FEATURED FACULTY: Nusha Keyghobadi
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Dr. Nusha Keyghobadi is a Tier II Canada Research Chair in Landscape Genetics, but she didn’t like biology at school. “When I started a general science undergrad programme at University of Toronto, I actually had to take the ‘catch-up’ biology class first, because I had avoided it all through high school. I liked nature as much as you can when you grow up in the suburbs, but I didn’t enjoy the way biology was taught in school. But when I took the class at University level, it all suddenly clicked. I found that I was especially interested in what made individuals different and also in how populations work. In various ways, that has been my theme ever since.”
Dr. Keyghobadi worked as a summer student on projects involving biological control of spruce budworm, and moved to the University of Alberta to work on alpine butterflies. “It was a wonderful project and great to do fieldwork in the mountains” she says, but the lab work was challenging. “We were one of the first groups to use microsatellites [a type of genetic fingerprinting] on butterflies, and it turns out that it is really hard to do this on butterflies. You learn a lot when things don’t work, but perhaps it left less time to address as many of the bigger questions as I might have” says Keyghobadi. This taught some life-long lessons “I now stop and look at our progress and think ‘what do we need to answer the question?’ instead of necessarily trying to get the complete, perfect data set” she says.
Dr. Keyghobadi then spent a couple of years working on the mosquitoes that carry avian malaria as a postdoc at the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia. “It’s the oldest natural history museum in the new world, and it was pretty neat to walk past the dinosaurs!” The experience was a little mixed, however: “I arrived in August 2001. After September 11, life got quite a bit more complicated for me”. Keyghobadi, whose family immigrated to Canada from Iran when she was seven, suddenly found that “in spite of my Canadian passport, I had to register on a special list and go through all sorts of procedures to enter and exit the US.” Ready to strike out on her own, a return to Canada was attractive. “I moved to Okanagan University College, which became UBC Okanagan. Although I loved teaching at the small school, I surprised myself by being much more dedicated to research than I had realised.”
When offered a Canada Research Chair at Western, Keyghobadi snapped it up. “It was an opportunity to build a strong research component.” Since starting here, Keyghobadi has developed study systems using butterflies and other insects to understand how habitat fragmentation affects populations. “My favourite has been the insects that live in pitcher plants in bogs. We have a natural system with many levels of fragmentation, and it lets us understand how populations have responded to fragmentation over the long term. I just wish it was a bit easier to work with the adults” laughs Keyghobadi, explaining that the pitcher plant insects include tiny midges and non-biting mosquitoes that are just too small to track using current technology. Dr. Keyghobadi is always looking for graduate students who are excited by both genetics and population ecology, and who have good mathematical skills; please contact her directly.
Five Questions for Nusha
When I was growing up, I wanted ... to be an anthropologist
My favourite organism is... right now, the purple pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea)
My first publication was about ... how the presence of forests impedes gene flow among populations of an alpine butterfly
My favourite piece of research was ... for now, still the Parnassius [alpine butterfly] work, particularly a study where we showed that different components of genetic diversity responded at different rates to habitat fragmentation.
Biology at Western is ... whatever you want it to be! There’s so much to choose from and so much to learn.
FEATURED POSTDOC: Leonid Kurepin
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Dr. Leon Kurepin is a postdoc who is working with Drs. Vava Grbic and Mark Bernards, but his interests in plant hormones means he is establishing links with many of the plant biologists in Biology. Leon grew up in Russia, where his father, a plant biologist, had hopes of Leon becoming a plant biologist in his footsteps. “My father made me attend Sunday’s biology lectures at University. So there I was sitting at a lecture among 18+ year olds who made a lot of fun at my expense. Surely I did not like it.” A move to Israel at the age of 14 allowed him to rebel: “I disliked biology so much that I decide to go to a military type of high school in Israel to study aeronautics. I was always good at math, physics etc. so it was a good fit for me and I also enjoyed it, because it was easy and I was one of the top students in the class.” It was when he was offered a place in the military that Leon realised “I do not like to take or give orders and it really would have been just fixing planes and occasionally improving something. I didn’t feel that there was anything new for me to discover on airplanes.”
