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Archive of Previously Featured Postdoctoral Fellows & New Faculty

Featured Postdoctoral Fellows

Spring 2021

Dr. Kyle Bender

Kyle Bender is a postdoctoral scientist working with Cyril Zipfel at the University of Zurich (UZH) in Switzerland. In 2013, he received his Ph. D. from Queen's University, where he trained under Prof. Wayne Snedden. His Ph.D. thesis focused on understanding how a subfamily of stress-regulated calmodulin-like proteins mediate Ca2+-dependent environmental responses. After his Ph.D. he carried out postdoctoral work with Prof. Steven Huber and Raymond Zielinski at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. During his time in Illinois, Kyle expanded his research interests to include protein kinases and regulatory phosphorylation. There, his work on Ca2+-dependent protein kinases (CPKs) uncovered a novel role for phosphorylation in priming CPK calcium sensitivity. In Zurich, he has continued to work on protein kinase-mediated signaling, with a focus on understanding how receptor kinase phosphorylation activates intracellular signaling after perception of microbe-derived immune elicitors. While in Zurich, Kyle has developed advanced protein biochemistry and proteomics skills through training programs with state-of-the-art core facilities at UZH. When he is not in the lab, Kyle spends his time hiking, playing board games, and giving attention to his pug, 'Patti', and cat, 'Lilly', who Kyle and his wife adopted from animal rescues in Europe.

Dr. Philippe Jutras

Philippe V. Jutras is an FRQNT postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oxford. He joined the lab of Prof. Renier van der Hoorn in 2017 to study plant proteases and how to prevent unwanted proteolysis of proteins. His research interests are driven by fundamental and applied sciences, mostly related to the cellular and molecular biology of plant cells. He aims at a better understanding of recombinant protein expression in plants for molecular farming applications. For the past ten years, he is committed to providing human vaccines and therapeutic proteins produced from plant biotechnology. He obtained his PhD from Laval University where his work focused on pH modulation in the plant cell secretory pathway to stabilise complex recombinant proteins. Concurrently, he worked with a pharmaceutical company to produce plant-expressed virus-like particles used for the development of vaccine candidates against the seasonal flu. He now works on understanding how the plant host (mainly Nicotiana sp.) interacts with Agrobacterium tumefaciens during plant transformation to increase protein expression efficiency. His work has been supported by the research councils of Canada and Quebec, and the industry. Philippe is also strongly motivated by the fundamental principles of access to knowledge in science. He advocates for ethical collaboration platforms in academia and supports open source software.

Fall 2020

Wenlu Bi

Wenlu Bi has been a postdoctoral fellow for the past three years at the Gosling Research Institute for Plant Preservation (GRIPP) at the University of Guelph. For her PhD, Wenlu already specialized in plant cryopreservation and cryotherapy of grapevine with Dr. Qiaochun Wang at Northwest A&F University in Yangling, China, in 2017. She created technique to preserve plant germplasm resources and simultaneously produce virus-free materials in Vitis plants. Wenlu works as a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Saxena on establishing shoot-tip cryopreservation protocols for economically important crops such as hazelnut and chestnut. She also develops conservation strategies for several threatened and endangered plant species, including Hill's thistle, Mingan thistle and Yukon Draba, which are endemic to Canada. Her primary interest is in protecting and recovering the wild plant species in their natural habitats in Canada. She helps to mentor and support graduate students in developing their experiments.

Narendra Singh Yadav

Narendra Singh Yadav is currently a postdoctoral fellow working with Prof. Igor Kovalchuk at the University of Lethbridge. His current research project explores the effects of multigenerational stress exposure in plants. The stressed lineages are studied for stress resilience via analyzing the stress phenotype as well as genetic (WGS: Whole genome-sequencing) and epigenetic (WGBS: whole-genome bisulfite sequencing) variation as compared to their parallel and parental control. By completing this project, he will determine if plants are able to transfer stress modifications to their progeny, and if stress-induced microevolution at genomic and epigenomic level occurs. Before coming to Canada, he worked with Profs. Simon Barak and Gideon Grafi as a postdoctoral fellow at the Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel (2013 - 2018). In Israel, he worked in the field of plant epigenetics to decipher its role in seed dormancy and abiotic stress tolerance in Arabidopsis and in regulating transposable elements, particularly during stress-induced dedifferentiation. He received his Ph.D. (2013) in Plant Biotechnology from the CSIR-Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute in Gujarat, India. During his Ph.D., he carried out research in the molecular mechanisms of salinity tolerance in extreme halophyte Salicornia brachiata. His Ph.D. work received international recognition and he was interviewed by the prestigious science magazine "Scientific American". Over his career, he has published more than 20 articles in reputed journals and reviewed more than 50 manuscripts. Currently, he is serving as a guest editor for two special issues. Apart from research, he loves swimming which helps him to cope with routine life stress.

