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Canadian and Swedish scientists to collaborate on leading-edge genomics projects


Stockholm, Sweden – June 1, 2004 – Professor Staffan Normark, executive director of the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research today announced the approval of six new Swedish genomics and proteomics research projects, totalling an investment of US$2 million. All of those projects are collaborations with already funded Genome Canada research projects.

The first project relates to the forestry industry. Spruce is the most widely harvested conifer species in Canada and is the most important tree of the Canadian forest industry. Spruce is also extremely important in Scandinavia, Western Europe and Russia. Changing environmental and climate conditions, air pollution and certain harvesting practices have been associated with spruce decline. In Sweden, there has been several spruce breeding programs whose progress has been limited in recent years due to a lack of molecular tools. The Swedish Canadian collaboration will continue to develop poplar as a model plant for tree biology, including integration of knowledge on poplar and Spruce

By collaborating with the University of British Columbia research team, in Canada, which is examining gene and protein expression in trees, Swedes researchers will be able to better use molecular tools and improve breeding strategies.

"Forestry genomics can fundamentally change the Swedish forestry industry by helping adjusting the species to greater resistance to pests, drought and other stress during growth, and improve the forest environment," says Dr Rishikesh Bhalerao at the department of forest genetics and plant physiology and Umea Plant Science Center (UPSC). "By deepening our understanding of tree biology and giving us tools that enable us to breed species more quickly that are adapted to our conditions, we may achieve economic benefits of great significance."

“Sweden has traditionally had a very strong position in the industrial process technology for forest industries,” explains Dr Jorg Bohlmann, assistant professor, at the biotechnology laboratory of the University of British Columbia. “However, until recently there was little or no emphasis on technologies associated with the modification of the biological raw material. During the last few years, this had changed and the Umea Plant Science Centre has become the world leading environment for forest biotechnology. We are looking forward to working with them.”

One of the results of the Umea Plant Science Centre has been the establishment of poplar as a model system for tree biology. This model will be a tremendous tool for basic and applied research leading to the generation of large numbers of commercially interesting applications. The Canadian team has concentrated its work to spruce, which is of great importance for the forest industry both in Canada and Sweden.

The other research projects include:

– Dr Maria Sunnerhagen at Linkoping University, together with Dr Marie Wahren Herlenius and Dr Cecilia Soderberg Naucler at Karolinska Institute, will work with Dr David Kelvin, University of Toronto, Dr Rafick-Pierre Sekaly, Universite de Montreal and Dr Cheryl Arrowsmith at the University of Toronto to investigate in structural and molecular detail the functionalities of the immune response in Sjogren’s syndrome and CMV infections. These diseases have severe effects, particularly on unborn and newborn children. The aim is to develop new strategies for prophylaxis and treatment where no cures are currently available.

– Professor Anders Blomberg at the University of Gothenburg will collaborate with professor Brenda Andrews and professor Charles Boone at the University of Toronto to investigate connections between different functions in the yeast cell, particularly by looking at functions that are dependent on two genes. Similar functional networks will probably be at work in multicellular organisms and the knowledge gained by studying yeast will therefore also lead to a deeper understanding of the complex interactions between different genes in plants, animals and humans.

– Professor Claes Wahlestedt and colleagues at Karolinska Institute will work together with a team at University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, coordinated by professor David Baillie, on understanding a small worm, C elegans, gain a greater understanding of the organization of gene and protein networks and how they control cell function. C elegans is a very suitable organism as the nematode is the simplest multicellular organism for which we have the complete genomic sequence The animal has only about 1000 cells, yet, despite this small cell number, it has over 150 different cell types. It is transparent at all stages of development which makes it possible to observe many complex cellular and developmental processes in individual cells during its growth.

– Professor Siv Andersson at the University of Uppsala will collaborate with Turlough Finan and Brian Golding at McMaster University to investigate common strategies used by bacteria that have adapted to live in association with animals, plants or humans often, but not always, causing disease. By studying proteins with currently unknown functions in bacteria for which complete genome sequence data is available it may be possible to find suitable targets for attacks on the bacteria, allowing new medicines and antimicrobials to be developed.

– Dr Vladislav Orekov at the University of Gothenburg works together with the Structural Genomics Consortia led by Dr Aled Edwards in Toronto to speed up and improve the mapping of proteins in human and other genomes. In the past few years almost a hundred 3D- structures of proteins have been determined at the Ontario Center of Structural Proteomics. One of two approaches involves Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. Dramatic improvement in performance of the method will be achieved by speeding up NMR experiments and by automating the analysis of the measured data.