Molecular Biology and Genetics
The Genetics and Molecular Biology RIG carries out research in areas as diverse as developmental genetics of nematodes and flies to the molecular biology and biochemistry of yeast, to the genetics of human disorders involving the eye. Recent appointments include
Dr. Ted Allison who works with the Centre for Prions and Protein Folding Disease (CPPFD),
Dr. Janice Cooke working on the molecular physiology and genomics of forest trees,
Dr. Kirst King-Jones working on transcriptional regulators that control fat, sugar and energy metabolism in Drosophila melanogaster,
Dr. Martin Srayko working on the importance of the microtubule cytoskeleton to cell division, andDr. Christine Szymanski working on host-pathogen interactions in order to understand and exploit virulence mechanisms used by bacteria colonizing mucosal surfaces.
Facilities associated with this group include the Drosophila unit and the Molecular Biology Service Unit which has four full-time support personnel that provide oligonucleotide synthesis, DNA sequencing and molecular biology training for the whole Department. As a part of Prote-Gene, an interdisciplinary initiative with the Department of Chemistry, a microarray facility will be incorporated into the MBSU.
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Dr. Ted Allison
Research interests focus on neurodegeneration and regeneration, especially within the retina. I use an integrative approach spanning molecular biology, electrophysiology & behaviour to study the development of retinas in fishes and how they are tuned to get the most information available from the environment. My research has three major streams:
i) using zebrafish to investigate questions of photoreceptor development, patterning & regeneration as they pertain to human retinal degenerative disease;
ii) The development of zebrafish as an effective model organism for the study of protein folding diseases such as Alzheimer and Prion-related Diseases;
iii) Investigating the visual ecology of fishes - how and why do visual systems change over evolutionary time and during the life history of animals.
Dr. Yan Boucher
When thinking about biological evolution, we usually imagine thousands of years over which animals and plant species change. With microbes however, significant changes can happen in the matter of days or a few moments. In the marine environment for example, as much as a thousand different variants of a single microbial species can be found in a milliliter of seawater, with hundreds or thousands of species present. We ask two main questions: How does this diversity arise ? What role does it play in nature ? To answer such broad questions, we study the evolutionary processes in the Vibrios, a group of bacteria ubiquitous
in aquatic environments, responsible for diseases as diverse as bleaching in corals and cholera in humans. We use techniques from the fields of population genetics, molecular epidemiology as well as experimental evolution.
Dr. Shelagh Campbell
Regulation of the cell cycle during development, using the model organism Drosophila. Projects include investigations of Cdc2 regulation by inhibitory kinases and studies of genes involved in signaling pathways that link stress responses to cell cycle "checkpoints". Genetics, molecular biology, and biochemistry.
Dr. Janice Cooke
Molecular physiology and genomics of forest trees. Current focus is on understanding mechanisms that trees use to regulate allocation of carbon and nitrogen resources amongst different plant parts, and partitioning of these resources into various biochemical pathways. Research is also being carried out on phenology-linked molecular and physiological processes that affect productivity in forest trees. An integrated approach that employs genomic, molecular, biochemical, and physiological tools is being used to address these questions.
Dr. Jonathan Dennis
Phage therapy; Bacterial genetics / genomics; Mobile genetic elements; Burkholderia cepacia complex; Antibiotic resistance and organic solvent tolerance; Bacterial multidrug efflux pumps; Bacterial biodegredation and bioremediation.
Dr. Michael Deyholos
Plant Biotechnology and Genomics. We use Arabidopsis, flax, and hemp to study the processes of vascular development, especially the development of phloem fibres. We also study abiotic stresses including salinity, drought, and heavy metals in Arabidopsis and wheat. We use techniques of genetics, bioinformatics, and molecular biology, including high-throughput technologies such as DNA microarrays.
Dr. Julia Foght
Current interests include microbial biodegradation of petroleum hydrocarbons, particularly under adverse environmental conditions in fuel-contaminated Antarctic soils, cold groundwater and subsurface soils. Other research areas related to petroleum microbiology include fundamental studies on mechanisms of hydrocarbon transport across bacterial membranes, and the use of whole cell biocatalysts for biological upgrading of petroleum and refined products. Interests unrelated to hydrocarbon degradation include the isolation and characterization of cold-adapted bacterial communities that live underneath glaciers. My students use classical microbiology and current molecular techniques to address these problems, and are exposed to interdisciplinary research through collaborative projects in Chemical Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.
