President's Report 2007

Memorial’s new Canada Research Chairs

Canada Research Chair in Marine Biotechnology

Dr. Matthew Rise

Emerging viral and bacterial pathogens of fish, such as Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus (ISAV) and Piscirickettsia salmonis, respectively, are serious threats to the aquaculture industry. High-density culture in marine net pens is required to maximize productivity and remain cost-competitive in the global Atlantic salmon market, but also increases the incidence of disease. Improved understanding of the molecular pathogenesis of infectious diseases paves the way for the development of effective diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics, and could lead to methods of selecting for disease resistant aquaculture broodstock. As Canada Research Chair in Marine Biotechnology, Dr. Matthew Rise will develop and use genomic tools to characterize host and pathogen gene expression changes occurring during infections of fish with emerging pathogens such as ISAV and P. salmonis, and further develop infectious diseases of aquatic organisms as biomedical models for the study of related human diseases. The development of genomic tools, such as DNA microarrays or "gene chips", has revolutionized agricultural, toxicological, and biomedical research. DNA microarrays allow researchers to study the expression of thousands of genes simultaneously, for the rapid identification of molecular pathways altered during biological processes.

Dr. Rise will use genomics approaches, involving microarrays and other biotechnology tools and techniques, in studies related to fish disease, environmental toxicology, and aquaculture. With collaborators at Memorial University and elsewhere, his research will stimulate the development of products and methods likely to have a positive impact on the health of cultured and wild marine animals.

Canada Research Chair in Glacial Dynamics Modelling

Dr. Lev Tarasov

A 15-20 metre rise in sea-level within 500 years, a 6 degrees Celsius rise in regional temperatures around the North Atlantic within 20 years - no, these are not from the latest Hollywood adventure, but well-documented events from the last deglaciation. Climate change has become a pivotal environmental issue, with the polar and sub-polar regions expected to experience the strongest change. Abrupt climate change potentially carries the greatest impact but is also the most difficult aspect of climate dynamics to understand.

Hoping to sharpen our understanding of the uncertainties associated with the interactions between ice and climate, Dr. Lev Tarasov has been named Memorial's new Canada Research Chair in Glacial Dynamics Modelling. He intends to accomplish this through modelling the glacial climate system.

Canada Research Chair in Seabed Processes and Seabed Imaging

Dr. Sam Bentley

The ocean seabed is the gateway for exchange of organisms, particles, and dissolved compounds between marine sediment deposits and the overlying ocean. It is also a remote, dynamic setting that is difficult to explore, and covers most of the Earth. As Canada Research Chair in Seabed Processes and Seabed Imaging, Dr. Sam Bentley will study geological processes and products of the seabed and near-bottom waters, as well as physical, chemical, and biological processes that contribute to these outcomes.

Exchange processes near the seabed are many and varied, and include the feeding of fishes living on the bottom of the sea on benthic organisms, oxygen and carbon transfer and reactions across the sediment-water interface, and the deposition of sediment particles to form sediment layers that are the building blocks of continental margins. Lateral variations in these processes produce corresponding gradients in seabed properties that, in turn, define the boundaries of contrasting geological and biological settings. These diverse phenomena are complex and intimately interwoven, and exert strong control on the development of marine ecosystems, cycling of organic carbon, and the physical and engineering properties of sedimentary strata.

In addition to improving our basic understanding of natural phenomena, Dr. Bentley's research will have direct bearing in economically and environmentally significant areas, including: the formation of petroleum source, reservoir, and seal rocks; fate and transport of particle-associated contaminants; and the record of human impacts on change in marine systems.

Canada Research Chair in Ecological Economics

Dr. Murray Rudd

Most Canadians recognize the importance of the natural environment in enhancing our quality of life in Canada. Our forests, freshwater, oceans, and wildlife generate wealth, provide recreational opportunities, and help us define who we are, in our own eyes and in the eyes of the world. However, simply recognizing the 'importance' of nature may not necessarily lead to us taking concrete actions to ensure that it is adequately protected. Sustaining and enhancing the "natural capital" that provides Canadians with valuable environmental services requires investment. To make wise investment choices, we must understand the costs and benefits of various actions that impact natural capital and what trade-offs Canadians are willing to make between environmental quality and other factors impacting their quality of life.

As Canada Research Chair in Ecological Economics, Dr. Murray Rudd will focus primarily on three issues. First, the recreational and 'non-use' benefits of natural capital will be assessed using economic valuation surveys. A second area of focus will be on quantifying the costs of environmental conservation to private and public sectors. Thirdly, cost-benefit results will be used in policy models that explore when, where, and how to best invest societal resources to achieve ecological and socio-economic sustainability.

