U of G Gains New Canada Research Chairs

September 23, 2009 - News Release

The University of Guelph will receive $2.4 million over the next five years through two new prestigious Canada Research Chairs (CRCs) and the renewal of another. Gary Goodyear, minister of state (science and technology), was at U of G today to make the national announcement.

In total, there will be 182 new CRCs across the country, worth an estimated $152 million. Guelph’s CRC count now stands at 34.

Professors Christian Blodau, who came from Germany to join the School of Environmental Sciences this fall, and Scott Weese, a pathobiologist at the Ontario Veterinary College, have both been named new Tier 2 research chairs. As such, they are considered to have the potential to become world leaders in their fields and will receive $100,000 a year for five years.

In addition, a Tier 1 chair worth $200,000 annually and currently held by environmental biologist Chris Hall was renewed for another seven years.

“I’m delighted that Christian has joined U of G, and I welcome both him and Scott into our growing cohort of outstanding CRCs,” said Kevin Hall, vice-president (research).

“Their research and expertise in sustainability and infectious diseases will contribute greatly to our reputation as a university that is poised to help solve our planet’s problems.” He also congratulated Chris Hall on his renewal.

Blodau, previously of the University of Bayreuth, was named the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Geology and Biogeochemistry. He’ll study carbon, nutrients and toxic trace elements in wetlands, lakes and freshwater reservoirs, and look at how they’re influenced by climate.

The overarching goal is to sustain Canada’s aquatic ecosystems in the face of global environmental change, he said, and understanding the relationship between climate and ecosystem change is fundamental.

Currently, environmental scientists endeavour to model the impact of rapid environmental change on the carbon cycling in wetlands and lakes, and to develop scenarios about the future,

Blodau said. “These efforts need to be informed by empirical analyses of key biogeochemical processes and controls — this is where I see my most important contribution to science in the coming years.”

One of his aims is to predict the future of carbon sequestration (the geological process of removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in soil and sediments), which reduces carbon emissions and slows global warming. His research will help identify the chemical and hydrological factors that accelerate or slow this action.

Weese will hold the Canada Research Chair in Zoonotic Diseases, working to provide new insight and understanding about diseases that can spread from animals to humans. More than 70 per cent of new infectious diseases that threaten human health are zoonotic.

He is a leading researcher on two zoonotic pathogens — Clostridium difficile and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus — and in veterinary infection control. He and his research team will simultaneously study people, animals and food to learn about the factors associated with the transmission of infectious diseases.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that we need to broaden our approach to the study of zoonotic diseases, particularly diseases involving pets,” Weese said. “This chair will greatly facilitate research in this area, both independent research in my lab and collaborative research with colleagues in human medicine, veterinary and public health fields.”

His ultimate goals are to increase understanding of how pathogens are spread and to help prevent and control new and re-emerging animal-related diseases that threaten public health.

Chris Hall was originally awarded a CRC in 2002. He has used his Chair in Recombinant Antibody Technology to develop innovative products to protect the environment and improve human health and well-being. This includes creating ways to produce antibodies on a large scale from genetically modified tobacco.

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

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, at 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338 or lhunt@uoguelph.ca, or Barry Gunn, Ext. 56982 or bagunn@uoguelph.ca.

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