The University of Guelph has received more than $10.5 million from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) for studies ranging from the molecular basis of movement to animal behaviour to analysis of Mars.

The awards were announced today in London, Ont., by Ed Holder, minister of state (science and technology). Across Canada, the government will invest $340 million to support 3,796 research projects.

Today’s announcement lists the 2014 competition results for NSERC Discovery Grants, Discovery Accelerator Supplements, the Research Tools and Instruments Grants Program. Most research projects are supported for five years.

In addition, NSERC announced more than $78 million in graduate scholarship and fellowship awards.

Guelph’s 60 research projects span four colleges and numerous departments, and are headed by some of the University’s most senior researchers as well as more recent faculty members. U of G also received 38 graduate scholarships and post-doctoral fellowships.

“This is a vital investment in Guelph’s research capacity,” said John Livernois, interim vice-president (research).

He said the success rate of U of G research applications has improved tremendously, thanks in part to a new focus on best practices for crafting and highlighting excellent research proposals.

U of G had a 100-per-cent success rate among early career applicants (compared to the 66-per-cent national average) to NSERC this year, and an 84-per-cent success rate among established researchers seeking grant renewals.

“The number of projects receiving NSERC support in this round reflects the quality of our faculty and their dedication to innovative research and discovery,” Livernois said.

Prof. Alexandra Harlander, Animal and Poultry Science, called her first Discovery Grant “a great honour.”

“When I found out about the NSERC award, I was overjoyed. It’s so nice to have all the research work I did throughout the past and my new innovative research ideas and approach recognized. I am really grateful for this recognition.”

Harlander will use her $145,000 award to study feather picking in egg-laying hens. One of the most challenging problems in modern production systems, this repetitive pecking behaviour affects 60 to 80 per cent of egg-laying hens and causes skin damage and death. She will look at environmental conditions and brain and gut dysfunction, as well as ways to alleviate this abnormal behaviour.

“My research has the potential to positively impact the welfare of a huge population of birds, and it affects all of us indirectly,” she said.

Prof. John Dawson, Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB), said he was “delighted” to receive a $255,000 Discovery Grant to continue his research on the molecules governing movement.

“Ours is the kind of research that can impact all sorts of fields, from medicine and pharmacology to engineering and nanotechnology,” he said.

“This field is highly competitive internationally, and it’s great to know that NSERC is backing our efforts.”

For the last decade, he has studied how actin and myosin proteins enable movement. “Ultimately, our goal is to determine what has eluded researchers for decades: an atomic understanding of the actomyosin complex.”

NSERC has supported research by MCB professor Peter Krell for 32 years, most recently his studies on proteins in insect baculoviruses.

“Essentially, I have been trying to determine what some of these viral proteins are, where they go, how they interact and, ultimately, their functions,” said Krell.

He will use his new $355,000 Discovery Grant to study ME53 — a previously unknown baculovirus protein needed for efficient virus production — and perhaps other viral proteins.

His work should help improve baculoviruses for use as bio-pesticides, expression vectors for vaccine and pharmacological applications, and even gene therapy, he said. “This is the spin-off advantage of the kind of unfettered research that the NSERC Discovery Grant allows.”

Physics professor Iain Campbell received a $255,000, five-year Discovery Grant to continue studies of ion and photon beam interactions with atoms and materials. His work has interdisciplinary applications, including chemical analysis of the Martian surface.

Campbell has received funding from the national granting council for 45 years. He said NSERC support extending beyond the 50-year mark has “made this a very happy spring. But what underlies all this is the fantastic support of my colleagues here in the physics department for so many years; it’s an utterly superb research environment.”

Other U of G professors receiving NSERC grants are the following:

Animal and Poultry Science
Renée Bergeron, John Cant, Trevor DeVries

Biomedical Sciences 
Thomas Koch, Matthew Vickaryous

Kathryn Preuss

Clinical Studies 
Adronie Verbrugghe

Computing and Information Science
Luiza Antonie, Gary Grewal

Fadi Al-Turjman, Mohammad Biglarbegian, Animesh Dutta, Jana Levison, Michele Oliver, Beth Parker, Hongde Zhou, Richard Zytner

Environmental Sciences 
Kari Dunfield, Susan Glasauer, Beverley Hale, Richard Heck, Gary Parkin, Claudia Wagner-Riddle

Food Science
Loong-Tak Lim, Keith Warriner

Human Health and Nutritional Sciences
Graham Holloway, Coral Murrant

Integrative Biology 
Cortland Griswold, Frederic Laberge, Kevin McCann, Amy Newman, Beren Robinson

Mathematics and Statistics
Sanjeena Dang, Hermann Eberl, Zeny Feng, Anna Lawniczak

Molecular and Cellular Biology
Tariq Akhtar, George Harauz, Nina Jones, Baozhong Meng, Steven Rothstein, Scott Ryan, George van der Merwe, John Vessey

Dorothee Bienzle

John Dutcher, Vladimir Ladizhansky

Population Medicine 
Amy Greer

Plant Agriculture
Elizabeth Lee, Lewis Lukens, Peter Pauls, Manish Raizada, Istvan Rajcan, Barry Shelp, Clarence Swanton, Rene Van Acker