Mount Allison researchers receive over $1M in NSERC funding

Tribune-Post Staff
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SACKVILLE, N.B. — Mount Allison University is a hub of research activity and this will continue with the latest announcement of research funding.

Seven faculty members received over $1 million for their projects through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Discovery Grant program.

“Mount Allison’s performance in the NSERC discovery grants and other programs has been quite extraordinary this year, one of the best in the region,” says university vice-president of academic and research Karen Grant. “I am immensely proud of the achievements of these faculty members and I congratulate all of them on securing NSERC funding in a very competitive environment. I very much look forward to following the results of their important work.”

Mount Allison biology professor Suzie Currie received funding for her project entitled: Physiological and Behavioural Regulation of Animal Stress Responses.

Currie and her research team, including several Mount Allison students, are interested in how aquatic animals cope with environmental stress — such as increases in temperature, changes in salinity, and social stress, such as aggression. The lab uses fish as models as the biological mechanisms used to cope with stress are common across many species.

Currie will be investigating how fish cope with changes/stressors in their environment by studying effects on behaviour, physiology, and cell biology. The five-year project will examine both local fish species (sharks, Atlantic salmon) as well as air-breathing fish models from Belize.

Currie’s team will be doing much of their work in the lab as well as fieldwork to collect data. This research will provide a better understanding of the physiological affects of stress tolerance allowing researchers to make informed predictions on the impact of environmental change on aquatic animals.    

Biology professor Irena Kaczmarska received funding for her project Molecular and developmental approach to two major transitions in diatom evolution. Kaczmarska’s research program has received continuous NSERC funding for almost 30 years.

Her latest research is examining the evolution and development of diatoms, ubiquitous microorganisms found in water and on land that play a key role in the global ecosystem.

Among other nature services, diatoms produce approximately one-quarter of the oxygen available on earth and are thus important to most of complex life, including humans. On the darker side, they are also capable of toxic blooms that can threaten not only humans and their economies, zbut also other mammals such as seals and whales.

Understanding more about the estimated 200,000 species of diatoms is essential to unraveling the good from the bad in these tiny creatures that literally live in glass hoses.

Kaczmarska and her research team are looking at the different stages of life histories in key groups of diatoms. While this kind of research is common among larger organisms, it is a novel approach at the microbial level.

Kaczmarska’s team will be testing samples from across Canada with advanced microscopic and molecular techniques. They hope to learn what has made diatoms evolve so rapidly, and ultimately how they managed to become as important (for good or for bad) in Earth ecology as they are today.

 Other Mount Allison NSERC Discovery grant recipients include:

– Matt Litvak (biology): Development of fish species new to aquaculture: optimizing reproduction, growth and selection of high performance traits

– Glen Briand (chemistry and biochemistry): Novel bonding environments and reactivity for heavy main group metals 

– Khashayar (Khash) Ghandi (chemistry & biochemistry): Towards environmentally friendly processes in materials and energy technologies probed by beta decayed spin spectroscopy and other physical methods 

– Laurie Ricker (mathematics and computer science): Distributed discrete-event systems: equilibrium, control and communication

– Mohammad Ahmady (physics) also received funding for his project Strong interaction effects in exclusive B decays through NSERC SubAtomic Physics grant program.

Organizations: Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Mount Allison University

Geographic location: Belize, Canada

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