Laboratories and research support: soil biotechnology laboratory

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Soil Biotechnology Laboratory

The Soil Biotechnology Laboratory within the Biological Assessment and Standardization Section is responsible for biological test method development in soil microbial research.

Technologist analysing samples in Soil Biotechnology Laboratory

Located in the S&T Laboratories in Ottawa, Ontario, research and findings from the laboratory are used to make decisions regarding the best approach to protect Canadians and their environment from risks some substances, and combinations of substances, may pose.

The laboratory is a Containment Level 2 facility for research involving risk group 2 pathogens.

Current research and methodology

  • Development of measurement endpoints for soil microbial toxicity
  • Optimization and validation of test methodologies for the characterization of microbial products containing microbial consortia or blends
  • Development of DNA microarrays for the detection of terrestrial soil pathogens using genetic fingerprints unique to the microbial species
  • Assessment of genomic techniques including DNA microarrays and multiplex polymerase chain reaction to detect microbial species of concern to Environment Canada
  • Assessing new technologies to enhance DNA extraction efficiency from soils

A recent project involved amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP)-derived, strain-specific genetic fingerprints to assess the persistence of high priority Domestic Substance List microbial strains in soil microcosms. This data can be used to inform the regulatory process managing the New Substance Notification Regulations, and further protect Canadians against harmful microbial substances that have the potential for ending up in the environment. These methods are being developed into a guidance document for use in other government and commercial laboratories.

Some methods used include:

  • polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
  • quantitative PCR (qPCR)
  • gel electrophoresis
  • denaturant gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE)
  • microfluidic gel electrophoresis
  • single and multi-well spectrophotometry
  • multi-well fluorescence spectrophotometry
  • phase contrast, differential interference contrast (DIC), epifluoresence and bright field microscopy
  • segmented flow analyzer


Technologist working in the Soil Biotechnology Laboratory
Laboratory activities are often organized in collaboration with the which assesses effects of individual substances and contaminant mixtures on species of plants, earthworms, and invertebrates in soil. In combination with the microbial and soil community perspective, this partnership allows for a more holistic assessment of the soil environment and leads to more comprehensive recommendations for decision making.

Collaborative research includes:

  • Assessment of the effects of Domestic Substance List microbial species to single species tests
  • Development and standardization of new toxicity test methodologies and guidance for assessment and remediation of impacts from hydrocarbon and brine contamination on boreal forest, taiga and northern soils using ecologically-relevant organisms

Current laboratory research funding comes from government programs including the Strategic Technology Applications of Genomics for the Environment (STAGE), Canadian Regulatory Systems for Biotechnology (CRSB), and the Program for Energy Research and Development (PERD).

Experts in laboratory

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