Agro-food technologies | Genomics: focus on precision farming

Genomics is more prevalent than ever in Quebec’s agri-food sector. Over the past 10 years, genetic improvement programs carried out in this direction by Génome Québec have expanded significantly, thus bringing us closer to “precision agriculture”. Explanations.

Published at 8:42

Stephen Champagne

Stephen Champagne
special cooperation

“The bioproducts sector represented 1% of our portfolio 10 years ago. This year it has reached 30%. This is our second largest economic sector after healthcare,” explains Stephanie Lord-Fontaine, Vice President of Science at Génome Québec.

Mme Lord Fontaine also prefers to talk about the bio-food sector (rather than the agri-food sector), as it includes both livestock and crop production, processing, sanitation, and fisheries and aquaculture.

Génome Québec currently funds 26 collaborative research projects between university research centers and industrial partners, she said. For a total of $52 million. This ranges from growing soybeans or oats to producing dairy products, including maturing cheese and inseminating livestock.

Why has genomics gained such momentum in a sector other than healthcare?

“Because the price of sequencing has come down,” says the vice president. Several varieties of fruits, vegetables and animals have been sequenced in recent years. So much so that we now have an incredible database. »

Through its Center of Excellence and Services (CES), Génome Québec is proud to have the only whole genome imaging instrument installed in Canada, the Saphyr from Bionano Genomics.

And what better way than artificial intelligence (AI) to digest and organize all this vital information?

Quebec is very well located and has a very strong ecosystem. Our expertise in genomics and Quebec’s excellence in artificial intelligence help us stand out.

Stephanie Lord-Fontaine, Vice President of Science, Génome Québec

Moreover, genomics should not be confused with GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). “We do not change nature,” the scientist illustrates. Instead, we use the power of diversity and indicate, for example in agriculture, which plant we are going to breed. This is marker-based selection, as opposed to GMOs. »

She recalls that the projects in which Génome Québec is or has been involved in agriculture and food are numerous. Determine the place where a particular type of soybean will be protected from fungal pests; reduce piglet mortality and promote healthier litters; improve the quality of meat and milk; reduce losses in cheese factories through a better understanding of bacteria. The list is long.

According to Stephanie Lord-Fontaine, the development of new varieties, higher quality products and better disease control to avoid devastating effects are all moving us closer to precision farming. “We even know better what is happening in the fields,” she says. This saves on spreading and increases yield. Precision farming will become easier thanks to artificial intelligence. »

Génome Québec even participates in the circular economy, that is, it helps to turn waste into sought-after raw materials. Until recently, dairy processors disposed of UF permeate left over from milk, explains Lord Fontaine. Through a microbial process, this residue now takes the form of fumaric acid used in the food and medical industries.