Faculty Project Profiles 2020-21
Here are some of the exciting research areas for Honours Thesis Projects. If something catches your interest, the next step is to contact individual faculty members to see what projects are available this year, then fill in the BIOL 537 Application Form. Application deadline is March 30, 2020.
Dr. L. Aarssen
Plant Ecology with emphasis on field work - mostly at sites that are part of Queen's University Biology Station. Potential topics will be developed depending on student interest and starting date.
Dr. S. Arnott
Despite the importance of freshwater ecosystems and the services they provide, lakes are experiencing multiple environmental stressors associated with human activities. We study zooplankton communities to understand how environmental change (e.g., invasive species, aqueous calcium decline, climate change) impacts aquatic food webs.
Our research is conducted at multiple scales. We use field mesocosm experiments to isolate the effects of individual and combined stressors on community structure and function. Population-level lab experiments are used to understand direct effects of stressors on life-history attributes. Regional lake surveys allow us to identify how species distributions are influenced by changing environments.
We work collaboratively with scientists from the Ontario Ministries of Environment and Climate Change, and Natural Resources and Forestry, to improve our understanding of lake ecosystem response to human activities. Our hope is that our research will be used to inform sound environmental policy.
Dr. Wm. Bendena
How the nervous system functions in higher organisms is very complex! Our lab uses model organisms with less complex nervous systems that are amenable to molecular genetic analysis, namely, the nematode Caernorhabditis elegans and the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster. Many genes found in these organisms have counterparts in higher animals and have been shown to function in similar ways. Our focus is on understanding how neuropeptides and neuropeptide receptors act to control behaviours such as muscle contraction (movement), metabolism (weight gain or loss), sleep/biological clock, and hormonal systems. The approaches we use include molecular biology (cloning and gene knockouts), genetics (phenotypes of mutants), microscopy (fluorescent gene expression, fluorescent dyes and immunocytochemistry) and biochemical analysis.
Dr. P. Blanchfield
Rm: 3120 Bioscience Complex
Tel: (613) 533-6131
E-mail Faculty Profile
We study how animals respond to changing aquatic environments and habitats, with a focus on cold-water adapted organisms, including various freshwater fish species and the Atlantic Walrus. Research in my lab often uses biotelemetry or behavioural observation approaches, paired with limnological and food-web measures, to examine habitat use under natural conditions and understand the potential consequences of environmental change to populations.
DR. F. BONIER
Rm.: 3523 Bioscience Complex
Tel: (613) 533-6000 ext, 77024
E-mail Faculty Profile
Our research explores how organisms cope with diverse challenges like changing temperatures, disease, and urbanization. We approach this broad aim from a number of perspectives, often investigating plastic changes in behaviour, physiology, and life history to better understand adaptations to challenges. BIOL537 projects available for 2020-21 include field studies on urban birds and captive experiments involving thermal challenges and parental care in burying beetles. 537 students work closely with graduate students and have the opportunity to develop field, lab, data analysis (in R), and communication skills.
DR. I. CHIN-SANG
The Chin-Sang lab uses a combination of genetic, molecular, biochemical, and microscopy techniques to understand how cells divide, move and change their shape. These cell behaviours occur during normal development of all organism, but if these cell behaviours are not regulated properly it can lead to various diseases. We use the genetic model organism C. elegans to understand what molecules regulate cell and tissue morphogenesis. We have identified mutant worms that undergo abnormal cell divisions, movements and shapes during development. These worms have mutations in genes in evolutionarily conserved pathways, for example, the insulin signaling pathway. The student will help with genetic and biochemical experiments to further understand the signal transduction pathway of these molecules during development. The student will carry out genetic screens designed to identify new genes that regulate cell divisions and cell movements. All the genes that we have identified in C. elegans have human homologs and are likely to function the same way in worms and humans. In humans, many of these genes have been implicated in regulating various cancers. Thus, the research will have a significant impact on both the medical and basic sciences.
