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Big Money for Canadian Biologists
9 April 2002 (All day)
OTTAWA--When geneticist Tom Hudson of McGill University in Montreal learned last week that he would receive $9.5 million to participate in a proposed international research consortium, he wondered for a moment whether he was still living in Canada. "It's unbelievable. This is going to be one of the most high-profile genome projects in the world, and we're the first group funded," enthused Hudson, the director of the Montreal Genomics Centre.
Hudson will be participating in a project to help researchers refine their search for genes implicated in diseases by mapping long stretches of DNA called haplotypes (Science, 27 July 2001, p.583). It's one of 34 funded last week by Genome Canada, a nonprofit agency created 2 years ago to boost Canada's capacity in genomics and proteomics. The projects are likely to benefit key industrial sectors such as health, agriculture, forestry, and fisheries as well as the environment (see graphic). The agency has raised a total of $400 million from federal, provincial, and industry sources. Combined with an earlier round of awards (Science, 13 April 2001, p. 186), the $195 million committed last week will buy Canada a prominent place in a host of international research consortia, says Genome Canada president Martin Godbout.
The new money should spur collaborations between scientists from Canada and other countries; the haplotype map project, for example, also involves significant contributions from the United States and the United Kingdom. Two projects will be done jointly with the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm: Molecular biologist David Baillie of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, was awarded $6.73 million to study protein function in the soil nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, and microbiologist Sherif Abou Elela of the University of Sherbrooke, Quebec, received $3.75 million to test modified nucleic acid technologies for determining gene function. Genome Canada is negotiating with two other nations to build a consortium to map the potato genome, Godbout says, and with Norway to develop a consortium in fisheries. Negotiations are nearly complete on collaborative agreements with the Netherlands and Spain.
The investments by Genome Canada should greatly increase Canada's scientific capacity, says Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute, which has recently announced a $32 million competition to work on the haplotype map. "Until Genome Canada, Canada did not have available the kind of funding capabilities that make it possible to be a player on the big stage," Collins says.