Genetic testing, to go
Genome 360 brings mobile DNA sequencing anywhere in the province
Genome Prairie and a consortium of other organizations have built a $2.3-million mobile DNA sequencing lab that will provide agricultural pathogen testing — and ultimately, human health testing — using the very latest technology on the market.
The mobile lab, which will be unveiled at Red River College today, will include the newest DNA sequencing technology from Illumina Canada — the same kind of technology used by commercial genetic testing firms such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA.
In addition to being able to speed up testing to detect pathogens in crops, for instance, plans for the mobile lab include deploying it to schools for educational purposes.
The lab and additional technology will likely eventually be used to speed up and repatriate medical cancer testing in the province.
On cancer testing, all Simon Potter, chief scientific officer for Genome Prairie, is saying at this point is discussions are underway with Shared Health in Manitoba.
“Genomics has some unique advantages that Genome 360 will enable Manitoba to access,” Potter said.
The mobile lab and the educational project in general is called Genome 360. It is a collaboration between a number of players including Genome Prairie, Red River College, North Forge Technology Exchange, Pest Surveillance Initiative and the Composites Innovation Centre. About half of the capital costs have come from Western Economic Diversification.
Potter and others involved in the design of Genome 360 believe the diversified Manitoba economy, with active research undertakings in sectors such as health care, food, agriculture (animal and crop), pest control and environmental monitoring, make the project particularly suitable for this market.
The idea is that Genome 360 will connect educational institutions, industry and laboratory end-users from all of those communities, disseminate knowledge and help users evaluate applications and clean technologies.
“If it has DNA, we can test it,” Potter said. “That’s why we call it Genome 360… anything from human health right through to crop species.”
So far, the equipment has been booked for thousands of samples to be tested, but the capacity of the instrumentation is for hundreds of thousands per year.
“We’re barely scratching the surface of the capacity of this equipment” Potter said.
He said a business plan is being designed and the hope is that the unit and its associated technology will become self-sufficient in three years.
The configuration and expected use of the lab is believed to be the first of its kind. In addition to having the latest generation of DNA sequencing technology, several components of the electric vehicle, built by Winnipeg’s Westward Industries, were designed by technicians at the Composites Innovation Centre using structural materials made from natural biomaterials.
In conjunction with the launch of the mobile molecular biology lab, Red River College is starting new courses in molecular genetics and bioinformatics in anticipation of a greater volume of testing and the data it generates.
“This is a unique platform in Canada,” Potter said. “No one else in the country has something like this.”
Lee Anne Murphy, CEO of Pest Surveillance Initiative (PSI), a private lab owned by the Manitoba Canola Growers Association, said Genome 360 will make PSI’s work much more efficient.
“The needs of canola growers are so advanced that we need these kinds of tools,” she said. “This is the kind of true partnership investment that Manitoba should excel at.”
Said Potter: “It is all about information, understanding and inclusivity… We are basically building a community with this.”
Ian Maclean, director of engineering at Koven Technology Canada, a cardiovascular medical device development company, said the availability of this type of technology puts Manitoba companies on a more level playing field to access research funding.
Genome Prairie (with offices in Winnipeg and Saskatoon) is one of six regional centres that administer Genome Canada funding. (In this week’s federal budget, Genome Canada received $100 million for the next five years.)
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.