The Bowdish lab is thrilled to participate in NSERC’s “Science, Action!” video contest. An undergraduate team of videographers (Yung Lee, Karanbir Brar, and Tony Chen) filmed our lab discussing our NSERC funded work on discovering the evolutionary origins of phagocytosis. Please “like” and share our video to help us move on to the next level of the competition.
Our NSERC funding has been integral to the lab. This was one of the first grants that got the lab up and running and to date we have had 5 NSERC funded graduate students and 10 undergraduate students including 3 NSERC Undergraduate Summer Research Assistants in the lab. This funding has also been instrumental in developing new techniques, technologies and collaborations that have extended our research capacity.
What are we studying with our NSERC funded research?
Our NSERC Discovery Grant entitled “Uncovering mechanisms of phagocytosis by class A scavenger receptors” allows us to use bioinformatics and molecular biology to understand the very origins of immunity.
Our lab studies macrophages, which are sentinel cells of the innate immune response. They patrol the body and engulf damaged tissues or pathogens and destroy them. This Pac-man like ability to eat microbes is called “phagocytosis”. We study a particular class of receptors that macrophages use to phagocytose called the scavenger receptors.
Phagocytosis is an ancient process that is central to defence and nutrient acquisition in single-celled organisms and embryonic development, clearance of modified host proteins and innate immunity in multi-cellular organisms. During phagocytosis a phenomenal amount of information is transmitted to the cell including the size and shape of the particle, its composition, and potential toxicity. How this information is transmitted is not really understood but is the focus of our work.
All the major discoveries in immunology (e.g. toll like receptors, intracellular sensors, signalling pathways) began with studies in comparative or evolutionary biology and my program of research continues this tradition. Indeed, the process of phagocytosis is believed to be the prototype function of the immune system as acquisition of nutrients developed into a mechanism of self- versus non-self recognition. The process of uptake is so ancient that it must have occurred prior to or in conjunction with the expression of protein receptors on the surface of the cell. The scavenger receptors, being primitive but effective uptake receptors may rely on membrane dynamics and lipid interactions more than their more evolutionarily recent counterparts (e.g. Fc receptors). We use bioinformatics to study the genomes of ancient and modern animals to study how the scavenger receptors change over time. Parts of the scavenger receptor gene or protein that haven’t changed over time, are likely very important for function. We use molecular biology to uncover how these particular regions of the protein work. Studying these processes will uncover novel mechanisms of signalling and contribute to our understanding of the cell biology of endocytosis and phagocytosis, which are processes integral to embryonic development, immunity, homeostasis, implant recognition and adhesion and consequently essential to many fields of biology.
Check out the other videos of the “Science, Action!” video contest here.
To read more about our NSERC funded work click here.