What I Learned From The Spruce Budworm

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I’m sure you’ve all heard the story behind how Penicillin was discovered. If you haven’t, here is some backstory. In 1928, a time without antibiotics (yikes!), an English gentleman by the name of Alexander Fleming was sorting through his petri dishes full of bacterial colonies. In one of his dishes he noticed a spot of mold growing. Around the mold there seemed to be a zone where no bacteria grew. He hypothesized that the mold had to be secreting some kind of metabolite that prevented or restricted bacterial growth. The metabolite was later isolated, purified, commercialized, and given the name “penicillin” – the first antibiotic that changed the world for the better.

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Reading this whole endeavour, you probably thought to yourself, “Hey, that’s pretty cool. How the heck did they manage to isolate a SINGLE compound from a mixture of thousands and then go on to purify it?! It’s crazy!” Well, that’s what I thought, too. But working in a toxicology lab last summer, my job was to do exactly that.

My name is Robert Pap and I am in my third year of a Health Science program here at Carleton. In the summer of 2017, I worked in Dr. Miller’s lab in the Department of Chemistry. Getting involved in research was probably one of the turning points in my academic career. It showed me how real-life problems could be solved with what I was learning in class. The research I was involved with was based around spruce trees. The spruce budworm is an insect known for causing mass defoliation of spruce trees.

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This is a massive problem considering the foresting industry is one of Canada’s largest sources of income. Now how can we solve this problem while relating to Alexander Fleming? It’s quite an elegant solution. A class of fungi-endophytes grow on plants in symbiotic relationships. This means both the plant and fungi benefit from their intertwined destinies. At this point you’re probably wondering, “How does a plant benefit from fungus growing on it? How does anything benefit from that!? Yuck.” Essentially, the fungus secretes a secondary metabolite when under stress that protects the plant from insects. Herein lies our solution. My work involved growing endophytic fungi, extracting their secondary metabolites and purifying them. The purified metabolites were assayed to assess their insecticidal activity. Fungi that produced potent insecticides were inoculated into tree saplings to protect them from the spruce budworm.

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The techniques I used employed basic organic chemistry principles I learned in class. These were liquid-liquid extraction, column chromatography, and High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). The unifying property these techniques are based around is polarity – a concept so simple, but can by applied to a variety of problems in the world. The process used to isolate these metabolites is the same involved with drug development.

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My research experience had a large learning curve and opened my eyes to how class knowledge can be applied to the real world. I encourage everyone to get involved with some form of research. It may lead you down a path to your future career!

- Robert P., SSSC Mentor

Rebuilding A Culture: From El Trapiché to North-Western Ontario



I was born and raised in a southern Ontario town named Chatham. A town known for its rich history as a major battleground during the War of 1812, as the most expensive lot on the Monopoly Canadian edition board, and for our very own Sam Panopoulos – the creator of Hawaiian pizza. Chatham is quaint, but it lacks opportunity. That’s why I decided to move to Canada’s capital – to study health science and neuroscience at Carleton University.

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Growing up in Southern Ontario meant being pretty oblivious to issues happening on the other end of the province. I first heard about residential schools and the atrocities inflicted on Indigenous people in my tenth grade English class. My teacher took it upon herself to go against the curriculum and teach about the history of Indigenous people and the residential school system. My mouth dropped at the stories she told. I couldn’t believe it. This? Happened in Canada? It baffled me then, and still baffles me now that in one of the richest and subjectively ‘best’ countries in the world, these problems still exist. The detrimental effects of this oppression have created a viscous cycle of poverty, ill health and substance abuse for our indigenous population. I left that class with so many questions. Where do you begin to rebuild a culture after it has been stripped down to nothing?

Motivated by what my tenth grade teacher had taught me about injustice, I travelled to Nicaragua on a volunteer trip in an attempt to make a difference in the world. During the two weeks I was there, my group members and I helped build a playground in a rural village named El Trapiché. Previous groups who had been to the village had built a clean water filtration system, and a school.


At the end of those two weeks we had the opportunity to talk to one of the community members of El Trapiché.

“So now that you have access to clean water and you have a school the next thing you must want is a health care clinic right,” a group member asked.

The community member laughed and explained how the village would need a paved road before a health care clinic, since the terrain was so poor that even if there were a clinic many would not have access to it.

She continued that before a road, they needed job opportunities to pay for the road. It was a sad realization that there was still so much work to be done and that they still wouldn’t reach full sustainability for a number of years.

The difference between El Trapiché and NW Ontario is that most of El Trapiché’s problems could be solved by an abundance of money. El Trapiché has what NW Ontario doesn’t: a plan.

  1. Create job opportunities so that the community can pay for a road
  2. Pave a road so that transportation around the community is more accessible, and
  3. Build a health care clinic so that members can get immediate medical attention

In NW Ontario building brand new infrastructure does not fix the underlying issues. Unfortunately, it isn’t like the 1989 film Field of Dreams. If we build a brand new school, students still may not come. Millions of dollars can be fed into a community and no change can occur.

