Three-year project brings environmental DNA technology to communities across Canada
Guelph, Feb. 04, 2019 - The power of environmental DNA technology is being extended
to community groups across the country to allow for faster creation of more robust
freshwater health data, as a result of a new $2.6 million partnership between World
Wildlife Fund Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), Living Lakes
Canada, Genome Canada and Dr. Mehrdad Hajibabaei of the University of Guelph.
Environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding is a combination of DNA identification and
automated DNA sequencing to generate biodiversity data for freshwater benthic macroinvertebrates,
the small animals that live at the bottom of streams and rivers. Changes in the
make-up of these invertebrate communities can be excellent indicators of pollution
and other environmental stressors.
Compared to current monitoring methods, which can be slow and costly, eDNA metabarcoding
technology has the potential to produce biodiversity data more quickly, more affordably
and at a higher resolution. The results of DNA-based biomonitoring will support
better environmental assessment, planning and regulatory decisions – which is essential
as population growth, agricultural activity, resource development and climate change
all put increasing pressure on Canada's freshwater ecosystems.
While many community groups already use biomonitoring to understand and manage the
impacts of resource projects such as mines, hydro dams and energy projects, access
to new genomics-based techniques for assessing watershed health will broaden the
reach and impact of existing community-based monitoring programs, ultimately leading
to better and faster data for informed decision-making.
Funding for this project, called STREAM DNA (Sequencing the River for Environmental
Assessment and Monitoring) is provided by Genome Canada, WWF-Canada and ECCC.
Elizabeth Hendriks, vice-president of freshwater conservation at WWF-Canada, said:
"Our Watershed Reports found a shocking data gap with respect to freshwater health,
despite the heroic efforts of community groups, staff and volunteers dedicated to
safeguarding this essential public resource. This commitment brings community-based
monitoring into the 21st century. Considering the increasing stress caused by climate
change and the cumulative effects of other human activities, not to mention major
developments on the horizon, the timing couldn't be more perfect."
Kat Hartwig, executive director for Living Lakes Canada, said: "We are very excited
to be testing this new DNA technology on the ground with and for community groups
who have the most to gain in understanding stream health through the sequencing
of DNA for biodiversity purposes. This technology will be a gamechanger and is very
timely given the urgent need to understand the health of our respective watersheds
Mehrdad Hajibabaei, associate professor, academic project lead, University of Guelph,
said: "This project is a stepping stone in the application of environmental DNA
metabarcoding for large-scale assessment of watershed health. Our lab has pioneered
the use of advanced DNA technologies for biodiversity analysis for over a decade
and we are very pleased in joining forces with WWF-Canada, Living Lakes Canada,
ECCC and various other stakeholders and citizen scientists in using this approach
for our valuable watersheds."
About World Wildlife Fund Canada
WWF-Canada creates solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for
Canadians. We work in places that are unique and ecologically important, so that
nature, wildlife and people thrive together. Because we are all wildlife. For more
information, visit wwf.ca.
About Living Lakes Canada
Living Lakes Canada bridges the gap between science and action to foster citizen-based
water stewardship. Our mandate is to help Canadians understand the intimate connections
between water quantity, water quality, land-use, climate change, biodiversity, and
healthy human communities by building a water stewardship ethic that all Canadians
can be proud of.
About Environment and Climate Change Canada
Environment and Climate Change Canada has a mandate for research, monitoring and
enforcement related to freshwater in Canada. The Department maintains the Canadian
Aquatic Biomonitoring Network, which is a multi-partner program to measure freshwater
ecosystem health with standardized methods, database tools and training.