GE3LS = Genomics and its Ethical, Environmental, Economic, Legal and Social Aspects

GE3LS – The Foundation of Scientific Innovation

The foundation to scientific progress is to evaluate and anticipate the larger impacts of the innovation. This is certainly true in the realm of water quality, where new innovations often face biological, technical, societal and legal barriers. Collectively, the GE3LS teams are developing an anticipatory governance framework for novel water quality tests, and striving to understand the interests of knowledge generators, end-users, and practitioners in ways that will be important to the use of genomics water quality tests in the future.

The GE3LS Team: Bringing East and West Together

The GE3LS team spans Canada, bringing together expertise in law, governance, communication, stakeholder engagement and policy development.


The GE3LS East team, based at McGill University and the Centre for Genomics and Policy, is comprised of Drs. Bartha Knoppers, Yann Joly and Vural Ozdemir. The McGill GE3LS team is contributing to mapping the legal context (regulatory and attribution to source) for future scientific tests, and the extent to which consensus might exist among applied genomics scientists’ and policymakers’ for evidentiary requirements to transition candidate metagenomics applications to practice (e.g., water and ecosystem health assessment).

The LEGAL team focuses on:

Barriers to marketing (implementing) a new test:

• Water quality assessments are largely driven by regulatory and legislative requirements. This aim reviews the legislative frameworks at the international, national and provincial level to identify key differences in water policy at multiple scales.

How metagenomics and resulting tests can be used in legal procedures:

• The development of a Microbial Pollution Profiling (MPP) tool that can identify and sanction the source of pollution will require a higher evidentiary threshold.


Developing an anticipatory governance (AG) framework :

• AG represents a new approach for managing the uncertainties posed by emerging technologies and knowledge-based innovations. Through an iterative Delphi survey, the attitudes of genomics scientists and policy makers for the evidentiary requirements needed to adopt a metagenomics-derived test for water safety are evaluated.


The GE3LS West team comprises of two University of British Columbia based research teams: a communications/stakeholder team and a water governance team.

The COMMUNICATIONS AND STAKEHOLDER team is composed of Dr. Natalie Henrich (Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcomes Science) and Dr. Bev Holmes (Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research). Their work focuses on understanding the issues and opinions of key stakeholders, members of the public, and representatives of BC’s Health Authorities.

Interviews with watershed managers, policy makers, laboratory managers and farmers to determine:

• factors that would impact uptake of the new tests,

• how the results from the new tests would impact their work,

• test characteristics they would like the tests to have, and

• challenges or concerns about using the tests and the results.

Focus groups with members of the public, lay-experts on water issues and professionals working on water issues to provide perspective on:

• how they perceive the quality of water where they live and play,

• their understanding of what impacts water quality,

• their greatest concerns about water quality, and

• the information they want to receive about water quality and how they want to receive the information.

Interviews with BC’s Health Authorities to provide information on:

• the kinds of information they share with the public about water,

• how information is communicated,

• challenges and facilitators to communicating with the public, and

• what they believe the public does and doesn’t need to know about the new water quality tests and the results they will produce.

By comparing the findings from the public and the health authority representatives, the team can assess how well current communication strategies align with the public’s information needs and provide the opportunity for the team to suggest how this alignment can be strengthened. Collectively, this work will identify parameters needed in a new water quality test, suggest key strategies for ensuring uptake of this novel technology, and to facilitate communication with stakeholders.

The WATER GOVERNANCE TEAM is composed of Drs. Karen Bakker (Geography) and Leila Harris (Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability) who together co-Direct UBC’s Program on Water Governance (PoWG), and Gemma Dunn, a Research Associate at PoWG. This team aims to understand the governance environment (including and extending beyond legislation) into which such a test would be introduced. In particular, PoWG’s research is focused on documenting and analyzing current microbial risk assessment, management and communication practices.

PoWG research includes telephone interviews with practitioners from three types of entities engaged in water management (municipal, public health, and watershed agencies), along the source-to-tap gradient in both BC and Ontario. Interviews were conducted with staff with expertise in water management, policy, and microbial risk assessment and management to provide insights into daily water management practices. Doing so will help to better understand the governance context, and readiness, or potential obstacles related to the potential of a new microbial water quality test. The PoWG team is also interviewing other practitioners and government agents at various levels to identify and understand issues important for microbial risk and water quality testing. This work focuses on Canada, but also considers international best practices and governance frameworks.

Through initial research focused on comparison between two provinces (BC and Ontario), this research effort has identified key factors at the provincial and local level that enable and constrain the capacity of drinking water purveyors to operationalize microbial risk management, including: institutional leadership and cooperation; organizational capacity (financial and staff); regulation; communication; knowledge gaps, and technology.

© 2014 — Watershed Metagenomics