York’s anniversary and Darwin’s birthday at the heart of today’s biology symposium

The year 2009 is auspicious not only because of York University’s 50th anniversary, but also because it marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s book, On the Origin of Species. Given that Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection is the primary principle underlying modern biological thought, the Association of Graduate Students in the Biological Sciences (AGSBS) at York University has chosen to celebrate York’s birthday and Darwin’s anniversaries together by showcasing the outstanding research being conducted by York alumni, faculty and students during a three day symposium that starts today and runs until Sunday, March 8.

Right: Charles Darwin                    

The event features a wealth of speakers and includes many former researchers and York grads. In addition to presentations, lectures and a poster session, there will also be a Charles Darwin look-alike contest.

Friday, March 6

University of Illinois Professor Amro Zayed (BSc ’01, PhD ’06) will speak on the evolutionary genomics of the honey bee, Apis mellifera including its genetic diversity, adaptation and behaviour. Zayed, a Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) postdoctoral Fellow, is a researcher in the Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois.

Also speaking is Professor Ian Orchard (BA ’72, MES ’75), vice-president & principal of the University of Toronto at Mississauga. Orchard will examine diuresis in the blood-gorging bug, Rhodnius prolixus, which is the vector of Chagas’ disease, a tropical parasitic disease, which if left untreated, causes serious chronic symptoms such as heart disease, malformation of the intestines and is eventually fatal. Orchard came to York in 1977 as a research associate and received an NSERC University Research Fellowship in 1980.

Saturday, March 7

Jacqueline Milne (PhD ’91), is a researcher at the Center for Cancer Research, National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Md. She will give a presentation titled "Imaging Dynamic Molecular Machines Using Cryo-electron Microscopy". Milne will discuss the emerging methods in three-dimensional biological electron microscopy, which lay the foundation for the detailed structural analysis of intact cells and mitochondria, an organelle that serves a pivotal role in cellular metabolism, and whose function is often severely impaired in diseases such as cancer.

Also speaking on Saturday is Edyta Marcon (BSc ’02, MSc ’04, PhD ’07) on novel approaches to study cancer-related protein-protein interactions in the mouse model. Marcon is a researcher in the Terrence Donnely Center for Cellular & Biomedical Research in the Banting & Best Department of Medical Research at the University of Toronto. She will discuss the use of in vivo tagging to determine the composition of cancer-related protein complexes in different mouse tissues, and how the project illustrates how far researchers have travelled in their understanding of cancer research and their ability to investigate and identify new pathways and genes involved in cancer.

During the afternoon session on Saturday, Jason Bielas (BSc Spec. Hons. ‘98, PhD ‘03), professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Washington, and researcher in the Bielas Lab at the Fred Huchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, Wash., will speak about the fundamental and clinical implications of DNA mutations in cancer evolution. Most cancer cells contain numerous clonally expanded nuclear and mitochondrial mutations. Researchers at the Bielas Lab have hypothesized that the abundance of these somatic mutations cannot be explained by the extremely low rate of mutation in normal cells. Rather, cells must acquire a mutator phenotype during tumor evolution. Bielas and his research associates have been investigating this hypothesis and he will speak about the results of his research.

Sunday, March 8

During the Sunday morning session, York biology Professor Emeritus John Heddle will speak about the evolution of a career in biology. His talk will be addressed to undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members alike and Heddle will talk about lessons learned from experiences, both good and bad, through the whole of a career, which he hopes may help others to make better decisions than otherwise. He promises to deliver lots of science and says "it will be a bit like the raiments of the traditional Ontario bride who wore something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue on their wedding day."

During the afternoon, Susan Kaminskyj (PhD ’94), a professor and researcher in the Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, will deliver a presentation titled "Evolution of biological research questions – synergies of collaboration and technology". Kaminskyj will discuss her current research program, which encompasses three themes in the natural and health sciences, each of which uses high spatial-resolution microscopy to study aspects of fungal biology and environmental interaction. Areas within her project involve collaborative research with physical chemists, environmental microbiologists, and geoscientists.

The symposium also includes numerous poster and paper presentations. For a program and a full list of abstracts, click here. The symposium is open to the public; however, due to space limitations, organizers ask that you indicate your interest through the online RSVP. On March 6, all sessions will take place in the Founders Assembly Hall, 152 Founders College. On March 7 and 8, the symposium will move to lecture hall A in the the Computer Science & Engineering Building. 

The AGSBS has held a one-day symposium in the spring of every year since 1974. Traditionally, the symposium has allowed the association to invite top researchers from other institutions to visit York and to share their work with members. This year’s event is the 36th symposium. This year’s symposium is sponsored by the U50 Campaign, Faculty of Science & Engineering, Faculty of Graduate Studies, Office of the Vice-President Academic & Provost, York University Graduate Students’ Association, New England BioLabs Ltd., Graduate Program in Biology and numerous Department of Biology faculty members.