Canadian Genomicists Lament Cuts

Researchers funded by Genome Canada, Canada’s preeminent funding body for large-scale genomics and proteomics research, are reacting with shock to news that the Canadian government is withdrawing funding from the 9-year-old organization. The government says the organization can rely on last year's money.

“This is extremely serious,” says Anthony James Pawson, a University of Toronto-based cell biologist who won the $550,000 Kyoto Prize in 2008 for his work on cell communication through signaling proteins, which has been praised for establishing one of the basic paradigms of signal transduction.

Since 2000, the research body has received about $600 million from the Canadian government and has matched that in cofunding. Genome Canada had expected about $100 million from the government for the year ahead. The cut to the genomics budget comes as Canada scales back research funding amid a budget crisis.

Instead, the government has offered nothing. "It's like we fell between the chairs," says the organization’s president, Martin Godbout.

Genome Canada currently supports 33 major research projects at Canadian schools and hospitals, with operating grants of around $10 million a year for each.

Godbout said the lack of funding won't affect projects now funded through previous budgets, but it will limit Canada's ability to contribute to new, large-scale genetics research projects. A lack of funding effectively stalls any new research initiatives, said Godbout.

The Canadian government says that funding from previous years was intended to cover this year.

“There is no cut to funding for Genome Canada," Annie Trépanier, spokesperson for Industry Canada, told ScienceInsider. “Genome Canada has received $840 million since 2000. Budget 2008 provided $140 million, which will support genomics research and Genome Canada operations from 2009-10 to 2012-13.”

But Godbout says this budget strategy is news to him. While money from last year's budget was earmarked to fund future projects, no indication was provided by the government that new initiatives would not be funded this year, he announced on CBC public broadcasting. Genome Canada has been awarded funding every year except 2006, when money allotted to it in 2005 was specifically designated for a 2-year span.

Speaking from a conference in Colorado, Pawson said after the news broke, “Genome Canada has helped build Toronto into a leading center—first among equals—for 21st century large-scale biology. Today, I’m in Colorado at a meeting on large-scale biology where Canada is strongly represented thanks to Genome Canada’s sustained support for so many research teams. Personally, for me this will have very serious consequences. We’ve ramped up a fabulous laboratory with support from Genome Canada. Now will we have to get rid of it?”