Western researchers get $20M boost from the federal government

Beth MacDougall-Shackleton gives MPs Peter Fragiskatos and Kate Young a tour of the Advanced Facility for Avian Research on campus. Liny Lamberink/AM980

Fundamental research projects at Western University have received a more than $20-million funding boost from the federal government.

London North Centre MP Peter Fragiskatos and London West MP Kate Young announced the $20,635,368 investment at Western University Friday morning. It will be doled out through discovery grants for scholarships, fellowships, research supplements, and equipment.

Beth MacDougall-Shackleton, an associate biology professor at Western, researches how parasites impact the health of songbirds. As part of the funding announcement, she’ll receive $28,000 each year for the next five years to attract new students and to explore the genetics of songbirds and parasites.

“It’s the so-called canary in the coal mine effect. Birds have always been environmental indicators, when the birds start to die off or disappear from an area, that’s often an early warning signal that something’s wrong with the health of the environment,” she explained.

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And over the past 27 years that she’s been studying birds, she’s seen the population of several of her favourite species plummet.

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“If we know more about how being infected with malaria parasites affects the timing of migration, or affects whether birds successfully migrate, than we can predict the spread of infectious diseases.”

The funding comes as part of a larger $515 million investment in Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grants being handed out all across the country.

“This isn’t the kind of research that’s going to be finished in a couple of years. This is ongoing research, and that’s what our government believes … applied research definitely has a place, but fundamental research is just as important,” said Kate Young.

Leanne Grieves stands with the migratory song sparrows that she studies. Liny Lamberink/AM980

During Friday’s announcement, one of MacDougall-Shackleton’s students, Leanne Grieves, was recognized as a recipient of a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. She and three other PhD candidates at Western University have received a cumulative $600,000 on behalf of Canada’s Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor and Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan.

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“I was very excited and overwhelmed,” Grieves said, reflecting on when she first learned she’d received the prestigious scholarship. “It was very hard to concentrate on the rest of my day.”

“It’s a huge benefit for me in terms of being able to really focus on the work and research that I’m doing, and so it gives me a lot of financial security.”

Also on the receiving end of the scholarship are Westen University PhD students Christy Caudill for earth science research, Marat Slessarev for biophysics research, and Charles Yin for cardiovascular research.

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