Biotechnology and aquatic ecosystem health

Learn how we operate our program for biotechnology and aquatic ecosystem health.

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Theme priorities

For the biotechnology and aquatic ecosystem health theme, our goal is to:

Healthy and productive ecosystems aren't only home to an enormous number of species, but are also the basis for:

Canada's oceans and their resources are significant contributors to the overall Canadian economy, with:

Oceans are facing severe environmental threats from:

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has responsibilities under the 1997 Oceans Action Act. We're a global leader in promoting the sustainable development and integrated management of our oceans, which includes the management of estuarine coastal and marine ecosystems.

Genomic indicators for environmental stress

Aquatic ecosystems change naturally and constantly. However, biodiversity and species at risk are threatened by changes caused by external factors, such as:

We're developing genomic indicators to detect and monitor environmental stress and recovery in aquatic ecosystems. So far, our scientists have found that gene expression in fish can:

Once the ecosystem's health has been benchmarked, a number of approaches can be taken depending on what's needed, like:

Cleaning contaminated sites using bacteria

We've estimated that up to 10 (insert 7 up high beside the 10) tonnes of crude oil impact marine and estuarine environments annually. Accidental oil spills have become an environmental issue of priority concern off the coast of Canada, including the Arctic. This is due to increases in marine transport and the development of offshore oil and gas reserves.

To help clean these sites, we've developed world renowned expertise using bioremediation in contaminated sites for:

Bioremediation is the use of living microorganisms to destroy or reduce contaminants, such as toxic chemicals, in the aquatic environment.

DFO's national Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research (COOGER) is developing new sensitive, cost-effective, rapid assays (tests to detect the presence of certain traits or chemicals). These assays are based on recent advances in biotechnology. They're used for restoring the ecological health of contaminated sites in coastal environments, such as Syndey Harbour in Nova Scotia, one of the most hazardous toxic waste sites in Canada.

The 2 useful techniques are:

  1. bioremediation
  2. bioaugmentation

We developed ecologically relevant regulatory biotests and biomarker assays to assess toxic substance:

Using radiotracer and gene-probe analysis, we assess the ability of microbes to clean up organic contaminants. Key findings indicate that indigenous sediment microorganisms have the capacity to degrade and/or transform many contaminants of concern.

Monitoring aquatic ecosystems

Water sampling

Water sampling

DFO has developed a number of programs with the National Research Council, including oil spill mitigation strategies and techniques to monitor habitat recovery.

Researchers are developing new sensitive, cost-effective rapid assays based on recent advances in biotechnology, for monitoring recovery in habitat quality.

We've performed field trials using microbes with stable bioremediation potential on controlled oil spills in coastal environments. This has allowed us to test and refine operating procedures and share them with public and private sector laboratories. This lets more people benefit from this technology and enjoy healthy ecosystems.

Environmental changes and gene expression

DFO has developed genomics capabilities for:

Gene expression profiling allows us to identify altered physiological pathways caused by domestication or environmental change. In the future, it may provide early warning systems for detecting aquatic environment:

It works by using specialized techniques to determine gene expression, which means when genes are ‘turned on.'

Ecosystem impacts of scallop drag netting

DFO has conducted research on the effect that bottom trawling has on the reproduction of:

Scientists have found that colonies exposed to dragging:

Corals and sponges can reproduce either sexually or asexually. However, sexual reproduction fosters biodiversity and improves the chances for future adaptation and survival.

We've studied the genetic impacts of scallop drag nets on the hydroid (white weed) Sertularia cupressina using DNA analysis. We found that, in hard-fished areas, the organisms could lose biodiversity and the ability to survive and adapt over future generations.

Similar work on soft corals showed no shift to asexual reproduction, but the sea-floor disturbances caused premature release of larvae. This produced daughter colonies that suffered high mortality.

Future research will inform regulators on the need to protect ocean corals and other organisms.

Using genetic marking instead of tagging

Genetic marking is used to help protect vulnerable, endangered and protected species. This includes those listed under the:

We generate valuable information that can be used in designing marine protected areas (MPAs) using tools such as:

DFO scientists also use genetic methods to help identify population units that are:

Conventional tagging by fisheries management is being replaced with genetic methods for strain and stock identification, which:  

This will also help in the protection and enhancement of biodiversity and aquatic fish habitat, including species at risk.

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