O Genome Canada

Canada has committed $175 million toward a $400 million initiative in functional genomics that targets economic prosperity along with understanding disease. The first round of winners, announced last week, emphasizes regional development and capacity building, as well as top-notch research on humans, plants, and animals.

Last year a nonprofit corporation called Genome Canada was formed to develop a national genomics initiative that would span agriculture, health, forestry, fisheries, and the environment (Science, 10 March 2000, p. 1732). It has raised a total of $400 million from a combination of federal, provincial, and industry sources, with the hope of additional funding. From 31 proposals, officials selected 17 projects that they hoped would give Canada a competitive global advantage. The winners were vetted by a scientific panel chaired by C. Thomas Caskey, president of Houston's Cogene Biotech Ventures Ltd.

Nine of the 17 projects fall under the umbrella of health and will receive a combined $67 million over 3.5 years. Three, totaling $8 million, involve an exploration of ethical, legal, and social issues in genomics. Two environmental grants total $5.3 million, and there are individual grants in agriculture ($13.4 million), fisheries ($3.4 million), and forestry ($6.7 million). The potential economic payoff from those sectors is a primary reason for the initiative.

In addition to the project grants, Genome Canada will spend $47 million to establish five geographically distributed "science and technology" sites. Equipped with the latest technology, they will serve as user facilities for all scientists in the region. It has also allocated $1.4 million a year for 3.5 years to five regional genome centers to manage the projects and develop new ones, commercialize findings, and solicit additional funding. A second competition is scheduled for this fall, with awards to be announced in spring 2002.

"I've been dreaming about this for 20 years," says Willie Davidson, dean of science at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, and co-leader of a project to map the roughly 60 chromosomes of Atlantic salmon and study its immune system. "What Genome Canada has allowed us to do is to dream and to dream big."

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