McMaster receives more than $16.5-million in research grants and scholarships

By Danelle D'Alvise, June 22, 2015

Dozens of scientists, engineers, post-doctoral fellows and graduate students from McMaster University have received significant funding—more than $16.5-million—from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

Seventy-nine researchers have received Discovery Grants, a total of $14.3-million, to fund long-term operating costs, purchase new lab equipment and research tools. Six of those researchers have each been awarded an additional $120,000 in recognition of their top-ranked research programs.

And more than two dozen graduate students and post-doctoral fellows have received $2.25-million in scholarships.

The announcement was made this morning by Ed Holder, Minister of State (Science and Technology).

One of the recipients, biologist Marie Elliot, works with bacteria she describes as “powerful little pharmaceutical factories” – the soil-dwelling Streptomyces that are the source of more than half of the world’s antibiotics.

Streptomyces produce a variety of ‘secondary metabolites’, chemicals that help the bacteria prosper by inhibiting rival microbes that have caused everything from tuberculosis to fungal infections, and from parasites to the plague.

Elliot’s research group is tackling how antibiotic-production pathways are controlled in Streptomyces, and is working to understand and exploit previously under-appreciated control elements known as ribonucleic acids (RNAs). In the last decade, research has shown that RNAs make important regulatory contributions to an ever-increasing number of cellular processes in bacteria.

“We are working to develop a ‘genetic switch’ that we can use to activate the production of new antibiotics. This will allow us to reprogram these Streptomyces bacteria to make novel antibiotics, which could be used to help combat bacterial antibiotic resistance,” says Elliot, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Molecular Microbiology and Microbial Genomics.

With her award, Elliot plans to take advantage of the genomic and molecular biology facilities available at McMaster, working with graduate students and post-doctoral fellows to explore the regulatory potential of RNAs in Streptomyces, and develop new ways to take advantage of these powerful regulators.

Of the 3800 Discovery Grant recipients nationally, only 125 have been identified to receive the prestigious Discovery Accelerator Supplement (DAS) in addition to their grant. As well as Marie Elliot, these are the other McMaster recipients of the DAS:

Altaf Arain, professor, geography & geographical sciences and Director, Centre for Climate Change for Impacts of climate change, extreme weather events and management activities on managed conifer and deciduous forests

Nicola Nicolici, professor, electrical and computer engineering for Systematic and Structural Methods for Post-Silicon Validation

Michael O’Donnell, professor, biology, for Cellular and molecular mechanisms of epithelial ion transport and excretion in invertebrates

Ravi Selvaganapathy, associate professor, mechanical engineering, Canada Research Chair in Biomicrofluidics for Microsystems for drug discovery and biological studies

Itay Yavin, assistant professor, physics, for Fundamental Interactions and Physics Beyond the Standard Model