Sometimes, it seems like modern science is moving faster than the mind can comprehend. You hear about students and institutions alike researching areas l such as biotechnology or genomics that leave most of us wondering how these fields will affect our daily lives.

In Calgary, researchers at Genome Alberta are providing the answer. They are conducting cutting edge biotech research with an eye towards practical applications that can make life better for Canadians today. “Genome Alberta is part of a family of organizations that help to promote, fund, and advance genomics research around the country,” says Genome Alberta Program Director Matt Bryman. “Really, what we’re looking to do is provide genomics-enhanced solutions for a variety of problems that face Canadians.”

Genomics technologies are already changing the landscape in sectors critical to the Canadian Economy, from health care to agriculture. “When you look at the areas that are important to Canada’s economy, so many of them have biological origins,” explains Bryman. “And all of them can be impacted by cutting-edge biotech research. In that way, it is natural for Canada to be a leader in this kind of research.”

New diagnostic tools are saving lives

One of the most exciting projects at Genome Alberta is a new way of detecting bloodstream infections that is substantially faster than previous methods, meaning that people can access life-saving treatment sooner. The research portfolio the organization has developed features a new set of tools, including a rapid diagnostic tool for detecting blood stream infections that can be effective 40 hours faster than conventional methods. Ian Lewis, a Genome Alberta funded researcher and Project Leader, believes these tools will save valuable time at critical moments. “People die for all kinds of reasons.” He says, “Some are very hard to deal with, but others are absolutely preventable and come down to poor engineering. Your probability of surviving an infection is inversely proportional to the length of time that elapses between the onset of symptoms and when you get the right antibiotic therapy, every hour counts. Our tools dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to get the right drug to the patient.”

Other avenues of research include an accurate and easy to administer test that can detect E. coli and listeria in food products, genomic tools for optimal selection of beef cattle, and potential biotech methods for detecting untapped fossil fuel reserves. “We’re not even close to tapping the potential of genomics in agriculture and the energy industry,” says Bryman. “That type of work has been underway for a while, but there is a lot more that can be done.”

These sorts of applications are what drive the research programs at Genome Alberta. It’s about taking the pure science of genomics and boiling it down to products that really make a difference. “We’ve built the program in order to make sure we have applicable initiatives that can deliver practical tools immediately,” says Lewis. “We have a big vision, long-term payoff objectives, but we always make sure that we also have very practical short-term goals.”

The next time you hear about research into a field of science that sounds as esoteric as biotechnology, look around you and remember that the real fruits of this research are improving our lives every day, whether we know it or not.