Canadian biotech companies are bringing innovations to agriculture, creating new sources of energy and industrial applications, and reducing the environmental footprint of existing manufacturing and industrial processes. This sustainable intensification enhances the competiveness of traditional Canadian industries, such as mining, farming, forestry and oil and gas, thus protecting jobs in these cornerstone parts of the Canadian economy.
FEEDING THE MULTITUDE
The global population will increase to almost ten billion by 2050 while greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture continue to rise. We need to intensify food production while shrinking agriculture’s impact on the environment. Canadian biotechnology is helping farmers produce more food while simultaneously reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture and safeguarding jobs.
Canadian innovators are creating new sources of energy and industrial applications, while reducing the environmental footprint of existing manufacturing and industrial processes.
Biotechnology is changing the way we grow and consume food. It has brought us drought- and disease-resistant crops, plants that can be grown on marginal land and fruits and vegetables with improved nutritional profiles and visual appeal.
AquaBounty in Charlottetown produces genetically modified salmon that grow at an increased rate. It has approval to sell them as food in both Canada and the US.
Prevtec Microbia in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec developed and markets a vaccine treatment that prevents post-weaning diarrhea in pigs. Coliprotec® F4 is the first live bacterial vaccine developed and manufactured in Canada for livestock. It is a sustainable alternative to the use of antibiotics, thus reducing the chance of antibiotic resistance.
Smarter Food: a better apple
Agricultural biotechnology has already proven its value with increased yields, reduction in pesticide use, and crops with tolerance to heat and drought. Okanagan Specialty Fruits has taken it one step further with its non-browning Arctic® apples. While they are identical to conventional apples in every other respect, their improved visual and commercial appeal provides benefits that ripple through the value chain.
Starting at the orchard, Arctic® apples allow more fruit to be packed out at a higher grade with much less waste, thus adding directly to the farmer’s bottom line. There is less loss during transport, improved quality and visual appeal at the grocery store, and added convenience for the food service industry and in the kitchen. All of this leads to increased consumption of Canada’s favourite fruit.
Callout with photo: Neal Carter, president of OSF, founded the company with his wife, Louisa, who is CFO. They have managed their apple and cherry orchard for over 20 years and believe, from experience working globally on food security, that biotechnology can not only improve profitability, it can help meet the world’s increasing demand for food.
IMPROVING THE PERFECT FRUIT
In 1811 John and Hannah McIntosh discovered a promising sapling and bred what would soon become the most popular apple in Canada. Since then this simple, nutritious, and easy-to-store snack has been a staple of Canadian tables and our children’s lunches. But counter to the overall trend of increasing fruit consumption, apple eating has been declining for the past thirty years.
As an orchardist who loves fresh fruit, Neal Carter, president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits in Summerland, BC wanted to do something to increase consumption of this healthy snack. He used biotechnology to address a major problem in the apple market – enzymatic browning. Consumers want unblemished fruits and vegetables, yet when an apple is bitten, cut or bruised it turns brown. Forty percent of the apples that are grown are wasted, a considerable cost for farmers, grocers and processors.
DEVELOPING A NONBROWNING APPLE
Browning is a normal process caused when an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase (PPO) reacts with phenolics in apples to make a brown pigment. Traditionally, when apples are processed, preservatives such as calcium ascorbate and sulphites are added to prevent them from turning brown. Unfortunately, these chemical additives are expensive, adversely affect flavour and many people are sensitive to them.
Instead Carter chose to sidestep the need for preservatives by targeting enzymatic browning at the genetic level. As a conventional breeding target, a nonbrowning apple would be a significant challenge. The strength of genetic engineering is its ability to target only one gene, which is what the scientists at OSF did. They were able to turn off the expression of the PPO gene. Without the enzyme, browning does not occur. OSF was able to achieve the goals of conventional breeding techniques, but more quickly, efficiently and precisely.
Golden Delicious and Granny Smith are the first two varieties that have been modified to prevent enzymatic browning. The company plans to copy its success next with Gala and Fuji apples.