Dr. Warren Gallin
Comparative molecular studies of physiologically functional molecules. We are isolating cDNA and genomic clones encoding voltage-gated ion channels from the hydroid cnidarian Polyorchis penicillatus and comparing the structure and function of these proteins, which are essential for neuronal excitability. We are also isolating cadherins from P. pencillatus. These molecules are essential for cell-cell adhesion and interaction in multicellular organisms. We are also studying factors that control the development of bile canaliculi between liver cells. The canaliculi carry the bile out of the liver and into the gall bladder; thus, defects in their structure can have severe consequences for an individual. We are studying the importance of soluble factors, cell-cell interactions, and cell-substrate interactions in the development and maintenance of the bile canaliculi.
Dr. Allen Good
My group is interested in understanding how plants adapt to a variety of different environmental stresses, such as flooding, drought or nutrient deficiency. Our approach involves using a combination of classical genetic tools, and the modern tools of molecular biology and genomics. Our main focus is on the role of specific aminotransferases and genes involved in amino acid biosynthesis in nitrogen use efficiency and signalling in plants.
Dr. Kirst King-Jones
Growth, development and our health are profoundly dependent on the proper regulation of metabolic pathways. My lab studies how transcriptional regulators control fat, sugar and energy metabolism in Drosophila melanogaster. In addition, we use molecular, genetic and genomic tools to identify novel genes that have critical regulatory functions with respect to these metabolic processes.
Dr. Brian Lanoil
Microbiology of extreme environments, with an emphasis on polar and icy environments and hypersaline systems.
Dr. Brenda Leskiw
Regulation of the onset of antibiotic biosynthesis and morphological differentiation in Streptomyces.
Dr. John Locke
My research interests involve gene regulation, structure and function of chromatin and structure function of heterochromatin. We are using classical, molecular, and cytogenetic techniques to investigate the role of chromasomal proteins in gene regulation in Drosophila. We are paying particular attention to the phenomina of position effects and how it relates to higher order chromatin structure.
Dr. Katharine Magor
My research focuses on the genetics of disease resistance in animals. Ducks are the natural host of influenza viruses, and are typically unharmed by strains that are lethal to poultry. We focused first on genes that control disease resistance in animals, namely the MHC Class I genes. We have identified limitations in this viral detection system in ducks, which will affect vaccination and their role as natural reservoir of influenza viruses. We are also characterizing genes of pattern recognition receptors, the master control switches for the innate immune system. Supporting projects in the lab focus on identifying immune relevant genes for studying innate immune responses.
Dr. Heather McDermid
I am interested in the underlying genetic causes of birth defects, particularly neural tube defects (NTDs), and the insight into normal development that can be gained through their study. I focus on a mouse model of a severe cranial NTD caused by mutations in the chromatin remodeling gene Cecr2. We study the role of Cecr2 in brain development and its interaction with other genes that modify NTD susceptibility in different mouse strains.
Dr. Frank Nargang
Two projects investigating mitochondrial biogenesis are currently under way. In one project the process of import of proteins into mitochondria is investigated through the study of mutants affected in the process. The second project examines the mechanisms by which mitochondria influence the expression of nuclear genes.
Dr. George Owttrim
My lab is investigating the mechanisms by which photosynthetic organisms sense and respond to environmental change, using cyanobacterial RNA helicases as our model system.
Dr. David Pilgrim
Developmental genetics, using the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Specifically, we are currently studying problems of sex determination, signal transduction and muscle and nervous system development using a combined genetic and molecular approach. We are also interested in the techniques and approaches of genome mapping and characterization.
Dr. Tracy Raivio
Stress responses of Escherichia coli and their role in pathogenesis. Genetic, molecular biological and biochemical approaches are used to identify and characterize regulatory pathways involved in responding to stresses to the bacterial envelope that may be encountered either in the environment or during an infection.
