McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Health sciences researchers awarded CFI grants

Published: August 4, 2015
Yingfu Li
Yingfu Li, professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences

Five research projects involving investigators from the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) are among 12 McMaster projects to share in more than $2.4 million of new infrastructure funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

The funding comes from the John Evans Leadership Fund, which is designed to help universities attract and retain the best researchers by ensuring they have access to cutting edge equipment and facilities.

Among the projects to receive grants, Yingfu Li, a professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences, along with biophysicist Maikel Rheinstädter and theoretical astrophysicist Ralph Pudritz, will work to unravel the mystery of how the earliest form of cellular life emerged more than 3.5 billion years ago.

The trio has established the Origins of Life Laboratory, a facility unlike any other in the world. Their project was awarded $400,000.

"You need three things to create a cell," said Rheinstädter, the principal investigator. "A membrane, enzymes to facilitate certain reactions and molecules such as DNA and RNA to store information."

Put these things together inside two unique simulation chambers that are about the size of a bar fridge, replicate the volcanic conditions on early Earth, adjust and cycle the temperature, humidity level, radiation and other factors that mimic daily and seasonal cycles, and in a matter of days the chambers will have simulated hundreds of years of primordial interactions.

Rheinstädter describes the research trio as a "dream team," each viewing this research challenge through significantly different lenses that range from his own specialty in membrane biophysics, to Pudritz's world-renowned expertise in planet formation, to Li's innovative work in RNA and DNA as the Canada Research Chair in Directed Evolution of Nucleic Acids.

Other Faculty of Health Science researchers awarded funding include:

Jonathan Bramson
Jonathan Bramson, professor of pathology and molecular medicine and Canada Research Chair in Translational Cancer Immunology, was awarded $300,000 to research new treatments for cancer that employ patients' white blood cells to fight their tumours.
Gerry Wright
Gerry Wright, professor in the departments of biochemistry and biomedical sciences and pathology and molecular medicine, and director of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research, was awarded $300,000 to further his research on how to overcome antibiotic resistance.
Lesley MacNeil
Lesley MacNeil, assistant professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences, was awarded $144,000. She will use nematodes or roundworms to study two environmental factors — diet and microbiota — and how these factors interact with disease mutations.
Andrew McArthur
Andrew McArthur, assistant professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences, will use his $34,245 award to establish a new bioinformatics laboratory to integrate functional genomics, biocuration, and analytics in biomedical research.

Other McMaster researchers to receive funding are Ian Dworkin (biology), Qiyin Fang (engineering physics), Kathryn Grandfield (materials science and engineering), Shanti Morell-Hart (anthropology), Sukhvinder Obhi (psychology), Stephen Veldhuis (mechanical engineering) and Ryan Wylie (chemistry).

"This was a remarkably successful competition for us as we received more awards per capita than any other Canadian university and earned the second highest total number of awards," said Allison Sekuler, McMaster's acting vice-president, research. "It's a great testament to the excellence of McMaster's researchers, both established and emerging."

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