Behind Enemy Lines: Using Vector Biology to Reduce Disease Transmission

Nearly half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria infection, a mosquito-borne disease caused by the parasitic protozoan Plasmodium. Without an approved malaria vaccine, infection prevention has focused on controlling the populations of the malarial vector, the Anopheles mosquitoes. Current management relies heavily on pesticides and, with only one type of pesticide approved for mosquito control, the evolution of pesticide resistance is an imminent danger. Since there is a pressing need to develop…

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CRISPR in the Red Queen’s Court: The Evolutionary Arms Race with Phage and Other Adventures in Wonderland

The CRISPR/Cas system (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats/CRISPR-associated sequences) is an adaptive immune system found in archaea (extremophiles) and bacteria. Briefly, acquired CRISPR-driven immunity is based on integration of short nucleotide sequences, called spacers, generated from homologous sequences (proto-spacers) within the genomes of invading viruses, bacteriophages and plasmids. Subsequent invasions trigger expression of complementary RNAs from the host CRISPR locus (crRNAs) that guide Cas endonucleases to cleave and destroy the foreign DNA. Repurposing of…

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Trust Your Gut: The Beginner’s Guide to Microbiome Research

THE WORLD WITHIN US: LIFE AS A SUPRAORGANISM BOX 1: Meet Dr. Susan Robertson, a trained microbial ecologist currently working as a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Dana Philpott’s laboratory at the University of Toronto. Before coming to the University of Toronto, Dr. Robertson studied microbial ecosystems in the soil and is now applying this knowledge to the ecosystem of the intestine. Her expertise, guidance, and microbe-driven viewpoint are proving to be essential for the University…

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The Ethics of Embryo Editing

As the battle for ownership to the intellectual property behind CRISPR/Cas9 carries on, the gene editing technology continues to grow at an accelerated pace. However, surrounding the extraordinary research potential of this system is a controversial debate over the ethics of gene editing and genome engineering in humans. In this light, following a January meeting in Napa, California, several scientists co-authored a perspective paper in Science calling for a global moratorium on all human germline…

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The Big Data Barrier

The Human Genome Project constituted one of the first large-scale research projects to generate vast amounts of biological information, what today we refer to as “Big Data”. Initiated in 1990, the project aimed to solve the sequence of the human genome in search of a deeper understanding of human biology and it required the collaboration of many laboratories throughout the world. Since then, significant advances in technology have led to an explosion of high-throughput experiments,…

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Spring 2015 Front Cover

Our Spring 2015 cover is the second in a series of covers that meld science and art. This issue we turned to the colourful work of Henri Matisse, a French artist known for simple yet stunning paper cutout collages. Our own cutouts represent key host and pathogen organisms in immunology: Human/mosquito, bacteria/phage, plant/fungi, and the voracious tapeworm. Several of these surround the human form on the bottom left, to remind us that while we may…

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Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Post-Ebola Syndrome Offers Insight into Viral Evolution

Digitally-coloured SEM of Ebola particles budding from the cell surface. Image Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), 2014. On October 19th, 2014, Dr. Ian Crozier was discharged from Emory University Hospital after a near-fatal encounter with Ebola, which he contracted while caring for patients in Sierra Leone. Despite a lingering fatigue, his doctors were confident that he would make a full recovery. It therefore came as a shock when, almost two months…

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Alumni Interview – Ann McPherson

Dr. Ann McPherson, PhD ’13, Dr. Tania Watts Laboratory We caught up with recent Immunology PhD graduate, Ann McPherson, to discuss her career moves after graduation and her advice for those about to embark on their own post-PhD plans. Since her undergraduate studies, Ann has been interested in the life sciences. However, for someone who entered graduate school with a strong desire to push the frontiers of knowledge, academia quickly lost its luster. While her…

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Cancer Treatment Goes Viral

From the simplest to the most complex, viruses have evolved to multiply within a host cell. By harnessing the cell’s machinery, the virus is able to propagate, often causing illness within the infected organism. However, there are cases where the body may benefit from this seemingly parasitic relationship. This is where the oncolytic virus – a virus capable of killing cancerous cells – comes in.  The concept of an oncolytic virus has been around for…

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Quorum Sensing: A Post-Antibiotic World

One hundred years ago, tuberculosis was the most likely cause of death here in Canada. But since the discovery of streptomycin in the 1950s and its use in combination with other antibiotics, deaths in Canada due to tuberculosis are extremely rare. Don’t get too comfortable with that thought, though; one third of the world’s population has tuberculosis and 500,000 cases of multidrug resistant tuberculosis have been reported. Antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhoea, Staphylococcus aureus, enterobacteria, and…

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