By Jovana Drinjakovic
Five Donnelly Centre teams have won Genome Canada’s Disruptive Innovation in Genomics grants in support of research projects totalling more than $6 million. The competition was set to boost development of technologies that have a potential to transform and speed up the commercialization of biomedical discovery.
Professors Sachdev Sidhu and Igor Stagljar received advanced Phase Two grants — the sole two grants awarded in Ontario — to further advance their technologies for the study of disease-related proteins. Stagljar was also awarded an early stage grant, along with Professors Charlie Boone, Jason Moffat and Andrew Emili for proposals that tackle how genes and proteins work together in human cells.
The awarded projects will advance our understanding of genetic and protein networks. Genes code for proteins, which make up our cells and do most of the work in them. But no protein acts alone, and it is when these molecular interactions are disrupted that disease occurs. The trick is then to find the Achilles Heel of the disease and target it selectively in a way that does not harm healthy cells and tissues.
Professors Charles Boone and Jason Moffat Recent advances in genomic technologies have allowed scientists to hunt for genetic causes of diseases faster than ever before. With Genome Canada’s support, these Donnelly teams will develop new ways of finding precise molecular antidotes to target diseases, including cancer.
Boone and Moffat teams, in collaboration with Professor Brenda Andrews’ group, will use the genome editing CRISPR technology to hunt for genes in cancer cells that help tumours evade available treatments. Working together with Sidhu, they will create selective, protein-based compounds to block the molecules that give cancer its competitive edge in order to stall its growth. These compounds can then be further developed to be tested on patients, together with already available drugs, as combination therapies.
Professor Sachdev Sidhu With previous funding from Genome Canada, Sidhu and Moffat have already established a platform for generating protein-based drugs to target disease proteins found at the cell’s surface. In less than six years, they have created hundreds of anti-cancer compounds, and many of these have been licensed or partnered with the pharmaceutical industry through the University of Toronto’s Centre for Commercialization of Antibodies and Biologics (CCAB), which was co-founded by Sidhu and Moffat in 2014. Several of these compounds are on track to reach the clinic as early as 2018. The current grant will allow Sidhu to expand the strategy to also include proteins that are found inside cells.
Professor Igor Stagljar Stagljar’s team will tackle membrane proteins, which are tucked inside a layer that surrounds each cell and its inner compartments, and which are often mutated in cancer and many other diseases. The researchers will expand their technology for detecting membrane protein interactions to include every type of human cell. This will then allow them to identify those interactions that only occur in a disease state and screen for compounds that selectively block them in search of new treatments - an approach that was already shown to work for the most common type of lung cancer.
The awarding of Phase Two grants was conditional on the researchers securing two thirds of total project costs from external sources. Both Sidhu and Stagljar have raised the funds through their start-up companies, Ubiquitech and Protein Network Sciences, respectively, with Stagljar also securing support from Genentech, a pharmaceutical giant based in San Francisco.
Professor Andrew Emili To gain a thorough view of each protein’s whereabouts in cells, Emili’s team will build a new sub-microscopic imaging technology for studying each and every one of the many millions of individual protein molecules in human cells and tissues in unprecedented detail. This will allow scientists to understand how biological systems work at the molecular level and will provide clinicians with a tool to diagnose diseases like cancer faster and more accurately.
Genome Canada is a not-for-profit organization, funded by the Government of Canada, that supports research in genomics and development of genomic technologies. Learn more about Genome Canada here.
Molecular Genetics faculty members Dr. Anne-Claude Gingras (Functional Proteomics) and Mikko Taipale (Functional Proteomics & Protein Homeostasis). are among the University of Toronto's 25 new Canada Research Chairs.
Molecular Genetics alumnus, Dr. Keith Pardee, now in the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, is also a new Canada Research Chair in Synthetic Biology in Human Health.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science has awarded the distinction of Fellow to Professor Monica Justice (Department of Molecular Genetics). Professor Justice is the head of, and a senior scientist in, the Genetics and Genome Biology program at The Hospital for Sick Children.
