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.

Professor Brenda Andrews with Governor General David Johnston (Photo by Vincent Carbonneau)

Professor Brenda Andrews with Governor General David Johnston (Photo by Vincent Carbonneau)

“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.