Dr. A. Chippindale
We use experiments with the mighty fruit fly Drosophila to address questions about evolution. Two current branches of research (wings?) in the lab are (1) the origin of species and (2) the impact of sexual conflict on the genome. Fruit flies are an awesome system for a thesis student because they are easy to rear with short generations, meaning that we can get new personnel up to speed quickly and produce high-quality experiments over a relatively short time line. The wings:
1) Speciation. Thousands of generations of selection imposed by we researchers has led to major differences between our lab populations in characteristics such as size, lifespan, and behaviour. Is that enough time and are those differences big enough to create isolation between populations if we bring them back into contact? Can we see the early stages of new species forming before our eyes? Preliminary evidence suggests so. Experiments may range from mate choice (precopulatory isolation) to the survival and fertility of hybrids (postzygotic isolation) in controlled crosses.
2) Conflict. What is good for the goose is not always good for the gander. We are using genetic manipulations and large surveys of survival and reproductive success to unravel the genetic basis of a major form of sexual conflict: conflict in which genes that confer high fitness in one sex have the opposite effect upon the other sex. For example, by choosing a high fitness male, a female may suffer reduced fitness via her daughters. We are interested in identifying both the phenotypes and the genotypes underlying this conflict, as well as mechanisms by which evolution reduces sexual conflict and their impact on genome organization.
There may be other possibilities for project directions. For example, the lab has been collaborating with Mel Robertson’s group on a physiological project involving recovery from coma and has had two successful cosupervised 537 projects. The lab seeks enthusiastic and diligent thesis students to join our collegial team!
DR. R. COLAUTTI
Rm: 4325A Bioscience Complex
Tel: (613) 533-2353
E-mail Faculty Profile
Human activity is rapid changing all of the earth’s major ecosystems, benefitting some species with adverse effects on others. The Colautti lab investigates how human activity is changing genes, genomes and phenotypes of species in nature, and how these changes affect species persistence in a changing world.
We work at the interface of ecology, evolution and genetics; our research combines greenhouse and field work (primarily at QUBS) with cutting-edge methods in genomics (e.g. Next-Generation Sequencing) and computational biology (in R, Python, Unix). We think knowledge from these experiments will lead to innovative solutions for the conservation and management of natural resources and ecosystem services increasingly threatened by global change.
For a list of current research projects and personnel, visit http://ecoevogeno.org
Dr. B. Cumming
My research focuses on the development of techniques and approaches to assess environmental change over decades to millennia from both natural (e.g., climate, fire) and anthropogenic stressors. This research involves understanding the modern-day relationships between aquatic organisms and their environment, and how these relationships can be used to better understand past environmental conditions by examining the assemblages of algae and invertebrates in well-dated sediment cores from lakes. An active area of research in my lab involves studies that are designed to understand the role of climate on lakes in boreal regions of Ontario, as well as the Adirondack region (NY, USA), by studying changes in lakes that have been minimally impacted by human activities in their catchments, and through periods of past warmth (e.g. the Medieval Climate Anomaly and the Holocene Climatic Optimum). Other studies involve using paleolimnological approaches to assess of impact of human activities (e.g., acidic deposition, agriculture, forestry, mining, diversions, etc.) on lakes. Currently, we are working on lakes from northern Saskatchewan, the central interior of British Columbia, as well as local lakes. I strive to provide student-based projects that are possible and focus around a student's interests and expertise.
We are investigating the process of evolutionary adaptation: What is the role of natural selection in relation to other evolutionary forces? How do interactions between ecology & genetics influence the mode & tempo of evolution? What constrains adaptation thereby limiting species geographical and ecological distributions?
And we do all this with plants. Yes plants. Because plants exhibit unparalleled diversity in life history, reproductive mode & genetic system, and they often exhibit striking evolutionary diversity within individual species and sometimes within individual populations. Plus they are really strange and wonderful organisms and very co-operative during experiments. In my lab, we embrace our inner botanist and a large part of training in my lab is learning about plant natural history and ecology.
DR. J. FRIEDMAN
Dr. V. Friesen
As apex predators, seabirds are critical components of marine ecosystems. The capacity for seabirds to survive environmental change through phenotypic plasticity (changes in individual behaviour or physiology), dispersal (movement to a new place) or genetic adaptation is virtually unknown but is critical for conservation. New genomic methods, especially when combined with studies of behaviour and life history, provide powerful opportunities to determine the potential for arctic seabirds to adapt to climate change and industrial development. Three types of projects are available in 2019/20. All students will obtain training in population genetics, seabird ecology, project management, and science communication.
