Photo: NSERC
Photo: NSERC

David Miller, a professor in Carleton’s Department of Chemistry, is a winner at this year’s prestigious NSERC Synergy Awards for Innovation for a breakthrough that will reduce the devastating impact of the eastern spruce budworm on eastern North American forests.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) announced the award for Miller along with other top national awards on Tuesday.

Miller’s discovery is the result of a 20-year research collaboration with the woodlands division of J.D. Irving Ltd. (JDI). The eastern spruce budworm is the most damaging forest insect pest in the country. In the 1970s and 1980s, budworm outbreaks affected 50 million hectares and took a big bite out the eastern Canadian economy.

NSERC-supported research in the 1990s led to the discovery of an insect toxic strain of endophytes – natural fungi that live in the leaves of many plants – in the needles of conifer seedlings in the Acadian forest. It turns out that conifer endophytes are transmitted to seedlings as they begin to grow on the forest floor surrounded by cast needles from mature trees.

Photo: NSERC

Miller, along with Greg Adams of JDI and Maritime Innovation Ltd., investigated how to replicate this process in greenhouses. As a result, JDI now mass‐produces endophytic fungi and has planted more than 100 million endophyte‐enhanced seedlings.

The resulting trees have increased tolerance to the spruce budworm — enough to significantly reduce the impact of an infestation.

JDI provided the white spruce seedlings and nursery space for to test theories, tree and forest growth knowledge.

“Science is a team sport,” says Miller. “None of this would have been possible without lots of different kinds of expertise. This award reflects a lot of work by a lot of people over a long of time. And it’s a recognition of the risks that JDI took.”

“Finding a sustainable and proactive tool to help manage the devastating problem of spruce budworm outbreaks is remarkable,” said Nimal Rajapakse, Carleton’s vice-president (Research and International). “The partnership between Carleton and JDI was critical to success.”

Foresters now have an effective and environmentally sustainable tool. This proprietary technology could have applications in the battle against other pests and pathogens.

The project also illuminated an unknown aspect of forest ecology, identified dozens of new natural products, described previously undefined fungi and generated five patents.

Funding for this research has come from NSERC, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency – Atlantic Innovation Fund (ACOA), National Research Council (NRC-IRAP), Mitacs and SERG International.

For more information, please see the NSERC video at:

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Carleton University
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