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

News Release

October 18, 2002

CFI invests in 'New Opportunities' at U of G

The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) has invested more than $600,000 in three “New Opportunities” for novel research at the University of Guelph. The funded projects will examine the function of proteins in animal development and during stress, how plants respond to their environment and how stress affects fish.

The announcement was made today in Ottawa by Allan Rock, minister of industry. Guelph is among 27 universities and research institutions across Canada receiving more than $22 million in research infrastructure support from the CFI. “These awards will provide key infrastructure for research in the plant and animal life sciences at the University of Guelph,” said Alan Wildeman, vice-president (research). “Basic research in biology underpins much of Canada’s ability to be innovative in the life sciences, and these CFI awards will be a great boost for these new faculty.”

The Guelph research projects involve five faculty from three departments: Dick Mosser, Andrew Bendall and Ray Lu, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics; Manish Raizada, Department of Plant Agriculture; and Nicholas Bernier, Department of Zoology. The projects fall under the CFI's New Opportunities Fund, designed to help launch the careers of new and talented faculty members and help institutions recruit high-quality scholars. The fund covers 40 per cent of the infrastructure costs of a project, with the remaining funds coming from the research institutions and private-, public- and voluntary-sector partners.

“This CFI funding will significantly help us to establish our research programs and compete internationally with our peers in the field,” said Mosser, who, along with Bendall and Lu, received $373,115 to study the function of proteins at the molecular, cellular and organismal levels. “These new technologies will allow us to efficiently study important regulatory proteins expressed in different cell types and under different conditions experienced during development, stress and disease states,” he said.

Mosser will study how cells survive under stress, which can trigger a process of cell suicide known as apoptosis. He has found that the hsp70 protein can block apoptosis in stressed cells. Understanding how cells circumvent this death pathway during stress will provide clues to how this process is disrupted in human disease. Bendall will study proteins that are considered to be key players in deciding between the alternative fates faced by embryonic cells. To do this, he will manipulate their levels in live embryos and measure the biological consequences. Lu’s research centres on the biological functions of two new human genes he has identified. These genes have been linked to animal stress responses that are implicated in many diseases and cellular processes and are regulators of other gene activities.

Bernier received $132,650 for a state-of-the-art laboratory to study how stress affects the appetite and growth of fish. Currently, intensification of aquaculture practices and the accumulation of environmental contaminants are creating conditions that are challenging to the well-being of fish. “Stress in fish has significant economic consequences, but our knowledge of the biological mechanisms responsible for the appetite and growth-suppressing effects of stress is superficial,” he said.

Bernier will use the CFI funds to purchase advanced equipment to quantify the expression of key growth and stress-related genes, to investigate how they are regulated and to study the impact of environmental stressors on feeding activity. “Not only will this infrastructure enable us to ask questions that have not been previously addressed, but it will also provide us with a research capacity to investigate the molecular endocrinology and physiology of fish that will be among the best in Canada.”

Raizada received $123,462 to develop two new technologies to help researchers understand a fascinating feature in plants: wound-induced stem cell regeneration. “When a plant is mechanically wounded by an herbivore, individual leaves of certain species have the ability to regrow new shoots and roots,” he said. “This would be equivalent to humans regrowing a new torso from a severed hand. We are trying to understand this process and isolate the genes responsible.”

The new technologies will help decode the genes of numerous varieties of corn to understand why they are different from each other and will be used to determine how the environment controls plant genes. “Because plants cannot move, their genes switch on and off to respond to changes in their environment,” said Raizada. “We would like to visualize each gene switching on and off under different conditions.” Researchers Raizada’s lab have inserted a gene that makes fireflies glow into 27,000 Arabidopsis plants and plan to take videos of the glowing plants, using the CFI funds to purchase the necessary sensitive equipment.

The CFI was established in 1997 by the federal government to address the urgent needs of Canada's research community. It has a capital investment budget of $3.15 billion, and its goal is to strengthen Canada's university research and training environment through partnerships with the research institutions, the provinces and other levels of government, as well as the private and voluntary sectors.

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