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A semi-annual publication by the Department of Biology at McMaster University that reaches, connects and updates Alumni of departmental events.


LETTER FROM THE CHAIR Thanks for noticing our first edition of the McMaster Biology Alumni newsletter. This effort reflects our interest in re-connecting with our graduates. We believe that you care about what is happening at your alma mater and that you have a lot to offer to McMaster in terms of improving the effectiveness and relevance of our training programs. By updating our presence on Facebook and establishing an alumni group on LinkedIn, we are looking to stay connected with our current and future graduates and to learn about how our training has shaped career paths. LinkedIn will also be used to match our students with mentors in the workforce. We hope that you will be pleased to learn about the changes happening in Biology at McMaster. In addition

to a new Chair, we are also welcoming new Dean Dr. Robert Baker to the Biology Department. In these pages, you will learn about our newest faculty member - Dr. Ian Dworkin - who will expand our strengths in evolutionary biology through his molecular and bioinformatics approach to the dissection of the mechanisms of adaptation. We are also working hard to increase the breadth and quality of hands-on laboratory experiences for our undergraduates. We are introducing a second molecular biology lab course, revising our plant biology labs, and building a new cell biologyteaching lab (with support from the Provost) for use in multiple courses. Biology is also working to convert nearby McMaster land into a Smithsonian Dynamic Forest study

area. This fall it will host our new ecology lab course, where students will perform the research that monitors long term change in our northern corner of the Carolinian forest. All of these efforts are benefiting from support from the Dean, Provost, and President. Our graduate program continues to be strong. With 96 students, the program enjoyed one of our better years for graduate scholarship recognition. For 2014-15 Biology was awarded 7 NSERC/CIHR scholarships, 14 OGS, and 2 prestigious Schlumberger and 1 Vanier award. I hope you’ll agree that Biology at McMaster is thriving, and that you’ll remain proud of your accomplishments in the department. -Dr. Roger Jacobs Professor and Chair



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Biology Alumni Newsletter – Summer 2014

THE BIOLOGY GREENHOUSE Tucked away beside Hamilton Hall, the Biology Greenhouse is a home to over a thousand plants – from plants that can smell like rotting flesh when in bloom, to edible plants including coffee, cocoa, bananas, and citrus fruits. Twice now, Arthur Yeas, technician at the Greenhouse, has harvested and donated the fast growing golden bamboo to the Toronto Zoo to provide a fresh meal to Er Shun and Da Mao – the endangered giant pandas currently residing there. The facility is also used for both research purposes as well as a location for undergraduate labs and projects. The Biology Greenhouse also provides educational tours during the week. Interested alumni are asked to email Dr. Susan Dudley at to arrange a time. You can also check out the happenings and new arrivals on Facebook: McMaster Biology Greenhouse.




IN MEMORIAM It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of three distinguished members of the Department of Biology in the past twelve months. Dr. Brian E. McCarry passed away suddenly on July 7th 2013 while travelling in northern Europe with his wife Twyla. Dr. McCarry had served as the Acting Chair of the Department of Biology at McMaster from 20112013, stepping down a week prior to his passing to embark on a two year administrative and research leave – the third of his distinguished 37 year career. Dr. John N.A. Lott, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Biology, passed away in April of this year. After the completion of his Ph.D. from the University of California at Davis California, Dr. Lott was recruited to McMaster University, where he worked well past his retirement and election as Professor Emeritus in 2005. In

addition to the contributions made to his discipline in Botany, Dr. Lott has a profound impact on the student body through his unique understanding that students are not different – only younger and a little less experienced. Dr. Stephen F.H. Threlkeld, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Biology, passed away on January 10, 2014 in Hamilton. Born in the U.K., Dr. Threlkeld immigrated to Illinois following his service in the Home Guard and RAF during the Second World War. Dr. Threlkeld joined the Department of Biology as a geneticist in 1961 after earning his B.Sc. and M.Sc. from the University of Alberta and his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge. Dr. Threlkeld was an avid lover of water sports and was a founding member of The Great Lakes Sea Kayaking Association.


Photo from McMaster Daily News

Biology Greenhouse technician, Arthur Yeas, harvesting golden bamboo for the Toronto Zoo pandas.

