Beedie researchers help tackle forest pests with genomics

Dec 06, 2011

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Jeremy Hall, a Simon Fraser University Beedie School of Business professor, is leading the social science research component in a new project dedicated to significantly reducing forest pests in Canada, and ultimately globally.

Hall leads one of several research teams involved in Genomics-Based Forest Health Diagnostics and Monitoring, a new $4.2 million project funded by Genome British Columbia and Genome Canada. Stelvia Matos, an adjunct professor, and Vernon Bachor, a sessional lecturer, in SFU’s Beedie School of Business are on Hall’s team.

The project will use genomics to develop a DNA-based diagnostic test to detect and monitor pests that do $2 billion worth of damage to Canada’s forests annually.

Government and forest industry scientists and policy makers have been pushing for better ways of diagnosing forest pests for years because the conventional method of visual inspection can’t catch many microscopic pathogens.

Hall, an expert on radical technology development and sustainable development innovation, and his team will examine current public policies and societal issues around the use genomics in forestry management. The SFU team will also recommend commercial opportunities for outcomes of the research.

“In addition to overcoming technological hurdles, successful innovation also includes understanding the often complex interactions among commercial, organizational and social issues,” says Hall. “Understanding such issues is especially useful at early phases, when there are greater options in how the technology can be developed.

“Our role is to provide scientists with early knowledge about the way technology can be developed to make it more commercially attractive to users. We also help technology developers realize benefits from their investment and avoid detrimental social impacts and/or controversies that could hinder its diffusion.”

Richard Hamelin, senior research scientist at Natural Resources Canada, will lead the development of DNA-based diagnostic testing that is expected to generate annual economic benefits in the tens of millions of dollars. The testing will aim to stop potentially detrimental pathogens from spreading through forests and assist the forest and nursery industries with plant and product certification.

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