The U of G biodiversity project receives $ 24 million in federal funding

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BIOSCAN to inventory multicellular species, study their interactions and dynamics, and enable researchers to help protect natural resources, ecosystems and human health

The following article was provided by the University of Guelph Intelligence Services.

Can we avert planetary mass extinction? Can we set up a global system to study life on our planet?

The aim of is to help answer these and other broad questions about life on earth BIOSCAN, a global biodiversity project led by the University of Guelph that awarded $ 24 million in federal funding this month.

Run by Dr. Paul Hebert, a professor in the College of Biological Sciences and director of U of G’s Center for Biodiversity Genomics (CBG), a global, interdisciplinary research team will use the award to advance this ambitious eight-year project that began in 2019. BIOSCAN will inventory multicellular species, study their interactions and dynamics, and enable researchers to help protect natural resources, ecosystems and human health.

BIOSCAN is one of seven nationwide initiatives – including just two scientific projects – to receive awards as part of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee’s Transformation 2020 (T2020) competition.

Announced on January 12th by François-Philippe Champagne, Federal Minister for Innovation, Science and Industry, this program supports large-scale, Canada-led research projects that are challenging and promising real, lasting change.

The support comes from New frontiers in the research fund, a joint initiative of all three major federal funding agencies: the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

“This grant will maintain Canada’s ability to lead BIOSCAN,” said Hebert, Canada Research Chair at U of G’s Institute for Integrative Biology and lead investigator on the $ 180 million eight year project.

“This government support strengthens the University of Guelph’s leadership in understanding and protecting life on earth,” said Dr. Malcolm Campbell, Vice President (Research). “This funding will indeed be transformative, enabling U of G researchers and their collaborators around the world to conserve biodiversity and improve human, animal and ecosystem health around the world.”

Among the more than 75 team members at research institutions in Canada and abroad, the co-research leaders include the integrative biology professor Dr. Mehrdad Hajibabaei, a metabarcoding expert at CBG, and Dr. Graham Taylor, a specialist in machine learning and artificial intelligence in U of G’s Engineering school.

Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield said, “The Government of Canada is proud to support this next phase of biodiversity research at the University of Guelph as Guelph leads the way in global understanding of biodiversity loss and species interactions. BIOSCAN will help us understand how we can protect all species from existential threats like pandemics by building on Guelph’s One Health approach to the betterment of life. “

Calling the T2020 award “catalytic,” Hebert said it would fund funding from other agencies and partners for the project to build a DNA reference library for multicellular life, with a focus on species discovery in developing countries.

Through BIOSCAN, researchers expect to influence global regulatory guidelines and practices to mitigate these losses.

As part of various biodiversity projects around the world, CBG researchers are working with colleagues in Costa Rica to investigate the potential benefits of organic pineapple cultivation for the beneficial insects and the birds that eat them. In collaboration with researchers in Ghana, metabarcoding is used to map food webs containing insects and their predators to help control malaria-transmitted mosquitoes.

Here in Canada, researchers are working with McCain Foods to develop farming methods that promote soil biodiversity while increasing crop yield. They also encode arctic species to monitor biodiversity in the north.

Tracking biodiversity could even help stave off future pandemics, Hebert said. The devastating effects of COVID-19 highlight the need for a “pandemic containment system,” he said.

“With the power of DNA sequencing, we can not only capture the diversity of multicellular life, but also the diversity of the organisms associated with it.”

This is important because other species harbor pathogens that can cause health risks, especially if humans invade natural habitats.

Hebert said BIOSCAN’s core mission is to protect the millions of species that divide our planet. “Only in this way will mankind achieve the UN goal of living in harmony with nature by the middle of the century.”

Further information on this research investment will be announced virtually in the coming weeks with a local announcement.

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