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Discovery Frontiers call for proposals:
Antimicrobial resistance in the environment

Value Up to $1 million per year for four years
Application Deadline March 1, 2019 – Letter of intent
May 3, 2019 – Invitation to apply
July 15, 2019 – Application, if invited to apply
Application Procedure See below
For more Information Consult the Contact list.

Important information


Discovery Frontiers grants support a limited number of large international activities, opportunities or projects that are of high priority in the context of advanced research in Canada. These are led by world-class Canadian researchers and comprise multi-institutional team that generate substantial impact, for the benefit of Canada. Approaches used will emphasize new ideas, perspectives and solutions and interdisciplinary thinking with potential for long-term impacts. International linkages are required.

This fifth call for proposals will bring together groups of researchers in new ways to address a major research challenge in Antimicrobial Resistance in the environment. Discovery Frontiers will support a program that will be paradigm-shifting, trans-disciplinary in nature, open new fields or integrate existing fields in new ways, involve international collaboration, and accelerate the establishment of expertise and capacity.


Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses or fungi, change in ways that reduce or eliminate the effectiveness of the antimicrobials used to treat infections. The microorganisms that resist the treatment survive and multiply. The broad use of antibiotics in human and veterinary medicine and in the agriculture and agri-food industries has resulted in the rise of resistant populations which develop and spread. Poor infection control practices, inadequate sanitation and inappropriate food handling also encourage the spread of AMR.

On September 21, 2016, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly held a high-level This link will take you to another Web site meeting on AMR with global leaders, including Canada. The meeting participants adopted a declaration recognizing the multi-sectoral nature of AMR, and committed to mitigate the impact of AMR domestically and internationally. This is only the 4th instance in the history of the UN where a health topic was on the agenda at a General Assembly meeting - the others were for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), non-communicable diseases, and Ebola – highlighting the urgency of this threat. 

In Canada, incidence of AMR in human and animal pathogens, and the prevalence of AMR genes in ecosystems are also increasing.  Rates of antimicrobial resistant infection continue to exceed those observed in the early 2000s. This widespread AMR represents an immediate threat to the health of Canadians and to the agricultural industry.

Addressing AMR is a national priority, as evidenced by the federal Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance (2014) and the Pan-Canadian Framework for AMR (2017). Importantly, there are  several recent international collaborations including the Joint Programming Initiative for AMR on Antimicrobial Resistance (JPIAMR), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations call (2015) that focused on AMR, “Novel Approaches to Characterizing and Tracking the Global Burden of Antimicrobial Resistance”, and the One Health concept which is a worldwide strategy for expanding interdisciplinary collaborations and communications in all aspects of health care for humans, animals and the environment, including AMR.

Canada has the capacity to take on a leadership role in addressing AMR-related challenges of national and international importance in the agricultural and environmental sectors. A Discovery Frontiers research program on AMR will integrate disciplines in new ways and provide new strategies and solutions at the forefront of this significant scientific challenge. Areas of national importance include, but are not limited to: environmental sources and fate of antibiotic resistant microbes/genes, resistance ecology, resistance evolution, microbial community impacts, ecosystem impacts, impacts of AMR organisms on the environment, animal role as vectors, animal health risks, and mitigation options for further environmental AMR increase.

The central objective of the research will be to transform our understanding of the environmental dimensions of antimicrobial resistance and our knowledge of antibiotic resistance evolution in complex environments, including agricultural and urban settings, and their risks to wildlife and ecosystem function. The anticipated outcomes of this globally unique, interdisciplinary, and integrative research initiative will advance AMR science, and lead to new fields of investigation and much-needed knowledge of :

  • the incidence, fate, ecology and genetics of AMR in the environment;
  • the role of the environment in the AMR evolution;
  • the environmental reservoirs of resistance, and factors that contribute to the evolution of resistance;
  • the transfer of resistance genes and resistant organisms in and between environmental compartments;
  • the potential for the emergence/spread of AMR to cause harm to the environment;
  • the impact of AMR on ecosystem function and biodiversity.

This research will provide a stronger evidence base on which we can develop interventions and strategies to manage AMR in the environment and to (a) develop new technologies, strategies or methodologies to assist environmental assessment and monitoring programs related to AMR; (b) generate new models to predict the evolution, risk and spread of antimicrobial resistance and inform mitigation strategies; (c) mitigate the loss of current antibiotic effectiveness; (d) preserve the effectiveness of existing and future antimicrobials by limiting the AMR evolution.


The research team funded through this initiative will strengthen linkages between the various involved disciplines of natural sciences and engineering, improve Canada’s research capacity, promote interdisciplinary collaborations, and encourage interdisciplinary research team to tackle AMR challenges from a One Health perspective. Furthermore, the new knowledge generated will fill in critical gaps in our quantitative understanding of the evolution of resistance, rates of resistance gene transfer, and persistence in complex environments. The dissemination of data, results and outcomes of this research to the broader community, including the public domain, will inform practical environmental policy responses and environmental guidelines and best practices to help address AMR challenges. Mitigating the rise in AMR will have clear and substantial benefits in reducing the burden of illness and managing health care costs imposed by resistant infections, and will improve the well-being of Canadians and the environment.


