Campus News

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

News Release

March 08, 2004

CFI invests nearly $12 million in U of G research

The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) announced today that it’s investing close to $12 million in three University of Guelph research projects. They are among the largest CFI grants U of G has received.

The funding was unveiled in Ottawa by Prime Minister Paul Martin and David Strangway, CFI’s president and CEO. In total, some $586 million was allocated for 126 projects at 57 Canadian universities, colleges, hospitals and non-profit agencies.

The U of G initiatives involve dozens of faculty and researchers from a variety of disciplines, as well as collaborators at universities across Canada and abroad.

Microbiology professor Chris Whitfield received more than $7.3 million to head a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to research on the membranes and surfaces of living cells. It’s U of G’s second-largest CFI-funded project and involves some 20 scientists from five departments.

“It’s a wonderful endorsement of the quality and international competitiveness of research in the biological and physical sciences at the University of Guelph,” Whitfield said. “It will be a pivotal factor in our ability to attract and recruit the very best trainees and new faculty members.”

More than $4 million was allocated to botanist Brian Husband to lead an applied evolution centre that will fuse two traditionally separate fields: genomics and ecology. It is also one of U of G’s largest CFI grants. “Most people think of evolutionary biology as a rather esoteric form of biology with little relevance to their day-to-day life,” Husband said. “This project will raise the profile of evolution, from gene to ecosystem, and its centrality to many aspects of society.”

Economics professor Kris Inwood received more than $300,000 to complete a first-of-its-kind database of the 1891 Canadian census. The project will involve both the College of Arts and College of Social and Applied Human Sciences. “One college could not have accomplished this alone,” he said. “It’s an example of how collaboration across colleges can benefit everyone.”

Funding for the three projects was awarded under CFI’s Innovation Fund, which supports research infrastructure. “I am delighted for the researchers and the university,” said president Alastair Summerlee. “The awards recognize the vital role and strengths in the life and social sciences at the University of Guelph.” He added that the facilities will be central components of U of G’s new science complex, the first phase of which is scheduled to open in September.

Two other important initiatives involving Guelph researchers also received significant federal support today. The Biotron project, a collaboration between U of G and the University of Western Ontario to assess the effects of climate change, was allocated $11.3 million. More than $19 million was also invested in the supercomputing installation SHARC-Net, which involves U of G and 10 other academic institutions.

“Today’s announcement marks a very significant day for research at the University of Guelph,” said Alan Wildeman, vice-president (research). “The investment of close to $12 million by CFI is expected to leverage an additional $17 million from provincial and private-sector sources, creating a total contribution of more than $29 million for infrastructure support. All of these projects build on diverse interdisciplinary research strengths at the university and focus on generating new ideas and knowledge that will benefit Canadians.”

The CFI was created in 1997 by the federal government to strengthen the ability of Canadian research institutions and to fund research infrastructure.

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

Background Information on U of G’s CFI Projects

Lead researcher: Prof. Chris Whitfield, Department of Microbiology
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 53361

This is a collaborative venture between researchers in the College of Biological Science and the College of Physical and Engineering Science. The collection of multi-user facilities will be located in U of G’s Advanced Analysis Centre, and scientists will conduct research at the interface of the biological and physical sciences.

Research activities will focus on the surfaces and membranes of living cells. Some of the planned projects describe new approaches to understand how molecules are transported into, or out of, living cells. “This is critically important in developing new strategies for therapeutic intervention against human diseases,” Whitfield said.

Other projects deal with the interactions of bacterial cell surfaces with metals, which has major impact in the global cycling of minerals in the environment and could offer possible bioremediation approaches to deal with contaminated soils. Several technology development ventures are also planned with private-sector partners, with the hope of delivering the next generation of instrument technologies.

“The objective is to create an environment that fosters collaboration and makes leading-edge equipment available to researchers on campus, in neighbouring institutions and, in some cases, in institutions across North America,” said Whitfield, who holds a prestigious Canada Research Chair in microbiology.

Lead researcher: Prof. Brian Husband, Department of Botany
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 54790

Applied evolution is an emerging field in biology and biotechnology that explores ways to predict and manage the genetic impacts of humans on other organisms and to modify and better harness the evolutionary process for practical purposes. Progress in the area has been limited, however, largely because of a lack of information about how genes behave in complex and changing environments.

This project is designed to change that. Funds from the CFI grant will build and equip controlled- environment facilities and a genomics lab. The controlled-environment facilities will include a greenhouse for large-scale research, a header house and several growth rooms and cabinets for smaller-scale experiments that require precise environments. The genomics lab will include facilities that will handle much of the campus needs for gene sequencing and gene expression work.

Husband, who also holds a Canada Research Chair, said the infrastructure is “absolutely central” to his research and to the work of a large number of other scientists on campus. “Without it, the University of Guelph simply would not be competitive in attracting the best faculty and students in biology,” he said.

“This grant will allow the University of Guelph and the College of Biological Science to advance the study of interactions between genes and the environment and to explore the evolutionary consequences.”

Lead researcher: Professor Kris Inwood, Department of Economics
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 53536

Inwood and his collaborators Kevin James and Douglas McCalla in the Department of History will be completing a public research database of the 1891 Canadian census. It is one of the highest-quality Canadian enumerations ever taken, containing distinct features that make it an especially valuable research resource, he said.

For example, it was the first Canadian census to enumerate unemployment, relationship to family head, birthplace of parents and dwelling characteristics. It also provided the most detailed occupational information of all the 19th-century Canadian censuses and it contains evidence about religion unavailable in the census of other countries.

“Such public enumerations are the single most valuable source for understanding an entire economy and an entire society in all their complexities,” Inwood said. “Unfortunately, the 1891 information is not usable for research until it is transformed from manuscript into digital form.”

Working with collaborators from several U of G departments and other Canadian universities, Inwood will finish creating an Ontario database of the 1891 census and merge it with information from the three Atlantic provinces, Quebec and Western Canada to create a national source that adds to a growing international collection of household databases.

The Biotron will be a state-of-the-art environmental research facility unlike any other in Canada. Located on Western's campus, it will provide researchers with controlled environmental technology to simulate climate change with respect to temperature, carbon dioxide concentrations, UV radiation, water status and quality, and pollutants to assess their impact on plants, animals, insects and micro-organisms.

This project is the second phase of a three-phase project involving collaboration between Western and the University of Guelph. Western is focused on the basic science: Guelph is focused on applied science. Bridging environmental research, agriculture, medicine and engineering, researchers will study such areas as drug development in crop plants, infectious disease, management of global warming, food chain impacts of pesticides and herbicides, and insect-borne disease.

The Shared Hierarchical Academic Computing Network (SHARC-Net) is one of the most powerful supercomputing installations in the world. The high-performance computing consortium is made up of the universities of Guelph, McMaster, Western, Wilfrid Laurier, Waterloo, Brock, York and Windsor, as well as the Ontario Institute of Technology and Fanshawe and Sheridan colleges.

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