Dr. Linda Reha-Krantz
DNA polymerase function and DNA replication are studied using yeast as a model system for in vivo studies and the bacteriophage T4 DNA polymerase as a model for in vitro studies. Expertise in DNA polymerase function is being applied to the development of new DNA sequencing methods. Genetic, biochemical and molecular biological techniques are used.
Dr. Enrico Scarpella
Vascular pattern formation and vascular differentiation in plants using a strategy that combines molecular genetics and genomics with cell biology. This approach includes: (1) the generation and use, in different genetic backgrounds, of fluorescently tagged markers of vascular cell states, cell polarity and subcellular components; (2) the identification of genes by mutant vascular phenotype, and their subsequent isolation and analysis at the molecular level; (3) the identification of genes with preferential or exclusive expression in the vascular tissues by whole-genome oligonucleotide microarray, and the isolation and characterisation of insertional mutants in these genes.
Dr. Felix Sperling
Insect systematics with interests in molecular evolution, population genetics, biodiversity and conservation. Emphasis on speciation in swallowtail butterflies and spruce budworm moths. Also insect pest complexes, phylogeny reconstruction, taxonomy, plant-insect interactions, forensic entomology and internet-accessible faunal inventories.
Dr. Martin Srayko
The goal of my research is to understand the regulation of microtubule polymer assembly and how microtubules build intracellular structures such as the mitotic spindle in vivo. Like most complex 4-dimensional biological processes, a complete understanding of spindle assembly will require knowledge of the properties of individual components as well as an appreciation for how their assembly is orchestrated in living cells. C. elegans is an ideal system in which to do this, due to the ease of analysing gene function via RNAi, genetics, biochemistry, and in vivo imaging.
Dr. James Stafford
My primary research goal is to further develop channel catfish as an immunological model system for studying the evolution and function of innate immune receptors. Specifically, I will functionally
characterize a novel family of immunoregulatory receptors termed channel catfish Leukocyte Immune-Type Receptors (IpLITRs). Catfish are one of the few fish species for which a viable in vitro culture system has been developed and the only fish species from which clonal and functionally distinct leukocyte cell lines (i.e. B cells, T cells, macrophages, and Natural Killer (NK) cells) can be readily generated. The availability of these cell lines allows for the study of cellular immune responses in ways not possible with any other ectothermic vertebrate. Therefore, I am in an excellent position to further
develop the channel catfish as a model system to understand the functional and molecular evolution of innate immune receptors that participate in the regulation of anti-viral and anti-tumor immune responses.
Dr. Christine Szymanski
We are interested in examining host-pathogen interactions in order to understand and exploit virulence mechanisms used by bacteria colonizing mucosal surfaces. Campylobacter jejuni, a leading cause of bacterial food poisoning worldwide, provides an exciting model system for our studies. My research group has been characterizing campylobacter glycosylation systems including the first identified bacterial N-linked protein glycosylation pathway (see image below) and the extremely variable capsular polysaccharides, that have been demonstrated to play important roles in chicken colonization, bacteriophage evasion and diarrheal disease. Analytical technologies such as high resolution magic angle spinning (HR-MAS) NMR, proteomics and microarrays coupled with representative model systems are being used for the identification of novel virulence determinants, gene and protein expression profiling, and elucidation of regulatory networks.
Dr. Gregory Taylor
Plant Physiology and Functional Genomics. My research focuses on understanding the mechanisms plants use to tolerate abiotic stresses in the soil environment, such as metal toxicity and nutrient deficiency. We currently have three overlapping research directions: (1) adaptation of plants to acidic soils, focusing on the primary growth-limiting factors aluminum toxicity and phosphate deficiency; (2) regulation of trace element, particularly cadmium, accumulation and transport in plants; and (3) functional characterization of P1B-type heavy-metal ATPase transporters in Brachypodium distachyon. We use techniques of cell and molecular biology, comparative genomics, bioinformatics, and whole-plant physiology to study how model systems (Arabidopsis, Brachypodium, yeast) and agronomically important crops (wheat, canola, rice) respond to abiotic stress at the molecular, cellular, and whole-plant levels...
Dr. Keith Tierney
Human-mediated environmental changes affect biological responses across all organizational levels. Understanding how changes at lower levels, such as protein responses, relate to higher level, more ecologically relevant responses such as behavior, is the overarching objective of this lab. A specific goal is to determine how contaminants mechanistically alter the behavior of at risk and otherwise valuable fish species in our impacted aquatic ecosystems.
