Biology Research

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I have a passion for understanding how animals manage to survive and thrive in all sorts of places, especially in extreme environments. This is important for understanding how organisms tolerate current environmental stressors, and how they might respond to future changes in their environment (e.g. due to global climate change). I use an integrative approach to answer questions about stress tolerance, employing molecular biology, cell biology,  bioinformatics (transcriptomics, metabolomics), functional genetics (e.g. RNA interference) and whole animal physiology. Most recently, I’ve been tackling the question of how insects survive low temperatures (including being frozen solid!), and how this affects their overwintering success.

Getting a personal take on the stresses that overwintering insects experience

Current Research

I’m currently a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Greg Ragland’s lab at the University of Colorado Denver (Denver, CO, USA), where I’m studying the developmental and overwintering biology of apple maggot flies (Rhagoletis pomonella) and other insects. Specifically, I am interested in the interactions between development (e.g. diapause, a form of dormancy) and cold tolerance, and am using a combination of classical cold tolerance and developmental biology techniques, and RNA interference to examine this interaction.


Past Research

I completed my Ph.D. in September 2018 in Dr. Brent Sinclair’s lab at Western University (London ON, Canada). My thesis focused on freeze-tolerant spring field crickets (Gryllus veletis) to better understand the molecular and physiological mechanisms underlying the ability to survive internal ice. I used a combination of descriptive methods (e.g. metabolomics and transcriptomics) as well as functional experiments (e.g. using RNA interference to knock down gene expression) to answer these questions. I conducted the metabolomics during a 3 month visit to Dr. Vladimir Koštál’s lab at the Czech Academy of Sciences.

You can hear a little bit about these crickets, cold tolerance in general, and my travels in this ~25 minute interview from June 2016 with Western University’s GradCast radio show:

In addition to crickets, I studied the cold tolerance of a variety of other insects in the Sinclair lab. I used CRISPR-Cas9 in Drosophila melanogaster to show that the Frost gene is important for recovery from cold exposure. I also studied the relationship between dormancy and cold tolerance of its invasive relative D. suzukii. I travelled to the Rocky Mountain foothills of British Columbia to describe freeze tolerance of the great grig Cyphoderris monstrosa (large cricket-like beasts), and to the far east of Russia to collect cold-tolerant cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) pupae.

I’ve also dabbled in the stress tolerance of aquatic arthropods, studying the brine shrimp Artemia franciscana during my M.Sc. (completed in April 2014) with Dr. Thomas MacRae at Dalhousie University (Halifax NS, Canada). Specifically, I researched the function of ‘stress proteins’ (e.g. heat shock proteins, late embryogenesis abundant [LEA] proteins) in anhydrobiotic A. franciscana embryos. By knocking down expression of these genes using RNA interference, I demonstrated their importance for surviving freezing and dehydration stresses.

During my B.Sc. Honours project (completed April 2011), I examined the contribution of symbiotic fungi to the impressive desiccation tolerance of intertidal brown algae with Dr. Stephen O’Leary (National Research Council Institute of Marine Biosciences, Halifax NS, Canada) and Dr. David Garbary at St. Francis Xavier University (Antigonish NS, Canada). I also worked with Dr. Barry Taylor on the dynamics of leaf litter decomposition in Nova Scotian rivers.

Ascophyllum field work
Collecting stress-tolerant seaweeds in Nova Scotia