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Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

March 01, 2002

U of G celebrates Premier's research awards

Four more University of Guelph researchers have received Premier's Research Excellence Awards (PREA), the Ontario Minister of Energy, Science and Technology has announced. To date, 19 Guelph professors have won the awards, with funding totalling more than $2.8 million.

Physics professor Carl Svensson, botany professors Barbara Mable and Robert Mullen, and pathobiology professor Dorothee Bienzle will receive $100,000 each from PREA and $50,000 in matching funds from the university. "This support is a tremendous boost to one's research program," Svensson said, adding that the funding will allow him to hire graduate students post-doctoral fellows to help conduct groundbreaking research on the standard model of particle physics. "When you are able to establish a critical mass of people working together, fabulous things can happen." He and the other Guelph professors were among faculty from five western Ontario universities recognized Thursday at an event in London hosted by Jim Wilson, minister of energy, science and technology, who made the PREA announcement on behalf of Premier Mike Harris.

"Scientific and technological research and innovation are critical to Ontario's economic future," Wilson said. "The awards contribute to the province's 'brain gain' by providing our younger scientists with the support they need to undertake leading-edge research right here in Ontario."

President Mordechai Rozanski calls the PREA awards "a fabulous investment in some of the university's best and brightest. The awards not only recognize the achievements of these fine researchers, but provide the promise of great contributions to the expansion of knowledge and discovery."

Alan Wildeman, Guelph's vice-president (research), added: "These most recent awards are a strong addition to the wonderful depth of the basic and applied research that is taking place at the University of Guelph."

Details of the projects that received PREA support are:

  • Svensson will be conducting precision tests of the standard model of particle physics to help guide researchers toward an understanding of the "new physics" that lies beyond it. He will focus on precision nuclear beta decay experiments, which test the most fundamental interactions of subatomic particles. His research concentrates on the strong and weak nuclear forces, with a focus on the strength of the weak interaction. He said that his experiments aim to test for the "cracks in the standard model" leading to a more complete understanding of nature and how the nucleus of an atom works at its most basic level.

  • Bienzle will be studying feline leukemia virus, which results in tumour formation, immunodeficiency, or nonspecific chronic diseases in cats. Some of the infected cats develop a degenerative disease of the spinal cord that results in gradual paralysis. She is interested in identifying how the virus causes damage to nerve cells in the spinal cord and why only some cats develop this specific illness. Studying the disease in cats may yield valuable insights into this common human disease and how other viruses injure the nervous system, she said. She has also received support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation's New Opportunities research program.

  • Mable's research will investigate how changes at the molecular level affect processes at the whole organism level. She will research the significance of polyploidy (duplication of entire sets of chromosomes) in the evolution of the mating system. While its importance in the evolutionary history of plants is unquestionable, polyploidy has often been ignored as a potentially important factor in the evolution of animals, Mable said. She will study the consequences of gene duplication for mate recognition systems, which determine the breeding systems that can lead to genetic diversification within and between species. Like Bienzle, she has also received support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation's New Opportunities research program.

  • Mullen will be conducting research on plant peroxisome biogenesis. He will be observing how proteins move around and function inside plant cells. Understanding the assembly, differentiation and roles of each cellular organelle is essential before biologists can comprehend the complex, integrated functions of cells, he said. Studying the proteins used in certain cellular structures might help medical researchers lean more about how defects in those structures can cause human disease. His research might eventually be used by biotechnology companies in designing effective strategies for genetic engineering of plants with value-added modifications. Mullen also received $250,000 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council for a state-of-the-art microscope that allows researchers to examine cells and dynamic processes.

The PREA program was established in 1997 by the provincial government to boost investment in innovative research. It is designed to help gifted young researchers increase the pace of their research by attracting graduate students, post-doctoral fellows or research associates to specific research programs. To date, 378 researchers have received awards totalling more than $56 million from the province and its research partners.

In addition to U of G's four most recent PREA recipients, five other Guelph professors who received PREAs in 2001 were recognized at the London event. They are English professor Daniel Fischlin, food scientist Yoshi Mine, zoologists Beren Robinson and Elizabeth Boulding and biochemist Dev Mangroo.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs, 519-824-4120, Ext. 3338.

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