Back to top

CAUT Bulletin Archives

March 1997

Collaborative R&D Benefits All

Cooperation between the academic community and Agriculture Canada’s Research Branch proves that colaboration works. Scientists are exposed to fresh new ideas, and students gain a broader range of experience.
To get the most out of research these days, it makes sense to combine the best talent from top sources. The cooperative efforts between Canada’s academic community and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Research Branch are a clear illustration of this principle.

Dr. Brian Morrissey is head of the Research Branch, an R&D network of 18 research centres across Canada. He sees the alliance between the branch and the university community as a gestalt structure, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

"There are many areas where we share mutual research objectives," he says.

"If we can concentrate the best available expertise to focus on specific issues, then we vastly improve the odds of making significant and scientific advancements."

It is this concentration of expertise that Dr. Morrissey feels is essential to the success of the scientific community. The co-location of branch laboratories on university campuses is one means of achieving this goal.

Says Dr. Morrissey, "Our research centre in Saskatoon is on the campus of the University of Saskatchewan, and our centre in Sainte-Foy is on site at Laval University.

"Our Cereal Research Centre in Winnipeg benefits from its location on the campus of the University of Manitoba, and it’s no accident that a group of our researchers will soon be moving onto campus at Guelph, as well."

The key, says Dr. Morrissey, is that the universities offer excellent collaborative research opportunities because they are natural magnets for the ‘clustering’ of a host of research-oriented institutions.

"The dynamic of the academic world makes it an attractive choice for organizations that view research as a cooperative effort.

"The University of Saskatchewan is one example that comes to mind, where you can find a mix of private and public enterprises participating in the exchange of ideas.

"The result is that Saskatoon is now one of the major players in the agri-food biotech industry," notes Dr. Morrissey.

The Research Branch’s common interest with universities is expressed in other ways, as well. For instance, many of the branch’s scientists are adjunct professors at nearby faculties.

Says Brian Morrissey, "just about all of our research centres have staff scientists with a university connection.

"We believe the benefits of these arrangements accrue to both parties, because they foster a healthy trade in alternative scientific perspectives."

Moreover, branch scientists often work closely with students, which provides additional mutual value.

"Our scientists are exposed to fresh new ideas, and students gain a broader range of experience, which helps them to become better scientists," suggests Dr. Morrissey.

But he says the true value of the relationship between universities and the Research Branch takes place at the bench.

"Our long-standing association with institutes of higher learning bears its greatest fruit through collaborative research projects."

An example of a cooperative research project is currently under way at the Lacombe Research Centre, the branch’s centre for meat research. Scientists there are coordinating a study probing the factors that contribute to beef tenderness.

The extensive project includes an evaluation of a probe to detect connective tissue, a study of post-mortem technologies and a genetics study focusing on micro-satellite markers.

Key players in the tenderness study include faculty from the universities of Alberta, Lethbridge, Saskatchewan and Guelph.

Other examples of collaborative research between universities and the Research Branch can be found in branch centres across the country. For instance, a joint effort by the University of Guelph and the Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre in Harrow, Ontario, has resulted in the discovery of genes for root-rot resistance in soybeans.

The Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre in Ottawa conducts crop research in consort with Guelph, Carleton, Ottawa, Queen’s and McGill universities.

The Brandon Research Centre frequently works with the universities of Saskatchewan and Manitoba on crop and animal studies. The St-John’s Research Centre is working with the University of New Brunswick and the Newfoundland government on an integrated pest management project to control the lingonberry fruitworm.

Says Dr. Morrissey, "we’ve enjoyed some striking successes together, and I would like to see this trend continue."