Biological Sciences

Department of Biological Sciences

Dr. Brent Selinger is a Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. Brent is interested in the genetics and biochemistry of microbial hydrolytic enzymes, microbial ecology of animal digestive tracts and surface waters and biological control of cattle ectoparasites. His research group in currently characterizing a unique family of phytate degrading enzymes related to protein tyrosine phosphatases (PTP). A large collection of PTP-like phytase genes is currently being used to address questions about the molecular and biochemical characteristics of this family as well as mechanisms of action, structure/function relationship and biological function. A variety of techniques are used in Brent’s research, including aerobic and anaerobic microbiology and molecular biology (e.g., gene cloning and overexpression, protein purification and characterization, and mutagenesis). Collaborations with Steve Mosimann and Hans-Joachim Wieden from the U of L and Ralf Greiner (Federal Research Centre for Nutrition and Food, Centre for Molecular Biology, Karlsruhe, Germany) have allowed questions on phytase structure/function relationships, molecular dynamics and dephosphorylation pathways to be addressed. Brent is supervising or co-supervising a number of graduate students working on i) the biochemistry, structure/function relationships and evolution of PTP-like phytases; ii) Campylobacter pathogenesis and persistence in the environment, iii) antibiotic resistance in enteric bacteria from feedlot cattle, iv) stability of Esherichia coli O157:H7 lineages, v) gene expression in triticale and bacteriophage of Mannheimia haemolytica.

Dr. James Thomas is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. Part of his research focus is in the area of microbiology, looking at cause and effect associations in the occurrence of waterborne pathogens, in particular in relation to agriculture, ecology and urban/industrial activities. In collaboration with Dr. Victor Gannon and Dr. Eduardo Taboada from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Jim is using metabolic fingerprinting of environmental isolates of Enterococcus and Salmonella as a means of bacterial source tracking, and genomic characterization of environmental isolates of E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter and Listeria to develop clinical assays for use in environmental testing and assurance of fodd and water quality. Part of this research has involved assessment of water quality within the Oldman River basin of southern Alberta using geographical information systems to assess spatial and temporal distribution of the fecal coliforms, E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella within the watershed.

Jim also is working with Dr. Surya Acharya, Adjunct Professor with the University of Lethbridge and a Research Scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Dr. Manjula Bandara and Dr. Darcey Drieger, Adjunct Professors with the University of Lethbridge and Research Scientists with Alberta Agriculture Food and Rural Development in Brooks, Alberta to develop new forages for the livestock and dairy industries and, new value added functional food and nutraceutical crops to help diversify our agricultural industry. Much of this work has been focused on fenugreek which is an annual legume which can be used in crop rotations and is adapted for growth in semi-arid environments. Other work is to develop new varieties of fenugreek that mature within the 100 frost-free days available for growth within the region, that possess enhanced production qualities for the food and pharmaceutical industries and, that can be used as a dietary supplement for the nutraceutical industry.

Dr. Igor Kovalchuk is an Associate Professor and Board of Governor Research Chair with the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Lethbridge. Igor is working on plant genome stability. Specifically, he is looking at:

¨ the influence of various abiotic (UV, draught, heavy metals, high temperatures) and biotic (pathogens, specifically viruses) factors on plant genome integrity;

¨ the mechanisms of protection that are developed by plants against the pathogens;

¨ various types of signals that plants use to warn non-targeted tissues;

¨ genes involved in various steps of DNA repair, specifically, double strand breaks.

This work has potential to help with generation hardier more resistant crop and could provide an insight to the role of stress in plant evolution.

Dr. Alicja Ziemienowicz joined the team of Dr. Igor Kovalchuk in October 2007, as a Research Associate, and later as a Research Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Lethbridge. Alicja’s research interests include: (1) genetic transformation of eukaryotic cells, (2) nucleo-cytoplasmic transport of proteins and nucleic acids, (3) DNA replication, repair and recombination in plant cells, and (4) plants as renewable energy sources. One of the main topics of her study is Agrobacterium-mediated plant transformation. In particular, Alicja is investigating the mechanism of integration of Agrobacterium T-DNA in the plant genome, by identifying plant factors involved in this process. This work not only will contribute to better understanding of the mechanisms of “genetic” colonization” of plants by Agrobacterium and of the inter-kingdom gene transfer, but also has the potential to improve the plant transformation technologies.