Revisiting biology and chemistry as an undergraduate at Tel Aviv University led Leon to eventually move to University of Calgary for an MSc, which became a PhD. “Calgary was a really good place to work on plant hormones, and I liked Canada a lot, so I ended up staying for five years as a postdoc as well” says Kurepin, who also spent a year as a postdoc at Trent University. “A lot of people don’t like to work on plant hormones – the techniques are difficult, expensive and time consuming, especially compared to molecular biology. But often the amount of a gene that is transcribed means nothing for the hormone, so I like to tell people I am the ‘real’ molecular biologist, because I study the actual molecules and what they do.” Carrying the theme of plant hormones with him from lab to lab has allowed Leon to develop an impressive skillset, “but I have to be careful not to become a technician by always seeking projects that are intellectually interesting” he says. “In particular, I would like a faculty position – especially because I really enjoy teaching – and technicians don’t get those jobs.”
Attracted by the diversity of projects and opportunities, Leon hopes to be able to work in Biology at Western for a couple of years. To find out more about Leon’s research or to contact him, check out his website
Some questions for Leon:
When I was growing up, I wanted ... to be anybody but plant biologist.
My favourite organism is... any type of mammal. During my second year at University I realized that I enjoyed the most the course on animal behaviour. Thus, I decided to take more courses in animal physiology, psychology and endocrinology. I liked these courses until I reached a step where I signed up for endocrinology laboratory course. During the very first lab I come to a conclusion that zoology is not for me, as I could not operate on animals. Therefore I turned my attention to plant physiology with an emphasis on hormonal regulation of growth and development. That turned out to be a good choice as I feel absolutely nothing when I dissect plant tissues. Thus, while I still love all the mammals and some reptiles, my favourite organism these days is a plant (although I am still not a fan of weeds).
My first publication was about ... a transgenic pea plant which overproduced PR 10 protein and this caused hormone-mediated phenotypical changes. While it was a first publication with my name in the authorship list, it was just a side project I had with collaborators from a different University. Thus, my real first publication as a first author was about the effect of light quality and intensity signals on plant hormone-regulated shoot growth of two ecotypes, one from open and one from shaded habitat, from the same species. It was a very interesting research which taught a very important lesson: the linkage between ecology (environmental signalling), physiology (plant growth and development) and molecular biology (regulation of growth and development by plant hormones influenced by environmental signalling).
My favourite piece of research was ... to be able to dissect a truly complex system of cross-interactions between light signalling, plant growth and development, and multiple plant hormones. This was a very challenging and thus a very interesting research which lasted 5 years, resulted in 16 publications in peer-reviewed journals with 5 more in various stages of writing. In general, any type of research where you participate from the early stages to the final conclusions with the ability of some creative input is a “favourite research” for me.
Biology at Western is ... full of variety. The variety in research programs lets undergraduate students to have access to a wide spectrum of knowledge, for graduate students it provides an opportunity to “look out of the box” (their own lab) in their research, and for postdocs and visiting scientists it is a perfect location to establish collaborations and improve their skills and research ideas.
LINKS TO PAST FEATURED FACULTY and STAFF
- Dr. Hugh Henry and Dr. Daria Koscinski
- Dr. Charles Trick and Dr. Irena Creed
- Dr. Liana Zanette and Brenda Beretta
- Dr. Richard Gardiner and Elizabeth Myscich
- Dr. Chris Guglielmo and Ian Craig
- Dr. Beth MacDougall-Shackleton and Kim Loney
- Dr. Robert Cumming and Jacqui Griffin
- Dr. Irena Creed
- Dr. Amanda Moehring
- Dr. Brent Sinclair
- Dr. Jack Millar
- Dr. John Wiebe
- Dr. Brent Sinclair
- Dr. Greg Kelly
Check back to this page regularly as we will be highlighting news breaking research/awards by other members of our Biology Department. To find out about other research in our Department please follow the links to individual faculty web sites
This page was last updated on
September 7, 2011
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