About Joanna Wilson

My research focuses on the evolution and function of cytochrome P450 enzymes and the effects of environmental contaminants on aquatic species. My research intersects environmental physiology, ecology and evolution, and bioinformatics and functional genomics.

Recruitment begins

I’m not sure I can adequately describe the size or scale of the impact in our lab over the last year+ but this pandemic was dishing things out left, right and centre.  I feel like we are at a nexus of where the pandemic really delayed and harmed our research program.  The personal impacts for many in my group have likewise been large and the largest goal was to try to keep all of us upright, in science, and keeping our heads above the water.  In that regard, we need to reassess and redefine success over the last year.  We have survived (!!) and this was largely from the resilience of our group, as much as I think that is an overused term.  But we did get through this year together, pivoting efforts, helping each other, focusing on what we could do, taking things one step at a time.  Now we are starting to see progress in projects again and productivity is starting to leap back up.  That provides some space to look forward and plan for the future.  Let’s start with some lab success stories.  I’ll add in where we will be recruiting in the upcoming year in these projects.  A detailed outline of our open positions in 2021-2022 will be posted, so please check them out and get in touch if you are interested in our research program.

When the pandemic shut down McMaster, yellow perch were spawning and we were about to launch into working with a brand new species.  Waiting a full 12 months to restart was very hard but spring 2021 saw us undertaking the experiments we canceled the year before (and then some!) with very good outcomes.  The lab (especially Shamaila Fraz) came roaring back with ambitious plans that were very fruitful and lots of experiences in testing new protocols to help move research plans forward.  I am quite excited to see the data collection from our new samples and the analyses from the data already collected.  It will shape the direction of our research into developmental plasticity and impacts of temperature on fish development.  Much of our work this year focused on embryogenesis and immediate post-hatching periods while we work on the juvenile rearing stages. Perch are definitely a bit tough to rear post-hatching, compared to the other species we have worked on.  No surprise but we certainly learned some things not to do to keep them happy.  We are looking to recruit for this project in the upcoming months so we are ready to take on spring 2022 spawn.

While we graduated two graduate students from the lab in 2021, clear success stories, these were students who were done data collection prior to university shut down.  Other graduate students in the lab faced much bigger challenges. With major lost experiments and one totally new project later, we forged a new plan to get back on track. I’m really excited about these new directions.  Andrea Murillo has a freezer full of samples taken from our culture of the marine polychaete worm, Capitella teleta, and she is now extracting those samples to get geared up for gene expression and steroid hormone analyses.  Shemar Williams has completed a suite of experiments in zebrafish embryos and on track to finish his MSc.  Its great to see these project humming along.  This also means it is time to think about new graduate students in 2022 interested in the function of cytochrome P450 enzymes using either zebrafish or Capitella as a primary species of interest.

Success, of course, has also been obvious in more traditional ways. We have been so happy to celebrate Oana Birceanu’s success this year as she starts her new role at Western’s Physiology and Pharmacology department as an Assistant Professor. I look forward to continued collaboration and engagement with her research group in the years to come.

**  If you are interested in our lab, please check back under “Recruitment Opportunities” for more details in the upcoming days. I will be posting specific information there.  The much needed refresh of the lab website is just beginning.

 

Women of Distinction: 2018 Edition

That special time of year is almost upon us again, the chance to celebrate Hamilton’s Women of Distinction.  And like many years, the McMaster community is out in full force.  I’m not sure exactly what it is about our community that produces so many exceptional women but in many years McMaster women make up over half of all nominees and every single Young Woman of Distinction.  That is an achievement for which the McMaster community should be very, very proud.  I encourage you to read their biographies and hear their stories to find some great inspiration.  These women are smart, enthusiastic, energetic, exceptional and contribute to our community in so many unique ways.   For me, the best categories to read about are at the opposite end of the spectrum, the Life Time Achievement nominees and the Young Woman of Distinctions.  I am really not sure how anyone in either category can achieve so much.

