A key genomics project led by a Western biologist, which aims to combat infestations of a pesticide-resistant spider mite, has received significant federal funds.
Horticulture greenhouse production provides consumers with nearly $4 billion worth of fresh produce year-round despite Canada’s harsh winters. It leverages research and technology to yield as much as 30 times the production in an equivalent area of farmland. The needs and challenges of this sector are unique within the agriculture setting and are focused on the grower-driven issues that critically shape agriculture policies and funding frameworks. This is especially evident for pest management, consistently a top priority within the greenhouse sector.
François-Philippe Champagne, minister of innovation, science and industry, announced this week $4 million in federal support through Genome Canada for tackling a pesty problem for greenhouse production, namely the two-spotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae).
“Genomics is a key technology instrumental in responding to national and global challenges. Projects like the ones announced under Genome Canada’s Genomics Applications Partnership Program (GAPP) are central to make sure the Canadian research system grows and remains at the forefront globally,” said Champagne.
A team led by Western biologist Vojislava Grbic that also includes partners from the U.S. company GreenLight Biosciences and the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association will develop, register and commercialize a new RNAi biopesticide to combat the two-spotted spider mite and effectively manage future infestations.
This novel biomiticide (biopesticide specific for mites) will not only provide the sector with potential economic benefits of approximately $600 million per year, but it will also provide growers with an alternative to synthetic chemical insecticides, reducing the environmental footprint and contributing to the sustainability of agricultural production.
“While the specific pests vary between crops and growing seasons, the two-spotted spider mite remains a priority pest year after year, despite many registered chemical options and broadly adopted biological control systems,” said Grbic.
Pesticide resistance in the two-spotted spider mite is well-documented within the greenhouse sector and, left unchecked, is a major threat for Canadian food security.
“Predominance of multi-resistance in greenhouse mite populations, their increased infestations leading to increased crop damage under conditions of climate change, and the shrinking number of available products, established the two-spotted spider mite as a high-risk pest threatening crop security,” said Grbic.
A conservative estimate of 15 per cent marketable yield loss due to two-spotted spider mite infestations costs Canadian horticulture greenhouse growers more than half-a-billion dollars per year.
The genome sequencing of the two-spotted spider mite was deciphered in a landmark 2011 study led by the Grbic lab and their collaborators.
The GAPP projects announced this week—deployed through diverse research partnerships with industry, healthcare organizations, as well as provincial and other federal partners—will harness cutting-edge genomics science to deliver real-world impacts for healthier, more sustainable and prosperous communities across Ontario.
“Partnerships between the researchers and industry are the cornerstone of Ontario’s thriving innovation community. By supporting the development and uptake of new technologies that provide game changing solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges, Ontario Genomics is helping to nurture healthy people, a healthy economy, and a healthy planet for generations to come,” said Bettina Hamelin, President and CEO, Ontario Genomics.