CBS, Indigenous and Dr. Anne Dagg Summer Research Assistantships Sponsors

The following is a list of CBS faculty who are looking for candidates to endorse for the CBS, Indigenous and Ann Dagg Summer Research Assistantships. Please read the faculty's research interests to see who may match with your personal and professional goals, prior to submitting your application to them. Students may approach other CBS faculty not listed on this page however please note not all faculty are looking for summer research assistants. 

Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences

Dr. Geoff Power 

The goal of my research program is to understand and gain intimate knowledge regarding mechanisms associated with age-related alterations to muscle contractility across multiple scales of organization.  We investigate the neural control of movement using various neuromuscular tools and techniques (e.g, brain, spinal cord, muscle stimulation, electromyography) and basic intrinsic muscle contractile properties at the cellular level.  This work has significant relevance, including understanding the neural control of voluntary movement across the lifespan and generating new insight into the active and passive muscular contributions to force production / transmission of skeletal muscle.  Utilizing the chronic adapted state of human senescence, we aim to identify mechanisms which regulate intrinsic contractile function and gain invaluable insight into the adaptive capacity of skeletal muscle and what limits function in the context of normal adult aging.

Department of Integrative Biology

Dr. Joe Ackerman 

Environmental stressors of aquatic ecosystems including eutrophication, sedimentation, and climate change can impact biodiversity and ecosystem processes. Our lab examines links between the physical environment and the ecology of aquatic organisms (algae, plants, mussels, zooplankton) and ecosystems (rivers, lakes). Student assistant opportunities exist to support projects investigating: (1) threats to/recovery of endangered mussel species in Southern Ontario; (2) nutrient/resource flux between the benthic plants and/or invertebrates and the water column, (3) the effect of turbulence on the zooplankton feeding/interactions; and (4) relationship between hypoxia (low O2) and fish in western lake Erie.  Student assistants will engage in both field and lab work throughout the summer with the opportunity to continue as an honours research project in the F21– W22 semester. Please contact Dr. Joe Ackerman ( if interested (

Dr. Sarah (Sally) J. Adamowicz

Our research group explores the evolution and distribution of biodiversity and develops new tools for efficient biomonitoring and environmental protection. Two undergraduate projects are available for summer 2020. The first involves collaborating with others to develop and test new methods for surveying aquatic biodiversity using environmental DNA (eDNA). This project would be excellent experience for those interested in gaining hands-on experience in a molecular lab and as a precursor to pursuing an Honours thesis or graduate studies in Integrative Biology or Bioinformatics. The second involves assisting with the development and testing of software for biodiversity analysis using high-throughput DNA sequence data, which would be a valuable experience for students considering graduate studies in Bioinformatics or interested in a future analytics-focused project in Integrative Biology.

Dr. Christina Caruso 

Pollinators are declining globally.  In response to this decline, plants will either have to adapt to reduced pollination services or go extinct.  To understand how plants will adapt to pollinator declines, we are studying the effect of pollinator declines on both the expression of floral traits within a generation (i.e. phenotypic plasticity) and on the evolution of floral traits across generations (i.e. natural selection).  In Summer 2021, we are looking for a student to assist with ongoing projects in the lab and develop an independent project on the effect of pollinator declines on plasticity in floral longevity.   This position would be a great fit for students with an interest in ecology and evolutionary biology.  Experience working with plants would be helpful, but is not essential. 

Dr. Todd Gillis 

Pacific hagfish (Eptatretus stoutii) can fully recover from 36 hours of anoxia exposure. During anoxia exposure, cardiac function is maintained and there is little change in metabolic capacity (Gillis et al., 2015; Gattrell et al., 2019). This project is examining the metabolic pathways that support cardiac function in hagfish during anoxia exposure as well as the cellular mechanisms that help protect the hagfish heart from ischemia reperfusion injury when these animals return to normoxic waters. Ischemia reperfusion injury is a cause of cardiac damage in humans following myocardial infarction. This work involves the use of live animal studies, and the use of advanced analytic techniques (GC/MS) to study metabolic and cellular pathways. 

Dr. Andreas Heyland

My lab is interested in gaining insight into the mechanisms underlying life history trade-offs in the cladoceran Daphnia magna. Specifically, we are using functional genomics approaches to analyze the multi-generational response of D. magna to nutrient levels to better understand how reproductive, immunity and neuronal allocations are made.  This work is part of the CFREF Food From Thought project, an interdisciplinary research program focusing on sustainable agriculture production.

We are interested in developing novel approaches for sustainable aquaculture practices using algae. We developed a novel photobioreactor that allows us to remove nutrients from recirculating waste water systems while growing algae. This system is being tested in the lab and field to assess its productivity and commercial viability

We are studying the evolution of metamorphosis in marine invertebrate groups with specific emphasis on echinoids (sea urchins and sand dollars). We are taking a molecular and cellular approach to analyze the mechanisms underlying this fundamental process.

