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Issues, trends, drivers and opportunities

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

Issues, Trends, Drivers and Opportunities

Developments at the national and international scale shape DFO's priorities. For instance, we know that competing resource demands; human population growth; climate and environmental change; scientific and technological advances; international responsibilities and obligations; shifting economic paradigms; traditional funding of high value/high visibility species; and, societal demands are a just a few of the drivers shaping DFO's agenda. We are faced with the challenge of understanding the complex interrelationship between these and other variables, in order to target our science, and inform policy choices, ultimately ensuring the long-term viability of the aquatic resources, and health of aquatic ecosystems for which we are responsible.

Public expectations for government action on these issues are high. The department is facing pressure from industry and communities, to increase investment in science and apply efficient and effective tools to better comprehend and manage aquatic resources. The public also sees a role for government to help in capitalizing on the potential of biotechnology to increase jobs and economic growth in Canada. This is especially true for coastal and rural Canadians.

DFO is responding by, as part of a department-wide science renewal, expanding its Aquatic Biotechnology and Genomics R&D Program. It has been proven that the speed, sensitivity and accuracy of using biotechnology and genomics tools provides many advantages in addition to more traditional methods of, for example, species identification, contaminated site remediation, and disease diagnosis.

Key Trends

Canada stands to gain from aquatic biotechnology and genomics innovation as these tools directly and indirectly support aquatic resource management and ecosystem integrity. To put this into context:

The National Context

The rapid pace of biotechnology discoveries continues to accelerate with some viewing its potential analogous to the impact of information and communication technologies. According to Canadian Trends in Biotechnology, Second Edition 2005:

From 1997 to 2003, biotechnology revenues more than quadrupled, from $813 million to $3.8 billion. Over that entire period, more than half of biotechnology revenues were received by companies in the human health sector. As noted earlier, this figure could change if the national and federal focus were to be expanded to include a greater emphasis on natural resources and the environment, in recognition of the correlation between a healthy population, environment and economic growth.

The Canadian Biotechnology Strategy: A Federal Initiative

The federal government plays a major role as an innovator, commercializer and regulator of biotechnology products with provinces and territories valuable partners. DFO has been a partner at the federal level in the implementation of the Canadian Biotechnology Strategy (CBS) since its inception in 1998.

The CBS provides a framework to guide national biotechnology activities. The CBS is led by Industry Canada in partnership with a number of federal departments, agencies, and research institutes such as Environment Canada (EC), Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), Health Canada (HC), National Research Council (NRC), Agriculture and Agrifood Canada (AAFC), DFO and others.

The CBS vision is: "to enhance the quality of life of Canadians in terms of health, safety, the environment and social and economic development by positioning Canada as a responsible world leader in biotechnology". The CBS is comprised of three pillars: Innovation, Regulation and Public Outreach. This strategy outlines DFO's role in all three of these pillars, and highlights both DFO's future role and direction in supporting these pillars, and some current accomplishments.

4.2 The International Context

One of the priorities of the federal government is to place Canada as a world leader in biotechnology. According to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) data for the year 2000, the number of dedicated biotechnology firms per million inhabitants is highest in Sweden, Switzerland and Canada. We also rank second in the proportion of total publicly funded R&D investments that is devoted to biotechnology. Denmark, Canada and New Zealand invest more than 10% of their total publicly funded R&D budgets in biotechnology. 5

Internationally, in 2003 nearly 89% of all biotechnology R&D expenditures were in the human health sector, with 6% of biotechnology R&D in the agriculture and food processing sectors. Biotechnology investment in the natural resource and environment sector is minimal, despite the untapped potential for benefits to Canadians. DFO can be instrumental in changing this trend.

The strong link between natural resource-based economic development in Canada, and economic growth, along with the direct and indirect impact of the quality of the natural environment on human health and environment are two reasons why a shift in R&D investments is necessary. Canada can become a global leader in the development, application and transfer of innovative aquatic biotechnology techniques and products. Doing so will not only benefit the international community with the uptake of products that will ultimately foster a more sustainable global fishery, but also Canadian industry and coastal communities, and consumers.

International Fisheries and Oceans Management

Global production from capture fisheries and aquaculture supplied about 101 million tonnes of food fish in 2002.6

International fisheries and oceans management issues are complex. Uncertainty arises from many factors including cumulative impacts, climate change, an increase in the number of people using ocean resources, the variety of ocean activities, as well as international markets and socio-economic pressure.

For many years, a major challenge for the management of the international fishery has been the quest to establish appropriate fishing quotas in light of the high level of uncertainty and complexity.

With the development of genetic tools to "genetically fingerprint" fish as individuals and populations, new information can be generated that enables the attribution of fish stocks that straddle international boundaries to country of origin. This additional information can be used by the Department, and the international community, to develop and propose quotas that are more reflective of migratory patterns and the need to maintain the health of fish stocks. Through the development of sensitive, accurate and rapid tests that provide valuable information to fisheries and oceans managers, Canada is contributing to the international knowledge and tool base for addressing the challenge of managing international fisheries, thereby supporting and contributing to our responsibilities under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), the Pacific Salmon Commission, North Pacific Anadromous Fisheries Commission, and, the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization.

Aquaculture in the World

Worldwide, aquaculture is the fastest-growing sector in agri-food, with fish accounting for more than 40% of revenues. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports total aquaculture production was 39 million tonnes in 2002, and predicts total aquaculture fish production will exceed 130 million tonnes per year by 2030.

Under the Department's 2005-2010 Strategic Plan, DFO will "seek opportunities to create the conditions for the development of an environmentally sustainable, internationally competitive aquaculture industry in Canada." Biotechnology and genomics innovations will continue to contribute to the industry's growth and success through development and application of tools, including those for regulatory and production support.

In support of sustainable aquaculture, DFO's biotechnology and genomics research is investigating and evaluating methods to mitigate the interactions between wild and domesticated strains. Through the development of accurate and efficient methods that allow for aquaculture strains to be distinguished from wild populations, assessment of the impact of interactions can be made, as well as allowing for the tracing of aquaculture products. In addition, the application of sensitive and specific techniques for detecting aquatic animal pathogens will provide information on disease transmission. The tools and results from these studies can then be used to inform aquaculture management decisions.

Biotechnology and genomics tools have applications to support the development of robust aquaculture broodstock, both for species that have been used extensively in aquaculture and for new aquaculture species. For example, DFO scientists, in collaboration with academic partners are developing two elite cod broodstocks, one in New Brunswick and one in Newfoundland and Labrador, both based on local stocks of cod, using traditional and biotechnology and genomics tools and information. The genetic information anticipated to be generated from this project will be used to direct the selective breeding to prevent inbreeding and to select for fast growing and/or disease resistant families for use in aquaculture.

Aquatic Ecosystem Health

There is now growing international acceptance for ecosystem-based integrated management practices to protect our aquatic resources. Ecosystem health information can be informed by the development and use of standardized indicators, which can then be used as part of the risk management decision process. The application of outcomes from biotechnology and genomics research provide the means to monitor aquatic ecosystem health using biomarkers - multiple biomolecular signatures that when examined together present a unique pattern of molecular change in an organism and identify an exposure or response to a specific environmental stressor. Furthermore, advances in biotechnology will provide novel means monitor and address the remediation of existing contaminated sites (e.g., bioremediation strategies).

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