Much new knowledge is needed to better understand the significance of the environmental dimension of AMR before effective science-based policies and intervention actions can advance. The complexity within the biology of AMR requires the efforts of interdisciplinary research teams to develop solutions that mitigate any further increase in AMR. Effective collaboration and communication will be required across multiple disciplines in the natural sciences and engineering, as well as the social and health sciences. Furthermore, as AMR is a global challenge, we must identify key international partners across all sectors in order to integrate Canadian research into the global context and provide maximal benefit to Canadians and advances that are applicable worldwide. Beyond the challenges in assembling an effective interdisciplinary team, other challenges exist in accessing data related to antibiotic usage and the concentrations of antibiotic residues in the environment. The exploitation of the existing data to address the various aspects of AMR also represents a challenge recognizing that this may require the development of new methods in data management, analysis, and interpretation.

Gender equity and diversity

Applicants are encouraged to increase the inclusion and advancement of women and other under-represented groups in the natural sciences and engineering, as one means to foster excellence in research and training. Diversity and gender equity must be considered when developing their group of co-applicants, collaborators and trainees.

Refer to the application instructions and the Guide for Applicants: Considering equity, diversity and inclusion in your application for further guidance on how to incorporate these equity, diversity and inclusion measures within the full proposal.

Application procedure

Letter of intent

Applicants begin by submitting a Letter of intent (LOI). The LOI must include a cover page (one page), a research proposal (maximum five pages) and biographical information on the team (maximum two pages). All documents should follow the NSERC On-line Presentation and Attachment Standards.

The cover page must include:

  • the project title;
  • a list of up to 10 keywords;
  • an approximate budget request, by project year;
  • the applicant’s name, affiliation, telephone number and email address;
  • a list of all co-applicants, with affiliation and email address.

The research proposal should include:

  • a description of the main research challenges and activities;
  • a discussion of anticipated participation by collaborators, such as international researchers and government scientists, and their roles;
  • a discussion of anticipated outcomes and benefits;
  • a description of the plans for training of highly qualified personnel;
  • a high level summary of the major budget items with justification.

The biographical information should contain short biographies of the applicant and co-applicants and their areas of expertise.

The LOI should be saved as a single portable document format (PDF) document, and uploaded to NSERC’s secure portal before the deadline.

Note that details concerning proposals that are successful at the LOI stage will be published on NSERC’s website.

LOI review procedures and selection criteria

An international committee will review the LOIs. The review process at the LOI stage is intended to select those proposals that best fit the program objectives and best address the LOI review criteria with an emphasis on the merit of the proposal. The review criteria are as follows:

Merit of the research proposal

  • Novelty of the proposed approach
  • Potential to be transformative and have high international impact
  • Potential to create new fields of research
  • Potential to extend and/or complement national and international work in the area
  • Appropriateness of the methods and approaches in terms of the research objectives
  • Feasibility of the research given the projected resources and timeline
  • Degree of integration across disciplines and with international collaborators
  • Anticipated outcomes and benefits to the wider community
  • Consideration of equity, diversity and inclusion in the research design, if applicable.

Excellence of the applicants and complementarity of expertise

  • Excellence and significance of the proposed research team;
  • Appropriateness of the expertise of the research team in terms of realizing the research goals;
  • Effectiveness with which the project will bring together expertise from complementary disciplines;
  • Extent of involvement and integration of Canadian government researchers;
  • Involvement and integration of other partners and/or international collaborators.
  • Explain the rationale for the team composition, how it has the necessary expertise, experience, and how equity, diversity and inclusion have been considered for the successful execution of the proposed program.

Potential for value-added training of highly qualified personnel (HQP)

  • Potential for the initiative to achieve excellence in the training of highly qualified personnel;
  • Potential for enhanced training opportunities for graduate students and postdoctoral-level individuals, and other research personnel such as undergraduates, research associates and technicians, including international experience;
  • Quality of plans to ensure that an adequate number of HQP (both support personnel (e.g., technicians) and trainees (e.g., post-doctoral fellows)) are available to meet the needs of the proposed research through recruitment and/or training;
  • Describe the research training and development opportunities provided for HQP (e.g., HQP science outreach and engagement, interdisciplinary research, collaborations, interaction with the private and public sectors);
  • Describe any consideration of equity, diversity and inclusion in the training environment.

Full application

Full proposals will be reviewed through a rigorous independent peer review process, undertaken by a multidisciplinary international committee, to assess their eligibility, research merit and potential for benefits to the research community as well as to ensure that sound management and financial practices are implemented. Excellence in terms of the review criteria at the very highest of international standards must be demonstrated for funding to be awarded to the most meritorious proposal. For more information, consult the Instructions for completing an application – Form 101.

Use of funds

Refer to the Use of Grant Funds section of the Tri-Agency Financial Administration Guide for details on eligible expenses.