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Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Priority Research Themes
  3. Vision for 2015
  4. Issues, Trends, Drivers and Opportunities
  5. The Aquatic Biotechnology and Genomics R&D Strategy
  6. Conclusion - Charting a Path Forward


Biotechnology is a powerful "enabling technology" with applications in many sectors and holding much promise for the future. It is a term that covers a broad spectrum of scientific applications. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act defines biotechnology as "the application of science and engineering in the direct and indirect use of living organisms or parts or products of living organisms in their natural or modified forms."

Aquatic biotechnology involves the application of science and engineering for the direct or indirect use of aquatic organisms or parts or products of living aquatic organisms in their natural or modified forms. It includes genomics, a discipline that aims to decipher and understand the entire genetic information content of plants, animal/fish organisms, and micro organism. It is fundamental to all biological and biotech research.

Components of aquatic biotechnology include aquaculture biotechnology (e.g., fish health and broodstock optimization); aquatic bioprocessing (e.g., obtaining valuable compounds from marine organisms); and aquatic bioremediation (e.g., use of microorganisms to degrade toxic chemicals in the aquatic environment).

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is linking innovative biotechnology and genomics science with higher level policy making and on-the-ground fishery and aquatic ecosystem management decisions.

The development and application of biotechnology and genomics tools to enhance sustainable resource management and environmental conservation and protection is increasing in Canada and around the world. Advances and application developments in biotechnology and genomics present the possibility for lower-cost biotechnology applications with advantages, such as greater sensitivity, accuracy, faster results and increased efficiency, over more traditional technologies. DFO is part of this biotechnology and genomics wave with innovative science across the country supporting our mandate.

As biotechnology and genomics tools and information are increasingly incorporated into DFO research and development activities, an integrative approach to identifying opportunities for sharing expertise, coordinating efforts and increasing efficiencies within DFO's biotechnology and genomics R&D activities was taken.

DFO's Aquatic Biotechnology Program has been in place since the late 1980s, with the majority of our developments occurring within the last 10 years. With targeted start-up funding, DFO has strategically developed expertise and capabilities in biotechnology and genomics. DFO researchers and key partners have developed new biotechnology techniques that support policy and management decisions to enhance the ecological sustainability of the wild fishery, aquaculture and oceans ecosystems. Our success has been a result of being able to quickly apply our research through effective partnerships, deploying products and tools to enable clients in other government agencies, and the private and public sectors to adopt and benefit from the application of new technologies, while keeping the research aligned with departmental priorities.

DFO's Mandate and Aquatic Biotechnology

Key departmental priorities, as outlined in the 2005-2010 Strategic Plan: Our Waters, Our Future, can be supported by biotechnology and genomics research, development and innovations. The Department's strategic plan clearly states that sustainable development is a priority. An underlying premise of sustainable development is that a strong sustainable economy is a product of a healthy natural environment and healthy society. Habitat destruction, loss of biodiversity, and land and sea-based pollution all have a negative impact on our culture, society and economy. Properly managed, our natural resources and aquatic environment will be sustained for future generations, and provide the basis for growth and co-existence of current and emerging aquatic resource users.

Biotechnology and genomic tools and products contribute to the three inter-related DFO priority outcomes:

  1. Healthy and Productive Aquatic Ecosystems - Refers to the sustainable development and integrated management of resources in or around Canada's aquatic environment through oceans and fish habitat management, and the critical science activities that support these two programs.
  2. Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture - Refers to an integrated fisheries and aquaculture program that is credible, science-based, affordable and effective, and contributes to sustained wealth for Canadians.
  3. Safe and Accessible Waterways- is about providing access to Canadian waterways, and ensuring the overall safety and integrity of Canada's marine infrastructure for the benefit of all Canadians.

DFO Science Renewal

In 2004, DFO embarked on a review of all science activities in order to identify and match all science activities to the three key departmental and government priorities, review commitments and capacity in order to balance advice needs with ability to deliver the advice, and to finalize and implement a long-term plan to ensure relevance and sustainability of the Science Program.

DFO's Science Sector must also be responsive to internal drivers, such as the increase in demand for science advice, products, and services. These requests are increasingly complex, requiring integrative approaches and ecosystem considerations. Additionally, the scientific information, products, services and advice needs to be flexible and responsive to rapidly emerging departmental and federal priorities. However, there is an acknowledgement that the scientific capacity and resources required to meet these ever increasing demands are not available.