Solmaz Irani

Solmaz Irani is a postdoctoral fellow working with Dr. Elizabeth Weretilnyk at McMaster University. Her main research interest is to understand plant adaptation mechanisms to unfavourable environmental conditions, which will help to improve crop production under increasingly variable climatic conditions. She graduated with a Ph.D. degree from Department of Biology at the University of Saskatchewan in September 2016, where she used a combination of molecular, physiological and biochemical approaches to study ureide compounds metabolism in response to abiotic stress in Arabidopsis. After her PhD, she did about a year of research in University of Saskatchewan on clubroot disease that forms galls in the roots of canola. At McMaster University, her focus is on Eutrema salsugineum which is an extremophile plant and a model system for stress-tolerance research in plants. Her goal is to understand the physiological and molecular mechanisms underlying the tolerance of Yukon ecotype of Eutrema to low phosphate availability.

Beyond science, Solmaz is a regular volunteer in “Plant Molecular Biology” workshops which are hosted by Dr. Weretilnyk’s lab for high school students. Solmaz has been one of the McCall MacBain postdoctoral fellows since Jan 2020. The program is a hands-on scholarship on teaching and learning by training postdocs with evidence-based teaching methods. Through the program, Solmaz has been paired with Teaching Stream faculty members in the Department of Biology at McMaster University to co-lead a project to explore the long-term impacts of STEM Engagement workshops on high-school students and their teachers.

Valentin Joly

Dr. Valentin Joly is a postdoctoral fellow working with Dr. Yannick Jacob at Yale University. While he was still finishing his B.Sc. in life sciences at Pierre & Marie Curie University in France, he moved to Canada for a short-term exchange program... and never came back! In 2013, he joined Dr. Daniel P. Matton’s laboratory at Université de Montréal with a Ph.D. project aiming at deciphering the molecular causes of reproductive isolation in wild potatoes. Using a dual approach combining RNA sequencing and proteomics, he analyzed gene expression in reproductive tissues of Solanum chacoense and re-annotated the genome with 7000 new genes. He then identified candidate genes potentially involved in species-specific pollen-pistil interactions, in particular cysteine-rich proteins (CRPs). He developed a bioinformatic sequence search tool, KAPPA, dedicated to the detection and clustering of this peculiar category of rapidly diverging proteins. In 2016, he was part of the ten Canadian students selected for the Summer Program of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. This allowed him to join Dr. Testuya Higashiyama’s lab at Nagoya University, where he developed microfluidic devices tailored for pollen tube guidance assays in Solanum, allowing to test candidate proteins. Right after receiving his Ph.D. degree in August 2019, he joined the Jacob Lab at Yale with an FRQNT postdoctoral fellowship. His new project aims at optimizing the CRISPR/Cas9 technology and create large chromosomal deletions within the Arabidopsis genome. The goal is not only to take a step further towards the generation of minimal plant genomes but also to reveal potential hidden functions of repetitive DNA. More information can be found on his website (https://vjoly.net).

Featured New Faculty

Fall 2020

Dr. Allyson MacLean, Assistant Professor, University of Ottawa

Allyson MacLean has recently joined the University of Ottawa as an Assistant Professor where her research is focused on a study of the molecular interactions that occur between plants and microbes within the context of both beneficial and pathogenic associations. Allyson earned her PhD from McMaster University under the mentorship of Turlough Finan for her research into the nitrogen-fixing legume symbiont Sinorhizobium meliloti. As a recipient of a Marie Curie International post-doctoral fellowship, Allyson joined the lab of Saskia Hogenhout at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, England, to examine the role of effector proteins in the plant pathogen phytoplasma, identifying a novel bacterial protein that hijacks floral development in infected plants. Intrigued by the idea of investigating the role of microbial effector proteins in a beneficial symbiosis, Allyson next joined the lab of Maria Harrison at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research as a PDF prior to accepting the opportunity to lead her own lab at uOttawa.  The MacLean lab presently is engaged in research relevant to understanding how plant immunity is suppressed during mycorrhizal symbiosis, and characterizing the role of fungal proteins in mediating root colonization.  Allyson is also excited to start a new research program to identify both microbial and host proteins critical towards the establishment of clubroot disease in canola, in collaboration with Chris Todd and colleagues at the University of Saskatchewan.

Dr. Shawkat Ali, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, Kentville Research & Development Centre

Shawkat joined Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) as a Research Scientist recently.

Dr. Ali completed his Ph. D at the University of British Columbia in 2011 in Molecular Plant Pathology Lab of Dr. Guus Bakkeren, where he worked on plant-microbe interactions, particularly on Ustilago hordei avirulence genes. After that Dr. Ali worked as an NSERC visiting research scientist and FQRNT post-doctoral fellow in the laboratories of Drs. Peter Moffett (University of Sherbrooke, Quebec) and Guy Belair (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada). Dr. Ali did another post-doctoral fellowship at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia focusing on abiotic and biotic stress tolerance in plants.

Shawkat Lab is focusing his research program on large and small fruit diseases in Canada particularly in Atlantic regions. At AAFC his Lab is interested to understand how pathogens are overcoming plant defence and causes disease. Using molecular biology and molecular genetic approach his Lab is working on different aspects to reduce the losses from disease caused by pathogens. His group is also working on fungal endophytes to control plant diseases and to improve plant health that will result in a clean, environment-friendly and sustainable alternative to chemical pesticides. He is also interested in using small RNA to control virus infection in the plant.

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