk containing high-valued fat and protein. The Canadian Milking Shorthorn Society, headquartered in Kensington P.E.I., wants to start the evaluation process by building a reference population of genotypes – a compilation of the genetic makeup of individual members of the dairy breed in Canada. As a first step, the society wants to work with Milking Shorthorn breeders in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to genotype most of the cattle resident in those provinces. The work will also provide a template for additional genotyping of other Milking Shorthorn dairy cattle across the country as well as for testing genetic material from existing gene banks.

The project: Pursuing Genomic Evaluation for Milking Shorthorn Dairy Cattle to Improve on-Farm Efficiency and Climate Friendly Milk Production. Principal Investigator: Ryan Barrett, Secretary-Manager, Canadian Milking Shorthorn Society, Kensington, P.E.I.

Nova Scotia Oyster Industry
Building on ongoing research to develop protocols for two- to three-hour field-based detection of the oyster parasite, Haplospordium nelsoni, a Cape Breton research group will expand its work to add rapid detection for another oyster parasite, Perkinsus marinus.  The oyster industry is a multi-million dollar industry in Atlantic Canada. While H. nelsoni devastated the Bras d’Or Lake industry early this century, P. marinus is an impending threat for oyster growers, starting in southern Nova Scotia. The protozoan parasite has spread northward along the U.S. eastern seaboard over the past 20 years due to increasing water temperatures, which are now affecting Atlantic Canada. Southern Nova Scotia’s water links with the U.S. via marine and boat traffic leave that area vulnerable to the arrival of P. marinus.  Quick and early detection of this oyster pathogen, however, could mean mitigation measures could be taken to avert a commercial calamity for the industry.  

Project: Rapid detection of Perkinsus marinus to protect the Atlantic Canada oyster industry from a climate change threat. Principal Investigator: Dr. Rod Beresford, Research Fellow, Verschuren Centre for Sustainability.  (Associate Professor, Integrative Science, Cape Breton University)

Water Quality in Atlantic Canada
Harmful algal blooms produced by cyanobacteria have become an important priority in Atlantic Canada. As a result of climate change, these bacteria have begun to turn up with greater frequency and for longer durations in lakes across Nova Scotia. Under certain circumstances, cyanobacteria can release toxins and other compounds that affect water quality. Sampling approaches are needed to better understand, monitor, and prioritize risks associated with algae and algal toxins. A research team from Dalhousie University plans to take a state-of-the-art passive sampling approach to monitor cyanobacteria, based on its recent success in developing a passive sampling device to monitor SARS-CoV-2 in various wastewater environments.

The Project: Enhanced Climate-based Monitoring of Algae and Algal Toxins through Passive Sampling. Principal Investigators: Dr. Graham Gagnon, NSERC/Halifax Water Industrial Research Chair in Water Quality & Treatment and Director, Centre for Water Resources Studies, Dr. Amina Stoddart, Assistant Professor, Centre for Water Resources Studies and Department of Civil and Resource Engineering, Dr. Crystal Sweeney, Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Water Resources Studies, all at Dalhousie University, Halifax, N.S.

Blue Mussel Industry in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia
With Prince Edward Island’s blue mussel production coming under increasing pressure from warming coastal waters, the suspected higher thermal tolerance of mussels from Sober Island Pond, N.S. may offer a potential genetic solution. Preliminary research suggests the Sober Island Pond mussels can withstand higher water temperatures than their cousins in St. Peter’s Bay, P.E.I. Mussel grower, Atlantic Aqua Farms Ltd. of Borden-Carleton P.E.I., and a Dalhousie University researcher who specializes in an ecosystem approach to aquaculture want to compare the two populations to find their thermal thresholds and consider whether genes from the Nova Scotia mussels might improve the environmental heat tolerance of P.E.I. mussels. This research could be important for the future of the island industry, which currently supplies 80 per cent of the North American mussel market.