2018 is a special year for our lab because Ushma Purohit is a nominee in the Young Woman of Distinction category.  Ushma has been a Wilson Tox Lab member since her 2nd year of university, when she asked me to supervise her in an experiential learning course.  She was keen to get into a lab and gain some hands on experience and excited to join a new area for our lab.  Ushma worked with another stellar undergraduate researcher, Abby Lee, to develop hydra as a model system to study the impacts of human pharmaceuticals on aquatic species.  Abby was completing her senior thesis, assessing the effects of chronic exposure of hydra to an anti-epileptic and an anti-depressant pharmaceutical.  Ushma learned how to prepare, stain, and count the different cell typess from hydra so we could identify whether there were changes in the proportions of cell types after exposure.  That research is now being written into a manuscript for publication.  I often point to this area of our research program to demonstrate how impactful undergraduate researchers can be.

Ushma has continued to volunteer and complete research course work in my lab and is now in her senior year.  She has gone from assisting others on research to running her own.  Her senior thesis research focuses on the anti-microbial compound triclosan and whether this impacts compound negatively impacts hydra biology.  She is a bright and independent researcher with a great future.  Yet, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Beyond her classes and research, Ushma has been contributing to her communities at McMaster, in the larger city of Hamilton, and beyond.

So what does it take to be a Young Woman of Distinction?  Well let’s just list two of Ushma’s accomplishments outside of the lab.  Ushma founded the first Canadian chapter of the organization She’s the First, which champions education of girls in low-income countries.  The McMaster chapter has focused on raising funds and education campaigns including conferences, art showcases, recreational events, and awareness videos, to encourage the conversation around intersectional feminisim within the McMaster community. Within Hamilton, this club has hosted educational workshops at the local Native Women’s Centre on health, self-care and other topics and in Hamilton’s elementary schools to educate students on topics such as communication and the media, body image and bullying, and female leadership. Not so surprisingly, this club has won two awards within its first year; a McMaster Student Union award for the Best New Club of the Year and an award from the parent organization for Outstanding Achievement in Community Engagement.

Ushma is the current President of the UNICEF club at McMaster University, a club she has been active in for over 3 years.  It is one of the largest clubs on campus and raises funds to support the health and education of children and raise awareness of humanitarian issues within the McMaster community.  The McMaster UNICEF club sends over 100 volunteers to the Children’s International Learning Centre and supports education of young children through a variety of initiatives.

What has Ushma’s nomination meant to her?

“The experience of becoming a nominee for the Women of Distinction awards has been a lot more meaningful for me than I could have imagined. This nomination provided me with the opportunity to learn about and interact with some of the most driven, hard-working and talented women in Hamilton. As an individual who is currently at the advent of her career, experiences like this play a pivotal role in moulding my ambitions and aspirations for the future. Regardless of who wins the Young Woman of Distinction Award, I believe that as nominees, we have won an eye-opening experience that we will carry with us in the years to come.”

Feel inspired yet?  This isn’t a complete list of all she does, but just a couple of highlights of what this young woman of distinction has already accomplished.  Ushma is just one of 34 nominees for the 2018 YWCA Hamilton Women of Distinction awards.  Take a few minutes and read about who they are and what they do.  Regardless of who wins the awards, McMaster and Hamilton are the big winners here because these women are exceptional.

Bring on the summer!

With each academic term change, there can be a change in who is doing research in the Wilson Tox Lab.  But summer and fall term mark times of large change, as undergraduates  and graduate students complete their thesis research, write up, and move on to new challenges.  This year it is a bit of an exception as many of the undergraduates that have been working in our lab over the last year are staying to continue their research.  Kirill Pankov, an undergraduate student that works between Dr. Andrew McArthur’s lab and Wilson Tox Lab, had a very successful thesis.  He won the best thesis presentation for the Biomedical Discovery and Commercialization Program (BDC); no mean feat considering he was discussing his research in Cnidarian genomes!  Kirill is continuing to work on that project over the summer with the hopes that we are wrapping up a project spanning multiple Cnidarian genomes and will be able to move into nomenclature of the cytochrome P450 genes in this important animal phylum.  Caitlin West and Devon Jones completed their undergraduate theses in the Biology, Physiology Specialization Program and are remaining in the lab to contribute to our whitefish program (Caitlin) and mouse fetal programming project (Devon).  Devon won best poster presentation for the Biology Department’s senior thesis class.  Caitlin has just won the best video in the iClimate video competition, showcasing excellent science communication skills.  Check out her video on the iClimate Facebook page; a link is provided on our research pages.  These are just three of the seven undergraduates working in the lab this summer.