Dr. Brian Husband 

Research area: evolutionary biology, plant sexual systems, polyploid speciation
Research description:  My lab explores the ecological and genetic attributes of plant populations and the evolution of traits that contribute to adaptation and speciation. Our primary focus is on plant reproductive systems, which include gamete quality and quantity, pollination, and mating patterns and their impact on genetic diversity, distribution and reproductive isolation.  We use a variety of wild and cultivated species for this work, and apply our knowledge to problems in conservation, restoration, and interactions between agricultural and natural ecosystems.

Dr. Fred Laberge 

The HuC-GFP transgenic zebrafish line is a powerful tool to study phenotypic variation of the fish nervous system because these fish express Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) in neurons, allowing visualization of the nervous system under fluorescent microscopy in both live and fixed specimens (Park et al. 2000 Dev. Biol. 227:279-293). Using our breeding colony of HuC-GFP zebrafish in the Hagen Aqualab, the main aim of this summer’s research project will be to compare the accuracy of methods used to estimate brain volumes in small zebrafish. The high-throughput estimation of the HuC-GFP signal of brains reconstructed from image stacks enhanced by deconvolution microscopy will be compared to volumes obtained from histology of serially sectioned brains. An additional aim will make use of double-labelling immunocytochemistry to compare the proportion of cells expressing different neuronal markers (i.e. HuC, NeuN, βIII-tubulin) to find the best pan-neuronal marker in zebrafish. Future work in this project will test for sublethal neurotoxic effects of environmental contaminants by measuring brain size and neuron number in transgenic zebrafish raised in a medium supplemented with different concentrations of contaminants.

Dr. Hafiz Maherali 

Maherali Lab: Our research is focused on understanding the function, ecology, and evolution of the symbiosis between plants and mycorrhizal fungi. In exchange for sugars from photosynthesis, mycorrhizal fungi provide plants with access to soil nutrients. This symbiosis is widespread, occurring in nearly 90% of plant species, and takes place in every plant community on earth, including agricultural and managed systems. However, we know relatively little about why and how the symbiosis evolved and continues to evolve, or how the symbiosis affects the composition and function of plant communities. Potential projects will include evaluating the stability of the symbiosis in response to environmental variation, particularly nutrient deposition and climate change, exploring how the symbiosis influences plant root evolution, and how the symbiosis affects competitive interactions between non-native and native plant species.

Dr. Georgia Mason

The Mason Lab is interested in designing good living conditions for animals kept in labs, zoos and farms. We investigate how to assess animal well-being objectively; and what happens to the brain and behaviour when animals are kept lifelong in confining, barren enclosures -- conditions that meet their physiological needs but are too small or monotonous to allow natural behaviour. More information about the Mason Lab is available here, and recent publications can be found here

We’re currently seeking enthusiastic students, ideally with research experience, to assist in behavioural research on depression-like states in laboratory mice that may be induced by conventional lab housing conditions. The work will involve designing and running tests for ‘judgment bias’ (optimistic versus pessimistic interpretations of ambiguity) and for spatial memory: two aspects of cognition that are altered in humans with depression. If you’re interested in applying for a summer research assistantship please send a brief CV, your GPA for the last 2 years, and copy of your unofficial transcript to  

Dr. Rob McLaughlin 

Our research program investigates the behaviour, ecology, and management of fishes. Long-term, we have been assessing actions fishery managers take to enhance the production and biodiversity of native fish and control the spread of invasive species. These actions include the construction and removal of in-stream barriers to movement, fish passageways, and traps. This year, we are recruiting a summer field assistant for a project evaluating ways of selectively moving native fish past small dams, while removing invasive sea lamprey. This project is combining analyses of historical data, field experiments, and population models. The assistantship will involve hands-on experience at out-of-town field sites, pending the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions. Our research is inter-disciplinary and involves collaborations with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the US Geological Survey.

Dr. Beren Robinson 

Our lab focuses on identifying the ecological factors that contribute to local adaptation in lake fishes that are in the process of evolving into different ecotypes. Some populations of lake fishes are composed of different forms that are living in different habitats and eating different types of prey. We use a variety of behavioural, morphological, ecological and evolutionary methods to study how these ecotypes function, persist and may be evolutionarily diverging from each other. Research occurs at our study site of Ashby Lake in eastern ON and in the lab. We have supported numerous prior undergraduate summer researchers for this project. We are especially interested in students interested in pursuing independent research projects in the terms following the summer research experience. Here students can get further experience at research while receiving academic credit.

Dr. Patricia Wright 

We are interested in understanding the variety of strategies that amphibious fish use to cope with life out of water.  We study a diversity of fishes, some that are completely aquatic and others that tolerate terrestrial exposure.  The aim of this laboratory project is to link plasticity in physiological traits in multiple fishes with performance in water and/or on land to understand the characteristics that are most important in tolerance to air exposure.

Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology

Dr. Marc Coppolino 

Tumour cell invasion through extracellular matrix (ECM) is required for cancers to spread, and is dependent upon partial degradation of ECM components by matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) secreted by tumour cells.  A semester project is proposed to examine how the transport and targeted release of MMPs are regulated during invasion of ECM by breast cancer cells.  The project will involve experimentation using cultured tumour cell lines, expression of GFP-tagged proteins, and cell-based assays to assess cell invasion.  

