Prof. Isabel Molina, Algoma University
Isabel Molina’s research career started after receiving a B.Sc. in Biochemistry from the National University of La Plata (UNLP), Argentina. She initiated her graduate studies at the UNLP and, upon being awarded a Fulbright fellowship, continued her doctoral studies at Michigan State University (MSU), under the co-supervision of Drs. John Ohlrogge and Mike Pollard. After earning her Ph.D. and completing postdoctoral training at MSU, she joined the Algoma University Biology Department in 2011. She was named Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Plant Lipid Metabolism in 2018, and promoted to Full Professor in 2021.
Dr. Molina’s research focuses on investigating how plants make the protective lipids that establish the main physical barrier with the environment, a field that touches related disciplines, including biochemistry, molecular genetics, cell biology, plant physiology, and genomics. Plant lipid barriers represent fundamental cell wall adaptations to the terrestrial environment and are composed of waxes and polymers of fatty acids known as cutin and suberin. Cutin and waxes form the cuticle, a waterproof layer that covers the surface of the plant’s shoots. Suberin is found in seed coats, roots and tuber skin, is the major component of cork of tree bark, and its formation can be induced by wounding. Because extracellular lipids provide protection against water loss, salinity and pathogen attack, understanding their biogenesis could, for example, inform the selection of stress-tolerant plants and of seeds with improved longevity and germination.
Talk title: Genetic and biochemical mechanisms controlling the water barrier function of adult maize leaf cutin
Dr. Heather McFarlane, University of Toronto
The McFarlane Lab studies cell wall synthesis, secretion, signaling, and remodeling with a view to improving plant biomass for food, materials, and energy. Heather earned her PhD working with Lacey Samuels at the University of British Columbia (Canada) where she studied the transport of lipids that form the protective plant cuticle. After her PhD, she moved to the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology (Germany) to study cell wall synthesis as an EMBO postdoctoral fellow with Staffan Persson. Heather moved with the Persson lab when the group relocated to the University of Melbourne (Australia). There, she was awarded an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award to continue her work on cell wall signaling. Heather joined the Department of Cell and Systems Biology at the University of Toronto as a Canada Research Chair in Plant Cell Biology in July 2019. Outside the lab, Heather is an ice hockey enthusiast and opera fanatic.
Talk title: Sending the right signals for plant cell wall synthesis and remodeling
Dr. Marina Cvetkovska, University of Ottawa
Dr. Marina Cvetkovska is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Biology, University of Ottawa and leads an active research lab since 2019. She obtained her PhD at the University of Toronto (2006-2012) specializing in plant responses to stress, followed by an NSERC-funded Postdoctoral position at University of Western Biology centered on algal adaptation to extreme environments (2014-2018). The Cvetkovska group is focusing on examining the mechanisms behind stress tolerance and adaptation in plants and algae using a combination of physiology, molecular biology and bioinformatics. Her group uses polyextremophilic algae from Arctic and Antarctic environments as models for adaptation to extreme environments. These algae are a key component of polar ecosystems but are very sensitive to changes in their environment, becoming increasingly endangered due to recent climate change trends. The long-term goal of her lab is to apply the insights obtained from extremophiles to improve stress tolerance in economically important algae and plants. To achieve this goal, Dr. Cvetkovska recently started working with cannabis, a commercially important and yet understudied plant.
Talk title: Life on the Edge: Extremophilic Green Algae and their Responses to a Changing Environment