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News Release

October 23, 2003

U of G, Canada Research Chairs celebrate milestones

The University of Guelph’s cohort of distinguished Canada Research Chairs now numbers an even 20 with the announcement of two new appointments today by Industry Minister Allan Rock.

Biochemistry professor Frances Sharom and food science professor Rickey Yada were both named Tier 1 Canada Research Chairs during a “milestone event” at the University of Toronto. Tier 1 chairs are acknowledged as international leaders in their fields and are awarded $200,000 a year for seven years. “Today, more than 1,000 Chairs in universities across Canada are helping make the quality of life of Canadians better every day," said Rock, who announced 118 new chair holders. "Thanks to the research of all the Chairs, Canada is closer than ever to its goal of becoming one of the top five countries in the world for research and development performance.”

Sharom will hold the Canada Research Chair in Membrane Protein Biology. “I am honoured to have been selected for a CRC award, especially since there are so many other excellent researchers working in the field,” she said. Yada, who was named a Canada Research Chair in Food Protein Structure, said he is “absolutely thrilled. During my career, I have been blessed with innovative and creative researchers at all levels from undergraduates to post-doctoral fellows. This award represents their efforts.”

Established three years ago as a way of enabling Canadian universities to attract and retain excellent faculty, the CRC program was provided with $900 million to support 2,000 chair holders across the country. U of G expects to eventually have 35 CRC researchers, and its current 20 chairs are worth approximately $28 million when federal and provincial support is included.

“The University of Guelph has many milestones to celebrate as a result of this announcement,” said Alan Wildeman, vice-president (research). “Across the disciplines, our Canada Research Chairs are engaged in teaching and research that are dynamic, innovative and collaborative and reach beyond the boundaries of their fields. These CRCs build on the high levels of research excellence that Dr. Sharom and Dr. Yada have already achieved.”

Sharom is studying the structure and function of several membrane proteins using novel biochemical and biophysical approaches. About one-third of all sequences in the human genome encode membrane proteins, which play a vital role in diseases such as cancer and bacterial and viral infections. “Yet we have only a rudimentary knowledge of their structure and how they carry out their biological function at the molecular level,” she said. “The goals of my research are to further our knowledge in this area by focusing on selected membrane proteins that are important in human health and disease.”

Among the proteins Sharom will study are the P-glycoprotein multi-drug transporter, which is responsible for the resistance of tumours to chemotherapeutic drugs; the NPC1 protein, which is defective in cases of Niemann-Pick Type C disease; and GPI-anchored proteins, which play a key role in the activation of the immune system.

Her research is highly interdisciplinary, spanning areas such as expression of membrane proteins in bacteria and yeast, biochemistry and enzymology, fluorescence spectroscopy and other biophysical techniques. “I hope my laboratory will provide a focal point for others working in the membrane protein field who wish to use biophysical techniques, both at the University of Guelph and elsewhere across Canada. The support provided by the CRC program will allow us to move towards this goal.”

Sharom is the author of 93 refereed journal articles and book chapters, and is the recipient of a Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for Teaching Excellence. Her research is supported by the National Cancer Institute of Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation.

As a CRC holder, Yada plans to further refine his research into the structure-function relationships of food-related proteins, especially enzymes, at a molecular level. Biological activity of a protein depends on its structure, so it’s important to be able to predict the structure and function of a protein, he said. “But, the exact nature of this relationship has remained relatively elusive.”

He hopes to identify the role(s) played by specific regions of enzymes, relate the regions to their structural characteristics and study how changes to these regions affect their activity. The enzymes he will examine include non-mammalian aspartic proteinases, which act as processing aids in the production of foods such as cheese.

His goal is for the research to aid in the efficient use of existing food proteins as well as in the design of new proteins for specific uses. “The future success of food science research will depend on scientists who have the ability to understand applied situations at a fundamental molecular level in a multidisciplinary manner,” he said. “This CRC funding will allow highly qualified personnel to acquire knowledge and expertise in various fields – molecular biology, enzymology, and biochemistry – while being exposed to applied problems faced in food science.”

Yada’s research is also supported by NSERC, the Networks of Centres of Excellence, the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), Parmalat Canada, and the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. He is the author of more than 120 refereed papers. He is a fellow of the Canadian Institute of Food Science and Technology and a recipient of the OAC Alumni Association Distinguished Researcher Award.

The CRC program is governed by a steering committee made up of the presidents of NSERC, CFI, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, as well as the deputy minister of Industry Canada. Federal funding is enhanced through contributions in support of research infrastructure from CFI and the Ontario Innovation Trust.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982.

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