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Understanding How Animals Respond to Changing Environment with Big DNA Data

September 6, 2019

Trent Forensic Science Professor Aaron Shafer receives $140,000 from Early Researcher Award program to continue building a world class research program

Professor Shafer talking at podium

A Trent University professor has been announced as the recipient of an Early Researcher Award which will provide $140,000 in funding for research on wildlife conservation by analyzing the genomic DNA of how animals have and will respond to changing environments.

“This funding will allow me to continue to build a world class research program aimed at exploring how we can use genomic data to understand how animals respond to environmental change,” says Dr. Aaron Shafer, assistant professor in the Forensic Science department. “DNA contains timestamps from the past, but also acts like a bank account for the future: analyzing genomic DNA allows us to understand how animals have and will respond to environmental change like novel diseases, global warming and deforestation.”

The funding comes from the Government of Ontario’s Early Researcher Awards program, which supports new researchers working at publicly funded Ontario research institutions.

“Prof. Shafer is an outstanding young researcher whose expertise in analyzing big genomic data sets is in high demand,” says Dr. Neil Emery, vice-president of Research and Innovation. “On behalf of Trent University, I applaud Dr. Shafer’s remarkable and innovative research which contributes to understanding Earth’s biodiversity and the importance of conservation; he is a most deserving recipient of the Early Researcher Award.”

Genomic research is still a relatively new technology, and Prof. Shafer has been working to establish a state-of-the-art wildlife genomic research program at Trent. This research allows for a better understanding of how genes can impact natural processes as animals adapt to climate change.

“I am pleased to announce today that as part of our government’s $41 million investment in 174 research projects across Ontario, Trent University will receive $140,000,” announced Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith. “This funding will focus on harnessing the power of genomic data to understand population responses to environmental change. Research such as this leads to new knowledge that we need to pursue to effectively protect our environment, improve services and grow our economy.”

The funding will allow for continued on-campus experiential learning opportunities at Trent, as Prof. Shafer expands his research team to hire four students and a postdoctoral researcher to collaborate on the project over the next five years.