Biology research

An interdisciplinary focus

Major advances in fundamental knowledge often result from interdisciplinary research approaches and collaborations. The multidisciplinary research environment underlying the Biology research program has the potential to result in important practical applications and will provide our students with a unique research perspective to foster their scientific training and outlook.

The two key research areas specific to the Biology program include biomolecular science and ecosystem health.

Research areas

  • Biomolecular science

    Biomolecular science focuses on:

    • Biomaterials and bio-based products.
    • Drug discovery, drug formulation and site-specific drug delivery.
    • The mechanisms of action of pharmaceuticals at the cellular and molecular level.
    • The molecular and cellular aspects of the immune system in response to pathogenic and non-pathogenic micro-organisms.
    • New approaches for combating infectious organisms and disease.
    • The use of molecular and cellular tools to investigate mechanisms of cell function.

    Several members of the Biology group in the Faculty of Science have research interests in the area of biomolecular science, including:

    • Dario Bonetta, PhD: Dr. Bonetta's training and research background spans developmental biology, genetics, molecular biology, and the biochemistry of plant and microbial systems. His current research interests focus on mechanisms of polysaccharide biosynthesis and cell wall integrity in Arabidopsis and microorganisms, as well as bio-based materials for creation of fuels and fibres.
    • Sean Forrester, PhD: Dr. Forrester has been investigating parasitic helminths for almost 11 years. His current research specializes on ligand-gated chloride channels in parasitic nematodes, a unique field of research in Canada. His specific expertise spans the fields of molecular biology, neurochemistry, molecular pharmacology and electrophysiology.
    • Julia Green-Johnson, PhD: Dr. Green-Johnson's research deals with functional food components and their ability to influence the immune system, with a focus on their bioactivity in the mucosal microenvironment. Her research program involves characterization of bioactive products produced by lactic acid bacteria in milk and soy fermentations; microbe-host cell interactions, with an emphasis on the impact of probiotics and their bioactive products on cytokine and eicosanoid production; and neuroimmune interactions in the context of the mucosal microenvironment. Her current research activities also include collaborative projects examining exercise and its effect on the human immune system, with a focus on effects on immunosenescence, the impact of nutritional modification on bovine immunity, and the incorporation of nutritional genomics into dietetic practice.
    • Andrea Kirkwood, PhDDr. Kirkwood is an aquatic microbial biologist with research interests in algal ecophysiology. Current research in the Kirkwood lab includes the investigation of the physiological and biomolecular traits of algae isolated from wastewater and degraded systems. Algae from these systems are being screened for their potential in algal biofuel production.
    • Janice Strap, PhD: Dr. Strap has expertise in medical microbiology, phylogenetic analysis, microbial ecology, environmental microbiology, microbial biochemistry, plant-microbe interactions and microbe-microbe interactions. Her current research interests involve investigating how microbes degrade, synthesize and interact with biomaterials. This research has applications in medicine, agriculture and material science. Visit her website for more information.
  • Ecosystem health

    The field of ecosystem health focuses on:

    • Understanding the underlying mechanisms of ecosystem function and health.
    • Determining the implications of external toxicants on the health of ecosystems.
    • Discovering indicators for environmental problems.
    • Developing methods to lessen human exposure to toxicants.

    In addition, researchers in the program will investigate related areas such as environmental microbiology, the pathophysiology of environmental disorders and the micro and macro environmental factors causing cancer.

    Several members of the Biology group in the Faculty of Science have research interests in the area of ecosystem health, including:

    • Douglas Holdway, PhD: Dr. Holdway researches ecotoxicological impacts of contaminants upon aquatic organisms, populations and communities, and the development and application of biomarkers of contaminant exposure and effects in aquatic organisms.Specifically interested in the impacts of exposures to chemicals such as endocrine disruptors and pharmaceuticals and personal care products on fish growth, reproduction and embryo/larval development.
    • Andrea Kirkwood, PhD: Dr. Kirkwood's research program at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology aims to improve our understanding of energy, nutrient and contaminant dynamics in a variety of aquatic ecosystems, including lakes, wetlands and wastewater systems. Lake studies aim to assess the structure and function of microbial food webs (algae, bacteria and zooplankton), including a focus on the microbial loop as the engine of nutrient and contaminant flux. Other research areas of interest include: aquatic invasive species, urban wetland function and algal biotechnology. Visit her website for more information on specific research projects.
    • Janice Strap, PhD
      • Investigation of the molecular basis of the ecophysiology of bacterial cellulose producing acetic acid bacteria (AAB).
      • Molecular genetic and biochemical characterization of cellulose biosynthesis in AAB.
      • Molecular characterization of microbial interactions facilitated by natural biopolymers.
      • Microbial delignification of biofuel feedstocks

Other University of Ontario Institute of Technology faculty members have research interests in the area of biomolecular science and ecosystem health. To review their research interests, visit the Chemistry and Health Sciences pages.