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Genome Alberta Funding Launches $22M Genomics Studies

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The government of Alberta and private funders have given C$25.2 million ($22.1 million) to two new research programs that will study genomics to discover new ways to use microbes in energy production and new uses for plants in medicine and in industry, Genome Alberta said today. Both programs will be led by researchers at the University of Calgary and will involve public and private partnerships.

One project will use a total of C$11.6 million over four years to conduct metagenomic sampling to understand the biological processes happening in oils sands, as well as tailings ponds, and coal beds.

Another will use C$13.6 million to develop synthetic plant biology research that could be used in human health, medicine, and nutrition.

One aspect of the energy-related project will be an effort to analyze the metagenomic sequencing data in order to learn about the biological processes that are at work in hydrocarbon reserves. It aims to find ways to decrease water use, lower the emission of greenhouse gases, and enhance the extraction of clean burning natural gas from coal beds.

"This investment in biotechnology research for energy production could result in new knowledge leading to billions of dollars in greener energy production," Doug Horner, Alberta's minister of advanced education and technology, said in a statement. "Our government is pleased to contribute $2 million to this project because it is another positive step in our government's action on climate change and another demonstration of our commitment to innovative research," he added.

The other program, called PhytoMetaSyn, will work to produce an inventory of the active genetic sequences that are behind the production of valuable substances, and will involve metabolomic, genomic, and bioinformatic technologies.

In the PhytoMetaSyn project, the researchers will insert genes into yeast to produce commercial products such as nutrients, flavorings, or medicines.

"While the amazing biosynthetic ability of plants has long been recognized in traditional medicines, this new project aims to speed the process of discovery on the way to commercialization," Vincent Martin, an assistant professor at Concordia University and Canada Research Chair in Microbial Genomics, said in a statement.

"We're going to identify the genes from more than 75 plants that make those plants produce valuable compounds," Peter Facchini, a University of Calgary biology professor, added.

Funding for the plant genomics program includes C$6.4 million from Genome Canada; C$1.9 million from the Government of Alberta and Genome Alberta; C$2.2 million from other genome centers; C$1.1 million from industry; and C$2.0 million from other funders.
Specifically, the PhytoMetaSyn project will develop a catalogue of new enzymes that could be used in synthetic biology applications, functional genomic methods for metabolic pathway analysis, a public resource for genomic and metabolomic information on 75 plants, and it will include an analysis of regulatory, ethical, and economic challenges and opportunities.

Public collaborators in the metagenomic and green technology initiative include The University of Alberta; University of British Columbia; McGill University; University of Southern California; Alberta Research Council, and the Michael Smith Science Center. Private partners for this program include Baker-Hughes and Baker-Petrolite; Conoco-Philips; Encana; Quicksilver Resources; Shell; Suncor; Syncrude; and Trident Exploration.

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