The Department of Biology and the McMaster Alumni Association loves to hear and celebrate the accomplishments of our students. You can easily update your alumni profile at, and stay in touch with both Biology and McMaster. Alumni serve as a great form of mentorship for current graduate and undergraduate students, and have been invited back annually to share stories and present at seminars. Graduate student alumni are encouraged to join our various online communities including Facebook, and LinkedIn.


PRESIDENT’S AWARDS During the 2014 Spring Science Convocation ceremony, Dr. Kimberley Dej – Assistant Professor for the Department of Biology and Assistant Director of the Life Sciences Program – was presented with the President’s Award for Outstanding Contributions to Teaching and Learning. The award recognizes individuals who have significantly enhanced the quality of student learning experiences at McMaster University, especially through innovative pedagogical methods. In her own words, “My undergraduate teaching and mentoring are grounded in a philosophy that fosters creative thinking while attending to the complexities of the learning process. I believe that students should engage in a habit of scientific discourse that is motivated by curiosity and emends evidence based theories over preconceptions and intuitions.”

We are pleased to announce that Alison Cowie, Instructional Assistant within the Department of Biology is a recipient of the President’s Awards for Outstanding Service in 2013. The aim of the President's Awards for Outstanding Service is to recognize the great contributions of employees or groups within McMaster, beyond what is typically expected of the position. Joining the McMaster community since 1989, Alison became an instructional assistant for the Department of Biology in 2007, soon taking on the largest course load in the department— overseeing 900 students each year. Alison has been instrumental in developing strong program curriculum through her key role in the Biology Undergraduate Committee, and her successful Forward With Integrity proposal that will redesign the first year labs into a research focused approach.

Dr. Kim Dej was awarded the President’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to Teaching and Learning at the 2014 Science Spring Convocation.

Alison Cowie receiving the President’s Award for Outstanding service in 2013 from Dr. Patrick Deane.

SURVEY WINNERS Congratulations to our most recent alumni who participated in our annual exist survey: Claire A. Ranke L. Stephan D. The survey is designed to gather student feed back to improve future experiences and curriculum. Each winner received a $25 gift card to Indigo.

$200,000 CELL LAB Biology has been awarded $200,000 from the Provost to establish a cell biology-teaching lab in Burke Sciences Building. Beginning in 2015, the department will offer a three unit labonly course to provide hands on experience with tissue culture, immunofluorescence, time-lapse microscopy, histochemistry and transgenic cell reporters. This will extend the lab skills development in Biol 2L03 (Experimental Design in Biology) and MolBiol 3V03 (Techniques in Molecular Genetics) and MolBiol 4XX3 (Workshop in Molecular Genetics). Dr. Kim Dej, and Dr. Rosa Da Silva are leading the development of the new courses.

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Biology Alumni Newsletter – Summer 2014

MCMASTER CONSERVATION CORRIDOR McMaster University is bordered by urban and natural land. Recently, a group of students, staff, and faculty have recognized the potential of McMaster University to improve the ecological functioning of the natural lands surrounding it. One promising location is parking lot M, and the second is a McMaster property on Lower Lions Club Road. In both locations, we have projects that involve stewardship, incorporate research on stewardship, and have undergraduate students doing stewardship and research.

Creek functions as an ecological corridor to connect the natural areas of the Dundas Valley and the Royal Botanical Gardens. But the narrowness of the riparian buffer zone along lot M reduces its ability to function as a wildlife corridor. McMaster University decided to triple the buffer zone and vegetate it with native plants. This change will increase the functionality of