Professor Justice was recognized for her contributions to the genetics field, particularly for development of mouse as a model for identifying disease genes and elucidating therapies for human diseases. More
We gathered for our 2016 Molecular Genetics Retreat at Geneva Park YMCA, on September 21st-23rd. The retreat was organized by Julie Lefebvre Jim Rini and Leah Cowen, with the assistance of Amanda Veri, Sabrina Stanley and their GSA team. Our new Department Chair, Leah Cowen, organized an excellent scientific program of 15 faculty talks that captured the diversity and excellence of the research ongoing in MoGen.
The retreat kicked off on Wednesday evening for first-year students and faculty members with a faculty-student mixer dinner and the always entertaining Power Hour. Each faculty member was held to a strict 3-minute/1 slide presentation during which they could pitch their research to the students. Power Hour has become a retreat tradition and in this hilarious night we see how some PIs have perfected the art of timing and how some still have not.
On Thursday, the remaining attendees arrived for our largest turn-out yet: 42 PIs, 74 rotation students, 114 graduate students, 12 post-docs/staff, and 17 undergraduate MoGen specialists. The day began with opening remarks from Leah Cowen and 2 sessions of talks, including one by our newest MoGen faculty member, Jeehye Park. Our faculty-student sport showdown was diluted by rain, but a hardy group still went out for a friendly soccer game. The poster session followed in the late afternoon, with a record 110 presentations. The rooms were buzzing with MoGen members presenting their work or learning about their peers’ research. The quality of the poster session was impressive and illustrated the superb research being performed by our trainees. Poster judging turned out to be a tough task and 8 posters were selected for cash awards. Many thanks go out to all of the professors and senior graduate students who volunteered as judges.
And that was all before sundown. We followed with our Molecular Genetics portrait, and then dinner and the awards presentation. Dinner entertainment was once again provided by the GSA. Their clever take on the BBC’s “Would I Lie to You“, revealed some of our faculty’s bizarre or fabricated life experiences. The celebrations went into the night at the fire pits and the Muskoka House and with music and dancing in the Barn. With stamina we continued with another great set of talks on Friday morning.
Our 2016 retreat was another success! We thank the entire retreat organizing committee and the GSA for making the retreat one of the year's highlights. See you next year!
Xuefei Yuan (Ian Scott & M. Wilson labs)
From mammals to fish and back again: discovering new regulators of early cardiac development
Ben Grys (Brenda Andrews & Charlie Boone labs)
Global Analysis of Molecular Fluctuations Associated with Cell Cycle Progression in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
Minggao Liang (Michael Wilson lab)
Rewiring of enhancer-gene interactions drives PLAU overexpression in the pathogenesis of Quebec Platelet Disorder
Azad Alizada (Michael Wilson lab)
Epigenetic Regulation and Evolution of Endothelial Cell Inflammation
Alyssa Molinaro (Bret Pearson lab)
A “nu” perspective on planarian stem cells
Fiona Bergin (Kenichi Okamoto lab)
Optogenetic control of Phosphodiesterase activity in living neurons
Tyler Luyben (Kenichi Okamoto lab)
Rapid cAMP signaling regulates postsynaptic modification underlying the synaptic plasticity of memory
Ernest Radovani (Greenblatt and T. Hughes labs)
Gene regulation by the human C2H2 zinc finger proteins
What: Molecular Genetics M.Sc./Ph.D. Graduate Programs & QBMG/CBMG PhD tracks Application Information Sessions
When: Tues. Nov. 8th, 5-6:30 pm. , Wed. Nov. 9th, 5-6:30 pm., Thurs. Nov. 10th 5-6:30 (QBMG/CBMG tracks only)
Where: MoGen Interacthome, Medical Sciences Building #4284, 1 King's College Circle
Come Talk with professors about how to apply and learn about a career in science!
Fee pop and pizza!
