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How to be a tree detective with Genomics

As you may know, invasive species like the mountain pine beetle are a real threat to Canadian Forests. Next time you are in a wooded area, take a close look the trees. Are the branches a little bare? Are the leaves and bark marked with blemishes or holes? These are signs that invasive pests are affecting the health of the trees and if you do notice these effects, it's possible that the pathogens have spread too far.  

In order to understand how to prevent infections and diseases in plants and trees, scientists need to first be able to identify the specific cause of the problem. Identifying pathogens was once a very long process. In fact, using older technology, it could take weeks, which is too long to wait when an invasive species is introduced.

Now, thanks to ongoing genomics research led by Dr Richard Hamelin from Natural Resources Canada and the University of British Columbia, we have genomic tools that can identify pathogens in plants and trees that appear to be healthy.

This is pretty exciting since scientists will no longer have to wait until a tree shows visible signs of being in poor health. With this early identification tool, they help to eradicate problems before they spread.  

What is Genomics? What is a Genome?

Genomics is the science that aims to understand and explain the genetics of living things. A genome is an organism's complete set of DNA. Deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA for short, is a molecule that encodes blueprint instructions for building organisms. Every living thing has DNA: people, dogs, grass, bugs, and even things like viruses and microorganisms have their very own special set of genetic instructions. It’s because of these specific instructions that you might be tall or short and have red hair or black hair. Genetics can even play a role in the way we behave.

So why do we study Genomics?

The better we understand how genomes work, the better chance we have of developing technology that can support healthier people, animals and ecosystems.

What’s new in Genomics research?

Genomics is a flourishing field in British Columbia thanks to the support of Genome British Columbia, a catalyst organization which manages research projects and science and technology platforms. Genome BC works with governments, academia and industry across sectors such as forestry, fisheries, agriculture, environment, bioenergy, mining and human health. The goal of the organization is to generate social and economic benefits for British Columbia and the rest of Canada.

Genome British Columbia is the presenting sponsor of this year’s Around the Dome Science Festival, so be sure to visit sometime from September 27–October 26 to learn more about Genomics research and education in BC. For more information on the exciting advancements in Genomics, you can visit Genome BC on the web.