Program and Abstracts

Oral presentations (20)

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Investigating Dopaminergic Neuron Ablation and Regeneration in Adult Zebrafish
Abu Setah, Samy      (Graduate student – Ekker Lab – University of Ottawa)
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease characterized by motor, cognitive, and psychiatric defects. Motor symptoms of PD are attributed to the irreversible loss of striatal dopaminergic neurons present within the substantia nigra. A chemogenetic method using the nitroreductase-metronidazole mediated ablation of dopamine neurons is used to model PD in Tg(dat:CFP-NTR) transgenic zebrafish. The Sonic Hedgehog (Shh) signalling is intricate for a multitude of developmental processes, including neurogenesis, stem cell maintenance and continued renewal of various tissues. 
Variation in habitat use and its contribution to mercury exposure in bats
Bedard, Bailey      (Graduate student – Mennigen Lab – University of Ottawa)
The Cornwall area is a reported mercury hotspot due to a history of industrial point source contamination leading to the deposition of mercury in sediment in some areas of the St. Lawrence River. Previous studies identified elevated levels of mercury in fur of local bat species, big and little brown bats. I identify special gradients in local bat species mercury load and test the hypothesis that dietary habits and foraging ecology contribute to mercury concentrations and whether these  concentrations are sufficient to explain tissue level molecular changes in markers of mercury exposure.
CNS mechanisms mediating the hypoxic ventilatory and metabolic responses of Damaraland mole-rats
Devereaux, Maiah      (Graduate student – Pamenter Lab – University of Ottawa)
Damaraland mole rats (DMRs) are a eusocial and fossorial mammal which exhibit an impressive tolerance to hypoxia. This is accomplished via marked metabolic depression and a blunted hypoxic ventilatory response. However, the underlying central nervous system mechanisms controlling these responses are not yet understood. I exposed DMRs to 7% and 5% O2 after intraperitoneal injection with saline (control) or antagonists of adenosine, y-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate receptors to investigate the role of these key neurotransmitters in the DMR metabolic and ventilatory responses to hypoxic. 
Species Sensitivity Distribution of Bacillus thuringiensis insecticides
Empey, Madelaine      (Graduate student – Trudeau Lab – University of Ottawa)
Information on how insecticides containing toxic proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) affect non-target organisms is largely unknown. Effects on non-target organisms were compared using Species Sensitivity Distribution curves constructed from the available median lethal concentrations of Bt israelensis, sphaericus, and kurstaki. Many non-target Dipterans and Lepidopterans are likely at risk and there are large gaps in data regarding the susceptibility of fish, amphibians, and mammals. The use of SSDs is important to assess which organisms are at risk from exposure to these insecticides.
Sex-specific Associations between Diabetes and Dioxins: An Epidemiological Review
Gang, Noa      (Graduate student – Bruin Lab – Carleton University)
Epidemiology studies have linked pollutant exposure to diabetes incidence, but sex-specific associations are rarely considered. We reviewed the literature and found associations between dioxin exposure and diabetes were consistently stronger in females than males in disaster-exposed populations. In non-disaster settings, this association was consistently significant in males, but limited studies in females hindered comparison. Sex-specific associations between pollutant exposure and diabetes require further study.
The pleiotropic roles of actinodin in the zebrafish pectoral fin development 
Hanzelova, Paulina      (Undergraduate student – Akimenko Lab – University of Ottawa)
The development of the pectoral fin in zebrafish involves the migration of mesenchymal cells into the fin fold and their interaction with rigid fibers called actinotrichia. Actinotrichia consist of actinodin proteins, coded by actinodin genes. Deletions in actinodins cause loss of actinotrichia and thus defects in the fin rays. This may have effects on other structures in a fin. We show that fin ray patterning is important for vascular remodelling in the pectoral fin, and that adult males lacking actinotrichia exhibit decreased fecundity due to breeding tubercle defects. Overall, actinodins have roles in many systems, and may be part of a larger genetic network implicated in fin development.