RSVP required by Nov. 4th
Next application deadline is Nov. 15th, 2016
Want to hear more about the genetic counselling profession and get a chance to meet our genetic counsellors? The Genetic Counselling graduate program is holding a Career Information Day on Friday, November 25th. For more information and registration details, please contact: Vanessa.Luk@sickkids.ca. Spaces are limited.
Dr. Mikko Taipale is among 18 exceptional early-career investigators appointed to the new CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars Program. The program funds and supports researchers within five years of their first academic appointment, helping them build research networks and develop essential skills needed to become leaders in global research.
More about CIFAR
More about Dr Taipale's work
By Jovana Drinjakovic
Professor Brenda Andrews, Director of the Donnelly Centre, has been awarded the Order of Canada. Andrews was named a Companion of the Order – the highest civilian honour in the country - for her “globally significant research in systems biology and for developing and nurturing prominent scientific communities in molecular genetics,” the Governor General’s office said in its citation.
“It feels incredible to be awarded this honour, given all the other people who have been honoured by the Companion of the Order of Canada. I am humbled,” Andrews said earlier this year.
Governor General David Johnston also gave the honours to U of T President Meric Gertler and several faculty members, whose appointments were announced on December 30 last year.
“Brenda Andrews has moved Canada to the forefront of large-scale genetic studies. Her research has illuminated how diseases are influenced by interactions among entire networks of genes. The innovative techniques she has developed for analyzing these interactions have been adopted by scientists around the world and are helping researchers respond to complex hereditary diseases,” the Governor General’s office said on its website.
"I am thrilled to congratulate Professor Andrews on this wonderful and deserved honour. Brenda is well known at home and internationally for her high-impact research, as well as her leadership, which is reflected in the mounting successes of the Donnelly Centre," said Dean Trevor Young.
Just last week, Andrews’ team, in collaboration with Professors Charles Boone, of the Donnelly Centre and Chad Myers, of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, unveiled a landmark study, in a leading scientific journal Science, that begins to explain how thousands of genes coordinate with one another to orchestrate cellular life. The findings will help shed light on the causes of complex genetic diseases.
Andrews, who is also a professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a Senior Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and holds the Charles H. Best Chair of Medical Research at U of T. Andrews’ more recent awards also include:
- JJ Berry Smith Doctoral Supervision Award, School of Graduate Studies, University of Toronto, 2013 (inaugural award)
- The Emil Christian Hansen Award for Microbiology, The Carlsberg Foundation, Copenhagen (with Charles Boone), 2013
- Fellow, American Academy of Microbiology, 2012
- Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2011
- Ira Herskowitz Award, Genetics Society of America, 2010
After completing her PhD in molecular biology and biochemistry with Dr. Paul Sadowski at U of T, Andrews obtained her postdoctoral training in genetics with Dr. Ira Herskowitz at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Andrews returned to U of T as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Genetics to start her own research group and was elected Chair of Department in 1999.
Around this time, Andrews began to collaborate with Professor Charles Boone to lay the backbones of the emerging field of genetic networks that aims to understand how genes work co-operatively, rather than as single players, to determine cells’ health and behaviour.
Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream
Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto
Molecular Genetics Online & Undergraduate Education
The Department of Molecular Genetics in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto invites applications for a teaching-stream appointment in the area of Molecular Genetics online and undergraduate education. The appointment will be at the rank of Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, and will commence on December 1, 2016.
The successful candidate must have a PhD in Molecular Genetics, Genetics, Microbiology, or a closely related field by the date of appointment. Postdoctoral experience is desirable. Candidates must have experience in the design and delivery of online educational content, including video production, podcast production, syllabus design, and assessment design. Candidates must have experience with course development and managing teaching assistants, as well as a demonstrated commitment to excellence in teaching, as evidenced by strong endorsements from referees, teaching accomplishments, teaching evaluations, course syllabi, and evidence of outstanding communication skills.
