Bison Integrated Genomics (BIG)
The BIG project will apply new genomics solutions to conserving a species of significant symbolic and cultural importance, particularly to many Indigenous and First Nations communities.
A wicked problem
Diseased bison in northern Canada infected with bovine tuberculosis (bTB) and brucellosis, and small, geographically separated herds are two major barriers to bison conservation in Canada. Current conservation efforts by Parks Canada are severely hampered by consequent threats of bTB and brucellosis spillover, genetic isolation amongst herds and the potential for catastrophic loss in small geographically segregated herds. These urgent and critical unmet needs cannot be overcome without novel, practical methods of assessing genetic composition and overcoming disease-related limitations to movement of breeding stock. In 2020, the recovery of wood bison in Canada was designated an imminent threat if action is not taken now. The imminent threat designation arose in part from a lack of tools for disease management and the risk of disease spillover to disease-free herds. Parks Canada, along with other bison management agencies, require genomic tools to provide solutions to manage these zoonotic diseases and improve gene flow among herds without the risk of introducing disease.
BIG will be lead by Dr. Gregg P. Adams, from the University of Saskatchewan Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences, and Dr. Todd K. Shury, from Parks Canada, to ensure the existence of healthy, genetically diverse bison, without domestic cattle or subspecies introgression, and with long-term sustainable genetic diversity in Canada’s bison herds.
The specific objectives of BIG are to: develop more sensitive and specific diagnostic assays for bison using advanced proteomic and transcriptomic tools; develop a combined Brucella/bTB vaccine for use in wood bison; refine and validate genomic tools to identify genetic composition of existing bison herds (SNP chip development); and rescue and transfer healthy germplasm between wild and genetically depauperate herds. This approach will enable Parks Canada to; rapidly diagnose brucellosis and bTB for test and removal of infected bison; protect disease-free bison herds at risk of transmission; evaluate subspecies distinction and freedom from domestic cattle introgression; and produce disease-free germplasm from genetically isolated, diseased, and highly valuable herds to restore genetic connectedness and increase overall genetic diversity. A Receptor Review Committee (RRC) comprised of representatives of Indigenous communities, bison management agencies and industry will allow full integration of research needs with oversight and input by the end users who will be eventually adopt the genomic tools being developed.
The BIG project was supported through Genome Canada’s Genomic Applications Partnership Program (GAPP) that leverages world-leading expertise and diversified partnerships to accelerate the translation of genomic knowledge tools into broad economic and societal benefits.