When I heard about the Indigenous Youth Futures project, I was immediately hooked. It had answered my question from back in the tenth grade: Where do we begin to rebuild a culture?

The answer; by;

  1. Encouraging youth empowerment and well-being
  2. Building resilience and supportive relationships within communities
  3. Facilitating economic development and good governance, and
  4. Ensuring that the voices of communities are at the forefront of such initiatives, and researchers understand how to respect and privilege each community’s ways of knowing throughout the process

This research is unique in the sense that it not only takes the concerns and opinions of community members into consideration, but also as the driving force for change. For example, this summer working on a pilot project, facilitating a suicide prevention/life promotion group with Indigenous youth from Northwestern Ontario. As experts, the youth were at the forefront, researching things such as safe places in their communities and the power of influence.

The problems NW Ontario is facing are unique in the sense that the solution will have to come from a process that is both top-down and bottom-up. I firmly believe that the Indigenous Youth Futures project employs both, and will actively kick-start the rehabilitation of the North.

- Ashley H., SSSC Mentor

Western Blots & Porcupine: My Undergraduate Research Experience

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My name is Catherine and I was born and raised here in the capital. I am a second-year Health Science student with a concentration in Biomedical Science. In my first year, I realized that my passion and appreciation towards the physiological and biochemical aspects of medicine had immensely grown. I was eager to get involved in research to further continue my newly found passion. I decided to register for the lab tour week run by the SSSC and had the chance to visit various labs on campus. I met Dr. Willmore at one of my first lab tours and was really interested in the many clinical applications, such as cancer, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease, that his work involved.  As an aspiring physician, I wanted to explore current health issues which are prevalent in society today. I decided to contact Dr. Willmore to discuss becoming a member of the Willmore lab. With a lot of hard work in first year I was eligible to apply for the Dean’s Summer Research Internship. Currently, I am continuing my work through the I-CUREUS Internship in Dr. Willmore’s lab. In the lab, I work alongside a doctoral student, who is not only a great friend but a great mentor, examining the role of stressors on four proteins; porcupine, wntless, wnt5a and wnt3a, and their function in human colorectal carcinoma cells.

I have learned so many new techniques and they even help me currently in my second-year labs.  Some of the skills that I have learned while in Dr. Willmore’s lab are cell culture, transfection, Western blotting (this is really cool!), and protein determination. I can’t believe that I was able to learn all of this in my first year! One of the most common things that I do in the lab is transfection. This involves growing cells on a plate, injecting the plasmid of our protein into the cells and allowing the plasmid to incorporate itself into the cells.

Currently I am working on trials of the wnt5a protein. A typical trial goes something like this: plate cells to grow, then transfect our wnt5a plasmid into the cells, treat the cells with various treatments, harvest the cells from the plates, use an assay to see how much protein we have, then do a Western to see if we have the correct protein that we are looking for. The best part is when we get to take a picture of the proteins that were transferred onto the membrane.

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I am still fascinated that it is possible to do experiments like this. I really encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about a topic to get involved in research! 

- Catherine K., SSSC Mentor

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Welcome to the Faculty of Science

This is my favourite time of the year. Classes started last Wednesday and campus is active and buzzing again. First-year students are excited to begin their lives at university, and interacting with them reminds me of the limitless potential we have here at Carleton. The leaves are just starting to show glimpses of red and yellow, and I can look out the window of my office and see the new Health Sciences building nearing completion. Carleton is transforming in front of my eyes and everyone here can feel the underlying pulse of change.

It really is a spectacular time to be in the Faculty of Science.

As the Science Student Success Officer at Carleton University, I am in the blessed position of interacting daily with some of the most amazing students on this campus. Our volunteers in the Science Student Success Centre are truly passionate, giving, inspirational individuals. They mentor fellow students one-on-one, run workshops, organize social events for the Faculty of Science, and help plan and execute large networking events to help undergraduate students network with professionals and alumni. They dedicate their time and energy to improving services and, in the process, they make a huge impact on the lives of other Faculty of Science students. It is truly amazing to watch.

What we have in the Faculty of Science at Carleton is truly special. Many undergraduate students complete research projects, work in research labs, and get to participate in groundbreaking projects. Some travel across Canada and to countries around the world to work and volunteer. Many SSSC mentors have been involved in experiential learning and benefited from the hands-on learning opportunities Carleton provides to undergraduate students.

This blog is an opportunity for undergraduate students in the Faculty of Science to share their stories and give you a glimpse into the possibilities available to students who want to make the most of their Carleton experience.

I hope you enjoy their stories as much as I do!

Mandi Crespo
Science Student Success Officer
Faculty of Science
Carleton University

Yellow leaves and Dunton TowerStudents in the Quad at Carleton
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