By: Norman Huner
The Biotron is a
multi-staged, interdisciplinary research facility located on the campus of the
University of Western Ontario and dedicated to the elucidation of the impact of
climate change and extreme environments on plants and micro-organisms. The
major contributors to this iniative include the University of Guelph and
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, London, Canada.
The Biotron will be
constructed in three phases with the CFI program being central to the success
of the overall project. The first phase has already been completed through
support from Round 1 of the CFI, with the construction of the CSA and CRESTech
supported Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility (CESRF) dedicated to
the evaluation of plant-based life support systems for space travel and related
terrestrial applications located on the Campus of the University of Guelph.
The second phase for CFI round 4 complements phase 1 by focussing on
Earth-based ecosystems through the creation of controlled mini-ecosystems for
climate change research and environmental risk assessment. The final phase of
the project, in CFI round 5, will integrate the knowledge gained and facilities
constructed in phases 1 and 2 with a final proposal to develop robotic,
controlled environments for both Earth and space-based ecosystems.
Phase 2 of the Biotron
(CFI round 4) is a two component international environment and climate change
research and biotechnology development facility. The Biotron includes the
construction of a series of laboratory and controlled environment plant growth
facilities in the UWO North Campus Building and the construction of a new four
floor multidisciplinary research facility to be built contiguous with the
existing Biology and Geological Sciences Building on the campus of UWO.
The primary goal of this
facility is to provide the research infrastructure necessary to generate a
blueprint for sustainable long-term, ecosystem health in conjunction with
sustainable economic growth in the medical, agricultural and forestry sectors
of the Canadian economy. This goal will be accomplished in two ways: (1)
through the integration of research in environmental biology, medicine and
agriculture and (2) by providing unprecedented experimental scale and
flexibility with respect to controlled environment research on organisms as
diverse as microbes, plants and insects in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
To our knowledge, no other facility in Canada, exhibits the scale, flexibility
and interdisciplinary scope encompassed by the Biotron which integrates
research in ecology, basic environmental biology and earth sciences with
medicine and agriculture. The three primary missions of the research programs
enabled by this facility are, first, to accelerate our understanding of the
responses to and consequences of global climate change on terrestrial and
aquatic ecosystems; second, to provide the research infrastructure to support
and stimulate the shift of growth markets towards biology based industries,
that is a “bioeconomy”, in the areas of medicine and agriculture and finally to
assess and quantify the potential environmental benefits and risks associated
with emerging biotechnologies on biodiversity and general ecosystem health.
This facility will allow world-leading scientists not only to elucidate the
mechanisms by which organisms as diverse as plants, aquatic algae and
cyanobacteria, soil microbes and insects sense and respond to environmental
change at the community, organismal, and molecular levels but also assess the
impact of climate change on the interaction of these organisms within
controlled mesocosms or mini-ecosystems.
Norman Huner is at the Department of Plant Sciences, The University of Western
Ontario London, Canada N6A 5B7.