Ont. backs research on “greener” corn

The third round of the Ontario Research Fund’s Research Excellence program will put up $2.8 million for research on “greener” ways to grow corn in Ontario.

The provincial funding, announced Friday, will support Steven Rothstein’s work at the University of Guelph, exploring ways to use less fertilizer and water to produce better corn yields.

“Corn is one of the world’s most important food crops and it holds tremendous potential for a new green economy based on renewable corn-based biofuels and industrial polymers,” local MPP Liz Sandals said in a release.

“By learning more about corn genes, Dr. Rothstein and his team at the University of Guelph are determined to make major strides in helping farmers grow corn in more cost-effective and sustainable ways.”

The province, in the same announcement, pledged $400,000 toward new research by Dr. Paul Hebert at Guelph for the “International Barcode of Life” (iBOL) project.

iBOL, the province said, is “enabling the use of next-generation DNA sequencing equipment to survey and help protect biodiversity around the world.”

Friday’s announcement puts the province’s total funding so far for Hebert’s work at over $1.5 million, the government noted.

“DNA barcoding is already an effective tool,” said Hebert, the scientific director for iBOL, “but by engaging hundreds of researchers across the globe and cross-referencing data of species in the same ecosystems, we will gather the vital information needed to guide national mandates for conservation, safety and surveillance.”

iBOL’s premise is that “sequence diversity in short, standardized gene regions (such as DNA barcodes) can provide a sophisticated tool for both the identification of known species and the discovery of new ones.”

By developing a system for species identification based on barcodes’ digital characters, DNA barcoding promises “automated identifications” which the project’s proponents say would improve the world’s capacity to “monitor, know and manage biodiversity, with profound societal and economic benefits.”

As well, iBOL organizers say, DNA barcoding also promises “newly sophisticated” approaches to identify the vectors of zoonotic diseases, as well as the disease organisms themselves.

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