2018 NSERC Discovery Projects


On October 9, 2018, MPs Paul Lefebvre (Sudbury) and Marc Serré (Nickel Belt) announced on behalf of the Federal Government that 10 Laurentian University researchers received a total of $1.4 million from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)’s Discovery program. The Discovery grants provide the core research program funding for many of our researchers in the natural sciences and in engineering. The program encourages fundamental research, and does not require an industry partner. The grants are also used, to a large extent, to hire graduate students.


Summaries of the 2018 NSERC Discovery Projects:

Dr. Alain Simard ( Northern Ontario School of Medicine)

Project Title: Regulation of Immune Functions by the Non-Neuronal Cholinergic System

Project Summary: The human body tightly regulates local and systemic immune responses. It is becoming increasingly clear that components of the cholinergic system (a major part of our nervous system) play a vital role in these processes. The main objective of this project is to explore if these components of the nervous system play a role in immune regulation and inflammation, and to discover the mechanisms involved. The research team will make use of their laboratory’s expertise in the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway to gain novel mechanistic insight on how the body maintains immunological homeostasis.

Dr. David Lesbarrères (Department of Biology)

Project Title: Local Adaptations to Infectious Diseases: Curse or opportunity?

Project Summary: Infectious diseases are prevalent worldwide in humans and wildlife. Yet, patterns of virulence, prevalence, tolerance, and resistance are not unique, and often dependent on the local environment. This makes predictions regarding both the spread and potential mitigations strategies a real challenge. The long term goal of David’s research program is to assess variation in disease-related traits in amphibians, across a wide geographic range, and uncover the various factors that complicate our understanding of infectious diseases and their role in local extinctions. The results from this research program will be used to develop a theoretical and empirical framework for a better understanding of infectious diseases in wildlife as well as provide epidemiological tools for the conservation of amphibian populations.

Dr. Hoyun Lee (Health Sciences North Research Institute)

Project Title: Cell Cycle Regulation by PP1 and Cdc7

Project Summary: Hoyun’s long-term research goal is to unravel the mechanism of how human cells maintain genetic stability in the context of DNA replication and cell cycle control. The primary goal of this research project is to determine the role of two proteins, PP1 and Cdc7, in the process of replication in human cells.

Dr. James Watterson (Department of Forensic Science)

Project Title: Xenobiotic and Metabolite Profiling in Skeletal Remains for Classification of Xenobiotic Exposure Patterns

Project Summary: The objective of this research program is to determine the extent to which the circumstances of exposure to a foreign substance may be differentiated by comparing that substance to normal metabolites in decomposed skeletal tissues. This would provide an interpretive framework for toxicological measurements in skeletal tissues that is not currently possible, significantly impacting the forensic and environmental sciences

Dr. Michael Schindler (Harquail School of Earth Sciences)

Project Title: Nano-Earth Sciences: Understanding environmental processes at the nano-scale

Project Summary: The long-term objectives of Michael’s research program are to understand the transport, mobility and sequestration of elements at the nano-scale in soils, sediments and tailings. Over the next five years, Michael will examine underlying mechanisms for the mobilization and sequestration of metal(loid)-bearing contaminants in [A] abandoned mine tailings, and [B] organic matter in contaminated soils or soils covering mine-tailings impoundments.

Dr. Ralf Meyer (Department of Mathematics and Computer Sciences)

Project Title: Modelling of Nanoscale Phonemic Crystals

Project Summary: The tremendous technological progress of the last century has been achieved to a large extent by a precise control of electrons (electricity) and photons (light). If a similar level of control over phonons (vibrational motion) could be achieved, this might enable new technological breakthroughs. Possible applications include improved harvesting of waste energy, novel cooling techniques, new characterization methods for soft materials and signal processing devices. This research program focuses on the properties of two-dimensional nanostructures as candidates for phononic metamaterials.

Dr. Stefan Siemann (Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry)

Project Title: Metal Requirement and Mechanism of Anthrax Lethal Factor and Other Zinc Proteases

Project Summary: Zinc is an essential element, and an indispensable constituent of more than 300 enzymes involved in many critical biological processes. Stefan’s research program seeks to understand how these enzymes work on the molecular level. His primary focus of study is the anthrax lethal factor (LF), a zinc-dependent metalloenzyme, which constitutes one of the three components of the anthrax toxin secreted by Bacillus anthracis. Such insights may be of value for the development of novel therapeutics against LF and other structurally related enzymes such as the botulinum and tetanus neurotoxins.

Dr. T.C. Tai (Northern Ontario School of Medicine)

Project Title: Role of ROS in Hypoxia-Mediated Regulation of the Phenylethanolamine N-Methyltransferase Gene

Project Summary: Oxygen is a critical component of normal cellular function and homeostasis in mammalian cells. Mammals are capable of eliciting a stress-response to reduce oxygen to facilitate either removal or adaptation to hypoxia (oxygen deficiency). The results of this research project will provide new insight into the fundamental cellular processes involved in response to hypoxia. Additionally, it will provide insight into the role of the stress hormone and adrenaline in the mammalian stress response to, and in the adaptation to, hypoxia.

Dr. Thomas Merritt (Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry)

Project Title: Genetic Dissection of the NADPH Metabolic Network in Drosophila

Project Summary: All organisms, from microbes to flies to people, have physical characteristics (their phenotypes) that are in part a function of their genetic material (their genotype). These phenotypes are what distinguish one organism from the next and can be as innocuous as eye colour or as biologically crucial as basic metabolism or response to a particular drug. Modern science is very good at determining genotype, (i.e reading an organism’s genetic material), but much work remains on connecting genotype to phenotype. My research seeks to better explain this connection in biological networks – using the interacting genes and proteins of a metabolic network as a model system.

Dr. Jesse Popp (formerly* of the Department of Biology)

Project Title: The Influence of Natural and Anthropogenic Disturbance on Wildlife Diversity, Demographics, and Distributions

Project Summary: Jesse’s research program seeks to understand the effects of natural (climate change, etc.) and anthropogenic (infrastructure, etc.) disturbance on wildlife, and incorporates Indigenous Knowledge (A.K.A., Traditional Ecological Knowledge) to strengthen ecological investigations of wildlife response to altered environments.

*Dr. Popp has since become a professor at Mount Allison University.