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This article was published 23/4/2019 (918 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The same way a forensic team can take a skin cell and read your entire DNA book, University of Manitoba researchers are taking drops of water from lakes and seeing their biotic makeup and health.
The Western Economic Diversification office stepped up with a $1.1-million grant on Tuesday for equipment to further the U of M team's genetic monitoring of northern lakes. MP Terry Duguid, filling in for the innovation and science minister, made the presentation, which is expected to create 14 jobs.
"We do e-DNA, and the little 'e' in front of DNA stands for environmental," explained U of M chemistry professor Jorg Stetefeld, a Canada Research Chair in structural biology.
Stetefeld and Gregg Tomy, U of M associate professor in chemistry, are currently monitoring the Baker Lake area in Nunavut, where at least half a dozen companies are mining for gold.
"We make water quality assessments to help gold mines and the Inuit to make life achievable in the north," Stetefeld said.
The gold mines help with costs. "We wouldn't have the money to make a single helicopter ride" into a northern lake without industry funding, Stetefeld said.
After all, pollution from the mines could shut down their operations. Baker Lake has one of the largest gold deposits in the world, Stetefeld said. The town of Baker Lake has a population of about 1,700 on the shore of its namesake lake.
In the past, DNA testing required catching fish and taking DNA samples, then flying the samples back to U of M for testing. That is time-consuming and labour-intensive.
Newer technology requires only drops of water to determine a lake's fish species, particularly if there are an invasive species like zebra mussels, and the presence of a pollutant.
With the federal funding, the researchers hope to develop a system that will also show fish species populations, as well as quantify the extent of a pollutant.
"If fish are exposed to mercury, a metal used to break gold, that has an impact on living organisms. We can see the mutations in fish," he said.
That is the protein in biota start to change to fight the mercury. The U of M teams also monitors for other pollutants like phosphate, sulphate nitrate and cadmium.
Stetefeld and Tomy started the Centre for Oil and Gas Research and Development (COGRAD) in 2014 and began researching the soils and lakes and lake sediments around oil pipelines. They began testing for DNA shortly after.
COGRAD was set up with an initial investment of $2.2 million from the Western Diversification Office.