Dr. Bradley White
Canada Research Chair
Conservation Genetics and Biodiversity
Since Dr. Bradley White moved the DNA Wildlife Forensics Lab to Trent in 1998, he has been working toward the development of an integrated DNA and forensics research centre that could incorporate academic researchers with staff from the Government of Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR); with the opening of the new DNA Building at Trent University, that dream is now a reality.
According to Dr. White, it has been the coming together of “many different things that led to a specific sequence of events which resulted in this building”, not least of which was a strong set of partnerships formed between three of the region’s key public sector bodies: Trent University, Fleming College, and the OMNR.
Over the last five years, since Dr White was awarded a Canada Research Chair at Trent University the DNA Building has quickly become a reality, the key partnerships grew to include many other bodies, such as the Greater Peterborough Area Economic Development Corporation (GPAEDC), the City of Peterborough, and private sector companies such as Genopod, a manufacturer of DNA sample containers and lab-related electronic equipment, to name a few.
“I like to call it the DNA Partnership building. It is all about fostering partnerships and bringing together research,” Dr. White said, pointing out that there are over 60 OMNR researchers and staff members who work in the building. “This region was searching for an identity and really latched on to what we were doing.”
Now, as the DNA Building celebrates its official opening, the attention shifts from its development to what is happening within the state-of-the-art labs and research facilities, and the Wildlife DNA Forensics Lab is at the centre.
“I am convinced that DNA is Ontario’s prime resource– it just happens to be walking around in the form of moose and other animals and plants and trees”
A partnership between Trent University, Fleming College, and the OMNR, the Wildlife DNA Forensics Lab conducts investigations into poaching and the illegal commercialization of meat. Scientists and researchers also track and process animal kill sites, and analyze trade products for endangered meats.
A key element of this research involves the use of the Automation Lab, now housed in the new building and used for the rapid, low cost analysis of wildlife DNA samples. In the new lab, the robotics can process thousands of samples – a significant upgrade from the tens of samples that were being processed when the equipment was housed in separate rooms in their previous space in the Science Complex. According to Dr. White, this more efficient system allows for researchers to spend less time setting up samples for processing and more time “to use their brains to process the info and apply the information.”
In the Wildlife DNA and Forensics Lab, and throughout the entire building, it is the opportunity for collaborations between researchers, staff and students in the building that make the space truly unique. There are no personalized labs and researchers and students are encouraged to work together and to share ideas. “The space allocation is much more dynamic,” Dr. White said.
As the DNA Building and the resulting research collaborations continue to take root, it is the hope of Dr. White and the other partners that new relationships and new partnerships will grow. It is also the hope that, one day, the DNA Building at Trent University will be recognized as not just a regional centre of excellence, but a national and international one as well.