Western researchers get $3.3 million funding boost

Western Biology professor Bryan Neff, left, shows London West MP Kate Young and London North Centre MP Peter Fragiskatos around his lab, where he is working on giving tiny Atlantic salmon fry a fighting chance to make it to maturity in vast Lake Ontario. Neff’s lab received a funding boost of nearly $600,000 through the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Strategic Partnership Grants program.

Paul Mayne // Western NewsWestern Biology professor Bryan Neff, left, shows London West MP Kate Young and London North Centre MP Peter Fragiskatos around his lab, where he is working on giving tiny Atlantic salmon fry a fighting chance to make it to maturity in vast Lake Ontario. Neff’s lab received a funding boost of nearly $600,000 through the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Strategic Partnership Grants program.

A Western researcher is giving tiny Atlantic salmon fry a fighting chance to make it to maturity in vast Lake Ontario, more than a century after over-fishing and habitat loss caused its disappearance from the lake.

A team led by Bryan Neff, a professor in the department of Biology at Western, is working to assess and improve the species’ survival rate in the lake’s watershed so that Atlantic salmon will be able to reproduce and repopulate the Great Lakes naturally.

On Wednesday, Neff’s lab received a funding boost of nearly $600,000 through the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Strategic Partnership Grants program. His lab was among nine Western recipients of funding for innovative projects this past week, four of which will receive $2.2 million over three years from NSERC. Five other projects will receive $1.1 million through the federal Canada Foundation for Innovation John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF).

Neff’s work was featured in a hatchery tour on campus during a funding announcement by Kate Young, Parliamentary Secretary for Science and MP for London West, and London North Centre MP Peter Fragiskatos.

“Reintroducing Atlantic salmon into Lake Ontario will result in a substantial step towards the recovery of lost biodiversity in Canada and is an opportunity to develop a sustainable and multi-million-dollar fishery industry,” Neff said.

Atlantic salmon were once the heart of an abundant fishery that fed and employed thousands of people, Neff said.

“Then, a little over 100 years ago, salmon disappeared from the Great Lakes as the result of overfishing, habitat degradation associated with industrialization, and the building of dams in rivers that prevented the fish from accessing their spawning grounds.

“The last salmon in Lake Ontario was observed in 1898. It is time to bring them back.”

In 2006, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and more than 40 partners, launched a project called “Bring Back the Salmon” to restore a self-sustaining Atlantic salmon population to Lake Ontario and its streams.

Now, about one million Atlantic salmon fry are released every year into streams and rivers that feed Lake Ontario. But only a few hundred of those survive to make it to open water, and only a handful of those ever return to the river to spawn.

With the NSERC strategic partnership grant, Neff’s team will use advanced laboratory and field techniques to detail the causes of in-stream mortality and provide recommendations on best practices for fish production, stocking, water quality and habitat enhancement. The team, working with industrial partner Vemco of Amirix Systems, will also use technology that will track the exact location of individual fish in a river in real-time and determine when a fish is killed by a predator.

The remaining Western NSERC recipients are:

  • Paul Charpentier, for mass production of metal oxide nanoparticles and their integration into polymer coatings – for use in synthesizing next-generation nanoparticles needed for advanced manufacturing;
  • Zhifeng Ding, for developing and manufacturing ultra-efficient and low-cost electrochemical lighting with use and production of graphene quantum dots;
  • Xueliang Sun, for black phosphorus synthesis, characterization and energy storage applications – using nanotechnology to produce high-performance sodium ion batteries for use, especially in electric vehicles.

The CFI John R. Evans Leaders Fund projects and lab recipients at Western are:

  • Integrated Lab for the Development of Catalysts for Sustainable Synthesis;
  • Cellular and molecular analysis of gastrointestinal stem cells;
  • Mobility: Occupationally valid evaluation and intervention technologies in e-health, exercise and activity;
  • Mapping the primate lateral prefrontal cortex mesoconnectome using two-photon excitation microscopy; and the
  • Seismic Vibrations and Excitations Laboratory.