Ingenuity grants awarded to new faculty members
Written By: Bev Betkowski
2004-08-17Fighting crop disease, protecting plants and animals, and increasing productivity for pig farmers are among the bright ideas of new faculty members at the University of Alberta, being awarded with grants.
Five faculty members new to the U of A are receiving the Alberta Ingenuity New Faculty Grant to further their research. The grant consists of $55,000 per year for two years and is awarded to independent investigators in their first academic appointment at Alberta universities or colleges. The funding is intended to help the young researchers establish their labs.
The funding will come in handy for Dr. Stephen Strelkov, a researcher in the U of A Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science. Strelkov, who joined the university a year ago, is seeking a better understanding of how fungi can cause disease in crops like wheat.
Strelkov is studying a disease called tan spot of wheat, which causes legions on wheat plants, reduces their ability to mature, and reduces crop yield. "We want to understand what makes the plant susceptible and be able to breed for resistant varieties. The best way to combat plant disease is genetic resistance."
Dr. Fangliang He received his grant to study the geographical distribution of plant and animal species and to develop methods for assessing the response of species distribution to environment changes such as landscape fragmentation and global warming.
"We know species vary in sensitivity to different environmental factors. For example, some species are more sensitive to the change in temperature, while others are more sensitive to precipitation," said He, a Canada Research Chair in the U of A Department of Renewable Resources. "My major interest is in how and why species are distributed and how they can be conserved."
He joined the U of A Faculty of Agriculture, Forestry and Home Economics after nine years working for the Pacific Forestry Centre of the Canadian Forest Service in Victoria, B.C.
Dr. Michael Dyck, a reproductive physiologist who joined the Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science in January, is researching the physiology of mammalian eggs and sperm in how it affects animal production.
"Right now, we know how certain hormones affect the ovary and testes, and we know it causes certain changes, but we're not sure what the interactions are of certain tissues within the ovary that cause development of the follicle that produces the egg." The model Dyck proposes, using mice, would turn genes off and on in the ovary, and give a better understanding of the interactions and factors that cause normal follicle pathways.
Knowing more about what causes reproductive abnormalities would not only help producers like pig farmers increase livestock litter sizes, but also apply to human health, specifically women with ovarian cysts, who have a higher than normal risk of getting ovarian cancer.
"If we can understand what causes these cysts and abnormal developments in the ovary, we may be able to reduce the chances of the (cysts) and therefore cancer," Dyck said.
Dr. Robert Campbell is building on research he began as a post-doctoral student at the University of California, exploring biophotonics, an emerging field that studies the combination of photons (light) with biology.
Working with fluorescent proteins from jellyfish and coral, Campbell, who joined the U of A Department of Chemistry, is developing biomolecules (small molecules such as dyes or proteins that interact with light) that can be put into living cells so they are more visually prevalent. The technology would be especially valuable to oncologists in viewing the inside of a cancerous cell.
"You have to see what's going on inside that cell. That's how these tools (biomolecules) are very important."
Campbell is in the process of refining a fluorescent protein he has developed, but considers it just part of a whole package he'd like to see created for scientists' use. "We've made one tool you might find in a toolbox."
Also receiving the Alberta Ingenuity grant is Dr. Andrew Waskiewicz, a professor and Canada Research Chair in the U of A Department of Biological Sciences. He is developing a genetic screen to identify patterning mutants in zebrafish. His research focus is vertebrate developmental neurobiology, which involves the pathways that regulate cell identity. These pathways in turn, if altered, could offer possible cures for strokes and spinal cord injuries.
This article originally appeared in Express News.