Dr. John Dawson

John Dawson
Professor and Director, CBS Office of Educational Scholarship and Practice (COESP)
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology
Phone number: 
53867 / 58181
SCIE 2248
SCIE 2203

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 actin structure and function and elucidating the biochemical links between mutations in actin and the development of cardiac disease.

I also love teaching and learning and am happy solving problems in education, from low tech toothpicks to higher tech lecture capture. As a result, I have received several teaching awards, including in the tremendous honours of the John Bell Award (Guelph’s top teaching award) and the 3M National Teaching Fellowship (Canada’s top teaching award). I am the first faculty Director of CBS Office of Educational Scholarship and Practice (COESP), a wonderful group who support and inspire our community of educators in the College. My own research in the area of education has been focused on how to best use learning outcomes in our classes, for both the students and for continuous improvement of programs, while I also work to develop others and encourage them to move their learning, teaching or involvement in education research to the next level.

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

Laboratory:  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.

Education:  Learning outcomes (LOs) are statements of what a learner is expected to know, understand and be able to demonstrate at the end of a learning experience.  Every course in the B.Sc. is required to have learning outcomes.  My research is focused on understanding how learning outcomes can be best put to practice in courses and how they can be measured so that students know if they have achieved the outcomes of courses and of their program and so that instructors can improve their courses to better achieve those outcomes.
In the past, we have developed a learning outcomes framework and analyzed almost 1,600 different quiz and exam questions to determine their Bloom’s taxonomy level and which course learning outcome(s) they are assessing.  This framework is currently being embedded into our learning management system so that information from assessments can be reported out.  We have used this framework in a pilot study for BIOC*2580 where we have almost a half-million data points from all of the online quizzes over three years.  

More recently, we have developed a definition of Critical Thinking that can be applied across disciplines.  This Critical Thinking definition will now be applied to the generation of authentic signature assessments through a series of courses in the B.Sc. that will permit the measurement of Critical Thinking skill development.  A central piece to this plan is providing the information back to students so they can monitor their own development and show it to potential employers who are looking for Critical Thinking as an essential skill.

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

  1. Teng, G. Z.* & Dawson, J. F. (2020) The Dark Side of Actin : Cardiac Actin Variants Highlight the Role of Allostery in Disease Development. Arch. Biochem. Biophys. 695, 108624. doi:10.1016/j.abb.2020.108624.
  2. Prill, K.* & Dawson, J. F. Homology-Directed Repair in Zebrafish: Witchcraft and Wizardry? Front. Mol. Biosci. 7:595474. doi: 10.3389/fmolb.2020.595474.
  3. Prill, K* and Dawson, JF (2020) Assembly and Maintenance of Sarcomere Thin Filaments and Associated Diseases. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 21(2):542. doi: 10.3390/ijms21020542.
  4. Teng, GZ*, Shaikh, Z*, Liu, H*, and Dawson, JF (2019) M-class hypertrophic cardiomyopathy cardiac actin mutations increase calcium sensitivity of regulated thin filaments, Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 519:148–152. doi:10.1016/j.bbrc.2019.08.151.
  5. Sidhu, N*, and Dawson, JF (2018) Crosslinking and loss of filament cooperativity blocks myosin binding to actin. Biochem Cell Biol 97: 140–147, https://doi.org/10.1139/bcb-2018-0082
  6. Ojehomon, M*, Alderman, SL, Sandhu, L*, Sutcliffe, S*, Van Raay, T, Gillis, TE, and Dawson, JF (2018) Identification of the actc1c cardiac actin gene in zebrafish. Prog. Biophys. Mol. Biol. 138:32-37. doi: 10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2018.06.007.
  7. Despond, EA*, and Dawson, JF (2018) Classifying cardiac actin mutations associated with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Front. Physiol. 405:1-5.
  8. Dahari*, M. & Dawson, J. (2015).  Do Cardiac Actin Mutations Lead to Altered Actomyosin Interactions?   Biochemistry and Cell Biology., doi: 10.1139/bcb-2014-0156.  
  9. Chow*, M.L., Shaffer, J.F., Harris, S.P., & Dawson, J.F. (2014).  Altered Interactions Between Cardiac Myosin Binding Protein-C and α-Cardiac Actin Variants Associated with Cardiomyopathies.   Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 550-551, 28-32, doi: dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.abb.2014.04.003.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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
  • BIOC*3560 Structure and Function in Biochemistry
  • BIOC*4580 Membrane Biochemistry
  • Graduate Course:  Biology Education, Curriculum Design and Pedagogy

