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NSERC invests more than $16.5M in research grants and scholarships

$14.3M for Discovery and research equipment grants, 6 prestigious DAS grants and $2.5M in research scholarships help Mac push the boundaries of knowledge
NSERC invests more than $16.5M in research grants and scholarships

Biologist Marie Elliot was one of six Mac researches awarded the prestigious Discovery Accelerator Supplement in today's funding announcement by NSERC

Danelle D’Alvise
June 22, 2015

The research labs of 79 scientists and engineers have received a $14.3M boost from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to fund their long term operating costs and the purchase of new equipment and research tools.

 Six of those researchers have each been awarded an additional $120,000 in recognition of their top-ranked research programs, rated highly by their peers for originality and innovation.

Originality is a hallmark of biologist Marie Elliot’s work with bacteria she describes as “powerful little pharmaceutical factories” – the soil-dwelling Streptomyces that are the source of more than half of the world’s antibiotics.

Streptomyces produce a variety of ‘secondary metabolites’ – chemicals that help the bacteria prosper by inhibiting rival microbes that have caused everything from tuberculosis to fungal infections, and from parasites to the plague.

Elliot’s research group is tackling how antibiotic-production pathways are controlled in Streptomyces, and is working to understand and exploit previously under-appreciated control elements known as ribonucleic acids (RNAs). In the last decade, research has shown that RNAs make important regulatory contributions to an ever increasing number of cellular processes in bacteria.

“We are working to develop a ‘genetic switch’ that we can use to activate the production of new antibiotics. This will allow us to reprogram these Streptomyces bacteria to make novel antibiotics, which could be used to help combat bacterial antibiotic resistance,” says Elliot, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Molecular Microbiology and Microbial Genomics.

With her award, Elliot plans to take advantage of the outstanding genomic and molecular biology facilities available at McMaster, working with graduate students and post-doctoral fellows to explore the regulatory potential of RNAs in Streptomyces, and develop new ways to take advantage of these powerful regulators.

The NSERC awards were announced today by the Honourable Ed Holder, Minister of State (Science and Technology) at the University of Ontario Institute Of Technology. Minister Holder  announced more than $340M in grants and scholarships over terms ranging from one to five years. These awards comprise the 2015 competition results for NSERC’s Discovery Grants and Discovery Accelerator Supplements. Twenty seven graduate students and post-doctoral fellows from McMaster received $2.25M from the Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarships, Postgraduate Scholarships and Postdoctoral Fellowships programs.

Of the 3800 Discovery Grant recipients nationally, only 125 have been identified to receive the prestigious Discovery Accelerator Supplement (DAS) in addition to their grant. As well as Marie Elliot, these are the other McMaster recipients of the DAS:

  • Altaf Arain, professor, geography & geographical sciences and Director, Centre for Climate Change for  Impacts of climate change, extreme weather events and management activities on managed conifer and deciduous forests
  • Nicola Nicolici, professor, electrical and computer engineering for Systematic and Structural Methods for Post-Silicon Validation
  • Michael O’Donnell, professor, biology, for Cellular and molecular mechanisms of epithelial ion transport and excretion in invertebrates
  • Ravi Selvaganapathy, associate professor, mechanical engineering, Canada Research Chair in Biomicrofluidics for Microsystems for drug discovery and biological studies
  • Itay Yavin, assistant professor, physics, for Fundamental Interactions and Physics Beyond the Standard Model


For a complete list of McMaster grant recipients and their projects, visit the NSERC website