The Project: Exploring adaptation and plasticity to ocean warming in blue mussels. Principal Investigators: Dr. Ramon Filgueira, Associate Professor, Marine Affairs Program, Dalhousie University, Halifax, N.S.; Dr. Tiago Hori, Director of Innovation, Atlantic Aqua Farms, Vernon Bridge, P.E.I.

Agricultural Soil Management
One way to step up carbon sequestration is to enhance the soil microbiome – the mixture of organisms in the soil- with essential microbes and fungi so the soil can hold more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. NL Marine Organics, an enriched fish-based fertilizer producer, in Portugal Cove St. Phillips, N.L. wants to determine how growing livestock forage with rejuvenated soil microbiomes could be made more affordable for agriculture. The project plans to collect baseline data from soil samples on farms using different soil management practices; consult farmers to identify change management issues; denote practices that impact the soil microbiome and the economic factors that could persuade the agricultural sector to adopt a new, environmentally friendly approach to soil management. 

Project: Carbon Sequestration and Food Security through Metabolomic Approaches to Soil Microbiomes. Principal Investigator: Diane Hollett, co-founder of NL Marine Organics, Portugal Cove St. Phillips, N.L. 

Invasive Earthworms in Atlantic Canada
Researchers at Saint Mary’s University in Nova Scotia and the Canadian Forest Service in New Brunswick and Quebec, want to get a handle on the variety of earthworms in Atlantic Canada, about which little is known, by using environmental DNA. The technique involves using soil samples to analyze tell-tale genetic material left behind by the worms, to indicate the species present. If it proves practicable, the methodology could be time saving, cost efficient and more accurate than conventional searches for species identification. The technique could also fill a major information gap on earthworm distribution in Atlantic Canada. Without the data government and researchers cannot model or understand the effects of large-scale earthworm invasions, which are likely to increase with climate change. Earthworms, because of their ability to change soil properties can either increase or decrease soil carbon storage. They have been found to reduce the amount of carbon stored in the soil organic layer by more than 50 per cent, but they can also increase storage by mixing carbon into deeper layers of soil. The differing effects are believed to be related to the earthworm species, their habitat and the surrounding climate.

The Project: Tracking invasive earthworms through eDNA: a proof of concept. Principal Investigator: Dr. Erin Cameron, Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental Science, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax.

The Maritime Lobster Fishery
This project will look at establishing the risk of epizootic shell disease (ESD) and its potential for damage to Canada’s east coast lobster industry. There are concerns the warmer, more acid waters created by climate change that have facilitated the prevalence of ESD in the Gulf of Maine could creep north into Canadian waters. Landings from the once lucrative lobster fishery, south of Boston Mass., is down by more than 85 per cent since 1997. While poorly understood, ESD is believed to be caused by chitinolytic bacteria, which produces lesions in lobster shells. Once the risk is known, Canadian management practices may be better able to minimize the potential impact here.

The Project: Baseline Molecular Epidemiologic Risk Assessment for Shell Disease in the Atlantic Canadian Lobster Fishery.  Principal Investigator: Dr. Fraser Clark, molecular immunologist, Department of Animal Science and Aquaculture, Dalhousie University.

Prince Edward Island Potato Industry
A multidisciplinary team versed in climate change, gene sequencing, agriculture diseases and precision agriculture will comb the scientific literature to collect potato gene-sequencing data that could make P.E.I. potatoes more resilient to climate change and resistant to potato wart. Last year, the disease caused significant economic loss to the island’s potato industry after it was found in potatoes on two P.E.I. farms. The discovery prompted suspension of all shipments of P.E.I. seed, table and processing potatoes to the U.S. for about three months.

The project: Identification of Climate-Resilient and Wart-Resistant Potato Varieties for P.E.I. Principal Investigator: Dr. Xander Wang, Associate Professor, School of Climate Change and Adaptation, University of Prince Edward Island.