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Canada and Spain partner on $17M genomics research projects


Ottawa, ON – January 22, 2004 – Genome Canada and Spain’s Genoma Espana are jointly funding three large-scale genomics research projects worth $17 million. The projects are located in the Atlantic region, Ontario, British Columbia and Spain, with half of the funds being provided by Genome Canada and the other half by Genoma Espana.

Researchers in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Madrid plan to identify important biological factors that may improve aquaculture practices for the commercially relevant flatfish species Atlantic halibut and Senegal sole. In Ontario, researchers will explore how “duplicates” in our DNA are linked to neurodevelopmental diseases, while scientists in British Columbia will manage a grape genomics research project.

Dr Susan Douglas and Dr Michael Reith of the National Research Council’s Institute for Marine Biology in Halifax, will focus on the Atlantic halibut and involve researchers from the Fisheries and Oceans Canada Biological Station in St Andrew’s, NB and from Scotian Halibut, a Nova Scotia company that is a world leader in the commercial aquaculture of Atlantic halibut.

The Spanish portion of this project will focus on a related species, the Senegal sole, and is led by Joan Cerda Lugue at the Instituto de Investigacion y Technologia Agroalimentairias in San Carlos de la Rapita in Spain. The total combined value of this project is $5.1 million.

In Ontario, the $5.7-million project will be led by Dr Stephen Scherer, a senior scientist in the genetics and genomic biology research program in the Sick Kids Research Institute and an associate professor in the department of medical genetics at the University of Toronto. The project will explore why long stretches of nearly identical DNA exist within our genetic makeup. These “copies” of DNA segments have been tied to genetic mutations that affect mental health and the development of common diseases.

Previous discoveries from Dr Scherer’s group and their Spanish partners showed that the presence of specific stretches of duplicated DNA along chromosomes could predispose an individual to diseases such as Williams syndrome, Angelmann syndrome and panic and anxiety disorder.

“In this unprecedented large-scale, collaborative initiative, we will now study the entire human genome to discover new disease associations and develop novel diagnostic tests based on this information,” says Dr Scherer, who is also director of the Centre for Applied Genomics and associate chief of research infrastructure at Sick Children’s Hospital.

On the west coast, Genome British Columbia will manage a genomics research project that focuses on one of the region’s most important commodities for agriculture and tourism – wine grapes. This large-scale project will study genes controlling grape ripening in response to the environment, and will generate new information for improving viticulture practices and enhancing Canadian wine quality. The total value of this project is $6.2 million.

“The joint research projects now launched in health, aquaculture and agriculture have been carefully designed to produce new important knowledge with a scientific and commercial potential great enough to place our countries at the international forefront in these sectors,” says Jose Luis Jorcano, CEO of Genoma Espana, on behalf of the ministers for healthcare and consumption and science and technology in Spain. “We are convinced that the fact that Spain and Canada contribute with their respective strengths in these joint projects will result in synergies benefiting both our countries, which could not have been achieved otherwise.”

The three joint research initiatives funded by Genome Canada and Genoma Espana are part of a collaborative partnership designed to foster scientific and industrial cooperation in both countries.