Bringing real-time testing to the farm
Bioenterprise Canada supports Harvest Genomics’ mobile lab development
Updated January 2024
During the pandemic, the notion of convenient, at-home disease testing gained widespread acceptance among Canadians, driven by the emergence of rapid at-home COVID-19 tests. Remi Maglione envisions extending this same user-friendly testing approach to farmers, enabling them to swiftly detect specific diseases affecting their plants.
After securing an inaugural Mitacs Entrepreneurship grant at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) for air pathogen biosurveillance and driven by a mission to make genomic solutions accessible to everyone through affordable deployment of nanopore sequencing technology, Harvest Genomics initiated a new collaborative project.
Teaming up with researchers at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) with funding from the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, the company embarked on the development of a pioneering test through sequencing for the early detection of Tomato Brown Rugose Fruit Virus (ToBRFV).
ToBRFV is a plant virus affecting tomato and pepper crops that was first detected in Ontario greenhouses in 2019. It can spread rapidly before symptoms are visible, so early detection with Harvest Genomics’ swab test kit is an important part of the industry’s response. The company now has clients all over North America.
Harvest Genomics is also actively involved in soil metagenomics to help growers implement sustainable solutions, agroecology, and pathogen surveillance. As part of the SOYAGEN project, the company collaborates with seed companies to accelerate crop and variety development, ensuring that new crop varieties reach the market faster and more efficiently. This involves high-density marker profiling and genomics prediction.
Technological advancements have enabled the capability to extract and sequence DNA from every organism in complex soil or water samples simultaneously. At the greenhouse level, notes Maglione, this means growers can submit a single swab and Harvest Genomics can then identify the presence of rugose, along with a range of other pathogens, from that single sample.
SmartGrowth funding from Bioenterprise Canada helped support development of Harvest Genomics’ mobile lab.
“We had the foundational platform, a mobile lab, ready for testing, and the SmartGrowth funding from Bioenterprise played a crucial role in optimizing protocols, building an online portal, conducting testing, and establishing the procedures for carrying out these tests in commercial environments,” Maglione says.
“Furthermore, it helped us finalize the mobile lab by incorporating a crucial component for the future: an air trapping system. This device can be used for a broad range of applications, ranging from microorganisms to spore capture, with virus and insect capability. The program support was pivotal in transitioning the concept from paper into real beta testing,” he adds.
In the realm of private business, securing funding for research and development can often be challenging. That’s why, notes Maglione, having an organization like Bioenterprise Canada, which not only offers funding post the discovery phase but also aids in the commercialization process, becomes crucial.
“Organizations like Bioenterprise play a vital role, providing essential support to kickstart early-stage technology – a fundamental aspect for success,” he says.
As Canada’s Food & Agri-Tech Engine, Bioenterprise Canada brings two decades of industry experience and a national and international network of research institutions, academia, mentors and experts, funders and investors, government, and industry partners to help small and medium-sized businesses in the agri-food sector nationwide connect, innovate, and grow.
For more information on SmartGrowth, visit https://bioenterprise.ca/programs/smartgrowth-program/ or contact Alexandra Burdett at email@example.com.
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