In response to these drivers, Science Renewal aims to produce a vibrant aquatic science program based on excellence that supports and informs DFO and Government needs and best serves Canadians. The framework to deliver on this objective is to ensure that DFO science is relevant, and responsive to priorities; effective, through a modern and effective science functions; affordable; and valued.

To support DFO priorities, 13 clusters of science activities have been identified, including Biotechnology and Genomics (see figure, above). These clusters have been identified as key program areas that support national Science Sector priorities through research, monitoring, providing science advice, products and services, data management, and science management. Many of the core clusters have been identified as Centres of Expertise, a new management and coordination approach to streamline science service delivery and national coordination, thereby increasing efficiency and effectiveness.

Standard biotechnology tools are now used throughout the Department with the more specialized developmental work concentrated in biotechnology centres across the country, resulting in the development of core capacity and expertise. DFO is continually increasing its capacity in terms of highly skilled personnel, and specialized equipment and facilities in order to develop and deploy leading-edge biotechnology and genomics tools. In part, the success that DFO has had in integrating and deploying biotechnology and genomics tools and information is due to the development of strong and vibrant partnerships with researchers in other government departments, academia and industry, as appropriate. This has enabled DFO researchers and DFO Science to capitalize on third party resources to deliver better and stronger programs, to meet its mandate and key priority objectives more efficiently, to foster and support world-class scientific and technological innovation, to train new scientific personnel, and to develop and maintain a national and international reputation for scientific excellence in aquatic biotechnology and genomics research.

Partnering with Canadians

DFO scientists take on research in support of issues that matter to our stakeholders. We work closely with the aquatic resource managers, users and conservation groups and identify priorities based on the needs of these communities. Biotechnology research also provides information that support Canada's national and international commitments in aquatic animal health, stock management and assessment of risks associated with biotechnology-derived products.

The multi-faceted nature of fisheries, aquaculture, and management of aquatic ecosystems, and the interdisciplinary nature of biotechnology requires, and benefits from, strong partnerships and effective stakeholder relations. DFO works with a diverse range of stakeholder groups and individuals including: local communities; fishery biologists; enforcement personnel; international scientists; international research and regulatory organizations; international governments; aboriginal groups with fishing and resource rights; commercial aquaculture and wild fishery organizations; companies; and, provincial and territorial counterparts with shared resource management responsibilities. DFO has partnerships with governments and research institutes in the United States, Norway, France, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, Korea, and Germany.

Moving Forward - Aquatic Biotechnology and Genomics Research and Development Strategy: Shaping the Future

Despite progress made possible through start-up funding, the incremental costs associated with ongoing research and its application are challenging the Department to regularly seek additional funds to meet the increasing capacity needs and maximize the application of these tools for sustainable development. As enabling technologies that are inherently multidisciplinary, biotechnology and genomics may have applications and information to support the aims of many of the other science clusters, including Aquatic Animal Health, Aquatic Invasive Species, Species at Risk, Aquaculture Production, etc.

To build on success to date, and chart a clear path forward, DFO has developed the following Aquatic Biotechnology and Genomics R&D Strategy to support DFO's departmental and national obligations over the next number of years. This Strategy is the product of input from DFO's scientists, the National Biotechnology Coordinators, biotechnology regulators, and managers.

This strategy was intended to capture the wide range of science initiatives either underway or proposed within DFO. The biotechnology and genomics R&D opportunities and priorities have been mapped out over a variety of timeframes, allowing for the actions and outcomes to build on one another, thus permitting the integration of experiences, and outputs from previous activities.

By increasing the awareness and understanding of the multiple benefits derived from the application of biotechnology tools, senior government officials will be better able to make informed policy decisions and invest in areas where science gaps remain. Risk assessments and critical decisions need to be made at all levels, reinforcing the need for an integrated approach.

The Strategy also outlines the inherent multidisciplinary aspect of biotechnology and genomics, and provides examples of applications of these enabling technologies to many of DFO's mandated science advice and activities. The opportunities for biotechnology and genomics research and development to provide new and precise tools and information to help meet the Department's mandate will continue to be explored as the science and technology matures. Science Renewal involves linking the science program to Departmental and federal strategic outcomes and priorities within a new Departmental reporting structure. Biotechnology and genomics tools and applications can add value, efficiencies and improve effectiveness in meeting core mandated science advice and information needs.

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