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Using ARC to Help Canada's Beekeeping Industry Stay Strong and Sustainable

Spotlight On:

Leonard Foster
University of British Columbia
Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Since 2006, approximately a quarter of Canadian bee colonies are lost each winter because of our country's cold weather. Queen bees from overseas are often brought in to try and supplement these losses, but the declining populations are posing a threat to the productivity of major Canadian agri-food industries, jeopardizing our food security. If left unchecked, says Leonard Foster, Canada's production of and accessibility to fruits, nuts and vegetables will decline.

Foster works at the University of British Columbia (UBC) as the Director of the Centre for High-Throughput Biology. He is also a Professor with the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, and a CFI Advisor to UBC's Vice President Research & International. Thanks to access to large-scale data storage facilities provided through WestGrid, Foster and his team of researchers at UBC are developing innovative genomic and proteomic tools to enable Canadian beekeepers to breed healthy, productive bee colonies, which will in turn safeguard the sustainability and economic prosperity of Canada's beekeeping industry.


Q&A with Leonard Foster


Q. What is the key challenge you are trying to solve?

We are trying to bring selective breeding in honey bees into the 21st Century. We use genomics/proteomics technologies to identify molecular markers of disease resistance and then use that knowledge in selective breeding programs to enrich the bee gene pool.


Q. What impact does this research have on Canadians' lives?

Honey bees contribute an estimated $4.4 billion to the Canadian economy through the pollination of canola, blueberries, tree fruits and many other crops. They also produce 40,000 t of honey each year, making Canada a major honey exporter.


Q. How do WestGrid / Compute Canada resources support this research?

Data storage is an enormous issue for us. Unlike genome sequencing, where it is often cheaper to re-sequence than to store the data, we need to keep the data for re-interrogation, sometimes several years later. In addition, some of the processing steps with particularly large datasets have required WestGrid servers.


Q. What challenge will you tackle next using WestGrid / Compute Canada resources?

Two things -- we are extending this program into more than a dozen different traits in bees, and some new methods we have developed now allow us to look at the entire interaction network among proteins in a cell, which is resulting in much larger computational needs.