Dr. Tony Russell joined the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Lethbridge in August 2007 as an Assistant Professor. Tony’s research background has involved using both biochemical and molecular biological approaches to identify and functionally characterize classes of ribonucleic acids in both archaeal and unicellular eukaryotic organisms. His research has provided the first structural information about these RNAs and their associated proteins in several different groups of organisms and most recently he identified the first known minor spliceosomal components in unicellular eukaryotes (Russell et al., Nature (2006), 443: 863-866). These findings have also provided important insights about the age and evolution of these ribonucleoprotein (RNP) complexes. Tony’s future research will be to further explore the structure, function and evolution of these macromolecular complexes by using selected protist organisms as model experimental systems. His laboratory will study both small nucleolar (sno) and small nuclear (sn) RNPs. Amongst several research objectives is the development of the first eukaryotic in vitro systems to study the mechanism of action of these protein-RNA complexes. Since several human diseases are associated with aberrations to the functioning of these RNPs, his research may provide novel strategies to combat these physiological abnormalities. Additionally, some of the protists being studied in his lab (i.e., Giardia and Phytophthora) are either animal or plant pathogens that cause serious human health or agricultural concerns.

Dr. Roy Golsteyn is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. Roy is studying how cancer cells respond to clinical treatments, with the goal of identifying new biochemical pathways that might be applied to development of future treatments. When cancer cells have damaged DNA, they engage the DNA damage checkpoint. This pathway permits cells to repair the damage, or if that is not possible, it causes them to die. Cancer cells can escape a DNA damage checkpoint by checkpoint adaptation which leads cells to enter mitotic catastrophe. Checkpoint adaptation and mitotic catastrophe are poorly understood at the molecular level although they are believed to have an important role in the cellular response to cancer therapies.

Roy’s laboratory is working on the following projects:

· Characterization of the enzyme Checkpoint kinase 1 (Chk1) in checkpoint adaptation in cancer cells.

  • Identification of potential biomarkers in cancer drug therapy.
  • Characterization of early-stage anti-cancer compounds to understand their mechanism of action.

Roy is working with the Servier pharmaceutical company and with clinical research laboratories in France. His laboratory uses the techniques of cell imaging, human cell culture and protein biochemistry.

Dr. Oliver Lung is an Adjunct Professor with the Department of Biological Sciences. Oliver is a Research Scientist at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in Lethbridge. His research is focused on: 1) developing methods for rapid and simultaneous identification and typing of agriculturally important animal viruses such as avian influenza virus, food-and-mouth disease virus and their differentials; and 2) improving and expanding baculovirus-based agri-biotechnological applications. His group uses biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology and virology techniques as well as tools such as electronic microarrays, microsphere arrays and slide microarrays for genetic typing of animal viruses. Research in Oliver’s lab is funded by The Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear Research and Technology Initiative (CRTI), Agriculture Funding Consortium, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Dr. André Laroche is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Lethbridge, and a Research Scientist in Plant Molecular Genetics with Agriculture and AgriFood Canada at the Lethbridge Research Centre. André currently is investigating stress biology in plants due to abiotic (e.g., low temperature) or biotic (e.g., pathogenic fungi) factors and more recently at the development of transgenic triticale as a bio-industrial crop for materials and energy production. He is using functional genomic tools such as large scale sequencing; transcriptome profiling with DNA chips for screening large arrays of genes; real-time PCR to focus on specific genes, and transient and stable expression of candidate genes to assess their role and contribution in a plant cell; and proteomic analyses using 2D-gel electrophoresis and protein sequencing. Within his multidisciplinary research group, he is looking to use this information to improve and accelerate the selection of germplasm toward the development of commercial wheat and triticale cultivars. These tools provide complementary information to enable André and his team, to decipher plant responses to specific forms of stress in order to better understand plant responses and better devise strategies for plant protection and adaptation to unfavorable climatic conditions and to develop triticale lines with value-added traits.