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A closer look at engineering biology and accelerated breeding

The Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) hosted two events on July 19 exploring tools and strategies to advance agri-food research and development.

The hybrid seminars, addressing applications for engineering biology and accelerated breeding, were attended by researchers, scientists and representatives of public and private agri-food organizations within and outside Canada.

“At the Global Institute for Food Security we take pride in being a connector and innovation catalyst within the agri-food sector and events like this are one of the ways we can do just that,” GIFS CEO Steve Webb told attendees.

Both engineering biology and accelerated breeding help researchers increase the speed and scale of their work and bring new innovations to market. They also represent new programs and platforms GIFS is building to serve the agri-food sector.

Engineering Biology

Engineering biology combines automation and miniaturization, biology and computation to rapidly scale up the design and production of more nutritious and sustainable crops and food products.

Through engineering, or synthetic, biology, researchers can design and construct new biological molecules, circuits, pathways and cells to create valuable new solutions.

At GIFS’ Engineering Biology Seminar, Dr. Joerg Bohlmann of the University of British Columbia — and a member of GIFS’ International Scientific Advisory Panel (ISAP) — discussed how engineering biology is advancing diabetes research. He also explored how an engineering biology platform, like the one GIFS is building, is necessary for developing laboratory discoveries into commercial products that advance human health and food security.

Dr. Benjamin Scott, GIFS’ Engineering Biology Platform Lead, also provided attendees with an update on the development of the platform that will consist of three suites: DNA assembly, microbial growth and phenotyping and proteomics and metabolomics.

“Here at GIFS we’re using engineering biology to build useful products which will enhance agri-food and natural products research via laboratory automation; Ultimately achieving a scale well beyond what’s possible using manual techniques,” said Scott.

The platform will be Canada’s only purpose-built engineering biology platform for food and agriculture product development and will be closely integrated with GIFS’ Omics and Precision Agriculture Laboratory and Data Management and Analytics platforms.

This unique combination of engineering biology, world-class sequencing and bioinformatics will enable high-quality data generation and machine learning to help partners bridge the gap between discovery and commercialization.

   View Engineering Biology Seminar

Accelerated Breeding

Accelerated breeding combines several advanced technologies and strategies that help plant breeders to increase the rate of genetic gain within their breeding programs.

These technologies and strategies include speed breeding, doubled haploid production, genomic selection, remote sensing of phenotypes and modeling to optimize breeding pipelines.

At GIFS’ Accelerated Breeding Seminar, ISAP member Dr. German Spangenberg, Emeritus Professor, La Trobe University and former Head, Agriculture Victoria Research in Australia, provided strategies and learnings from several years establishing and implementing successful accelerated breeding programs for livestock and crops in that country.

He was joined by Dr. John Davies, who is helping to establish GIFS’ Accelerated Breeding Program that will provide plant breeders with insights that empower them to bring new varieties and hybrids to producers faster.

“One of the reasons I like working with GIFS is that it’s really focused on outcomes and improving agriculture for producers and consumers,” said Davies.

“GIFS is positioned to provide accelerated breeding to commercial and public plant breeding organizations that do not have access to these technologies.”

Partner with Us

GIFS’ Engineering Biology Platform and Accelerated Breeding Program will reduce the barrier to entry for researchers and companies. Through these initiatives, the institute will provide partners with access to leading-edge technologies, as well as world-class talent, to support research enhancing agri-food production, value-added exports, sustainable food security and climate-resilient agriculture.

“These advancements are poised to deliver impactful results for the agriculture sector and the Global Institute for Food Security is excited to enable access to these technologies, strategies and the people expertise to organizations in Western Canada and beyond,” said Webb.

Want to learn more about Engineering Biology and Accelerated Breeding at GIFS? Contact partnerwithus@gifs.ca.