In utero pollutant exposure promotes hypoglycemia and hyperinsulinemia at birth in mice
Hoyeck, Myriam      (Graduate student – Bruin Lab – Carleton University)
Human studies consistently show a link between diabetes incidence and exposure to dioxins, a class of persistent environmental pollutants. Research in the Bruin lab has shown that dioxin suppresses insulin secretion and impairs glucose homeostasis in mouse models. The current study compared the effects of maternal dioxin exposure during pregnancy on the dams versus developing offspring. Dioxin promoted hypoglycemia and hyperinsulinemia in offspring at birth that resolved with age, but promoted diet-induced obesity and hyperglycemia long-term in dams. 
Efficacy of protected areas in mitigating impacts of land-use change on bumblebees
Hyacinthe, Djems      (Undergraduate student – Kerr Lab – University of Ottawa)
Bumblebees (Bombus)  are important wild pollinators but human stressors like land-use change have been causing severe declines in their populations. Here, I evaluate the efficacy of PA in mitigating impacts of land-use change on bumblebees, while taking into consideration key characteristics of their management (i.e., IUCN management category). My results showed that species richness is higher inside PA and that proximity to PA is related to higher species richness. stricter IUCN management category PA (and their buffers) had a smaller loss in species richness through time. 
Social learning in a harsh environment
Isaksson, Emil      (Graduate student – JMF lab – University of Ottawa)
The “harsh environment” hypothesis pose that cognitive abilities acting to mitigate environmental uncertainty in food accessibility should be favored in relation to the magnitude of the uncertainty. It has been tested for asocial, but not social, learning despite support for social learning being a more beneficial foraging strategy. I tested this hypothesis with social learning, comparing great tits from high and low elevation, representing uncertain and less uncertain habitats. Preliminary result show that social learning is used in both habitats and that there is no difference in tendency.
Determinants of substrate specificity in ACYL-LIPID THIOESTERASE (ALT) enzymes from plants
Kalinger, Becky      (Graduate student – Rowland Lab – Carleton University)
The ALT family of acyl-acyl carrier protein thioesterases from plants are attractive biological sources of valuable medium-chain fatty acids and methylketones, but little understanding of what dictates their substrate preferences limits their biotechnological use. Through targeted mutagenesis, we identified determinants of ALT substrate specificity, including a motif that dictates oxidation state preference and a region that can give rise to unnatural chain-length selectivity profiles if altered. These findings also provide insight into the evolution and potential biological roles of ALTs.
Motor control changes muscle function in Polypterus senegalus
Liang, lisa      (Graduate student – Standen Lab – University of Ottawa)
Previous research has shown significant differences between walking and swimming in Polypterus senegalus. Previously, fish in walking show short-term damage to specific fin muscle groups and longer-term musculoskeletal plasticity. We look at the change in four pectoral muscle groups: abductor, adductor, zonopropterygialis, and coracometapterygialis. This study uses high-speed videography and electromyography to compare muscle function between walking and swimming. Muscle activation patterns in all four groups of fin muscles show the largest changes in function occur within the adductor muscle.
Some Like it Cold: Individual Variation in Heat Substitution
Maloney, Caroline      (Graduate student – Careau Lab – University of Ottawa)
Activity-thermoregulatory heat substitution is an understudied mechanism by which endotherms reduce the energy burden induced by cold temperatures by using heat generated by skeletal muscle . Substitution provides energetically free activity for the endotherm and can convey potential fitness advantages. I am investigating the degree of individual variation in substitution in a species known to use substitution (Peromyscus leucopus). Preliminary results show that substitution has a low but significant trait repeatability.
