My NSERC funded research program is focused on the evolution and function of the insulin superfamily of ligands and receptors (see left image) in vertebrates. Using a variety of methods such as ancestral genome reconstruction, synteny, phylogeny and selection analyses we unraveled the duplication history of Relaxin family ligands in vertebrates (see publications) and the Insulin superfamily (upcoming manuscript). Currently, our work on the insulin superfamily is focused on 1) the role of Insl5 in the metabolism and immunity and 2) genetic epidemiology of Type 1 diabetes (see below). For this work, we are using cell culture, mouse and Japanese medaka as models to study the function of INSL5, and using a variety of molecular approaches, including transcriptomics, qPCR, in situ hybridisation and western blots.
In collaboration with Margaret Docker at the University of Manitoba, we are studying the genes involved in gonad development in male and female lamprey sampled at different stages of development (amnocete, juvenile (metamorphosizing) and upstream migrant. The release of the germline genome of the Sea Lamprey in 2018, has greatly facilitated this work; we are analyses RNA-seq data from Brook Lamprey, Northern Brook Lamprey and Sea Lamprey to identify sex and stage-specific transcripts. Further, since Lamprey are the earliest vertebrate to develop the pituitary, we also aim to compare the pathways employed lamprey's to differentiate the gonads to those of higher vertebrates.
Since 2012, we have recognised the importance of ancestral genome reconstructions to inform the duplication history and processes generating gene families in vertebrates. Emanating from this work, we are examining the impact of large-scale genomic changes on the syntenic structure, mutation rate, and disease associations of genes located in different syntenic blocks in the human genome.
HUMAN GENETIC EPIDEMIOLOGY AND POPULATION GENOMCS
Since 2015, I have been working increasingly more in the field of genetic epidemiology, in collaboration with researchers in the Department of Biochemistry and Medical Genetics at The University of Manitoba and The Hospital for Sick Children. These projects have been focused on identifying genetic loci associated with Autism (X. Liu, UofM) or Type 1 Diabetes (A. Paterson, Sick Kids)