The candidate will be expected to have a key role in Molecular Genetics teaching and online education. A central responsibility will be to coordinate online courses. This will involve training and managing teaching assistants, coordinating timely responses to student queries, and developing online materials, including videos and animations. The candidate will also provide guidance for the development of additional online courses in the Department. It is expected that the candidate would have experience with video recording and editing software, and would engage with seminars and classes that promote best practices in teaching, online education, and management of student affairs.
The candidate will also be expected to have a key role in administration of the undergraduate program in Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, with support from an administrative staff member and in partnership with the Undergraduate Coordinator. The candidate would have responsibilities that include tracking enrollment in our program and courses, assessing course equivalencies, evaluating applicants for the Specialist and Major programs, attending curriculum meetings, curating information on course and program requirements, responding to student queries, tracking student program completion, managing student co-curricular records, engaging with the Molecular Genetics Student Union, engaging with extra-departmental student groups, and facilitating student placements for our summer program and second year Specialists program. The candidate will also assist with resolution of issues concerning academic integrity, and will have extensive interaction with the Departmental Executive Committee.
Salary will be commensurate with qualifications and experience.
Applicants should submit a single PDF that includes (in order): 1) a cover letter; 2) a curriculum vitae; and 3) a teaching dossier comprised of a teaching philosophy statement, sample course materials, course evaluations, and other evidence of teaching excellence. Submission guidelines can be found at here. Applicants should also arrange for three confidential letters of recommendation, on letterhead and signed, to be sent directly by the referee to Dr. Leah Cowen. Inquiries should be addressed to email@example.com.
Deadline for applications (including reference letters): October 13, 2016.
The University of Toronto is strongly committed to diversity within its community and especially welcomes applications from racialized persons / persons of colour, women, Aboriginal People of North America, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ persons, and others who may contribute to the further diversification of ideas.
As part of your application, you will be asked to complete a brief Diversity Survey. This survey is voluntary. Any information directly related to you is confidential and cannot be accessed by search committees or human resources staff. Results will be aggregated for institutional planning purposes. For more information, please see http://uoft.me/UP.
All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadians and permanent residents will be given priority
On August 2nd, the very first annual Toronto RNA Enthusiasts’ Day (TREnD) was held at the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning, Hospital for Sick Children. The Symposium was a student-led and trainee-focused event and was spear-headed by five graduate students in the Department of Molecular Genetics: Amanda Charlesworth, Ashrut Narula, Christopher Wedeles, Miranda Wang and Monica Wu. With guidance from their faculty advisors, Dr. Julie Claycomb and Dr. Olivia Rissland, the organizing group aimed to take advantage of the vibrant and diverse RNA biology community in the Greater Toronto Area and create a platform that will bring together researchers of every level for a day of RNA-related discussions.
The event was very well received, with over 170 RNA enthusiasts in attendance with some travelling from as far as New York and Montreal. The day began with a keynote address given by Dr. Erik Sontheimer (RNA Therapeutics Institute and the Program for Molecular Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School) integrating both historical discoveries his lab’s recent advances in uncovering new CRISPR/Cas pathways and gene regulatory mechanisms.
One of the main aims of TREnD 2016 was to provide an opportunity for trainees across all career stages to showcase their research, which is why the remainder of the day featured 12 oral presentations from only graduate students and post-docs. Notable speakers included Molecular Genetic trainees: Ji-Young Youn (Anne-Claude Gingras), John Laver (Howard Lipshitz/Craig Smibert labs) and Serge Gueroussov (Blencowe lab), who took home the prize for best talk of the day.
During the lunch break, there was a lively poster session with over 60 poster presenters. The best posters, based on trainees’ votes, were awarded to: Christina Chung (Western University), Susanna George (Western University) and Michael Ly, a Molecular Genetics undergraduate student from the Rissland lab. The combined oral and poster presentations truly showcased the diverse topics in RNA biology, including: alternative splicing mechanisms, RNA in therapeutics, transcription/post-transcriptional regulations, non-coding RNAs, RNA localization, and much more. They also highlighted the amazing science that is happening right in our own neighborhood.