Teaching Awards

  • 2021 3M National Teaching Fellowship, Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education
  • 2021 John Bell Award, University of Guelph Secretariat
  • 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.

Selected Teaching Scholarship Presentations

  1. Graduate Student University Teaching Conference (2021). Advice for new Teaching Assistants and future Instructors. Invited Panel. University of Guelph
  2. QA and Students – Not just Committees! (2019) Student Voices in Quality Assurance Symposium, Humber College. Panel discussion with Patricia Tersigni, Paisley Worthington*, Sofie Lachapelle, Nadia Timperio, Sarah Cahill, Alyssa Voigt.
  3. Incorporating Self-Reflection in Undergraduate Research Courses. (2019), Calgary, AB, Taylor Institute, Experiential Learning Lunch & Learn Series.
  4. Instructor Use and Perceptions of Student Evaluations of Teaching. (2019), Calgary, AB, Taylor Institute.
  5. Teaching Philosophy Statements (2019). Faculty Teaching Development Program, University of Guelph. with Jeni Spencer, OTL.
  6. Teaching Dossiers (2019). Faculty Teaching Development Program, University of Guelph. with Jeni Spencer and Janet Wolstenholme, OTL
  7. Developing an online network to promote teaching and learning (2019). Western Conference on Science Education, London, ON. Welcome to my Laptop, with McAlister, J.
  8. The Student-Supervisor Relationship in Experiential Learning. Student Plenary Panel (2019) Teaching and Learning Innovations Conference, University of Guelph, with Paisley Worthington

Selected Teaching Research Publications

  1. Omer, K, Jacobs, SR, Cottenie, K, Bettger, W, Dawson, JF, Graether, S, Murrant, C, Zettel, J, and Newton, G (2021) Evaluating and Improving the Formative Use of Student Evaluation of Teaching. CJSoTL.
  2. Barrette-Ng, I, and Dawson, JF (2021) Program SAGES: Promoting collaborative teaching development through graduate student/faculty partnerships. Expertise in Teaching: Research Network
  3. Newton, G, Poung. K, Laila, A, Bye, Z, Bettger, W, Cottenie, K, Dawson, JF, Graether, S, Jacobs, S, Murrant, C, and Zettel, J (2019) Perception of Biology Instructors on Using Student Evaluations to Inform Their Teaching, Int. J. High. Educ. 8, 133. doi:10.5430/ijhe.v8n1p133.
  4. Worthington, P*, Reniers, J, Lackeyram, D, and Dawson, JF (2019) Using a Project Blog to Promote Student Learning and Reflection. Cnd J Higher Ed 48(3):125-140.
  5. Dawson, JF (2017) Collecting Outcomes Data using Pre-existing In-class Assessments and Resources. AALHE’s Intersection, Summer, 18-21. Available at: http://www.aalhe.org/page/Intersection
  6. Worthington, P*, Dewancker, A*, LaRush, N*, Lackeyram, D; and Dawson, JF (2017) Engaging Student Stakeholders in Developing a Learning Outcomes Assessment Framework. Discussions on University Science Teaching: Proceedings of the Western Conference on Science Education: 1: Article 8. Available at: http://ir.lib.uwo.ca/wcsedust/vol1/iss1/8

Postdoctoral Fellows

  • Prill, Kendal
  • Steffensen, Karl