Biotechnology Focus

Biotechnology Focus February 2013

Biotechnology Focus is Canada's leading authority on Canada's life science news. From biopharma and healthcare to ag-bio and clean tech, our readership includes life science professionals, C-level executives and researchers.

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Metagenomics seems to be what keeps unhealthy bacteria from being present, or if it is, from causing negative consequences. An imbalance in acidity can result in significant health problems, most notably bacterial vaginosis that is more a reflection of an out of balance system than an infection. While this may not sound serious or lead to obvious symptoms, there can be more significant long-term consequences. Vaginosis makes it more likely for sexually transmitted diseases to take hold and can increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disorder. The most notable effect of an imbalanced vaginal microbiome is its effect on fertility and reproduction. Evidence points to fertility interruptions, spontaneous abortion and a higher risk of preterm delivery. Using metagenomics the researchers are studying the whole microbial community: gathering relevant data about changes in the vaginal ecosystem and analyzing shifts in bacterial configuration. This information is expected to help with the development of better tools to diagnose and treat bacterial vaginosis and mitigate detrimental impacts on sexual and reproductive health. industrial and recreational uses. The pressures of industry, population growth, environmental degradation, and changing land use are threatening our watersheds; however, our current reactive model of water quality monitoring and assessment is neither effective nor sustainable. Recognizing this, the Canadian government and watershed stakeholders are adopting a new model of watershed stewardship called 'source protection,' in which a variety of strategies are used to proactively ensure that Canadian watersheds remain healthy and pollution-free within a wider 'Source-to-Tap' framework. Source protection can save Canadians millions of dollars annually in downstream drinking water treatment and monitoring costs. And, the Source-to-Tap framework could potentially avoid another Walkerton disaster. But perhaps the greatest benefit of this new approach to watershed management is assuring the long-term sustainability of our watersheds and the ecosystems that surround them. Metagenomics is enabling this novel approach to water quality management by enabling the rapid cataloguing of the microbes in our water. Our water Our energy The old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure rings especially true when we speak of ecosystems – particularly those surrounding our supply of fresh water. Canada's watersheds are among the nation's most important natural resources, providing drinking water for our population as well as water for agricultural, Beyond alternate energy sources like biofuels, in which metagenomics has multiple applications, scientists are also finding applications in the traditional oil and gas energy sector. A cross-provincial team of investigators from BC and Alberta are currently analyzing ways to limit the environmental impact of extracting crude oil from Alberta's oil sands, creating a database of information on the genetic potential of naturally existing microorganisms, genes and biological processes. By making the database publicly available, these researchers will give scientists from other sectors the opportunity to use the research and hopefully expand and build both overall knowledge and the database itself. Questions about how to enhance the recovery of oil from the tar sands and mitigate pollution are getting some answers through the unrealized potential of the microbes living in the soil. Researchers can now find, and replicate, the microcosm universes that exist in the smallest soil sample. In the case of the oil sands, metagenomics offer more insight than was previously available because it allows for the analysis of DNA fragments rather than whole organisms. The identifiable fragments can usually be identified by function using one of the robust databases publicly available. Knowing which microorganisms exist in the soil will help researchers understand why and how the oil has been degraded. The next step will be to use this increased microbial knowledge to begin reversing the process. A new world, a new day, a new discovery Metagenomics has opened a door into a Lilliputian world where a host of novel discoveries are being made on a daily basis. This new approach to tackling the most complicated needs in medicine, food production, environmental issues and other global challenges may just be the holistic solution we need. Because of metagenomics, the possibility of solving some major challenges are no longer just within our imagination - they are within our grasp. Dr. Gabe Kalmar is Vice President, Sector Development at Genome British Columbia To see this story online visit metagenomics-limitless-possibilities/ 20 BIOTECHNOLOGY FOCUS February 2013

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