We do have a few new people that have joined the lab in 2017.  Meghan Fuzzen joined us in January to begin a post doctoral fellowship after completing her PhD at Waterloo.  She was actually out in the field with us in late fall for whitefish spawning, working ahead of her PDF to get experiments going.  Hard core scientist in our midst and we are so glad to have her!  Allison Kennedy is another post doctoral fellow that has joined the group more recently.  Allison has been working at NOSM with our collaborator, Dr. Doug Boreham, and has moved to McMaster to work on our Mouse Fetal Programming project as part of our ongoing collaboration with the Boreham lab.  We also have two new PhD students in our midst this summer.  Andrea Murillo has moved from the University of Regina and Dr. Richard Manzon’s lab to complete her PhD with us.  We have gotten to know Andrea over the last two years of her MSc degree, where she worked on heat shock proteins in developing whitefish.  We were lucky enough to have her in the field with us each fall for the last few years, collecting spawning whitefish to perform IVF and generate embryos for our research program.  Andrea’s research is going to move us into more invertebrate species and allow us to continue our research on cytochrome P450 enzymes in the marine annelid worm, Capitella telata.  James McEvoy will be joining us shortly from Australia, where he is completing a PhD at Flinders University.  He is our first Cotutelle student and will get his degree from both Flinders and McMaster!

And of course, we are starting to look forward to fall and the next major change in the lab.  Three graduate students are wrapping up their research; both Adam and Shayen will be finishing their MSc degrees by fall term and Shamaila is finishing the last bit of her PhD research this summer.  So between research and writing manuscripts, this is shaping up to be one exciting summer in the Wilson Tox Lab.

Meet Devon Jones, undergraduate researcher

The second undergraduate to share her experience is Devon Jones, who is one of the newer undergraduates in the lab.  Since January, Devon has been working with with one of the graduate students, Shayen Sreetharan, on a mouse project.  This summer, she is starting to get her feet wet in the fish lab.  Devon will start her senior thesis in the lab this fall.  

Devon Jones, Undergraduate Researcher

Devon JonesEducational Background:

H.BSc. Biology, Physiology Specialization, Level IV, McMaster University

I entered the Wilson lab in January of 2016, halfway through the third year of my undergraduate degree. Having only been a part of the lab for a short time, I feel like I have a lot to learn, but I’m slowly making progress. The majority of the work I have been involved in so far has been assisting with Shayen Sreetharan’s M. Sc. Thesis project. Shayen is studying the effects of varying amounts of low dose gamma irradiation in utero on C57Bl/6 mice. These low doses are similar to the quantity of radiation that would be administered during a brief x-ray or other form of medical imaging test. One of his main points of interest is how these low doses during the fetal period can impact the blood pressure of the pups at about 16 weeks of age. My primary focus for the summer is collecting these blood pressure measurements. I am also doing some data analysis, as well as learning some of the techniques other graduate students use on their projects. In the fall, I will begin working on my senior thesis, which will focus primarily on fludamide exposures and the impacts on androgen receptors and CYP expression.