What’s the buzz: Species-specific response to climate change in bumblebees
Martin, Dana      (Undergraduate student – Kerr Lab – University of Ottawa)
Bumblebees’ response to climate change is species-dependent; we explore how and why this is occurring to find the “winners” and “losers” of climate change. We hypothesized that climatic position predicts species’ risk of extinction, colonization, and occupancy, and species’ traits determine these responses. Our results show that species differ in their thermal limits, most species have an intermediate combination of local extinction and colonization, climatic position predicts responses in some species, and phylogenetic relatedness is linked to declines and response to increasing temperatures.
Parl Paralogs link to Parkinson’s phenotype in Zebrafish
Merhi, Rawan (Graduate student – Ekker Lab – University of Ottawa)
PARL gene was found to be linked to familial Parkinson’s disease. Here, we show novel information about the role of PARL in zebrafish by establishing a loss-of-function mutation in parla and parlb via CRISPR/Cas9. We show that loss of the paralogs function result in loss of DA neurons in the adult zebrafish brain. We also showed that loss of parl function translates into altered behavioral parameters. Our results suggest an evident role for parla in the development and/or maintenance of DA neuron function in zebrafish and confirm the existence of redundant and non-redundant functions.
Heat stress resistance in the Antarctic extremophilic alga Chlamydomonas sp. UWO241
Osmers, Pomona      (Graduate student – Cvetkovska Lab – University of Ottawa)
This work challenges the classically held belief that organisms are at their optimum when they have the fastest growth rate. We propose that the ability to resist external stresses must also be included when determining the best conditions for growth and survival. The polar alga UWO241 is adapted to permanent cold, extreme shading, and high salinity. When cultured under these extreme conditions, it grows very slow but is more resilient to stress than when grown under moderate ones with faster growth rates. We examine some of the putative mechanisms underlying UWO241’s unusual stress responses.
Chlorophyll Biosynthesis in the Antarctic Psychrophile Chlamydomonas sp. UWO241
Poirier, Mackenzie      (Graduate student – Cvetkovska Lab – University of Ottawa)
You would not expect to find photosynthetic life 17 meters below the surface of a permanently ice-covered Antarctic lake, where there is only low blue light half the year and darkness the other half. Yet this is exactly where the green alga UWO241 thrives. Algae and plants produce chlorophyll, allowing them to absorb sunlight to power photosynthesis. Despite its low light environment, UWO241 has lost the genes needed to produce chlorophyll in the dark and has developed a unique strategy for low-light survival. Studying this unique strategy provides insight into extreme shading adaption. 
Storytelling: How to create a better narrative in science communication
Pusiak, Ryan      (Graduate student – Harris Lab – University of Ottawa)
Most graduate students are conducting important research that should be communicated in such a way for others to remember it. However, a lot of the time friends and family lose interest once you start telling the details of your study. One approach is to frame your experiment as a story or adventure. Utilizing what we know about the various types of myths could help scientists describe their results in a more captivating way and enhance the scientific narrative. In this presentation I will explore different myth narratives and attempt to connect it to science. The impact of scientific communication is of crucial importance as science and technology becomes increasingly more complex and the general public is left unaware of the fascinating results from our research. If the narrative is not clear, then this could impact policy and decision makers that could have impact on conservation, genetic screening, drug efficacy and more.
Geographic assignment of monarch butterflies using strontium isotopes
Reich, Megan      (Graduate student – Bataille Lab & Kharouba Lab – University of Ottawa)
Light isotopes are often used to track the migratory movements of animals, but by themselves, provide a limited spatial resolution of provenance. Strontium isotope ratios (⁸⁷Sr/⁸⁶Sr) show high-resolution spatial patterns and have shown promise in provenance applications in other fields. In this study, I provide a complete framework to apply ⁸⁷Sr/⁸⁶Sr ratios for tracking migratory animals using the eastern North American population of monarch butterflies as a case study. The data products and analytical framework presented in this study are broadly transferable to other migratory studies.
