Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology Faculty . Dr. John Dawson

Dr. John Dawson Professor and Director,
CBS Office of Educational Scholarship and Practice (COESP)

Dr. John Dawson


Office: SCIE 2248
Ext: 53867
Lab: SCIE 2203
Ext: 58181



I received an extensive training in protein biochemistry while studying protein phophatases and toxins that inhibit them at the University of Alberta. Interactions among the Protein Structure and Function Group there exposed me to the deep field of contractile proteins in muscle. I put my expertise to good use as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, where I studied the cytoskeletal protein actin while working with molecular motors. I discovered that actin is amazing! It is not only critical for muscle movement, but it is a major component of the cytoskeleton that defines the shape of our cells. Actin's most essential property is the ability to self-assemble into long polymers. These filaments form part of the structural framework of the cytoskeleton and are the tracks on which the molecular motor myosin runs in our muscles. Here at the University of Guelph, my research is focused on understanding and controlling actin polymerization and elucidating the biochemical links between mutations in actin and the development of cardiac disease.


B.Sc. (Hons) - Wilfrid Laurier
Ph.D. - Alberta
Postdoctoral Fellow - Stanford


Actin is the most abundant protein in our bodies. It is found in all our muscles, forming part of the machinery that converts the chemical energy from food into the mechanical energy of movement. But actin does more than just work in muscles; it is also found in every cell in our bodies, forming a network of filaments called the cytoskeleton that is a structural support for the cells.

The expertise in the Dawson lab is aimed at understanding the fundamental roles of actin on two fronts:

    1. How the structure of the actin protein dictates its function.
    2. How alterations in the actin protein is related to disease development.
    The key function of the actin protein in cells is its ability to form polymers called filamentous actin (F-actin). In research supported by the Natural Science and Engineering Council of Canada, we are finding ways of making short filamentous actin complexes for biochemical and structural characterization.

Sixteen known variants of the human cardiac actin gene ACTC have been identified in patients with hypertrophic or dilated cardiomyopathy. In research funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, we are studying why mutations in the ACTC gene would lead to disease so that we can help fix the problem.

I am a member of the Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences (CSMB), and the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE).

Selected Publications

Mundia, M.M.*, Demers, R.W.*, Chow, M.L.*, Perieteanu, A.A.*, and Dawson, J.F. (2012) Subdomain Location of Mutations in Cardiac Actin Correlate with Type of Functional Change. PLoS ONE, 7(5): e36821. doi:10.1371/ journal.pone.0036821.

O’Sullivan, M.L., O’Grady, M.R., Pyle, W.G., and Dawson, J.F. (2011) Evaluation of ten genes encoding cardiac proteins in Doberman pinschers with dilated cardiomyopathy. J. Am. Vet. Res, 72(7):932-9.

Perieteanu, A.A.*, Visschedyk, D.D., Merrill, A.R., and Dawson, J.F. (2010) ADP-ribosylation of Crosslinked Actin Generates Barbed-end Polymerization Deficient F-actin Oligomers. Biochemistry, 49: 8944-54.

Morrison, S.S*, Loncar, A.*, and Dawson, J.F. (2010) Non-polymerizing Long-pitch Actin Dimers that Interact with Myosin. Arch. Biochem. Biophys., 501:188-94.

Visschedyk, D.D., Perieteanu, A.A.*, Turgeon, Z.J., Fieldhouse, R.J., Dawson, J.F., and Merrill, A.R. (2010)  Photox:  A novel actin-targeting mono-ADP-ribosyltransferase from Photorhabdus luminescens. J. Biol. Chem., 285(18):13525-34.

Yates, S.P.*, Loncar, A.*, and Dawson, J.F. (2009) Actin polymerization is controlled by residue size at position 204. Biochem. Cell Biol., 87(5): 853-865.

Pengelly, K.*, Loncar, A.*, Perieteanu, A.A.*, and Dawson, J.F. (2009) Cysteine Engineering of Actin Self-assembly Interfaces. Biochem. Cell Biol., 87: 663-675.

Perieteanu, A.A.*, Sweeting, B.*, and Dawson, J.F. (2008) The Real-Time Monitoring of the Thermal Unfolding of Tetramethylrhodamine-Labeled Actin. Biochemistry, 47: 9688-96.

(* trainees in my lab)


BIOC*2580 Introductory Biochemistry
A broad outline of biochemistry, with emphasis on protein and enzyme structure and function, and a brief introduction to energy metabolism.

Teaching Awards

2012 University of Guelph Faculty Association Distinguished Professorial Award, College of Biological Sciences.
2007 Provost's Award for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, University of Guelph.
2006 Award for Excellence in Teaching, College of Biological Sciences.
2006 Special Merit Award, University of Guelph Faculty Association.

Teaching Publications

Dawson, J.F. (2009) Does Providing Class Notes or PowerPoint Slides to Students Before Lectures Lead to Lower Class Attendance? Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Newsletter 51, p. 4.

Dawson, J.F. (2007) Electronic Publishing as a Course Context for a Capstone Project on Protein Design. Journal of Electronic Publishing, 10 (3),

Dawson, J.F. (2006) Time on Writing Task and Overall Project Performance. Reflections & Directions, Winter 2006, University of Guelph 5(1), p. 3.

Dawson, J.F. (2003) No surprise, they cheated. Reflections & Directions, Fall 2003, University of Guelph 5(1), p. 5.

Graduate Students

Liu, Haidun
Sidhu, Navneet

back to top