- Do local populations differ genetically, and do they harbour genetic variation that may be important for adaptation to climate change? This will be addressed in one species using genomic data.
- Who does well under climate change? Several projects are possible that use long-term seabird datasets to examine how seabirds are responding to ongoing environmental changes. An example project might consider changes in egg-volume over time and how these affect fledging success.
- Source-sink dynamics are incredibly important in understanding population dynamics. Genomic tools could help us estimate migration rates in populations that aren’t studied in detail. One possible project will compare known immigration rates at an arctic seabird colony to those estimated using genomic data.
Dr. P. Grogan
I am interested in carbon and nutrient cycling and how it affects the structure and functioning of arctic tundra as well as temperate forest and grassland ecosystems. One of the contexts for these studies is to understand how such ecosystems are likely to be affected by perturbations such as climate change, land use change, and atmospheric pollution. For further details, including a listing of specific research projects in which we are currently engaged, please see http://post.queensu.ca/~groganp/. Thesis students in my lab are strongly encouraged to develop their own research hypotheses within or outside the general areas outlined above.
Dr. K. Ko
Plastids occupy a central role in a range of biosynthetic activities such as photosynthesis, amino acid synthesis, oil production, and development. These activities rely on the plastid's ability to adjust during development and to the ever-changing environment of a plant cell. The pressure to adjust can come from both internal and external sources. Such adjustments are generally accompanied by dramatic changes to the diversity of proteins being transported and processed. It is thus important for plastids to maintain a responsive and efficient protein transport process that can address all situations.
Currently, my research focuses on the mysterious role rhomboid proteins play in plastidial transport processes. To study such mechanisms, we routinely re-engineer genes and proteins in our experiments as well as study function in different organisms, like bacteria, yeast, plants, and human cells. Some of our current work focuses on commercial applications, such as using rhomboid protein variants to combat antibiotic resistance, a major health problem facing society. Students may also bring their own ideas to the lab to explore as another possible route for thesis projects.
Dr. D. Lefebvre
Our research investigates i) the ‘green’ synthetic biology of nanoparticles composed of inorganic elements such as industrially valuable quantum dots, and ii) bioremediation of cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms that pollute water bodies globally. Synthetic biology is touted to be the science of the future, and cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms are a persistent threat to potable water on a global scale. Our studies involve environmental assessment and sampling; microbial culturing techniques; in lab, greenhouse and reservoir experiments; chemical, biochemical, genetic and molecular analyses; microscopy and spectroscopy; among others.
Dr. A. LITTLE
My lab is interested in the mechanisms and costs of adaptive plasticity. For instance, we are interested in whether more plastic animals pay a price when the plasticity goes unused (i.e., maintenance costs), or whether multiple stressors promote ecological costs. We use tools in molecular biology, comparative physiology and ecotoxicology to understand how stressors interact to influence animal performance and fitness, focusing on both invertebrate and vertebrate models.
Specifically, we are currently using a starlet anemone (Nematostella vectensis) model to quantify individual differences in plasticity at different stages of development. By comparing genotypes spanning a wide range of plasticity scores, we are beginning to unravel the various tradeoffs associated with plastic phenotypes. We also use transgenic zebrafish (Danio rerio) to investigate the effects of multiple stressors on plastic defences. Here we focus on anthropogenic stressors, including temperature, salinity, hypoxia, and pollution. Many aquatic pollutants target endocrine systems in fish populations already threatened by other aspects of climate change and we are interested in how these interactions may shape plasticity as an adaptive defence.
Dr. S.C. Lougheed
We are interested in understanding the origins of biodiversity from the level of local adaptation and limiting gene flow in single landscapes, through the genomics of entire species' ranges, to understanding the processes that produce new, reproductively isolated species. Our research uses the perspectives of landscape genetics, phylogeography and phylogenetics of select vertebrates (frogs, snakes, lizards, fish, bears, and birds) to understand species origins and the impacts that human activities have on species distributions and genetic diversity. We combine molecular tools, radiotelemetry and GIS, habitat characterization, and ecological experiments to study species of conservation concern in Canada and provide direct inputs into conservation planning and habitat stewardship.
