U of G Gets $2.8 Million from Industry Canada

June 10, 2008 - News Release

The University of Guelph will receive $2.8 million over the next seven years from Industry Canada through the renewal of two prestigious Canada Research Chairs (CRC), it was announced today.

Prof. Paul Hebert, Department of Integrative Biology, and Prof. Chris Whitfield, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, were first awarded Tier 1 chairs in 2002 and were among U of G's first recipients. Tier 1 chairs are acknowledged as international leaders in their fields and are awarded $200,000 a year for seven years.

"Professors Hebert and Whitfield represent a standard of outstanding scientific and academic leadership that has placed U of G at the forefront of life science research," said Steven Liss, interim vice-president (research).

"When it comes to the Barcode of Life or the latest developments in bacterial cell surface structure and function, Professors Hebert and Whitfield are leading the world and we are delighted and proud that further investment through CRC renewals will allow them to continue to make important contributions through their research."

Hebert has been using his CRC to support research on how molecular studies can provide new insights into the diversity of life, specifically DNA bar coding. He heads the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario and is the scientific director of the International Barcode of Life Project, a consortium working to create the world’s first reference library of DNA barcodes for use in species identification around the globe.

He was the first scientist to propose that a short DNA sequence from a standard gene region shared by all multicellular life could be used to identify species. He called the system DNA barcoding. The technology reduces species identification time to hours and, eventually, to minutes. Over the past several years, he has received millions of dollars in government, private and public-sector support for the initiative.

Whitfield's CRC research has focused on the functions of bacteria, as well as exploiting this knowledge to identify new targets for therapies against bacterial infections. He heads a multi-million-dollar facility at U of G for research on the surfaces and membranes of living cells. There, scientists are working to find new approaches to understanding how molecules are transported into, or out of, living cells. This is critically important in understanding processes involved in human diseases and developing effective new strategies for therapeutic intervention.

Whitfield and other researchers at the centre are also looking at the interactions of bacterial cell surfaces with metals. Their findings could offer possible bioremediation approaches to deal with contaminated soils.

The federal government established the CRC program in 2000 to help attract and retain excellent faculty. It is governed by a steering committee made up of the presidents of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Canada Foundation for Innovation, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Canadian Institutes of Health Research, as well as the deputy minister of Industry Canada.

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