Canadian government funds enzyme research

By Erin Voegele | December 04, 2014

Canadian officials have announced that the University of Toronto has been selected to receive $5 million to launch its Industrial Biocatalysis Network, which will explore new ways to use enzymes to produce environmentally friendly chemicals, plastics and other products.

The investment is the result of the most recent completion in the Strategic Network Grants program, which is administered by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

According to information released by the NSERC, the network will be led by Elizabeth Edwards in collaboration with Concordia University and the University of British Columbia. Other network partners include CanSyn Chem Corp., DuPont Canada Inc., Elanco Animal Health/Division of Eli Lilly, Lallemand Inc., Monaghan Biosciences Ltd. and Suncor Energy Inc. 

“Strategic Network Grants foster the kind of collaboration that allows students, established researchers, businesses and others to work hand-in-hand on the discoveries and innovations that will have impact in a reduced time frame,” said Mario Pinto, president of the NSERC. “The transformative breakthroughs that result from this kind of collaboration help to tackle complex research questions and accelerate solutions to some of society’s toughest challenges.”

Information released by the University of Toronto indicates members of the network will work together to find enzymes that can convert renewable resources, such as agricultural or forestry waste, into new materials.

“Recent genomic research has revealed tens of thousands of new enzymes, many of which may have capabilities relevant to industrial manufacturing,” said Edwards. “The IBN brings together a unique and world-leading combination of expertise in bioinformatics, bioengineering and fungal, yeast and bacterial enzymology to discover greener methods for manufacturing.”

Michael Smith Laboratories and Department of Chemistry researcher Harry Brumer, UBC’s principal investigator with IBN, described his role as one of discovery and development in the science of biocatalysts. “We are searching organisms in our environment for natural biocatalysts, that on their own or in ensembles, could one day replace the unsustainable processes now required for industrial chemical and materials manufacturing,” he said.