The role and regulation of heat shock proteins in the Antarctic alga Chlamydomonas sp. UWO241
Vakulenko, Galyna      (Graduate student – Cvetkovska Lab – University of Ottawa)
Polar regions have cold, harsh climates but house a wide diversity of life. However, they are vulnerable to climate change, and polar organisms are at risk. One such species is Chlamydomonas sp. UWO241, an Antarctic green alga. One adaptation that may allow for their survival in the cold and dark is a high accumulation of heat shock proteins, which are molecular chaperones that ensure the folding of other proteins. However, their role and regulation has not been investigated. This work hopes to elucidate a unique mechanism of HSP regulation not yet seen in any known organism.
How does splicing inhibition lead to cancer cell death?
Vanzyl, Erin (Graduate student – McKay Lab – Carleton University)
Cancer is frequently associated with alterations in the pattern of pre-mRNA splicing. Several small molecular inhibitors of splicing are in clinical development to treat cancer, yet little is known about how they selectively kill cancer cells. Our work examines the molecular mechanisms underlying cellular responses to splicing inhibitors. Here we provide evidence that one spicing inhibitor activates the ATF4-CHOP signaling pathway but this is not common to all splicing inhibitors. Our work furthers our understanding that multiple mechanisms contribute to cellular responses to splicing stress.

Poster presentations (16)

The collapse of fin scaffolding: characterizing actinodin loss-of-function mutations in zebrafish (PDF)
Baird, Connor      (Graduate student – Akimenko Lab – University of Ottawa)
Fin development is characterized by the formation of actinotrichia, rigid fibrils that maintain rigidity and guide migrating mesenchymal cells, including fin ray progenitors. To explore the impact of the absence of actinotrichia, CRISPR/cas9 was used to induce loss of function mutations in genes coding for actinodin, a crucial component of the fibrils. Preliminary results indicate defects in the adult fins in the absence of actinotrichia. Time course analysis during fin development of the mutants will determine how losing these fibrils in embryonic development impacts the adult fin skeleton.
Mutations of hox13 paralogs affect zebrafish fin rays in a fin type-specific manner (PDF)
Corcoran, Jordan      (Graduate student – Akimenko Lab – University of Ottawa)
Hox genes code for transcription factors that control positional information during development. Hoxa13a is upregulated during joint formation in the zebrafish fin rays. To observe the role of hoxa13a and its paralogs hoxa13b and hoxd13a on fin ray formation, our lab used CRISPR-Cas9 to obtain mutants with double and triple homozygous deletions in these genes. Combined mutations in these genes cause variable fin type-specific defects including shortened fin rays and the loss of actinotrichia and joints, suggesting that proper ray formation could be dependent on  hox13 gene dosages.
Assessing functional changes in the limbs of the blue-spotted salamander during limb regeneration (PDF)
De Langy, Martin      (Undergraduate student – Standen Lab – University of Ottawa)
The locomotion and regenerative capabilities of salamanders have been separately studied in great detail. However, research evaluating the interaction of these two factors is limited. This study uses the regenerative capacity of Blue spotted salamanders (Ambystoma laterale) to understand how limb function changes during regeneration in a tetrapod model. Hindlimb-amputated salamanders were filmed with high-speed video walking across a six-array force plate to simultaneously measure kinematics and ground reaction forces for each limb. Results show differences in limb duty-factors and kinematics.
Hypoxia-mediated changes in N-methyl-D-aspartate-evoked calcium flux in the naked mole-rat cortex (PDF)
Eaton, Liam      (Graduate student – Pamenter Lab – University of Ottawa)
In the brains of most mammals, hypoxia induces neuronal excitotoxic cell death (ECD) through NMDA receptor mediated Ca2+ influx. We hypothesized that cortical neurons of the hypoxia-tolerant naked mole rat resist ECD by reducing NMDA receptor channel activity. We found no differences in peak NMDA-evoked changes in cytosolic Ca2+ ([Ca2+]c) between treatments. [Ca2+]c recovered following NMDA application in normoxia, but remained elevated during hypoxia. Our findings suggest that the NMR achieves its resistance to ECD by mechanisms other than acute modulation of NMDA receptors during hypoxia.
