Genomics An Economic, Ecological Game-Changer
March 04th, 2015
There’s rarely a day that goes by when Nova Scotians don’t hear about climate change, global warming, water quality, ocean health, and industrial pollution. It’s likely almost as often as they hear about the struggling regional economy and the need for drastic change.
Many would be surprised to find that these topics are connected. And more still would be surprised to learn that part of the solution may lie in single-celled microscopic organisms called microbes.
These “bugs” play many roles in the environment. Some have unusual appetites for materials such as oil or industrial wastes that are toxic to other living things around them. Others act as ecosystem barometers, providing early indicators of changes in environmental conditions. And some can act like mini-converters; changing rock into valuable minerals or organic waste materials into forms of energy.
Understanding these diverse microbial communities can create game-changing opportunities for companies in Nova Scotia’s environmental services sector.
Genomics (a powerful combination of biology, computer science and genetics) is one tool that can help us understand these microbes, and how to take advantage of their natural abilities to solve some of the globe’s biggest challenges. By enabling a better understanding of these hard-working microbes, the region could lead the way in offshore oil spill remediation technology. We could set new standards for accurate, immediate environmental monitoring tools. We could become industry leaders in green energy and mining.
Developing these solutions would require genomics to be one part of a much bigger tool box.
The environmental challenges facing the region and the world are multi-faceted. Finding sustainable ways to harvest and manage our rich natural resources such as forests, minerals, offshore oil and fish, requires a multi-disciplined approach with many perspectives and broad expertise such as engineering, chemistry and biology, to name a few.
The desire to expand the tool box and marry these diverse areas of expertise is the key motivation behind a meeting of minds planned for March 5. Local companies from the environmental services space will share their biggest challenges and problems.
Top researchers from our globally recognized universities will offer up their research expertise. With any luck at all, many good ideas will result. And some of them may be the game-changers.
The One Nova Scotia initiative (known to many as the Ivany commission) appealed to Nova Scotians to think bigger. To embrace new ideas. To seek out innovations that can create real change.
This event, presented by The Environmental Services Association of Nova Scotia, Springboard Atlantic, the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council and Genome Atlantic, is a direct response to that challenge. We hope it inspires the same in others.
Steve Armstrong, PhD, is president and CEO of Genome Atlantic, a not-for-profit organization with a mandate to help Atlantic Canada reap the benefits of genomics research and development.