Collage of witchweed, fluorescent worm cells, Janet Mannone, Tamar Mamourian and Nicholas Provart

As the year comes to a close, we look back on the achievements of students, staff, and faculty in the Cell and Systems Biology Department. Here are some of the top CSB stories of 2020.

Research discoveries in CSB

In 2020, researchers in the Cells and Systems Biology Department made strides with discoveries in plant and animal biology. The Guttman and Desveaux labs collaborated on a monumental study in February’s Science magazine investigating plant immunity against bacterial infection. In an all-encompassing study of over 500 effector proteins from the bacteria Pseudomonas syringae, they identified novel instances of bacterial effectors triggering immune responses in the model plant Arabidopsis. They found that this defense system is surprisingly common in wild plants like Arabidopsis, and could improve strategies to protect domesticated crops against pathogens. Read More

A Nature Plants article published in May by Professor Shelley Lumba unearthed an unusual signalling pathway which causes the parasitic witchweed plant to germinate when it detects a potential host. Lumba’s discovery will be crucial in the fight against witchweed infestation, which has devastating effects on crop growth. Read More

July saw the publication of a PLoS Biology study by CSB Professor Jennifer Mitchell and Professor Oksana Shynlova in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, which revealed changes in gene expression associated with term labour in mice. Mitchell, Shynlova, and CSB graduate students Virlana Schuka and Luis Abatti identified epigenetic changes that modify DNA packaging and turn on specific genes in the days leading up to labour. Their research sheds light on how cells prepare to undergo contraction and how this process may occur prematurely. Read More

An October Genome Research study from the Calarco Lab revealed key features of alternatively spliced RNAs in the nematode worm C. elegans. Alternative splicing is a process which “remixes” newly coded RNAs to generate a wide diversity of messenger RNAs. Co-authors Bina Koterniak and Pallavi Pilaka observed alternative splicing across different organs of C. elegans and identified key regulatory features in C. elegans and other worm species, suggesting that alternative splicing in vertebrates may act in a similar way. Read More

Faculty and staff recognized for innovation and service

In June 2020, CSB Professor Melody Neumann received the 2020 D2L Innovation Award in Teaching and Learning for her contributions in developing Team Up! – a free active-learning tool which allows students to collaborate with peers and solve problems in class. Team Up!’s innovative approach to promoting student engagement has been praised by instructors, particularly in large classes or online settings where instructor to student interactions are limited. Read More

While Professor Neumann’s innovative teaching strategies made waves in undergraduate courses, CSB’s Undergraduate Coordinator Janet Mannone was recognized for her committment to undergraduate learning in November with the 35 Long Service Award for 35 years of service to U of T. Mannone has years of experience helping CSB undergraduate students navigate educational paths and advising instructors to deliver excellent CSB courses and programs. Read More

CSB’s Chief Administrative Officer Tamar Mamourian was also recognized for the 35 Long Service Award in November 2020. Mamourian’s expertise and commitment to excellence has been invaluable to CSB staff, faculty, and students. Read More

Building excellence and community in CSB

This experienced administrative team received a new Chair in 2020 with the appointment of Professor Nicholas Provart. Provart’s deep knowledge of U of T began in undergraduate and continued with his professorial appointment in 2002 as part of the Department of Botany. Provart combines innovative computational analysis with wet lab techniques to produce novel research, for which he was awarded the 2020 Clarivate Web of Science Highly Cited Researcher award. As the new CSB Chair, Provart will build on the Department’s academic excellence, encourage diversity and inclusivity, and promote science outreach to the community. Read More

To mark December’s holiday of giving, graduate students in the Department of Cell and Systems Biology held an online gathering and raffle. Prizes were drawn, and over $800 was raised for the CHUM FM Christmas Wish Toy Drive. On behalf of the department, the Chair stepped up to double this donation for the TO Food Bank. Despite this year’s trials, CSB graduate students ended 2020 by connecting with one another and giving back to the community.

We look forward to making 2021 another year of stunning discoveries and outstanding service!