Global Institute for Food Security launches Canada’s first integrated omics and precision agriculture laboratory


Following a successful year of building, prototyping and delivering services to select customers and partners, the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) in Canada has launched the Omics and Precision Agriculture Laboratory (OPAL), a state-of-the-art facility that combines the digital data analysis of microbial, plant and animal genes and traits with the latest precision agriculture technologies (agtech).

The goal is to speed up innovation towards new products and services that would enhance profitability and sustainability across the agriculture and food sectors.

OPAL was founded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the National Research Council of Canada and the University of Saskatchewan, with a strategic investment from Western Economic Diversification Canada. A first of its kind, it is the only facility in the country to provide analytical and computational services including genomics (the study of genetic materials), phenomics (the study of an organism’s traits) and bioinformatics (analyses of biological data). It combines these with the use of the latest imaging and agtech such as global positioning systems (GPS), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), the remote aerial imaging of plants and in-field environmental monitoring – to provide clients with a complete diagnostic profile of samples.
According to Steven Webb, GIFS chief executive officer, the facility is a one-stop shop for the comprehensive analyses of microbe, plant and animal samples. “As a technology platform, OPAL will use advanced tools and digital agtech to address big issue challenges facing the agriculture and food sectors, aligning with GIFS’ mission to work with partners to discover, develop and deliver innovative solutions for the production of globally sustainable food.”
Examples of those challenges OPAL was created to help address are climate change and limited water and nutrient resources. Using OPAL’s precision agtech, farmers will be able to target plants with the precise amount of inputs – water, fertilizers and crop protection products – needed in their fields. This precision in agriculture means a more efficient use of resources, leading to accelerated breeding (crops, animals), reduced impact on the environment, increased quality crop yield, less waste and enhanced efficiency for breeders, agronomists, producers and other clients.
The facility will also serve as a vehicle to deploy cutting-edge technology developed through the Plant Phenotyping and Imaging Research Centre, a digital agricultural research centre funded by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) and managed by GIFS.
Its ability to offer start-to-finish solutions differentiates OPAL from other laboratories that focus solely on data acquisition or analysis. The facility will provide clients with solutions tailored to their data and analysis needs including experiment design and workflow, genomic and/or phenomic technical support, and data acquisition and analysis, as well as consulting on technical details and costings for project planning.

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