The first of its kind in the region, TREnD 2016 provided trainees with valuable scientific feedback, exposed everyone to new ideas, helped establish new collaborations, and unified the scientific community. Generous sponsorship from the RNA Society, IDT, Illumina, New England Biolabs, Sick Kids, and Thermofisher/Lifetech made the day possible. Plans are already underway for next year’s symposium, and if you can’t wait until next year, you can get your monthly dose of RNA biology at the Toronto RNA Club meetings (http://www.torontorna.com). All RNA enthusiasts are welcome!
On June 12-15, the University of Toronto hosted the 66th Annual Canadian Society of Microbiologists Meeting for the first time in 30 years, co-chaired by Dr. Alex Ensminger & Dr. Trevor Moraes (Department of Biochemistry). With 525 registrants, the conference was a huge success. Faculty and trainees from the Department of Molecular Genetics were among the speakers and presenters at the conference.
Recent Molecular Genetics alumus Dr. Ryan Gaudet, won the 2016 Armand-Frappier Gold Metal Award Lecture for his PhD work in the Gray-Owen lab, and gave his award lecture at the conference to a packed Macleod auditorium.
Read a summary of the conference, written by Molecular Genetics alumna, Dr. Betty Zou.
Dr. Laurence Pelletier is the 2016 recipient of the Robert H. Haynes Young Scientist Award in Genetics. He and other outstanding researchers will be giving plenary talks at the 59th Annual CSMB Scientific Conference in Vancouver July 7-21.
The Collaborative Program in Developmental Biology (CPDB) brings together researchers from six different departments at the University of Toronto under the unifying theme of developmental biology. The CPDB held its Winter Symposium on February 19th, featuring talks from senior graduate students in the program spanning from planarian brain regeneration to breast cancer to vesicle trafficking. This year, four of the presentations were by Molecular Genetics students: Chikin Kuok (McNeill lab), David Brown (Pearson lab), Nandini Raghuram (Egan lab), and Monica Wu (Claycomb lab), who also had the honour of taking home the second place prize ($200) for her talk. As always, the Symposium was an inspiring day highlighting the importance of fostering collaborations and the amazing research at our University. Many thanks to the CPDB steering committee, especially Julie Brill and Cindy Todoroff, for all of their hard work coordinating the program and organizing the Symposium!
The 6th annual Barbara Vivash Award for most outstanding PhD thesis was awarded to Joseph Bondy-Denomy for his graduate work in Alan Davidson’s lab entitled “CRISPR meets its match: Bacteriophages inactivate CRISPR function”. Joe discovered a new class of proteins that he named “anti-CRISPRs”, which allows bacteriophages to turn off the bacterial CRISPR/Cas defense system. This opened up a whole new mechanism in how phages interact with bacteria. His groundbreaking discovery cumulated in two first-author publications in Nature. His award ceremony lecture was extremely well attended, and the room was filled with old graduate school friends, all the professors that he interacted with over the years, lab mates, his wife and a proud mentor. Joe clearly had a large impact on many people throughout the Department. Howard Lipshitz had nothing but praise during his introduction, including commenting on Joe’s “natural aptitude for deciphering experiments correctly” and his “independent and strong willed” character. For more insights into Joe’s graduate life experience, his career trajectory and his words of wisdom, please check his out Alumni Spotlight, which is also featured in this issue of the newsletter.
The MoGen hockey team, The Fighting Darwins, ended their season this year with an exciting game against the Department of Political Science. The game was intense right from the beginning, with MoGen down one point until halfway though the last period, but team captain, Max Landon, kept spirits high and the game ended as a tie. Both sides looked happy and were satisfied to end the season on a high note. The MoGen hockey team is the only one this season with a good representation of both female and male players. They are always open to new recruits who are interested in getting out of the lab and participating in something active, exciting and semi-competitive (it’s more important to have fun than to win, right?).