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Genome Canada announces $5.1 million genomics project to protect threatened Canadian bison population

Wood Buffalo sleeping in the grass next to the Alaska Highway, Canada.

Funding will support an innovative genomic sequencing project to better protect and conserve the Wood Bison population in Canada.

July 14, 2022 (Ottawa) – Today, Genome Canada announced $5.1 million to fund the Bison Integrated Genomics (BIG) project.  This includes $1.7 million in federal support from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada through Genome Canada and $2.1 million through Parks Canada. The BIG Project will be co-led by Genome Prairie and Genome Alberta and has additional support from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. 

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. 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

The program leverages world-leading expertise and diversified partnerships to accelerate the translation of scientific knowledge into broad economic and societal benefits. The collective impact of this project and its associated research is significant. Bison in northern Canada, infected with bovine tuberculosis (bTB) and brucellosis, are significant barriers to bison conservation in Canada. In addition, bison herds in Canada are generally small and geographically isolated, which has created additional challenges with genetic diversity This lack of diversity means these small herds face possible catastrophic loss from these major diseases and pose an imminent threat to future survivability for many existing herds.

The BIG project has four primary objectives: 

  1. Developing more sensitive and specific genome-based diagnostic tools to individually identify the presence of bovine Brucella/Tuberculosis in bison populations; 
  2. Developing a combined Brucella/Bovine Tuberculosis vaccine for wood bison;
  3. Refining genomic tools to identify the genetic composition of bison herds; and
  4. Transferring healthy germplasm to ensure greater genetic diversity within the wood bison population.  

The overall goal of the BIG project is to ensure the existence of a healthy, genetically diverse bison population that includes long-term sustainable genetic diversity. 


“Genomics has a great potential to improve the lives of Canadians while also protecting our biodiversity and the environment. Through Genome Canada and the Bison Integrated Genomics (BIG) project, our government is securing a better and healthier future for Canada’s bison population and opening the door to significant societal and economic benefits for everyone. This investment is good for biodiversity, good for the environment and good for Canadians.
– The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry

“National parks are home to some of the largest and most important herds of bison in Canada, but the crucial work of conserving bison cannot be done alone. By collaborating on the Bison Integrated Genomics project, the Government of Canada is helping to develop vaccines to contribute to long-lasting, sustainable, and genetically diverse populations of bison in Canada and around the world. This cutting-edge genomic research will involve bison herds in and around Wood Buffalo National Park, as well as other captive and farmed bison herds in western Canada. By working together with industry, academia and Indigenous partners, we can help ensure the health of bison populations everywhere and ensure that Canadians continue to appreciate this iconic species well into the future.”
– The Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada

“Genome Canada is particularly excited about the BIG project because it will address two challenging areas threatening the Canadian Wood Bison population. First is the development of effective vaccines to reduce the devastating impact of bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis, and secondly, leveraging genomic tools to enhance the genetic diversity of the Canadian Bison population. Genome Canada is proud to work with the Government of Canada and our key regional project centres to ensure this important species will thrive for many generations.”
– Dr. Rob Annan, President and CEO, Genome Canada

“Genome Prairie and Genome Alberta have an established history of excellence in vaccine research to tackle impactful contagious diseases in livestock and important wildlife species like the Wood Bison. We are incredibly pleased to be working with our immensely talented genomic researchers and project partners, including Parks Canada and the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, towards reducing disease and enhancing the genetic diversity among the Wood Bison. We are particularly excited to be collaborating and working with individuals representing Indigenous and First Nations peoples. We know how important the Wood Bison are to Indigenous peoples, and I’m hopeful the Bison will one day become a visible presence on the Canadian landscape.”
–  Mike Cey, CEO, Genome Prairie

“From our home located in Treaty Six Territory and the homeland of the Metis, the University of Saskatchewan recognizes the special significance and importance of bison populations. We appreciate the investment and teamwork displayed between partners that is making the Bison Integrated Genomics (BIG) project possible.”
Dr. Baljit Singh, Vice President Research, University of Saskatchewan

Quick facts

  • Today’s announcement is for $3.8 million in federal funding for genomics research plus $1.3 million in co-funding from provincial governments, businesses and research partners across Canada.
  • The International Bison Conference will welcome 500 delegates who are stakeholders in the bison community including producers, chefs, consumers, researchers, conservationists, marketers, and policy makers. The conference is held in Canada once every 10 years and celebrates the rich history and promising future of the bison industry.
  • Since 2000, Genome Canada has leveraged $1.7 billion in federal investment into a total investment of $4 billion in R&D including co-funding, supported over 5,000 talented research trainees and spun-out more than 80 new Canadian companies.

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