the riparian zone, A survey crew of professors, graduate provide wildlife habitat, and students, and undergraduates using increase shading for the creek. equipment borrowed from engineering to The RBC Blue Water Foundation create a spatial grid in the forest as the will fund the native plantings. We basis for a tree monitoring plot. are literally reversing the “They paved paradise to put up a This value is further enhanced by its development described by Joni parking lot” is the most famous location; the McMaster property Mitchell: we will put back paradise by phrase from Joni Mitchell’s song Big borders conservation lands and forms “un-paving” a parking lot. Yellow Taxi. Written in 1970, the part of a potential corridor between song describes development for the core forest areas of the Dundas On Lower Lions Club Road, growth and profit, at the cost of the Valley conservation area, the Niagara McMaster University owns a 48natural environment. Parking lot M escarpment UNESCO biosphere hectare parcel of mixed pasture, was created around 1970 to serve the reserve and the Royal Botanical shrub thicket and forestland within expected future growth of the Gardens (RBG) Natural Lands. In the an urban setting). The land has university. At the time, the required next few years, the increased riparian intrinsic environmental value, riparian buffer zone, i.e., the area of zone along Lot M and the emerging incorporating endangered tree species land bordering the creek, was only Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark will (e.g. Eastern flowering dogwood), 10 meters, compared to the 30 increase the connectivity of this Carolinian species, old growth forest, meters required today. In the corridor. The urban context of this rare bird habitat, and a highly fragmented landscape in this region, land, and its proximity to McMaster, sensitive cold-water creek ecosystem. the riparian zone along Ancaster makes it valuable as a green space, a teaching space, and crucial as a corridor for wildlife yet, leads to serious threats, including human disturbance and the pervasion of invasive species on the site. Dr. Chad Harvey and Dr. Susan Dudley have recently been developing this as an outdoor, natural facility for teaching, research and ecologically sensitive recreation. Funding from Forward With Integrity and the W. Garfield Weston Foundation will allow us to removing invasive buckthorn, restore a prairie, plant a prairie teaching garden, and create a permanent treemonitoring plot. Undergraduate and The view from the forest to the escarpment. Biology professor Jim Quinn graduate students are already using the hopes to attract grassland birds like bobolinks and meadowlarks to this field by site for classes and research. playing birdsongs.

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Biology Alumni Newsletter

Summer 2014

WELCOMING DR. IAN DWORKIN plasticity, and is of fundamental importance because it governs a myriad of important biological processes ranging from reproduction, disease susceptibility, longevity, and intelligence.

Dr. Ian Dworkin wil be joining the Department of Biology this coming January.

Mutation – the phenomenon by which the genetic differences among individuals arise – underlies all biological processes and is the sole mechanism of biological innovation. Strikingly, however, an individual mutation can have different consequences in different individuals depending both on environmental factors and on other mutations in other parts of the genome. This context-dependent impact of mutations is known as phenotypic

The Biology Department at McMaster University is excited to welcome Dr. Ian Dworkin as a newly recruited faculty member. Dr. Dworkin is an internationally recognized expert in phenotypic plasticity whose research focuses on the genetic basis of wing shape variation in Drosophila fruit flies. One fascinating aspect of Dr. Dworkin’s research explores how and why a single mutation can result in a broad array of different wing shapes in different individuals. Another theme examines how predation drives evolution of wing shape morphology over multiple generations. Dr. Dworkin is involved with teaching initiatives aimed at computational approaches to ‘big data’, and he is an active citizen in

the scientific community via his role as an Associate Editor for various peer-reviewed journals. He has been supported by multiple funding agencies during his graduate work in Canada, postdoctoral work in North Carolina, and while an Assistant Professor and Associate Professor at Michigan State University.

BUILDING UPGRADES High Purity Water Systems is installing a new water purification system in the LSB. The main filtration unit will be housed in LS-507. A closed loop system will then supply each floor (first to fifth) with ultrapure water for research and teaching. Each floor will have a dedicated tap: LS-507, 407, 307, 207 and 106. The original Reverse Osmosis (RO) water system (white taps) that supplies every research and teaching lab will remain. The water from these "white taps" can still be used for rinsing glassware and making standard solutions.

DEAR MCMASTER BIOLOGY ALUMNI, Thank you for taking the time to read through the newsletter. We hope that by sharing our stories, you have reconnected with your alma mater and more specifically, your department and program. Speaking for my fellow students, the advice and anecdotal experience passed on from alumni to current students is invaluable. With increasing competition for post-graduate professional programs, and changes in both technology and research institutions, graduating with a specific goal, or even without a backup plan, is a daunting task. Having alum of the program give back to the field with words of encouragement or general advice goes a long way in shaping the future for graduating students, from developing relevant curriculum and lab skills, to general information on field perspectives. We hope to see many of you connect with us by joining the multiple online avenues and communities! Thank you! Ria Oommen Honours Biology Level IV

Biology Alumni Newsletter 2014  

A semi-annual publication by the Department of Biology at McMaster University that reaches, connects and updates Alumni of departmental even...

Biology Alumni Newsletter 2014  

A semi-annual publication by the Department of Biology at McMaster University that reaches, connects and updates Alumni of departmental even...