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Welcome to the BIG Project

This project is funded by Genomic Applications Partnership Program (GAAP)

Project Objective

The North American bison is comprised of two subspecies: Plains bison (Bison bison bison) and wood bison (Bison bison athabascae). Several factors contributed to the demise of the North American bison e.g. (overharvesting, the re-introduction of horses as a competitor for grassland and as a tool for hunting, the introduction of the cattle disease during a north-south cattle drive, sports trades, Indian wars, etc.). Both plains and wood bison undergo serious loss of genetic diversity due to several reasons like the founder’s effect, genetic drift, population bottlenecks and selection. The overcrowding and transmission of the bovine disease resulted in a serious loss of the number of plains bison. Thousands of plains bison shipped from Buffalo National Park to Wood Buffalo National Park, and due to hybridization with the wood residents introduced bovine disease. Bison are an integral part of the ecology of Canadian national parks. There are two major barriers to bison conservation in Canada, infection with bovine tuberculosis (bTB) and brucellosis as well as geographically isolated small herds of bison. Outbreaks of bTB and brucellosis, cause an economic risk to the $ 16 billion Canadian cattle export market. The current conservation efforts by Parks Canada are severely restricted by consequent threats of bTB and brucellosis spillover, genetic isolation amongst herds, and the potential for catastrophic loss in small geographically segregated herds. These issues cannot be overcome without novel, practical methods of assessing the genetic composition and overcoming disease-related limitations to the movement of breeding stock. In 2020, the recovery of wood bison in Canada has been designated an imminent threat, if action is not taken now. Parks Canada, along with other bison management agencies, requires genomic tools to provide solutions to manage these zoonotic diseases and improve gene flow among herds without the risk of introducing disease.

The BIG project will provide Parks and other agencies with the following tools to manage the northern diseased bison issue, a uniquely Canadian, and wicked ecological problem that has defied solution for the past 30 years.  

  1. Genomic-enabled disease management tools to support bison conservation and reduce threats to domestic cattle and bison,

  2. Genomics enabled tools to allow targeted distribution of genetically profiled germplasm for continental-scale conservation of bison in North America.

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