Dr. Jennifer Geddes-McAlister 

The Geddes-McAlister lab investigates host-microbe interactions from a systems perspective. We are interested in understanding how a microbe adapts and survives within a host environment and in return, how the host defends itself from invasion and colonization. To accomplish this goal, we use state-of-the-art mass spectrometry-based quantitative proteomics combined with advanced bioinformatics to understand cellular regulation and secretion at the protein level. We use this knowledge to identify and characterize novel virulence factors, define mechanisms of interaction between a host and microbe, and identify unique targets for therapeutic intervention. The student will use a wide range of experimental techniques, including microbiology, tissue culture, the safe handling of pathogenic bacteria and/or fungi, protein extraction and quantification, quantitative proteomics techniques and bioinformatic platforms, molecular biology (gene deletion, PCR, cloning, gel electrophoresis, genomic analysis, and microscopy.

Dr. Rod Merrill 

Vorin is a 31-kDa secreted protein and putative virulence factor encoded by Erwinia amylovora, which is the causative agent of fire blight, an economically important plant disease that afflicts the Rosaceae family (apple, pear, raspberry, and blackberry). Crop losses combined with treatment costs amount to $100 million per year in the USA. Bioinformatics analyses indicate that Vorin is CT-like mART bacterial toxin with a 15-kDa C-terminal catalytic domain and a conserved 17-kDa Rearrangement Hot-Spot (Rhs) N-terminal domain of unknown function (Vorin-NTD). Vorin is toxic to both yeast and E. coli cell cultures and interacts with its putative immunity protein (VorinI) as part of a novel toxin-antitoxin system. This project involves the characterization of the enzyme activity of Vorin, its cytotoxic mechanism and target macromolecule in a model yeast system. The structure-function characterization by protein crystallography of the Vorin-VorinI complex will also be part of the project.

Dr. Shaun Sanders

Our nervous system must sense, integrate, and process vast amounts of information throughout the day and then coordinate the correct response. Neurons receive input at neuron-neuron connections known as synapses located on short projections called dendrites and transmit information to downstream neurons via long output projections known as axons. The efficient trafficking and delivery of neuronal proteins and organelles to specific subcellular locations is critical for neuronal function but can be challenging over long axonal distances. The Sanders Lab seeks to understand how the protein lipid modification palmitoylation regulates protein and organelle trafficking and targeting in neurons. Palmitoylation acts like a sticky tag to tether proteins to specific cellular membranes. Our lab is particularly interested in how palmitoylation of ion channels and trafficking machinery regulates sub-neuronal targeting of proteins and, in turn, neuronal function.

Dr. Jim Uniacke 

Cancer is a complicated, multifactorial disease and the paths taken by cells en route to malignancy are highly variable. Yet, solid tumours share common features regardless of their tissue of origin or genetic makeup. These are referred to as the “tumour microenvironment” and include factors such as hypoxia (low oxygen availability), which has been linked to aggressive tumours and poor prognosis. My laboratory studies how cancer cells synthesize proteins in hypoxia, and how these unique protein synthesis machineries can be targeted in cancer therapy to selectively disable tumour cells, leaving normal oxygenated cells unharmed. The student will be using cultured tumour cell lines, biochemical techniques such as western blot and immunoprecipitation to measure protein-protein interactions, and 2D/3D cell-based assays to assess cell migration, invasion, and tumour formation.

Dr. Siavash Vahidi 

The Vahidi Lab investigates the mechanism of action of AAA+ (ATPases associated with various cellular activities) motors, a superfamily of powerful ATP-dependent proteins that couple ATP binding and hydrolysis to drive conformational changes for the mechanical translocation of a variety of cellular substrates. Several competing models have been proposed for how AAA+ motors function. Our lab uses high resolution mass spectrometry and biochemical methods to delineate these ATP hydrolysis models and to discover inhibitor molecules with therapeutic potential. There is significant interest in understanding the molecular basis of AAA+ motor function because many of them have been linked to antibiotic resistance in bacteria and to cancer in human. Our research program will lead to scientific breakthroughs in our knowledge of fundamental mechanochemical enzymes in cells.

Dr. Terry Van Raay 

The gut microbiome is intricately connected to the function of the brain through the gut-brain axis.  Significant evidence is accumulating that metabolites produced through gut dysbiosis are a major contributor to both neurodevelopment and behaviour.  In our lab we are taking advantage of the highly conserved zebrafish brain to better understand the contributions of human gut metabolites to early neurodevelopment, specifically in relation to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Thus far we have demonstrated that healthy, normal gut derived metabolites are absolutely essential for proper brain development and gene expression.  The SRA student working on this project will now determine how metabolites derived from ASD children impact neurodevelopment.  Essentially, this student will be applying metabolites that have been isolated from the fecal samples of young ASD and neurotypical children and applying them to a germ-free zebrafish embryo, harvesting the brains of the zebrafish embryos and characterizing the changes in expression of specific genes that have been identified in a large RNA-seq experiment that is currently in progress.  The student may also participate in bioreactor (aka robogut) experiments to determine if changes in diet could result in changes in metabolites that ultimately impact neurodevelopment.