As the market continues to appreciate the advantages of building with wood, extending the service life of wood products has become an ongoing need. Understanding the biodegradation of wood and the detoxification of wood preservatives by microorganisms can help in the development of innovations that not only prolong the life of wood products, but may also increase market competitiveness. The Sustainable Construction – New Construction Materials team at FPInnovations has harnessed the power of genomics and has expanded their laboratory capacities to do more in-depth examinations of the role that bacteria plays on the decay of wood and the detoxification of preservatives.
Angela Dale, Scientist at FPInnovations, has been using genomics over the past two years to identify and understand the community of fungi and bacteria associated with treated wood. “Many people are not aware that FPInnovations is using genomics technologies, but our work with metabarcoding has been an important step in developing a deeper knowledge of the detoxification and decay process in treated wood,” she explains. Metabarcoding is a method to rapidly screen the DNA of all organisms in a sample by targeting a single gene or DNA fragment present in all organisms, but differing in sequence between species. This method was used to identify the fungi and bacteria associated with carbon- and copper-based preservatives in order to explore ways of improving the in-ground efficacy of carbon-based treatments.
Typically, the team has focussed on testing the efficacy of preservatives against fungi, but the metabarcoding data piqued their interest in understanding the role bacteria plays in detoxifying wood preservatives. However, many of the bacteria they found on the preservative treated wood were classified as Risk Group 2 (RG2), necessitating a Containment Level 2 (CL2) designation for their labs in order to work with those species. Angela Dale spearheaded the expansion of their lab capacities by ensuring their facilities met the specified design criteria and by developing biosafety and biosecurity corporate policies and procedures, as well as a training program. “With the upgrades in place, we received our licence to work with RG2 organisms and are proud that our laboratory is now a designated CL2 facility,” said Angela Dale. “This has allowed us to expand our research, enabling the testing of different products and extracts for their efficacy against bacteria, as many common bacteria species found in wood are RG2.”
With this designation, the team (Angela Dale, Stacey Kus and Rod Stirling) was able to take the results from the metabarcoding project and dive deeper into understanding the role bacteria plays in detoxifying preservatives in treated wood. They developed a test to screen multiple bacteria species against several treatments to determine the ability of each species to tolerate or detoxify the different preservatives. Wood treated with preservatives was inoculated with the bacteria and incubated. After incubation, samples were checked for bacteria survival and for chemical depletion.
The expansion also opened the door for projects outside of wood protection. In the queue for the upcoming year is a project to test the antibacterial and antifungal activity of natural extracts from tree bark against bacterial and fungal pathogens important in the food and agricultural industries. In another project, microorganisms present in the old corrugated container recycling process will be examined. The team will identify and isolate bacteria responsible for causing odours in recycled pulp products and can then evaluate methods to control these bacteria.
Genomics combined with the expansion of FPInnovations’ lab capacities can help to advance the development of many forest-based products such as wood preservatives. FPInnovations’ ability to work with RG2 bacteria will be important in developing new wood protection technologies through a better understanding of the breakdown of wood preservatives. With these tools, more effective tests will be developed to assess and improve new formulations, benefitting suppliers and ultimately the end-user.
For more information, please contact Angela Dale, Scientist in FPInnovations’ New Construction Materials team.