Dr. P. Martin
Our current work focuses on how interactions among closely related species influence their behaviour, ecology, and evolution (community ecology). Possible honours thesis projects available for this coming year are listed here: https://www.paulmartinlab.com/honours-thesis-projects
Most of our comparative work relies on phylogenetic relationships, genetic data, geographic range data (using GIS), and measures of traits taken from the literature, museums, or other sources. We also have field-based projects at the Queen's University Biological Station, but currently lack funding to support undergraduate students there. Thus, field-based projects are restricted to students who have their own fellowships/other funding to work at the station.
I will take up to 3 honours thesis students next year. Projects will require some work in the summer, and intensive work beginning in September.
DR. J. MONAGHAN
We are interested in the molecular mechanisms that underpin host-microbe interactions. Just like understanding our own immune system is necessary for the development of effective drugs and vaccines, understanding the plant immune system is necessary for the development of sustainable and environmentally-friendly strategies to fight diseases that affect our crops. Our lab focuses on understanding the regulatory mechanisms that allow plants to defend against a vast array of potential pathogens while maintaining normal growth and development. We use a variety of approaches, but rely heavily on genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, proteomics, and cell biology in the model organism Arabidopsis thaliana. For more information on what we do please see our lab website http://monaghanlab.ca and get in touch to discuss your interest. Preference will be given to those ready to use their previous lab experience to tackle a hypothesis-driven project.
DR. WM. NELSON
The Nelson lab is interested in understanding how the lifecycle of an organism impacts its population dynamics. We work in three experimental systems: Freshwater zooplankton, tortrix moths, and bean weevils. The systems are great for studying ecological and evolutionary processes because they have short generation times and are easy to work with the lab. I typically take on two or three motivated students each year, and am happy to supervise projects that involve either mathematical modeling or laboratory experimentation in any of these systems. I encourage students to propose their own research questions, but I also have several projects that could be used a starting point.
Dr. D. Orihel
Dr. WM. PLAXTON
Our long-term research goal is to understand the molecular, regulatory, and functional properties of key enzymes of plant carbohydrate and phosphate metabolism. Current objectives are to assess the influence of seed development or environmental stressors such as nutritional phosphate deprivation on the function, regulation, post-translational modifications, protein:protein interactions, and subcellular targeting of key enzyme proteins. BIOL537 projects may involve enzyme purification and characterization, advanced (phospho)proteomic studies using LC-MS/MS, immunological tools (western blotting & co-immunoprecipitation using specific antibodies), &/or molecular/genomic approaches such as mRNA profiling, recombinant enzyme expression and purification, or analyses of transgenic plants. All of these techniques are relevant to a wide variety of careers in the biological and life sciences, and biotech industry. Our overall research has significant long-term applications to problems in Canadian and worldwide agriculture including the development of phosphorus-efficient crops, urgently needed to reduce mankind’s rampant but inefficient use of non-renewable, unsustainable, and polluting phosphate fertilizers. Preference is usually given to ‘cell & molecular’ oriented students who have completed &/or are planning to take advanced lab courses in physiology, biochemistry, and molecular biology (e.g., BIOL401-404). Previous lab volunteer or summer research experience in the biological/life sciences would be an asset, but is not essential. For more info please visit: http://post.queensu.ca/~plaxton/
DR. S. REGAN
Identify new genes responsible for the development of trichomes. Trichomes are hairs on the surface of leaves that provide protection from insects and several abiotic stresses. These cells are also an excellent model system to study the molecular basis of cell shape since the cells are uninhibited by neighbouring cells. We have screened a large population of activation tagged Arabidopsis mutants for alterations in the occurrence and structure of trichomes, and this screen has revealed that there are many unknown genes that are responsible for trichome formation that have not be fully characterized yet. In this project you would fully characterize one of these mutants and using physiology, molecular biology, biochemistry and cell biology you will uncover the role of this new gene in trichome formation.
Dr. R.M. Robertson
We are interested in how nervous systems operate to allow animals to cope with the challenges of their environments. Our specific interests are varied but presently are focused on projects to understand how vital neural circuits cope with extreme temperatures or anoxia. Projects use the African migratory locust, Locusta migratoria. The interest in locusts comes from the recognition that invertebrates, owing to their relatively simple nervous systems and robust behavioural repertoires, offer unique opportunities to address specific questions of neural operation.
