A dark day for science

Scientists concerned over major cut to science research funding

Megan Turnbull

Scientists in Canada may soon experience their own economic meltdown, after the federal government snubbed one of the country’s largest research funding agencies in the latest budget.

Genome Canada received no funding in the 2009 budget. It received $140 million in 2008 and $100 million in 2007.

One project funded by Genome Canada is Andrew Potter’s study on why some bacteria produce diseases in humans but not animals. Potter is director of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan.

Potter said that while his current research will not be directly affected by the cuts, a prepared application for future funding will be.

“It won’t go forward now,” Potter said.

Potter is also concerned lack of consistent funding for future projects will limit research options.

“Anytime you have a break in the research, you lose people,” Potter said. “You just don’t start and stop like that.”

Potter said it usually takes 10 years for impact to be seen on any research.

But Annie Trepanier, spokesperson for Industry Canada, the department responsible for funding Genome Canada, said funding has not stopped for Genome Canada, despite not being included in this year’s budget.

Trepanier points to Genome Canada receiving $840 million since 2000, including $240 million in the last two years.

“Investments from the last two years fund Genome Canada’s operations and current research support until March 31, 2013,” she said.

“It just means we have to work a little bit harder and longer,” said Carolyn Reynolds, director of corporate development and communications at Genome Prairies, which helps support and manage genome projects in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

While Reynolds said the funding cut does not affect day-to-day operations, she is worried about its effects on future competitions for funding.

More information will become available on Genome Canada’s future funding after a scheduled meeting in Ottawa on Feb. 13.

Researchers in Manitoba are also feeling the crunch.

“I’m a strong advocate of government-funded research and the government placing genomic research as their high priority,” said Rodney Hanley, dean of Science at the University of Winnipeg. “There will be long term consequences for cutting back on funding.”

Without consistent funding for Genome Canada, the future of Canadian science may be uncertain as it is hard to put long-term projects on short-term budgetary cycles, Hanley said.

For example, it could take years for a project mapping out the full genome of house mice to be completed.

“We are in the infancy of this kind of research,” Hanley said. “We need lots of resources and a long term perspective.”

Trepanier refused to discuss long-term plans for federal genomic funding.

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