Waterloo scientists awarded $2 million in NSERC Strategic Partnership Grants

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Three researchers from the Faculty of Science received more than $2 million in Strategic Partnership Research Grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) last week. Recipients included Professor Juewen Liu from the Department of Chemistry and Professors Michael Power and Trevor Charles from the Department of Biology.

In total, ten researchers from the University of Waterloo received more than $15.6 million in funding aimed at strengthening academic and industry research collaborations.

The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport made the announcement during a visit to Promation, an industrial partner with the University of Waterloo, and member of the Network for Holistic Innovation in Additive Manufacturing, one of the six networks that received funding. 

“I commend today’s recipients for the important work they are doing to contribute to Canada’s competitiveness," said Minister Duncan. "The bold ideas your innovative partnerships will generate will have an important impact on our economy, creating good jobs and unique training opportunities for scientists and engineers here in Oakville and across the country.” 

Juewen Liu

Professor Juewen Liu, a professor in the Department of Chemistry, is receiving nearly $600,000 over three years to study new ways to remediate metal contaminated waters using biomimetic devices.

Around 40% of the rivers and lakes in America are polluted, with even higher rates in developing countries. Water contamination by heavy metals, in particular, is a growing problem with serious adverse health effects. 

Liu’s project entitled, “DNA-gated stimuli-responsive nanostructures for metal sensing and smart remediation,” aims to address this worsening issue by employing biomimetic devices. The devices release sensing or remediation chemicals only in the presence of target contaminants. Otherwise, they remain in the water, safely encapsulated in a benign polymer capsule.

This device represents a paradigm shift from a sampling-testing-remediation approach to a new seeking-responding-remediation (SRR) model of dealing with environmental contamination.

The project will be performed with their collaborator at the University of Bordeaux in France through NSERC's international collaboration program. Two local Canadian companies will also be involved.

Michael Power

Professor Michael Power, a professor in the Department of Biology, is receiving over $560,000 over three years to address biodiversity in Arctic freshwater watersheds. His project aims to improve understanding of how human-induced changes in Arctic freshwater ecosystems, such as climate change and resource development, may impact the health of northern freshwater resources and the provision of ecosystem services such as sustainable fisheries.

The work, which centres around the Lake Greiner watershed on Victoria Island, Nunavut, will involve a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from across the country. It will expand beyond a simple study of lake ecosystems to include landscape level attributes of the watershed, such as tributary streams that serve as important rearing and connectivity habitats for fish.

The work will also incorporate local ecological knowledge, as well as link Canadian science to the larger international set of initiatives aimed at improving understanding of Arctic aquatic ecosystems on a global scale.

Trevor Charles

Professor Trevor Charles, a professor in the Department of Biology, is receiving nearly $850,000 over three years to study “Biodegradation of the most commonly used herbicide on earth,” glyphosate.

Gycophosphate kills plants by inhibiting a key enzyme involved in aromatic amino acid synthesis. It is popular for a number of reasons: low toxicity to humans and animals, it quickly biodegrades in soil and water, and glyphosate-tolerant varieties of crops can be developed. However, the biochemical pathways, and the enzymes that are responsible for this biodegradation are not well known. Under some soil conditions, glyphosate can accumulate in the soil over time.

They have assembled a team with complementary expertise in biochemistry, microbiology, bacterial genetics and metagenomics to investigate glyphosate metabolism in agricultural soils by isolating and studying new strains of glyphosate degrading bacteria, searching for novel glyphosate degradation pathways, and characterizing the pathway enzymes.

Their industrial partner is interested in using this knowledge to develop products to remediate glyphosate contaminated soils.

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