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Vol. 10 No. 4 - October 2004


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.

Prof. Norman Huner is at the Department of Plant Sciences, The University of Western Ontario London, Canada N6A 5B7.

This article has been reproduced from the archives of EnviroNews - Newsletter of ISEB India.

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