Genomics and the Environment

The important link between genomics and the environment

Why is the media constantly running stories about the environment? Maybe it’s because we are currently tackling important issues, such as climate change, dwindling natural resources and increasing pollution. You may not know this, but genomics can provide solutions to these problems.

Genomics and climate change

The search for solutions to meet the environmental challenges we now face is prompting the growth of high-potential economic sectors, such as green technology. Our ability to address the issue at hand is intimately linked to our economic development, making the quest for creative, innovative answers all the more crucial. This is where genomics comes in: it can help us find sustainable, promising solutions for the social and economic future of Québec.

Genomics to the rescue of natural resources

The rapid pace of globalization has clearly taken a toll on the environment. This makes sustainable development more important than ever. Fortunately, genomics is generating a number of biological solutions to address environmental issues.


Genomics can contribute to the environment in three key ways: Understand, Adapt and Act


Genomics is the tool of choice for researchers who map genetic biodiversity. They use it to evaluate and better understand the genetic specificities of living organisms and to identify problems, such as contamination and pollution, in a rapid and effective manner. Genomics is also used to carry out leading-edge biosurveillance. As we know, the impact of climate change on the geographic distribution and productivity of various species is difficult to predict. On this front, stocktaking and diagnostic methods derived from genomic tools are vital.


Genomics saves a national symbol

The caribou, one of Canada’s national...

The caribou, one of Canada’s national symbols, has been listed as a threatened species. In recent years, climate change and human activity have greatly affected the diversity and dispersion of caribou herds. Genomics researchers are concerned about the fate of the caribou. They are proposing to map and catalogue its genetic diversity and the pathogens that threaten it. Understanding the infinitely small in this way will help generate new screening tools to be used for genetic mapping and for the monitoring of herd health on an expanded scale. These tools will shed light on the caribou’s ability to adapt and, as a result, will lead to the development of guidelines on protecting the habitats of herds at risk. Genomic tools will support better decision making and, in so doing, will preserve our natural and cultural heritage and harness Canadian natural resources in a responsible, sustainable and acceptable manner.  



While conventional selection was used by our ancestors to improve agriculture, only with genomic selection have we been able to take full advantage of the extraordinary diversity of life. This diversity is a catalogue of traits that can be isolated in order to identify the best individual plants (tress, cereal crops, etc.) for better crop productivity and improved resistance to drought, extreme temperatures, pests and pathogens. With genomics, we can rapidly determine the plants that will be better able to adapt to the current environmental upheavals. Important! We are not talking about creating genetically modified organisms. Genomics is simply a way to improve upon the breeding and selection methods humans have been using since plants and animals were first domesticated.

These methods, now completely transformed by knowledge in genomics, can help identify ways to adapt to climate change. This is known as “assisted selection.”



Greenpeace’s position

Assisted selection is a biotechnology...

Assisted selection is a biotechnology alternative to genetic engineering that can be used to improve crops. Greenpeace International has published a report arguing that assisted selection “has already proven to be a valuable tool for plant breeders.




It requires less investment, raises fewer safety concerns, respects species barriers and is accepted by the public.” According to Greenpeace, biotechnologies and genomics research can generate a better understanding of the mechanisms governing life and promote the preservation of biodiversity.

Saving the honeybee: Genomics rises to the challenge

In recent years, the honeybee population...

In recent years, the honeybee population has been shrinking, reaching near extinction in some areas. Given the serious consequences associated with the gradual disappearance of these global pollinators, many research teams have been tackling the issue. The projects “Sustaining and Securing Canada’s Honeybees” involves developing genomic tools to improve the health, disease resistance and productivity of bee colonies in Canada. As a result of this research, bees will be better adapted to Canadian conditions and, consequently, more resistant to climate change.  



Whether it comes to reducing carbon emissions, providing sustainable, cost-effective solutions to complex environmental problems or improving the technological arsenal of key industries, genomic-based applications are already available to help us respond to the challenges of climate change.

One example is the development of “carbon pumps,” agents that efficiently trap CO2. They are made possible by selecting tree varieties whose genomes boast superior photosynthetic capacities.

Genomic techniques are also being used on plants, trees and forest residue to develop biofuels. This will help us diminish our dependence on fossil fuels, which, as we know, are high polluting and a major source of CO2.

Many other genomic-derived solutions to environmental issues are now in the works. Some aim to reduce carbon emissions (green chemistry, more efficient industrial processes, etc.), while others involve decontaminating soils using plants (phytoremediation). This is not science fiction! A number of these are currently operational.



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