Dr. Andrew Waskiewicz
Neuronal disorders arguably represent one of the least understood classes of human disease, owing largely to the complexity of the vertebrate nervous system. Many neuronal disorders (blindness, decreased IQ, deafness, and palsies) are attributable to aberrant developmental processes. During embryogenesis, proper nervous system development depends on a critical balance between cell proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis. To derive insight into nerve formation, my laboratory studies zebrafish cranial neuron differentiation and retinal ganglion cell patterning and survival.
Dr. David Wishart
PhD (Molecular Biophysics), Yale University, 1991. Professor, Depts. of Computing Science, Biological Sciences and the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Alberta. Dr. Wishart is the holder of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Chair in Protein Chemistry and in 2003 was cross-appointed as a research scientist with the NRC\'s National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT). He is a co-founder of BioTools Inc. (a bioinformatics company) and Chenomx Inc. (a metabonomics company), both of which are located in Edmonton. Dr. Wishart is also a co-founder of the Canadian Bioinformatics Workshops - a national bioinformatics training program that has been in operation since 1999. Additionally, Dr. Wishart has served as the chair of the Canadian Proteomics Initiative (CPI) conference for the past 3 years. Dr. Wishart\'s research interests lie in 1) the development of bioinformatics software, 2) the modelling of biological systems, 3) structural proteomics and 4) the application of NMR spectroscopy to drug discovery. He is currently supervising 18 students, staff and post-doctoral fellows. Since 1990 he has published nearly 100 papers on a variety of topics ranging from gene prediction, metabolomics, structural proteomics, NMR spectroscopy and cancer detection.
Dr. Gane Wong
Professor Wong is jointly appointed in the Department of Biological Sciences and the Department of Medicine. He is also Associate Director of the Beijing Genomics Institute and a Guest Professor in the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The unifying theme behind his research is the relentless improvement in our ability to acquire molecular biology data at lower costs. His two biggest programs are in plant sequencing and in viral metagenomics. In the first instance, he is leading an international consortium to collect gene sequence information for 1000 plant species. In the second instance, he is partnered with medical doctors at the University of Alberta to develop novel methods to identify pathogens in clinical samples. In all cases, enormous quantities of data are collected for these projects, and hence computational analysis plays a central role. Development of algorithms that deal with the practicalities of these data sets is another component of his research. Prospective graduate students and postdoctoral fellows MUST be fluent in mathematics and computational analysis, as well as in biology.
Dr. Harriet Harris (Adjunct Professor)
The role of host and symbiont in the maintenance of endosymbiotic associations insects.
Dr. Richard Jobin (Adjunct Professor)
Population genetics, forensic genetics (genetics aimed at the identification of individuals or species), species identification via morphology and fisheries and wildlife management.
Dr. John Bell (Emeritus)
Investigation of genes involved in wing development (vg and others) in Drosophila; tRNA genes and suppression, yeast and Drosophila.
Dr. Laura Frost (Emeritus)
Signaling mechanisms that initiate plasmid transfer: the role of the conjugative pilus in conjugation and phage infection; the events that lead to nicking at OriT on the plasmid DNA. Antisense RNA and RNA stability; regulation of transfer gene expression by F- and host-encoded factors during entry and exit from stationary phase and during extracytoplasmic stress.
Dr. Ross Hodgetts (Emeritus)
Molecular genetic analysis of hormone action and innate immunity in the fruit fly, Drosophila; mechanisms of transposon mutagenesis in Drosophila.
Dr. Susan Jensen (Emeritus)
Genetic and biochemical investigation of the production of antibiotics by the organism Streptomyces clavuligerus.
Dr. John Kuspira (Emeritus)
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Dr. Curtis Strobeck (Emeritus)
My research is focused on the use of DNA sequence variation to infer the genetic structure within, and the phylogenetic relationships between, natural populations and the application of molecular techniques to wildlife forensics. Species currently being studied in my laboratory include a variety of ungulates (bison, elk, caribou, and bighorn sheep), bears, trout, and ground squirrels. Techniques being used include DNA sequencing and cloning, DNA fingerprinting, and PCR.