Current Research

Below we highlight some of the exciting research projects being conducted in the Growth Facilities.

Amanda Peake of the Stinchcombe lab has planted Arabidopsis thaliana individuals from North Africa, Europe, and Asia in a common garden experiment to identify new ecologically relevant genes. The semi-natural environment of the rooftop exposes the plants to complex environmental cues, the response to which is not always captured in greenhouse and growth chamber experiments. They will then compare this data with previous studies conducted in growth chambers to understand how gene-by-environment interactions affect phenotypic variation. 



Pictured: the Arabidopsis thaliana common garden experiment through the seasons

Alice DesRoches of the Weis lab studies how phenology influences hard and soft selection in Brassica rapa.

Pictured above are controlled crosses between strains differing in phenology.

Dr. Arthur Weis of the Weis lab is conducting research into the mode of inheritance of Dame’s Rocket floral coloration.

These are seedlings of Dame’s rocket, getting their needed dose of winter.  It is the plant responsible for the profusion of white, pink and violet flowers you see along Ontario roadsides during May.  This biennial grows as a rosette of leaves over its first summer.  It then needs several months of chilling to trigger flowering in its second year. We want to know what maintains the unusually high diversity for flower colour, but first were need to work out the genetics. The pictured plants are grown from seed produced by controlled crosses between plants at Koffler Scientific Reserve.” -Dr. Arthur Weis

Photo by Bill Cole

Graduate student Michael Kanaris from the Christendat lab studies chloroplast development in Arabidopsis thaliana.

A. thaliana
Here in the Christendat lab we study the Shikimate pathway in both microbes and plants and seek to understand how these enzymes are regulated and have functionally diversified through both molecular and biochemical techniques. My PhD research is largely focused on the plant-specific protein shikimate kinase-like 1, which is a gene duplicate of the well-characterized shikimate kinase, and appears to have adopted a novel and essential function in plants related to chloroplast biogenesis. I am currently addressing evolutionary questions about key events that led to this particular protein diverging in function from its gene homolog as well as its specific molecular function that contributes to chloroplast biogenesis.
Michael Kanaris, Christendat Lab
Photo by Thanh Nguyen



Graduate student Georgia Henry from the Stinchcombe Lab studies genetic variation in natural populations of Ivy-leaf Morning Glory (Ipomoea hederacea).

Morning Glory (Ipomoea hederacea)
What prevents species from continuing to expand their range is an important question as our climate changes. In some cases it may be due to evolutionary constraints caused by the underlying structure of genetic variation. I am exploring the ability of the Ivy-leaf Morning Glory (Ipomoea hederacea) to respond to selection, and whether this may be a major factor in shaping its geographic distribution.
Georgia Henry, Stinchcombe Lab



Graduate student Priya Vaidya from the Stinchcombe Lab studies mutualistic interactions between legumes and nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

I’m working on the mutualistic interactions between legumes and nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Specifically, I’m trying to determine how differences in abiotic conditions might help maintain diversity in this association, and doing this by manipulating light environment. I have half of the plants under shade cloth, to experience low light, and the other half in full light.
Priya Vaidya, Stinchcombe Lab



Graduate student Haoran Xue from the Barrett Lab studies the evolution of heterostyly in Brazilian Water Hyacinth.

Heterostyly, a strategy that promotes cross-pollination in plants, has independently evolved in many plant lineages. We are using Brazilian water hyacinth, a heterostylous species, to study the genetic basis of heterostyly and how heterostyly may influence genome evolution. The findings will provide insights on how mating systems play a role in genome evolution.
Haoran Xue, Barrett Lab



Post-Doctoral Fellow Ana O’Brien from the Frederickson Lab studies the role of the microbiome in local adaptation in Duckweed.

We are studying the role adaptation between Lemna minor (duckweed, a common tiny aquatic plant), and it’s associated microbiome in local adaptation to water contamination variation in the GTA. Largely via altering nutrient availability and plant gene expression, microbes can have dramatic impacts on plants, including, potentially, the ability of duckweed to tolerate stressful contaminants common in urban runoff, such as heavy metals, salt, and plastic derivatives. Furthermore, because duckweed itself is clonal and has low genetic diversity upon which local selection might act, microbiome variation may be critical to the ability of duckweed to succeed across the diverse and widespread habitats it is found in. We are using growth chambers to maintain our collections and to run experiments combining duckweed genotypes with microbial communities from across source sites and contamination levels in 24 well plates.
Ana O’Brien, Frederickson Lab



Graduate Student Sarah Hall from the Weis Lab studies how stress affects the flowering and reproduction in Camelina.

My MSc research investigates plant tolerance to heatwaves and floral herbivory by comparing the flowering schedules and seed production of different genetic lines of the biofuel crop Camelina sativa. In both experiments, damage is inflicted at different time points in the flowering schedule to form 4 treatments: early, peak, late and a control of no damage. The floral herbivory experiment was conducted in the greenhouse and we are currently using the growth chambers for the the heatwave experiment.
Sarah Hall, Weis Lab



Post-Doctoral Fellow Joanna Rifkin from the Wright Barrett Labs studies how sex chromosomes and separate species evolve in the Rumex genus.

Joanna Rifkin is a postdoctoral fellow in the Wright and Barrett Labs, works on the origin of sex chromosomes in the genus Rumex (docks and sorrels). The 25 species of Rumex currently in the greenhouse facility include species with separate sexes as well as hermaphrodites, and hail from as far away as China and the Canary Islands and as nearby as Koffler Science Reserve. By comparing genetic sequences and expression patterns from species with and without sex chromosomes, Rifkin is investigating how sex chromosomes and separate sexes evolve.
Joanna Rifkin, Wright & Barrett Labs