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OGI awards summer research fellowships to 7 Ontario students

The program offers undergraduate students at Ontario universities a unique opportunity to engage in leading-edge genomics research, gain familiarity with associated technologies, or explore the societal outcomes, impacts and issues associated with the research. Through their fellowship experience, students acquire a deeper understanding of the impact genomics is having and will have across the spectrum of human and animal health, agriculture, biosurveillance, natural resource management and sustainable energy.

The program, in its ninth year, provides $5,000 to the students to assist them with living expenses while they conduct original research projects and benefit from an on-going exchange of ideas and insights with each other and OGI staff through peer-to-peer meetings, journal clubs and roundtable discussions.

This year's fellows include:

  • Sean Cai, from Toronto, studying at the University of Toronto (U of T), will work with Dr. Stephen Wright at U of T. His research is working to identify the DNA changes that drive the mating system evolution in plants and how this influences the genetic structure of Capsella plants specifically.

  • George diCenzo, from Brampton, studying at McMaster University, will work with Dr. Turlough M. Finan at McMaster. Mr. diCenzo will spend his summer uncovering genes in the agriculturally important Sinorhizobium meliloti bacterium, which is one of several nitrogen fixing bacteria that live in symbiosis with foods like alfalfa and soybeans, which do not require nitrogen-based fertilizers. As plants cannot survive and grow without nitrogen, nitrogen deficiency is one of the primary causes of low crop yields. Mr. diCenzo will assist the research team in Dr. Finan's lab in contributing to the current understanding of the genetic basics of these cell processes which may be essential for life.

  • Christine P'ng, from North York, studying at Queen's University, will work with Dr. Paul Boutros at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. Drawing on her experience as an artist, computer programmer and scientific researcher, Ms. P'ng will write and design computer programs to generate graphic visualizations for scientific data. Effective methods of displaying data from the numerous techniques used to evaluate genes in clear and succinct ways are critical to facilitate sharing of information with others and to allow interpretation of experimental results. In addition, as genomics becomes more integrated with medical practice, the new challenge of communicating these complex and voluminous data with patients is emerging. Data visualization is imperative to not only ensure effective communications among scientists, but also to convey information to the general public.

  • Carol Saleh, from Mississauga, studying at McMaster University, will work with Dr. George M. Yousef at St. Michael's Hospital, U of T. She will be working to identify a more accurate prognostic marker to identify prostate cancer relapse risk before or at the time of surgery. There is currently no biomarker that can accurately determine this at present.

  • Brianna Smrke, from Etobicoke, studying at McMaster University, will work with Dr. Jeffrey Lee at U of T. Ms. Smrke will be investigating how viruses such as influenza are able to fuse and enter cells. She will explore the structural diversity of viral fusion proteins, which play a central role in the uptake of viruses by cells, in order to identify common structural architectures that would be an important step towards the development of drugs that are effective against a diverse set of viruses. Such broad-spectrum anti-viral drugs have the potential to fight many devastating and formerly untreatable viral infections.

  • Maria Tassone, from Thornhill, studying at U of T, will work with Dr. Ahmed El-Sohemy at U of T. Ms. Tassone will be examining the links between genetics and dietary behaviour. Her research aims to determine whether providing personalized dietary information based on genetics motivates positive behavioural changes to a greater extent than the current 'one-size fits all' approach to dietary guidelines.

  • Charles Yin, from London, studying at McMaster University, will work with Dr. Marie Elliot at McMaster. Mr. Yin will be undertaking research to uncover novel antibodies that are effective against antibiotic resistant bacteria. With the rise in the number of antibiotic resistant bacteria, resulting in once manageable infections becoming potentially lethal, Mr. Yin will be joining the Elliot lab, which has already identified two genes present in soil bacterium that control the production of a number of normally unexpressed products, many of which are likely to have some antibiotic activity.

"Over the past nine years, we have helped 56 undergraduate students from nine different Ontario universities gain firsthand exposure to genomics research," commented Dr. Mark Poznansky, President and CEO of OGI. "Our Summer Research Fellowship program forms part of our efforts to build the future of genomics in Ontario and ensure our younger generation are fully aware of the power of genomics in helping to solve some of the biggest challenges we face today in healthcare, climate change, sustainable crop production and in finding alternative energy sources."


Contact: Alastair Harris-Cartwright
Ontario Genomics Institute

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