Science Connections: A quarterly newsletter from Environment and Climate Change Canada's Science and Technology Branch

Welcome to “Science Connections”

I am pleased to welcome you to the inaugural issue of "Science Connections." This quarterly newsletter is intended to keep the broader Canadian research community abreast of the science being done by Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Science and Technology Branch. It is our hope that the stories featured in this newsletter will encourage greater collaboration between government and university scientists, strengthening research across the board and fostering innovation.

Each issue will contain a few short articles highlighting recent work that our scientists are doing in collaboration with academic partners. There will also be one article showcasing a lesser-known aspect of our science—a unique dataset or resource, a new methodology, a field campaign—that might be of interest or value to the university community. We’ll also include a complete listing of our branch’s publications since the last issue.

We are committed to making our science more open and accessible to Canadians and to strengthening our collaboration with external partners. Please don’t hesitate to contact me or any of our scientists directly, and feel free to pass this newsletter on to those who you think it might interest.

I look forward to sharing our science with you.

George Enei

Assistant Deputy Minister
Science and Technology Branch
Environment and Climate Change Canada

In this issue...

 

Full content

Collaboration in action

EcoToxChip: Developing a genomics tool to assess the environmental risks of chemicals

Chemical contamination is an important problem facing ecosystems all over the world. However, taking informed action is challenging due to the sheer number of chemicals that need to be evaluated for the risks they pose, which is prohibitively time consuming and expensive to do on an individual basis.

These kinds of complex problems are often best addressed through a collaborative approach that brings together government, academia, and industry. In 2016, the Minister of Science, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, announced federal support for several large-scale genomics projects aimed at solving long-standing challenges, such as chemical contamination. Researchers from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), McGill University, and the University of Saskatchewan, along with key industrial partners, were awarded $9.6 million to develop, test, validate, and commercialize a genomics-based tool, coined EcoToxChip.

By working closely with collaborators from all sectors, EcoToxChip will provide the global community with a platform for toxicity testing that is accessible, affordable, consistent, and reliable. For example, applying the EcoToxChip tool to the federal Chemicals Management Plan could save $27.3 million per year, make testing almost seven times faster, and reduce the number of animals used for testing by 90%. To ensure adoption and uptake, the project will develop a user-friendly portal (EcoToxXplorer.ca), which will enable end-users with varying degrees of experience to make informed decisions regarding chemical risks. In short, EcoToxChip will improve our ability to determine the impacts of environmental contaminants and, ultimately, take action to improve the health and resilience of our ecosystems.

A project of this scale and scope brings together key national and global end-users and encourages collaborative research efforts among academic, industrial, non-governmental, and governmental stakeholders. Canada stands to emerge as a leader in ecological risk assessment and application of genomics techniques to answer complex environmental questions and will greatly benefit from the continued involvement of academic and industry partners throughout and beyond the EcoToxChip project.

For more information, please contact Doug Crump (Wildlife and Landscape Science Directorate).

Photo of Doug Crump, ECCC researcher, collecting double-crested cormorant eggs

ECCC scientist and EcoToxChip project co-lead Doug Crump collects double-crested cormorant eggs from the North Channel (Lake Huron) for use in early-life stage toxicity tests to support EcoToxChip development for ecological species of relevance to Canada

Global Water Futures: Collaborating to inform water management in a changing climate

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) scientists from across the country are collaborating with researchers from several Canadian universities as part of the Global Water Futures: Solutions to Water Threats in an Era of Global Change (GWF). The GWF is a University of Saskatchewan-led research program, funded in part by a $77.8-million grant from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund. Its goal is to deliver risk management solutions—informed by leading-edge water science and innovative decision-making tools—to manage water futures in Canada and other cold regions where climate change is altering landscapes, ecosystems, and the water environment. Some of the projects that ECCC researchers have partnered on are outlined below.

Agricultural water sustainability (current and future)
The prairies are a region responsible for nearly one-third of global wheat production; however, the impacts of a changing climate and land-use practices on water resources are of considerable concern there. ECCC researchers are contributing their expertise in prairie-specific watershed hydrology and modelling in an effort to develop decision-support tools in the Canadian Prairies to increase resilience in the face of climate impacts.

Improved environmental modelling
Changes in extreme precipitation will have a pervasive effect on our lives across the country, impacting agriculture, infrastructure, and health and safety, among others. ECCC has been conducting ongoing research on water availability (e.g., the effects that changes in snowpack and loss of glaciers will have on droughts and floods) and collaborating with other GWF researchers provides an opportunity to improve our ability to diagnose and predict extreme precipitation.

Our researchers have also been addressing climate change and other anthropogenic stressors as part of the Great Lakes Protection Initiative and Lake Winnipeg Programs. Working with GWF partners to deliver risk management solutions informed by models will improve the integration of landscape and lake processes to give a more complete picture and ultimately contribute to progress on these important environmental priorities.

