Biotron (Western University)

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The Biotron Institute for Experimental Climate Change Research at Western University is a facility constructed to simulate ecosystems[1][2][3] and funded by the Canadian government to study how plants, microbes and insects sense and adjust to climate change.[4][5] Its biome chambers allow control of temperature, humidity and sunlight so scientists can simulate climatic zones from rainforests to Arctic tundra.[6] This enables the study environmental science, biotech, materials and biomaterials in realistic environmental conditions while still in a controlled laboratory setting.[7][8][9] The Biotron also trains students, including one of Western's winners of The Undergraduate Awards' Global Award.[10][11][12]


The lab was initially founded by Norman Hüner with a grant from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation in May 2003. Construction was completed in 2008, and like many research facilities, it struggled to establish a business model to support the technicians needed to operate its specialized equipment.[13] The facility is now part of the department of biology.[14]

The facility has had three directors: Norman Hüner (2003-2008, 2019-present), Jeremy McNeil(2009-2011), and Brian Branfireun (2012-2019).[13]


Hüner and colleagues observed that 80% of Earth's biosphere is permanently below 5°C, including most of the oceans and the polar and alpine regions.[15] Previously, these regions had been assumed to be low in biodiversity, when in fact they are teeming with diverse life forms.[16] The facility now supports research ranging from biogeochemistry[17] to the study of insects in cold temperatures.[18][19]

Environmental Chambers

The Biotron's chambers augment polar research stations by enabling research on cold ecosystems in a controlled laboratory building.[15] Biotron's chambers enable the study of biomes, such as peatlands[20], and insects, such as the overwintering energetics of butterflies.[19][21][22] These chambers enable the study of climate change by simulating Arctic conditions in the laboratory.[23]

Analytical Services

Biotron's analytical laboratories measure trace metals in samples from field collections.[24][25] The facility provides mass spectrometry for measuring elements and compounds in water, soil, rock and biological materials.[26] The facility has been used to study of pollutants that impact human health, such as the neurotoxin Mercury (element)|mercury.[17][27]. Such studies enable biomonitoring to support the rights of indigenous peoples.[28] Biotron's analytical services also support global carbon cycle modeling [29] and medical Clinical trial|clinical trials.[30]