REDUCING WASTE, INCREASING PROFIT
The majority of consumers say they would buy apples that don’t turn brown. Further, consumption increases over 70 percent when kids are offered pre-sliced apples. It is a huge untapped market, making up only two percent of apple sales. Processors and the food service industry prefer Arctic® apples because the fruit is higher quality and reduces the need for anti-browning treatments, thus opening up significant new markets.
Beyond making fruit more attractive and palatable, Artic® apples allow consumers to differentiate between enzymatic browning and rot caused by fungi and disease. If these apples are brown it means that a pathogen is present and they are rotting.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE ARCTIC® APPLE
In 1997, OSF licensed gene silencing technology that was developed in Australia to address browning in grapes and potatoes and applied it to Golden Delicious apples. Scientists at the company used genetic engineering techniques to insert a gene sequence capable of reducing PPO expression into the parent cultivar’s DNA. The inserted sequence – using a promoter from the cauliflower mosaic virus and a terminator from a nopaline synthase gene – is a targeted genetic alteration that changes only the expression of this one gene. It encodes an antisense RNA that binds the normal RNA and prevents enzyme production. Agrobacterium tumefaciens was used to transform the cells with the altered gene. Successfully transformed cells produce less than one-tenth the oxidizing activity of conventional apples, enough to prevent browning. Successful transformants were micrografted to rootstock and grown out for field testing. Lab tests showed that all other characteristics of Arctic® apples remain the same as the parent cultivar.
OSF collected data from field tests for five years to show that Arctic® apples were equivalent to conventional apples. This included extensive molecular and genetic tests that showed that Arctic® trees can be planted and cultivated like any other apple trees and grow at the same rate. They do not require more pesticides than conventional trees and agronomic inputs are equivalent as for conventional varieties.
This data was submitted for regulatory approval to the FDA and USDA in the United States and Health Canada and the CFIA in Canada. Regulators spent another five years scrutinizing data the data before approving the Arctic® apple for sale.
OSF has seen a lot positive feedback from consumers, with many expressing excitement to try the apples. This is in keeping with research that shows consumers are more likely to accept the use of biotechnology in food if they can experience direct benefits firsthand.
The next step is to get Arctic® apples to consumers. As this happens, OSF is keen to bring more more Arctic® apple varieties to market and is working on Arctic® pears.
The Canadian forest products industry has become a global leader in breakthrough biotech innovations that expand traditional uses of wood fibre to make green bioproducts – clothing, car parts, cosmetics and construction materials – that create significant new economic opportunity and protect industry jobs. For example, Lignin, the glue in trees that was typically burned for energy, is now being used as an adhesive resin. It provides substrate for 3D printers, can replace carbon black in car tires and has the potential to be used in sporting equipment. Many forestry companies derive their own electricity from byproducts that used to be considered waste, thus reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
While the forestry industry maximizes the use of this valuable resource, biotech research is discovering ways to adapt to the changing environment – changes that see devastating pest infestations such as the mountain pine beetle and emerald ash borer.
Mountain Pine Beetle Genome Sequencing
Researchers at the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre at UBC and other universities sequenced the genome of the mountain pine beetle, an insect pest that has destroyed more than 18 million hectares of forest in British Columbia. The work was funded by Genome Canada and others.
This not-for-profit acts as a forestry innovation hub, working with industry, government, academic researchers and suppliers to create scientific solutions that enhance the sector’s global competiveness. It operates R&D labs in Montreal and Vancouver.
Mercer International and Resolute Forest Products formed this joint venture to commercialize the use of cellulose filaments in manufacturing. Applications include using cellulose as a reinforcement in plastics found in automobiles and consumer products and to improve the properties of paints, concrete and cosmetics.
GREENER INDUSTRIAL APPLICATIONS
One of the promises of biotechnology is that it can help reduce the environmental impact of traditional manufacturing and industrial processes in agriculture, forestry, and chemical and automotive production. It also provides new jobs while stabilizing employment in the natural resources sector. Not-for-profit accelerators such as Bioindustrial Innovation Canada support the commercialization of clean, green and sustainable technologies.
