Two University of Guelph professors are among 14 international researchers to be appointed as CIFAR (Canadian Institute for Applied Research) Azrieli Global Scholars for 2021-23.
Dr. Rebecca Shapiro, a fungal pathogen researcher in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Dr. Jackie Goordial, an environmental microbiologist in the School of Environmental Sciences, were chosen for the prestigious program.
The CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars program identifies early-career scholars who stand apart worldwide as potential research leaders, and awards them $100,000 over two years to elevate their research globally.
The program receives support from the Azrieli Foundation and allows investigators to increase the impact of their research by interacting with leaders within and outside of academia.
“CIFAR identifies the world’s leading scholars so they can pursue questions of fundamental importance to their disciplines and to society at large,” said Dr. Malcolm Campbell, vice-president (research). “To have two U of G researchers receive these prestigious appointments is truly remarkable and speaks to the exceptional quality and outstanding impact of their ongoing research and the incredible leadership they are providing in their fields of study.”
Shapiro will be a scholar in the Fungal Kingdom: Threats & Opportunities program, which seeks to understand the unique aspects of fungal biology to both mitigate their threats and harness their extraordinary potential.
“This is an exciting opportunity that will allow me to become part of a larger network of early researchers and established seniors investigators from around the world,” she said.
She has focused on human-associated fungal pathogens, such as Candida species. But she said she is excited to learn what others are researching, including beneficial yeasts used to make antibiotics and food such as mushrooms, bread and wine.
“Fungi are remarkable organisms that can thrive in so many environments and produce all sorts of interesting products, so I am interested in learning more about what others in the program are doing.”
Shapiro’s recent research has focused on developing CRISPR gene editing tools to manipulate disease-causing fungi to be made less dangerous and more sensitive to antibiotics.
“Using these technologies on beneficial fungi could be a natural extension of what we do. Perhaps we can find ways to manipulate certain fungal species to produce more of a medicine or a necessary metabolite. There could be so many applications.”
Goordial researches how communities of subsurface microorganisms interact in extreme environments. Much of her research at U of G has focused on the microbial ecosystems in permafrost.
“Life doesn’t just exist on the surface of our planet; it extends quite deeply under the surface,” said Goordial. “Literally a kilometre under your feet, there can be microbial life, and these subsurface worlds are alive and very much connected to the surface.”
Goordial has been named a Scholar in the Earth 4D: Subsurface Science and Exploration program and looks forward to collaborating with subsurface researchers in other disciplines, including astrobiology.
“We know other planetary bodies have some of the conditions to host microbial life and the subsurface systems I have researched may be good analogues for other planets,” she said. “With such an interdisciplinary group, there are some powerful opportunities for collaboration and for new research directions. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most: investigating new directions for research that I maybe hadn’t anticipated but learned about through this program.”
She added that the funds from the program come at an ideal time and will help her to build her research program and team at U of G.
Based in Canada, CIFAR was created to bring together leading researchers from around the world to address important questions. The global scholars program is funded by the Azrieli Foundation and the Love Family Leadership Development Funds, and by other individuals, corporations and foundations.
Dr. Rebecca Shapiro
Dr. Jackie Goordial