Identifying differentially expressed genes involved in low seed protein in western Canadian soybeans (PDF)
Hooker, Julia (Graduate student – Golshani Lab and Samanfar Lab – Carleton University)
The Canadian Grain Commission reports lower seed protein in western Canadian soybeans compared to eastern Canada. Here we use transcriptomics to identify differences in expression of genes that influence protein, and study effects of environmental variation on geographically-dependent gene expression. Ten lines ranging in protein are growing in 4 locations. Using RNAseq and differential gene expression analysis each line is compared between West and East to determine key genes responsible for seed protein differences. This work will uncover geographically optimal cultivars and assist breeders.
Temporal and incidence concordance between oxidative DNA damage and DNA strand break levels (PDF)
Huliganga, Elizabeth      (Graduate student – GReAT (Yauk) Lab – University of Ottawa)
Adverse outcome pathways (AOPs) provide a framework connecting relationships between events from initial chemical interactions in cells to toxic outcomes. Oxidative stress is the imbalance of oxidants and antioxidants within a cell, which can cause chromosome damage and mutations. There is a limited quantitative understanding of how much of an increase in oxidative stress leads to chromosome damage and mutations. This study used a time-series experiment with two CometChip assays to generate quantitative data supporting the relationship between oxidative DNA damage and DNA strand breaks.
The pH-Induced Regulation of Cardiac Mitochondrial Respiration in Naked Mole Rats (PDF)
Huynh, Kenny      (Undergraduate student – Pamenter Lab – University of Ottawa)
Naked mole rats (NMRs) live in variable and intermittently hypoxic burrows while exercising and working, and they are resistant to cancer. Associated changes in cellular pH may regulate mitochondrial respiration to maintain their metabolic function. Using high-resolution respirometry, we examined the effect of pH 6.6-7.6 on cardiac mitochondrial function. pH demonstrated significant influence, notably at complex IV and uncoupled respiration. NMRs were less sensitive to inhibitory effects of pH compared to mice. These differences between organisms may reflect adaptations to their environment.
Clinical, Military, Consumer and Educational Applications of Brain-Computer Interfaces (PDF)
Lockman-Dufour, Guillaume      (Undergraduate student – NICER (D’Angiulli) Lab – Carleton University)
Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs) are devices that enable humans and computers to interact via brain signals. In this case, “computer” refers to any electronic device that stores or processes information. The main objective of this paper is to provide a review of BCI applications from four primary industries: healthcare and clinical, military, consumer and educational.
Zebrafish lrrc56 mutant: model for human ciliopathy (PDF)
Morgan, Jessica      (Undergraduate student – Akimenko Lab – University of Ottawa)
A mutation in the LRRC56 gene which was identified in two stillborn human fetuses is likely responsible for defects associated with motile cilia dysfunction. It was previously observed that knockout of lrrc56 in zebrafish causes cilia-related defects such as spinal curvature and laterality defects of organs. We expanded on previous observations and showed that lack of adult lrrc56-/- mutants with severe spinal curvatures may be due to a combination of increased mortality and progressive spinal straightening and showed further evidence that mutations in lrrc56 result in ciliopathy in zebrafish.
Proteome-Wide Computational Approaches To Identify Novel Genes Involved in Soybean resistance to SCN (PDF)
Nissan, Nour (Graduate student – Samanfar Lab – Carleton University)
Cultivated soybean (Glycine max) is an economically important crop in Canada. Soybean cyst nematode, Heterodera glycines Ichinohe, (SCN) is a plant parasite. Compromised soybean result in significant loss in yield. Once SCN is present, it’s almost impossible to eradicate. As of today, only two resistant genes have been identified. We have used a functional genomics approach PIPE (Protein-protein Interaction Prediction Engine) integrated with previous studies, and short-listed (~200) potential candidate genes for further investigations (bioinformatics and molecular biology related practices).
