Geneticist first to receive $350,000 innovation grant

Forest Sciences Prof. Kermit Ritland is the first UBC recipient of a Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) grant of more than $350,000.

"This level of support is essential," says Bernie Bressler, vice-president, Research. "It allows us to attract and keep top researchers here at UBC and that benefits not only our students but the province as a whole."

The funds will contribute to the $955,000 needed to set up the Genetic Data Centre (GDC), a shared research training facility that will be housed in the new Forest Sciences Building.

"I think the combined strength of UBC researchers across departments led to our success in getting this award," says Ritland, who holds a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Industrial Research Chair.

The GDC will provide space, equipment and the knowledge base for the collection and analysis of molecular genetic data in forestry, agriculture, conservation and evolution studies.

Researchers from disciplines including zoology, plant science, soil science, botany and forestry will conduct genetic assays and analysis on organisms of all types. Training for graduate students, faculty and researchers across Canada will also be offered.

Research projects will fall into five major categories with a focus on conservation genetics.

Scientists will develop genetic markers to identify individuals, determine relationships and measure genetic diversity in the wild.

Gene conservationists will investigate molecular genetic markers to examine the genetic variation in rare and endangered species.

Researchers will also study the use of genetic markers in breeding and crop production, conduct comparative DNA sequence studies and map genes to track inbreeding and evolution in a variety of plant and animal species.

"Applying genetic science in the wild is an emerging area, and one that's very important for B.C.," says Ritland, a population geneticist who works with genetic variability.

Earlier this year CFI granted UBC 20 awards of up to $350,000 each. The funds were for equipment and facilities ranging from microscopes to a virtual architecture research lab.

The $800 million CFI fund was created in the 1997 federal budget as an independent organization to support innovation and research. The CFI pays for 40 per cent of the capital costs of new facilities.