Still being new to the lab atmosphere, I’m in the process of accumulating crucial skills as well as learning regular maintenance and other important components to helping the entire lab function smoothly as a whole. The biggest thing I’m starting to realize is how little you know about science before you try lab work. Classes and tutorials can only teach students so much about where results come from, and what procedures actually involve. When you read a paper, or listen to a lecture, you have no concept of what is actually involved in producing the end result. I probably learned about how the PCR process worked 3 times during my undergrad, but until trying it in real life, I didn’t really grasp how much work and time are involved in executing the process. Additionally, no paper ever mentions the number of pipette tips that need to be autoclaved, or how long an autoclave cycle takes, in order to obtain your molecular biology results. The big picture is so much bigger than I expected! I think it is important for every undergraduate student to get involved in a lab setting to learn about how these things work. Whether it is running a behavioural study or a pharmaceutical exposure, you can’t learn this stuff in a simulated 3 hour lab slot. I definitely wish I had gotten involved in this lab sooner than I did, but I plan to make the most of my time here!

Meet Abigail Lee, undergraduate researcher

Over the next months, I am asking the undergraduate students in my lab to write about their experiences and research in the Wilson Tox Lab.  We are very lucky that many undergraduates are with us for several years as volunteers, experiential learning course students, thesis students, and summer researchers.  The first undergraduate to share her experience is Abigail Lee, who has done all of the above.  Since her second year of undergraduate, Abby has been a near constant in the lab, so much so that we are having a hard time facing that after this summer, she will leave us and move on to medical school.  During her undergraduate degree, Abby has developed into a competent, skilled, and knowledgeable researcher.  She is will be greatly missed.

Abigail Lee, Undergraduate Researcher 

Educational Background:

  • H.BSc. Biology, Minor Biochemistry, McMaster University, 2016

I am currently working on a project studying the effects of pharmaceuticals on the budding rate, morphology, feeding behavior and regenerative capacity of brown Hydra.

I’ve been a part of the Wilson lab since the second year of my undergraduate career and needless to say this has become like my second home! I was lucky enough to be taken in as a volunteer, where I began familiarizing myself with the lab environment by being the primary animal husbandry person for our zebrafish. Soon, I began splitting my time working on the Lake Whitefish species, where I was a given a project to determine the effects short term heat shocks on the development of Lake Whitefish. I was awarded an NSERC USRA in the summer of my second year where I wrote my first paper about the research I completed with Lake Whitefish (Read my paper here, shameless plug: doi: 10.1016/j.jtherbio.2016.01.010.). In my third year, I switched gears towards a molecular biology approach and completed an independent research project (Science 3RP3) studying the effects of different temperature regimes on gene expression of oxidative phosphorylative genes in Lake Whitefish. Finally, for my senior thesis, I studied the effects of fluoxetine and carbamazepine on multiple different endpoints in Brown Hydra. I am currently working on writing a manuscript to publish this work. In my final summer work term, along with completing my Hydra project, I am also helping with Shayen Sreethanran’s (http://sreetharan.weebly.com) M.Sc. thesis studying the effects of low dose radiation in mice.

I would not be the person I am today without this entire experience in the Wilson Lab. I’ve been a volunteer, an independent research course student, a thesis student and a summer work student and I can walk away confidently saying that I have learned so many different techniques and skills that will serve me for a lifetime.

Some important things that I learned while working in the Wilson lab are:

1) Always try something new; don’t only cling to what you know but immerse yourself into something new, without fear, because you never know what you may learn.

2) Never give up; research does not always work out your way. Those ‘not statistically significant’ results are still results! Keep working hard!

3) Don’t underestimate any experience; I began with racking tips and cleaning poop out of fish tanks, but look where that brought me! Every experience will take you closer to where you want to be.

The people in the lab have become like my family; they took me under their wings and have shaped me to become the scientist I am today. The collaborative atmosphere allowed me to learn from the best and the satisfaction of working my way up from a volunteer to an independent researcher is incomparable to any other experience. It’s true that hard work and determination pay off!

My time at McMaster University is nearing an end and I will be attending the University of Toronto to pursue an M.D. But this won’t be the last time the research world hears my name, I hope to eventually pursue a Ph.D to combine my love of research with my passion for medicine.