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 November 27, 1998 Volume 6, Number 7

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Agriculture College receives $3.75 million for new ag-biotech training, research

The announcement of the grant is coincident with Council's November 19 approval, in principle, of the establishment of a Virtual College of Biotechnology (see Council News).

Professor George Khachatourians. Bringing the community to the campus and the campus to the community.

The College of Agriculture has received a $3.75-million grant from the Agri-Food Innovation Fund (AFIF) to create a human resource initiative both in molecular agriculture and applied biotechnology and ag-biotechnology.

Dr. George Khachatourians, of Applied Microbiology and Food Science, has been appointed to coordinate and champion the initiative with a management team from the College. An advisory committee will help to oversee its activities.

"This initiative will generate new opportunities for the College both in research and learning environment," says Khachatourians, who spearheaded the grant application process.

The ag-biotechnology human resources development component will include short courses for individuals from many sectors, including industry, while allowing post-graduate students to engage in longer-term research activities.

The hiring process has already begun for a scientist and a program manager created specifically by this grant.

"This is a unique initiative in Canada," Khachatourians says. And the AFIF backing, he adds, underscores the recognized need for human resource development in the province's ag-biotech industry.

"In Saskatchewan, we should provide for many levels in human resource development. When I go to the research park, people from local or international companies tell me that they need to go elsewhere to pick up upgrading training or advances in their fields."

Saskatoon is one of the hotbeds of ag biotech in the world, he says, and notes that the College - with 15 years of investment in ag-biotech teaching and research and being in the proximity of the Innovation Place research park - can now "really attend to the upgrading of these human resources and additional research in molecular agriculture and applied biotechnology."

He says this initiative will also strengthen the ties between the University and industry.

"The program presents an opportunity to tap into the knowledge base of business people and entrepreneurs in the ag biotech sector. These people will be invaluable in providing instruction and knowledge about the how-to's beyond the academic world. Actually, what we're doing is bringing the community into the campus, and taking the campus into the community."

Khachatourians notes, however, that the current funding will support only two new positions and the equipping of a new laboratory teaching .

"I'd like to have another few million dollars, so that we can take the interest and [use that to] do some additional work. The research component would entail select areas for graduate and post-doctorate students who would function in multi-disciplinary aspects of molecular agriculture and applied biotechnology development both in and outside the College.

"The researchers are going to be multi-disciplinarians, or cross-cutters, cutting across ag-biotech research areas as well as subjects complementary to agriculture - economics, cooperatives, environment, and law, just to name a few."

The additional funds will be solicited from a combination of private sector, government, and philanthropic organizations.

The AFIF-funded initiative, he says, will complement the University's initiative to develop a Virtual College of Biotechnology.

"It remains to be seen what the VCB proposal will ultimately look like. With the grant in place, there's an urgency for moving forward with the implementation of the initiative.

He says it will help to provide human resources at Innovation Place and across the western provinces. To be trained, people will come here and take courses in various aspects of applied agricultural biotechnologies. Workers now needing such up-grades are obliged to take them in the U.S.

"Development and maintenance of agricultural practitioners and human resources is a crucial element of the ag-biotechnology industry. This service is the key element of any agricultural biotechnology strategy."

The initiative will also offer colloquia and a yearly symposium on agricultural issues, summer internships, and short- or long-term exchanges.

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