Moving Soybean to Western Canada, Attempt to Identify the Underlying Gene for the E7 Maturity Locus (PDF)
Pattang, Arezo (Graduate student – Samanfar Lab – Carleton University)
The expansion of soybean to North Western regions of Canada is dependent on factors including time of flowering and maturity. Currently, among the maturity loci identified the underlying gene for E7 remains unknown. Through the integration of various -omics approaches, a short list of candidate genes on chromosome 6 are to be examined. So far, only one has shown to contain an amino acid variation between E7 /e7 genotypes. While sequencing data for all candidates has yet to be released, follow up experiments, including expression analysis, and compensation analysis will be performed.
Stressed Out? Abiotic Stress Combinations in Nicotiana tabacum (PDF)
Payment, Josephine      (Graduate student – Cvetkovska Lab – University of Ottawa)
Under natural conditions, abiotic stresses cause extensive losses in agricultural production. Further, these stresses usually occur in combination and an individual stress response is not predictive of a plant’s response to combinations of stressors. Often interactions have a negative impact on plant outcomes, such as drought and heat. However, it has been suggested that waterlogging stress is less severe at cold temperatures when compared with optimal conditions, but this combination has yet to be explored.
Characterizing the Epicentral Tendon Fibrous Enthesis in Rainbow Trout (PDF)
Stratis, Daniel      (Graduate student – Laneuville Lab – University of Ottawa)
How do fibrous entheses reduce stress concentrations occurring between soft-hard tissue interfaces like tendon and bone? To study this, descriptive histological assessments were used to characterize the epicentral tendon enthesis of rainbow trout at the microscopic level. Histomorphometric analysis reveal various enthesis morphology and tissue structures designed to reduce stress concentrations at the tendon-bone interface. Additional histological assessments and immunohistochemistry is needed to further characterize the cells and surrounding extracellular matrix at the enthesis interface.
Structural insight into ligand-gated ion channel desensitization from simulations
Taktek, Mariam (Graduate student – Musgaard Lab and daCosta Lab – University of Ottawa)
Upon neurotransmitter binding, pentameric ligand-gated ion channels (pLGIC) transition from a resting closed state to an active open state, enabling the flow of ions across the cell membrane. In the continued presence of bound neurotransmitter, pLGICs shift into a desensitized closed state, thereby regulating signal duration. The structural determinants governing pLGIC desensitization remain elusive. Focusing on a homomeric subtype and mutants with slowed desensitization, molecular dynamics simulations are employed to gain structural insight and further inform electrophysiology experiments.
Analysis of Challenges with Asynchronous Online Lectures in an ANP1105 Course (PDF)
Tripathi, Ishika      (Undergraduate student – Carnegie Lab – University of Ottawa)
Understanding the effects of asynchronous online learning has become more important as
courses resort to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal of this project was to understand the effectiveness of learning anatomy and physiology online using asynchronous lecture recordings. This study showed that a significant number of students benefited from asynchronous online lectures due to time flexibility and minimal extrinsic and intrinsic cognitive load, but had difficulty with the independence required for online learning and could not stay on schedule without in-person lectures.
MeHg:THg conversion ratios in country foods contributing to Hg exposure in Indigenous communities (PDF)
Yee, Sam      (Undergraduate student – Chan Lab – University of Ottawa)
Many biomonitoring programs only measure total Hg and assume that 100% of it is the more toxic methylHg (MeHg).This may result in an overestimate of MeHg and associated risk of consuming country foods among First Nations and Inuit. This poster discusses a meta-analysis of existing literature and databases, and statistical analysis of the data in R, to determine the typical MeHg:THg ratios in commonly-consumed wildlife in Indigenous communities in Canada, by species and tissue.