Dr. L. Seroude
The research in our group uses genetics to dissect the molecular changes associated with aging and identify genes influencing how we age. The general strategy is to use Drosophila as a model system in which to identify and isolate genes homologous to humans, using the fly for experimental analysis of their basic functions. The laboratory is the sole in Canada entirely dedicated to understand how and why we age using a model organism whose genes can easily be manipulated. Understanding aging is the only hope to develop interventions to prevent the impairments (such as locomotion or mental impairments) and diseases (such as cancer or Alzheimer's disease) associated with aging.
Dr. J. Smol
Rm: 4307A Bioscience Complex
Tel: (613) 533-6147
E-mail Faculty Profile
My research focuses on the using long-term environmental and ecological approaches to study how lake and river ecosystems have been altered by both human and natural sources. My lab’s research works on projects around the world (e.g. environmental change in the South American Andes, a large program on lakes in polar regions, the ecological effects of oil sands operations), although many projects are based on local lakes as well. Much of our work deals with using biology to track environmental changes using records preserved in lake sediments. For example, we attempt to resolve questions such as: How are lakes changing and why? What has been the relative role of human impacts versus natural processes? How has global climate change altered lake ecosystems?
Dr. W. Snedden
Research projects can be suited to individual student interests but will encompass the theme of calcium-mediated signal transduction in plants. Plant cells respond to stimuli such as pathogen attack, drought, salinity, and cold stress through signal transduction pathways regulated at some level by the secondary messenger calcium. Cells interpret the information encoded in calcium signals through calcium-binding proteins such as calmodulin. Using the tools of molecular biology, bioinformatics, biochemistry, and cell biology, students will address questions formulated to help unravel some of the signaling events between stimulus perception and cellular response. Depending upon the project selected, students will develop familiarity with methodologies involved in cDNA cloning, PCR, gene expression studies, recombinant protein expression, enzyme assays, protein-protein interaction (yeast two-hybrid screening, interactive cloning), cell and tissue culturing. These projects provide marketable skills in biotechnology and a solid foundation for future lab research. A background in plant biology is an asset, but by no means essential.
Dr. B. Tufts
The vast majority of the research carried out in my laboratory falls under the general heading of Fisheries Biology. More specifically, this research can be grouped into studies in either i) conservation of wild fisheries or ii) aquaculture. Students in my lab have often used physiological techniques to understand what is happening in fish under different conditions, but this is not always the case. In recent years, we have incorporated a broad range of approaches to different fisheries issues. Studies may be carried out in the lab, or in the field, or both. I do not have a list of projects ahead of time. The specific details of the 537 projects will normally be decided after students have been accepted.
Dr. V. Walker
Rm: 2522 Bioscience Complex
Tel: (613) 533-6123
E-mail Faculty Profile
The research interests in our lab concern the molecular analysis of resistance to environmental and chemical stresses. This rather broad area allows us to investigate some quite divergent topics; indeed, it is remarkable where an interest in stress resistance can lead you! Please note that starting in 2020, Virginia will be Professor Emerita and 537 students should be co-supervised by regular members of faculty.
DR. Y. WANG
My current research focuses on the physiological and biochemical adaptation of aquatic vertebrates under various environmental conditions and physiological states. Using fish as a comparative model, my lab studies the regulatory mechanisms of various metabolic processes, especially the transmembrane movement of metabolites, the functional links among metabolite distribution, acid-base balance, ionic and osmotic equilibrium, metabolic fuel shift, and energy partition under normal and extreme environmental conditions. We are currently developing a suite of cellular and molecular tools, which allows us to better understand the evolution of the fine-tuned metabolic control system in fish. Several potential undergraduate thesis projects can be derived from this research theme involving a wide range of research techniques in analytical biochemistry, physiology, and molecular biology.
Dr. P. Young
I work on cell proliferation in the fission yeast model system using a variety of approaches ranging from genetics to molecular and cell biology. I focus on mitosis and cell size control and include aspects of environmental stress response in so far as it impinges on that process. Projects are available in these areas and I attempt to match the project to the student's interests and skills.