His research program will help Canadian industries better use our environmental endowments as a source of competitive advantage (e.g., the burgeoning Newfoundland ecotourism industry). It will also help craft cost-effective, fair policies that take account of the full spectrum of costs and benefits of natural capital to Canadian society.

Canada Research Chair in Natural Resource Sustainability and Community Development

Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee

Around the world, people are closely connected with coastal areas as places to live, work and relax. The complexity and diversity of coastal ecosystems make them ecologically and socially valuable, but also highly susceptible to natural and human induced changes. Canada Research Chair in Natural Resource Sustainability and Community Development, Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee's interdisciplinary research program, which includes biophysical studies of coastal areas as well as ecosystem values, social organization and governance, aims to promote coastal sustainability and community resilience. She will integrate these components using an interactive spatial dynamic model to capture interactions and flows between natural and human systems, contributing to improved consideration of uses and development in coastal areas.

Dr. Chuenpagdee will seek to address some of these challenges and to contribute to our understanding about the coast and coastal communities in Atlantic Canada and around the world.

Considering the historical importance of fisheries resources for Newfoundland and Labrador, the recent fisheries decline and strong pressures to explore alternative economic opportunities, her research program will develop tools to enhance the likelihood that growth, development and other changes taking place in Newfoundland and Labrador's coastal areas will help to sustain coastal communities, build community resilience, strengthen governance and maintain ecosystem services.

The research design and tools developed for the Newfoundland and Labrador case study will serve as prototypes for the study of other coastal areas with unique historical and cultural relationships between communities and marine resources. The outcomes from this research can be linked to research outcomes from elsewhere as part of the development of an international program for coastal sustainability.

Canada Research Chair in Regional Language and Oral Text

Dr. Gerard Van Herk

Contemporary Newfoundland is an ideal "language laboratory," with long-standing local dialects and languages in intense contact with standardizing forces. In fact, a recent worldwide study chose traditional Newfoundland speech as the most distinct variety of English on the planet. This project will develop the intellectual infrastructure to record change in progress and to make incredibly rich local archival holdings more accessible to modern research methods. Analysis of the resulting material will shed new light on the processes of language retention and change. Publishing findings and improving access to raw materials will enrich dialect and language change research worldwide.

Newfoundland’s integration into the Canadian political and cultural mainstream, rapid urbanization, educational advances, the growth of the oil and mining industries, and the collapse of the traditional fishery have all contributed to a situation of rapid sociolinguistic change. In fact, the gap between traditional varieties and potential target varieties is larger in Newfoundland and Labrador than in most of the English-speaking world, comparable sociologically to the position of Creole-speaking countries of the Caribbean. Investigating this process can offer a major contribution to researchers? knowledge of change processes generally, but only if the range of linguistic behaviour in contemporary Newfoundland and Labrador is documented and described in this generation, before the most dramatic changes advance to completion. Such research can also offer major contributions to the growing fields of identity studies and gender studies. Canada Research Chair in Regional Language and Oral Text, Dr. Gerard Van Herk’s research will help optimize the processes of documenting, preserving, and analyzing evidence of linguistic diversity in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Research chair focuses on cancer prevention and detection

Dr. Ann Dorward

Dr. Ann Dorward has been named Memorial University’s Canada Research Chair in Molecular Signalling in Human Health and Disease. Dr. Dorward’s research emphasizes the value of the mouse as a model mammalian system to explore three major themes: cancer risk, cancer progression and new methods for early cancer detection. The Cancer Institute of Canada estimated 37,000 men and 33,400 women died from cancer in 2006 and the number of cancer-related deaths is projected to increase as a larger proportion of the Canadian population reaches an advanced age.

Research in the field of primary cancer prevention and early detection is much needed to reduce cancer incidence and morbidity in Canada, while investigations to improve therapeutic options for people with advanced cancer should be focused on disease control, to improve survival rates overall.

Dr. Dorward’s research will focus on basic cancer biology and genetics, encompassing nutrition and pharmacological research in the areas of cancer prevention and therapy. “Advances in cancer prevention, detection and therapy are of particular importance in the Atlantic Provinces, as regional cancer incidence and mortality rates on the east coast are elevated compared with the western provinces,” said Dr. Christopher Loomis, vice-president (research). “Dr. Dorward’s expertise is a very welcome addition to our institution as well as our province.”

Model systems also provide the opportunity for investigating the unique characteristics of cancer that are suitable for drug targeting or imaging. Dr. Dorward’s efforts support the current need for early cancer detection strategies and improved therapies for people who have already developed cancer.