BioAmber in Sarnia uses green chemistry to manufacture succinic acid from glucose derived from renewable agricultural feedstock. Bio-succinic acid is used to make textiles, paints, food additives and a replacement for petro-ingredients in personal care products. The environmentally responsible process eliminates greenhouse gas emissions and reduces energy consumption by 60 percent compared to traditional petroleum-based manufacturing. BioAmber supplies succinic acid to Bayer MaterialScience for its production of bio-based polyurethanes for textile applications.
Linnaeus Plant Science
Linnaeus Plant Science uses genetically modified castor plants to produce castor oil as a substitute for petroleum-derived products. These plants act as miniature factories to make vegetable-based motor oils, lubricants and hydraulic fluids that are biodegradable, renewable and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Woodbridge Foam in Toronto supplies foam to the automotive, commercial and military industries. It developed, in collaboration with Ontario universities, a plant-based polyurethane product called BioFoam™ that is used in seat cushions, arm rests and cargo and safety components.
CO2 Solutions in Quebec City markets technology it developed for the enzymatic capture of CO2 emissions from large sources such as coal-fired plants and aluminum refineries. The platform generates high-purity CO2 ideal for reuse applications and reduces costs, which makes it attractive to businesses as they prepare for the Federal government’s promised implementation of a carbon tax in the near future.
Revolutionizing energy: a better jet fuel
Building on Canada’s historic contribution to the breeding of canola, Agrisoma developed a variety of mustard seed that produces biofuel for the aviation industry, helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change. This oilseed crop, marketed as Resonance® carinata, offers farmers a viable, sustainable and profitable alternative crop, especially on semi-arable land that normally would remain fallow. And, to make this a triple threat, a byproduct of biofuel production is a high-quality protein used for animal feed.
Agrisoma’s focus on renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and climate change makes it a unique biotechnology company and a Canadian success story.
A CLEANER, RENEWABLE SOURCE OF JET FUEL
Worldwide, biofuels are mandated in 62 countries with an unmet need of over 100 billion litres of biojet fuel. Resonance® carinata is a source of low-carbon biofuel that offers the best greenhouse gas savings for the global aviation industry. One 50-lb bag of seed can be grown to yield 8,000 litres of jet fuel, enough to fly from Toronto to New York three times without increasing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2012 carinata biofuel was used to power the world’s first 100 percent biofuel jet flight. NASA tests showed that biofuels reduce particle emissions in jet exhaust by 50 to 70 percent.
Resonance® carinata oil is also used to produce renewable biodiesel, a petroleum-equivalent fuel that does not require blending, and products for other industrial applications, including lubricants and polymer coatings.
Agrisoma has raised $15.4 million in venture capital to increase commercial production.
ENHANCING FOOD SECURITY WITH A PERFECT FEEDSTOCK
As most biofuel is currently made from food crops such as corn, it raises the concern that renewable fuel production is diverting arable land away from the growth of food crops. Resonance® carinata is a non-food feedstock crop that can be grown on marginal land and, as such, need not disrupt food production. It fits seamlessly into existing agricultural practices, produces a high-quality protein byproduct and is the only oilseed crop in North America to be certified sustainable by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials.
Agrisoma’s Resonance® brand carinata is a second crop option that can be planted following another cash crop, even on semi-arable land that is not suited to major food crops. It makes a good winter crop in subtropical regions, is heat-tolerant and drought-resistant and has resistance to many insects and diseases.
The protein byproduct of oil extraction is a high-protein, low-carbon animal feed with greenhouse gas emissions significantly lower than other common livestock feed crops. It is approved as feed by the CFIA and the FDA. As a nutritious source of protein that fits well into a global animal feed market worth $400 billion, Resonance® carinata increases the profit potential for farmers. Agrisoma is collaborating with nutrition institutions to market carinata protein as an ingredient in feed for the dairy, poultry and aquaculture industries.
FOUNDED ON WORLD-CLASS SCIENCE
Plant breeders and scientists at Agrisoma have gathered the largest collection of B. carinata germplasm in the world – over 800 different types. This allows them to create up to ten thousand new varieties they can field test to ensure farmers have the best selections to grow in challenging environments, maximizing for yield and oil content. Agrisoma runs variety trials in countries on four continents, ensuring selection of varieties uniquely adapted to each region.
Resonance® carinata is a Canadian invention that is changing the way we think about renewable energy, sustainable farming and climate change.