Microorganisms (genetic diversity)

Negative landscape level impacts are the biggest contributors to microbial biodiversity loss and other parts of this site contain strategies to address that significant problem.  Here, the more specific issue of human manipulation of microbial genetics is considered.  Use of microbial genes in genetic engineering is discussed under Goal 4.  Some industrial applications are described under Goal 5 Sustainable farmed bioproducts.

Canada's regulatory system for microorganisms

Canada does not directly regulate microbial genetic resources, but has many regulations related to microbes themselves. Microbes affected by and used as pesticides are regulated  federally under the Pest Control Products Act, regulations and regulatory directives, with numerous related programming for biocontrol agents carried out by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) and the Pest Management Centre of AAFC.  The provinces also have legislation regarding pesticide use and application (see Goal 4, Pesticides).  The federal Fertilizers Act also has some direct and indirect impacts on soil microorganisms which are only minimally acknowledged in the approval processes for fertilizers and soil amendments given how little we know about soil microorganisms.  Many provinces also have nutrient management regulations that impact soil biota (see Goal 4 Fertilizers).   Health Canada is responsible for regulating microbes as foods and for food processing under the Food and Drugs Act and AAFC and HC are responsible under the Feeds Act.  Microbes that are food safety hazards are the responsibility of many agencies, including the CFIA federally and many provincial units (see Goal 4). Pathogenic or toxic micro-organisms are also regulated for manufacture or import under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) and the New Substances Notification Regulations (Organisms).

Current approaches to protecting genetic resources: Strengths and Weaknesses

Clearly, the domestication and control of microbes has enormous benefits for humans, but all these regulatory areas have impacts on microbial genetic diversity, not necessarily well understood, Canada has no coherent, integrated strategy for protecting such resources. Because it is typically only economically and health significant microbes that receive attention, our understanding of impacts across many (and ecologically beneficial) species is limited.

There does not appear to be an international approach on this issue.


The main strategy is filling the innumerable data gaps that exist for most microbial species that humans manipulate.  It is such a poorly understood area at this stage that subsequent actions can not  be identified until we better understand how domestication processes are impacting microbial populations.  It falls to the universities and general funding bodies such as NSERC to investigate.


Once more research has been conducted, we would be in a better position to amend the regulatory environment to protect microbial genetic diversity.


At this point, we don't know enough to propose redesign strategies.