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Spotlight On Dinosaurs

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Spotlight On Dinosaurs Dr. Phil Currie with the cranium of a Tyrannosaurus Rex
A world-renowned expert on dinosaurs, who comes to the University of Alberta from the Tyrrell Museum, is among four new Canada Research Chairs (CRC) announced recently.

Calling his CRC in Systematics and Evolution Group the first and "long overdue pure dinosaur position" for a university in Alberta, Currie says he also looks forward to promoting dinosaur science.

"Worldwide there's been very little money put into dinosaur research in the past or in the present," said Currie. "Canada is a very special place because we have some of the richest resources in the late Cretaceous anywhere in the world, and there really should be a focus on that in our museums and universities".

Joining the U of A just last month, Currie has worked extensively on the discovery of feathered dinosaurs in China, meat-eating dinosaurs in Argentina, and on a pack of a dozen Albertosaurus from the badlands of central Alberta. The more than half-dozen species of feathered dinosaurs so far discovered "cover the range of meat-eating dinosaurs we have here in Alberta".

Working at the Alberta Provincial Museum in the early part of 1980s, Currie helped establish the Royal Tyrrell Museum in 1985. His seven-year, $1.4 million chair will fund the continuation of his research on, among other things, the evolutionary relationship between theropod dinosaurs and their close living relatives-birds.

That close relationship to birds tells us much, says Currie. Because of the theropod's similarity to birds, it is now possible, for example, to determine the sex of a theropod specimen. As the female of both the dinosaurs and birds store up calcium in their bones before laying eggs, says Currie, surplus calcium is the tell-tale sign the specimen is female.

The relationship between the Tyrrell Museum and the U of A "will get even stronger now" with his appointment, but what excites Currie most about the chair is the chance to work with teams of students.

"Now I have my own students coming on, and I'll be able to pull together a bigger team towards working on all these projects I never got around to over the years," he said.

Other CRCs announced recently include Dr. Cressida Heyes, who has been awarded $500,000 over five years to examine popular and academic conceptions (and misconceptions) of sexual difference, gender identity and sexual orientation. The new CRC in Philosophy of Gender and Sexuality aims to encourage a closer relationship between feminist and health sciences perspectives on issues of dieting, cosmetic surgery and transsexuality.

Dr. Christopher Power, in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry has been awarded $1.4 million and has been named Canada Research Chair in Neurological Infection and Immunity.

Power is investigating the molecular bases of HIV-associated dementia and multiple sclerosis early in the diseases' courses, using cutting-edge neuroimaging, molecular biology and nanotechnologies with an interdisciplinary team approach that is unique in Canada and North America.

As CRC in Plant and Tree Biology, Dr. Enrico Scarpella will pursue research in the largely unexplored field of plant vascular development, the system in plants that transports water and nutrients.

In addition to shedding light on the molecular process underlying this system, vascular tissue science also has the potential for many economic applications, such as the productivity of wood, paper and fabrics; amplification of fruit and foliage production; and the protection of plants against diseases that spread through the vascular tissues.

Exploring how proteins work in biological systems is Dr. Liang Li, who receives $1.4 million with his CRC appointment in Analytical Chemistry. Li examines how proteins and metabolites are expressed in a given cell or tissue with the aid of mass spectrometry.

The science is important in a number of areas of bioscience and biomedical research, helping to better understand how proteins and metabolites develop in normal versus diseased cells. This information is invaluable in developing more targeted drugs to fight disease.

Three existing CRC holders at the U of A also had terms renewed for five more years: Dr. Sean Caulfield (art and design), Dr. Janet Elliott (engineering) and Dr. Chris Le (medicine) for a total of $1.5 million.

The CRC program, valued at more than $900 million across the country, was set up by the federal government to support outstanding researchers, helping them advance their careers among world-class colleagues and gain access to top graduate students and state-of-the-art research facilities. The U of A now holds 95 CRCs.

Posted By: Jaison


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