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Prof to use DNA technology to prevent habitat loss
Date:5/9/2011

Using Canada's largest national park as his laboratory, a University of Guelph professor will test cutting-edge DNA technology that could change how we monitor and protect the environment.

Prof. Mehrdad Hajibabaei received a $3-million grant from Genome Canada through the Ontario Genomics Institute to conduct research in Wood Buffalo National Park, considered one of Canada's most valued ecosystems.

Hajibabaei's grant proposal tied for the No. 1 spot in Genome Canada's Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition targeted at environment and forestry.

"This funding will have a significant impact on helping prevent catastrophic habitat loss," said Hajibabaei, an integrative biology professor and director of technology development at the Guelph-based Biodiversity Institute of Ontario.

Located in northeastern Alberta and southern Northwest Territories, Wood Buffalo National Park is a world heritage site and the second-largest natural protected area on Earth. But its remoteness and protected status are not enough, Hajibabaei said.

"It's increasingly threatened by climate change and encroachment from industrial development such as oil sands, mining and hydroelectric dams."

Hajibabaei's team of researchers comes from five universities in four provinces, as well two federal agencies, Environment Canada and Parks Canada. They will use state-of-the-art DNA sequencing technology and computing to "biomonitor" the park's freshwater and soil habitats.

They'll gather genomic information to study the mix of species from bacteria to animals and plants, monitor changes and measure ecological risk. They'll develop a wholly new DNA-based early-warning system to help pinpoint critical environmental stresses.

New technology called next-generation sequencing will allow the researchers to analyze millions of DNA sequences at once and identify species from bulk specimens taken from places such as soil, water and
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Contact: Mehrdad Hajibababei
mhajibab@uoguelph.ca
519-824-4120 x52487
University of Guelph
Source:Eurekalert

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