OPAL brings together analytics and ag tech in new Saskatchewan facility

(Kara Oosterhuis/RealAgriculture)

After a year of building, prototyping, and delivering services to select customers and partners, the Omics and Precision Agricultural Laboratory (OPAL) has been launched by the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S).

OPAL was founded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the National Research Council of Canada, and the U of S with investment from Western Economic Diversification Canada.

OPAL is a state-of-the-art facility and the only one in Canada to provide analytical and computation services that includes genomics (the study of genetic materials), phenomics (the study of an organism’s traits), and bioinformatics (analyses of biological data), giving rise to the title “Omics”. It combines these with the use of the latest imaging and ag technologies like GPS, unmanned aerial vehicles, remote aerial imagery, and in-field environmental monitoring to provide clients with a complete diagnostic profile of samples.

“Thanks to the invaluable support of our partners, we have been able to set up a highly equipped facility that is a one-stop shop for the comprehensive analyses of microbe, plant and animal samples, and we are very pleased to have these advanced services available here to complement Saskatchewan’s  thriving biotechnology ecosystem,” says Steven Webb, GIFS chief executive officer. “As a technology platform, OPAL will use  advanced tools and digital agtech to address big issue challenges facing the agriculture and food sectors, aligning with GIFS’ mission to work with partners to discover, develop and deliver innovative solutions for the production of globally sustainable food.”

The facility will also help deploy cutting-edge tech developed through the Plant Phenotyping and Imaging Research Centre.

OPAL’s laboratory equipment can analyze virtually all genetic material on a large scale, and during its one-year pilot, GIFS loaned the equipment to support diagnostic testing for COVID-19 to the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

“Agtech has the infrastructure and capacity to support the health sector through its adaptable equipment that can be used for very large-scale and automated applications including genetic testing and sequencing, virus detection, protein analysis, and gene expression,” says Webb. “We were pleased to be able to support the Health Authority’s efforts by making our equipment available for the important testing needed at the time.”

OPAL was designed to help resolve climate change and water and nutrient resource issues and when it comes to farming, and will enable farmers to target plants with precise amounts of inputs.

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