  1. "Western University, Biotron Environmental Research Facility". Architects Tillmann Ruth Robinson. Retrieved 2020-12-27.
  2. "University of Western Ontario / Biotron" (PDF). Agritech Nove. Retrieved 2020-12-27.
  3. "Western University, Biotron Experimental Climate Change Research Facility". Anderwesten & Rutherford Engineering. Retrieved 2020-12-27.
  4. Singh, A.; Dixon, M.; Grodzinski, B.; Huner, Norman (2005-11-28). The Biotron: An Experimental Climate Change Research Facility. Third International Conference on Plants & Environmental Pollution (ICPEP-3). Lucknow.
  5. Chidley, Dave (2006-09-29). "Biotron super garden - UWO facility to be leader in climate-controlled plant, ecological research". London Free Press.
  6. "Pole to pole – Positive steps towards a Canadian Antarctic research program". The Arctic Journal. 2017-04-28.
  7. World Conference on Climate Change - Norman P. A. Huner. Valencia, Spain. 2016-10-24. Retrieved 2020-12-27.
  8. Van Brenk, Debora (2019-05-22). "Huner heads 'back to future' to lead Biotron" (Press release).
  9. Manolakos, Jana (2020-07-09). "Biotron: Crystalizing Cliimate Change".
  10. "Western undergrads named global award-winners". 2017-09-21.
  11. "Global Winners 2017 - Undergraduate Awards - Bridget Murphy - Western University - Earth & Environmental Sciences - Future Climate Conditions Alter Leaf Thermotolerance in Canadian Boreal Trees". The Undergraduate Awards. 2017.
  12. "UA director visits Western University - May 2019". 2019-10-07.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Travis, Heather (2012-01-19). "Troubling yesterdays for building of tomorrow". Archived from the original on 2012-01-26.
  14. "Western Biology". 2020-04-28.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Morgan-Kiss, Rachael M.; Priscu, John C.; Pocock, Tessa; Gudynaite-Savitch, Loreta; Huner, Norman P. A. (2006-03-01). "Adaptation and Acclimation of Photosynthetic Microorganisms to Permanently Cold Environments". Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews (70): 222–252. doi:10.1128/MMBR.70.1.222-252.2006.
  16. Norman Hüner (Canada) - Professor Canada Research Chair. Albena Resort, Bulgaria: 11th International Meeting "Photosynthesis and Hydrogen Energy Research for Sustainability – 2021". 2021-09-19. Retrieved 2020-12-27.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Cole, Amanda S; Steffen, Alexandra; Eckley, Chris S.; Narayan, Julie; Pilote, Martin; Tordon, Rob; Graydon, Jennifer A.; St Louis, Vincent L.; Xu, Xiaohong; Branfireun, Brian A. (2014-09-01). "A Survey of Mercury in Air and Precipitation across Canada: Patterns and Trends". Atmosphere. Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute.
  18. Winders, Jason (2012-01-19). "Meet some of the Biotron's research superstars".
  19. 19.0 19.1 Sinclair, Brent J.; Marshall, Katie E.; Sewell, Mary A.; Levesque, Danielle L.; Willett, Christopher S.; Slotsbo, Stine; Dong, Yunwei; Harley, Christopher D. G.; Marshall, David J.; Helmuth, Brian S.; Huey, Raymond B. (2016). "Can we predict ectotherm responses to climate change using thermal performance curves and body temperatures?". Ecology Letters (19): 1372–1385. doi:10.1111/ele.12686.
  20. Asemaninejad, Asma; Thorn, R. Greg; Lindo, Zoë (2016-10-15). "Experimental Climate Change Modifies Degradative Succession in Boreal Peatland Fungal Communities". Microbial Ecology. 73: 521–531. doi:10.1007/s00248-016-0875-9.
  21. Sinclair, Brent J. (2015). "Linking energetics and overwintering in temperate insects". Journal of Thermal Biology. 54: 5–11. doi:10.1016/j.jtherbio.2014.07.007.
  22. "Insects - Biotron". Retrieved 2020-12-07.
  23. Gillespie, Bruce (2009-03-18). "Recreating nature - Simulating climate change at Western's new Biotron facility". Canada Foundation for Innovation.
  24. Bekeris, Leanne (2012-08-01). "A Seat at the Table: A Nonconformist Approach to Grassroots Participation in the Articulation of Health Standards". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  25. "Analytical Services". Retrieved 2020-12-07.
  26. "Western University Experts are Improving Water Treatment, Protection and Management with help from SOWC". Ontario Water Consortium. 2016-05-16.
  27. Bond, Alexander L.; Hobson, Keith A.; Branfireun, Brian A. (2015-02-17). "Rapidly increasing methylmercury in endangered ivory gull (Pagophila eburnea) feathers over a 130 year record". Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Royal Society Publishing (282). doi:10.1098/rspb.2015.0032.
  28. Ratelle, Mylène; Skinner, Kelly; Laird, Matthew J.; Majowicz, Shannon; Brandow, Danielle; Packull-McCormick, Sara; Bouchard, Michèle; Dieme, Denis; Stark, Ken D.; Henao, Juan Jose Aristizabal; Hanning, Rhona; Laird, Brian D. (2018-12-03). "Implementation of human biomonitoring in the Dehcho region of the Northwest Territories, Canada (2016–2017)". Archives of Public Health. doi:10.1186/s13690-018-0318-9.
  29. Kohlenberg, Andrew J.; Turetsky1, Merritt R.; Thompson, Dan K.; Branfireun, Brian A.; Mitchell, Carl P. J. (2018-02-28). "Controls on boreal peat combustion and resulting emissions of carbon and mercury". Environmental Research Letters. IOP Publishing Ltd. 13 (3). doi:10.1088/1748-9326/aa9ea8.
  30. "Investigating the Effects of Probiotic Yogurt on Reducing the Levels of Environmental Toxins Among School Children in Mwanza, Tanzania (PDTX)". 2013-12-17. Retrieved 2020-12-27.

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