Stream health in northwestern Canada
Finally, several ECCC scientists are bringing their expertise in hydrology and stream ecology to the GWF in order to improve our ability to predict changes in the health of streams, rivers, and lakes and better understand the long-term sustainability of these water resources. They are applying this expertise to the northwestern region of Canada, which is one of the most rapidly warming regions on Earth and is particularly sensitive to climate warming, and is also home to expanding resource exploration and production.

These research collaborations leverage the activities and expertise of all participants. This means we can collectively expand the geographical reach of these initiatives, address research gaps more quickly and effectively, and better incorporate new physical, chemical, and biological processes into predictive systems. Overall, this leads to better knowledge that Canadians—in all regions and sectors—can use to prepare for our new climate reality.

For more information on these and other GWF projects in which ECCC is collaborating, please contact Ram Yerubandi (Water Science and Technology Directorate).

Chemicals Management Plan Science Committee: External expertise strengthens program delivery

Ensuring a strong science foundation is a key element of the Chemicals Management Plan (CMP). The CMP Science Committee is an external scientific body charged with providing independent expertise to Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and Health Canada (HC) on scientific considerations relevant to the assessment of chemicals in Canada.

Nine individuals form the current core membership of the Committee, including members from McGill University and the University of Toronto. In addition to relevant scientific expertise, Committee members were selected to ensure gender balance, as well as a balance between ecological and human health expertise, diversity, and organizational backgrounds (e.g., industry, government, academia, and non-government organizations).

The Committee meets up to twice a year, each time focusing on a specific topic. Two to three ad hoc members who are experts on the topic of discussion are invited to each meeting. Most recently, the Committee met in January 2018 on the topic of the informed substitution of toxic chemicals. The report from this meeting will be posted on the website in the coming months. The next meeting is planned for the summer of 2018 and will address how to consider endocrine disruption in chemicals risk assessment.

For more information, please contact Marisol Eggleton (Science and Risk Assessment Directorate) or the Committee Secretariat in Health Canada’s Safe Environments Directorate.

Did you know?

A valuable research resource: Environment and Climate Change Canada’s National Environmental Specimen Banks

Canadians depend on a range of chemical compounds—from pesticides to flame retardants to polymers and more—in our daily lives. New chemicals are introduced each year and while most are beneficial and harmless, some may not be. Environmental scientists, regulators, and decision-makers need tools to reduce uncertainty and support better risk assessment as they endeavour to protect the health of Canadians and the environment. Environment and Climate Change Canada’s (ECCC’s) specimen banks are important tools in these efforts. ECCC’s Science and Technology Branch maintains three specimen banks: the National Wildlife Specimen Bank, the National Aquatic Biological Specimen Bank, and the National Sediment Specimen Bank.

Established in the 1960s and 1970s thanks to a range of federal monitoring programs, these specimen banks contain samples of fish tissues, bird eggs, and lake sediments. Today, over 500,000 samples from across Canada are stored, with more added every year thanks to the ongoing nature of many of our monitoring programs.

Over time, advances in scientific methods have made it possible to detect compounds at lower concentrations. As a result, Canadian scientists can now use new methods to analyze archived tissues from the past four decades and determine when a particular compound first became a problem in the environment and to what degree it is persistent and bioaccumulative. This information is essential in determining the level of risk to human and ecosystem health. Retrospective analysis of archived tissues can also produce a long-term trend for a compound in a matter of months, capitalizing on historical sampling to produce current-day information.

These archived environmental samples are an incredibly valuable asset for researchers working collaboratively on a range of environmental issues. For example, scientists can identify alterations in food webs caused by changes in land use, invasive species, or climate change. Collaborative genetic studies between ECCC’s wildlife scientists and the U.S. Geological Survey use the National Wildlife Specimen Bank to investigate migratory patterns and population structure among migratory birds.

Due to the long-term and multi-media nature of the materials stored, ECCC’s specimen banks have a large capacity to support other research as new technologies and methods are developed. ECCC regularly considers proposals from various partners, including academia, involving the collaborative use of our specimen banks.

For more information please contact Bruce Pauli (National Wildlife Specimen Bank), Daryl McGoldrick (National Aquatic Biological Specimen Bank), or Debbie Burniston (National Sediment Specimen Bank). You can also request specimens from the National Aquatic Biological Specimen Bank via email.

Photo of boxes of frozen samples

Boxes of frozen samples at the National Aquatic Biological Specimen Bank

Photo of tissue sample storage in ultra-low temperature liquid nitrogen tanks

Storing tissue samples in ultra-low temperature liquid nitrogen tanks at the National Wildlife Specimen Bank

Recent publications

Our researchers are very active in contributing to the scientific literature. By clicking the button below, you will find a full list of the most recent quarter's publications, organized under four of our overarching strategic priorities. Please do not hesitate in reaching out to any of our researchers directly.

Click for a full list of this quarter's publications

Interested in staying on top of our recent research? You can browse/search journal pre-prints here.

"Science Connections" is a quarterly newsletter published by the Science and Technology Branch of Environment and Climate Change Canada. It is dedicated to fostering collaboration and partnership between departmental and external science.

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