The world’s forests face unprecedented threats from invasive insects and pathogens that can cause large irreversible damage to the environment. This threatens Canada’s capacity to provide long-term wood resources and ecosystem services that range from carbon storage, nutrient cycling, water and air purification, soil preservation and maintenance of wildlife habitat. The number of new introductions and interceptions of Forest Invasive Alien Species (FIAS) is escalating at an alarming rate, with 37% of all invasive species introductions reported between 1970-2014, including a maximum of 585 new records in 1996 (Seebens et al, 2017). The key to reducing this risk is via vigilant biosurveillance to increase preparedness and facilitate early interventions.
The BioSAFE project comes at a time when global trade is occurring at an accelerated pace and from all parts of the world. To match this pace and prevent introductions or invasions of pests and pathogens, our biosurveillance methods cannot rely on current tools alone. Our current tool set enables us to identify target pests and pathogens; however, it provides little means of determining their source. The ability to determine source would allow regulating agencies to identify locations of higher risk, thus allowing a strategic means of allocating resources to certain shipments with greater potential of risk.
Our team of renowned scientists from academia, government and the private sector across Canada possesses vast amounts of experience and has access to facilities that include certified pest containment leveled laboratories and technologically advanced equipment to conduct a vast range of experiments. This team is tackling this challenge by conducting research studying the genomics of these organisms and developing advanced source identification tools to supply both the forestry and agriculture sector, assisting with surveillance and pest management planning for various levels of government and stakeholders.
To improve the detection and surveillance of forest invasive species by developing the next generation of genomic biosurveillance tools that will allow rapid and accurate identification of insects and pathogens, determine their origin, provide an assessment of the risk they pose and provide the endusers with a decision-support system to guide their management and mitigation actions.
The BioSAFE project team is tackling four of the most important forest enemies: the Asian longhorned beetle, Asian gypsy moth, Dutch elm disease and sudden oak death. Our team has collected global populations of these pests and pathogens and has generated genomic resources of over 2000 samples in total. By comparing genome sequences from these global collections our team is identifying diagnostic markers that will be developed into tools that will allow identification of species, subspecies and geographic origin for intercepted samples.
Our team is also aiming to identify traits that are associated with the invasive nature of these pests and pathogens. In order to do so, we are conducting experiments to study their functional abilities to invade North America, spread and survive. We are studying cold tolerance in the Asian longhorned beetle, flight capability and host preference in the Asian gypsy moth, virulence and host range of sudden oak death. Our team is analysing genomic signatures to reveal markers that will be diagnostic of these important traits.
To facilitate the use of the genomic tools, we are developing a database and machine learning tool that will allow users to analyse data obtained for their own intercepted samples and obtain results on their identity, their source and the traits they carry. This data will be feed into a decision support system that will guide their management and mitigation actions.
Since the forest invasive alien species are a global threat, our aim is to open our tools and databases to the global community.
There are three critical outputs of the project: 1) the Biosurveillance tools, which consist of target enrichment panels for genomic regions identified as diagnostic by our team that will provide taxonomic identification, geographic origin and epidemiological and ecologically relevant traits; 2) a database that will comprise genomic profiles and metadata of our global collections for each targeted group of pests and pathogens, and; 3) a Decision Support System that will make use of the genomic data and provide users with scenarios for management and mitigation of targeted species.