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Queen's University

BIO 537 2015-16
Dr. Wm. Plaxton

Rm:   3513 Bioscience Complex
Tel:   (613) 533-6150
Faculty Web Site:


Plant Metabolic Biochemistry, Proteomics, & Molecular Biology
My research program focuses on the organization and control of plant carbohydrate metabolism, and the biochemical and molecular adaptations of phosphate-starved plants. Our work integrates a variety of modern biochemical, proteomic, and genomic tools to characterize the molecular and functional properties, and protein:protein interactions of key enzyme proteins. We are particularly interested in post-translational enzyme modification by phosphorylation, monoubiquitination, and glycosylation since these ‘PTMs’ can play pivotal roles in regulating an enzyme's activity, subcellular location, or protein:protein interactions in response to various extra- or intracellular signals. Thanks to our collaborators, the dedicated efforts of my grad and undergrad students and post-docs, and generous NSERC and Queen’s Research Chair support these innovations have led to several remarkable discoveries that have provided a solid foundation for our ongoing research.

Supervision of BIOL537 students. Supervision of up to two BIOL537 students may be possible. Starting date is flexible. A SWEP position ( is available that will ideally be used to employ an incoming BIOL537 student as a full-time summer research assistant, prior to their enrollment in BIOL537 next Sept. BIOL537students receive training in the theoretical and practical aspects of various lab techniques needed for their thesis research. Student supervision is provided by Prof. Plaxton, as well as his post-doc and senior grad students.

Student Qualifications
. The main prerequisites are that the student is highly motivated with excellent 'work ethic', communication, organizational, and interpersonal skills. Preference is given to students who have completed any of Biology’s 400-level practical lab courses (BIOL401*, 402*, 403*, 404*) &/or have previous summer or volunteer experience working in a ‘cell and molecular’ oriented research lab. Those who wish to work with us during the summer of 2015 should submit an application for my SWEP position for a Research Assistant in Plant Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (application deadline = Feb. 12, 2015).

Potential Projects. There are a number of projects available, with the final choice depending upon the student's background and specific interests. Systems we currently study include developing and germinating oilseeds, and suspension cell cultures and seedlings of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. We are also collaborating with Prof. Pascale Champagne (Chem. Eng.) on an algal biofuels project. Projects may involve protein purification and characterization, 2-dimensional gel electrophoresis, proteomics and mass spectrometry, immunological tools such as Western blotting, &/or molecular biology techniques (e.g., transcript profiling via qPCR) to assess the influence of seed development or phosphate-starvation on enzyme regulation or expression. Possible projects also include screening and analyzing transgenic Arabidopsis in which several of the enzymes that we are studying have been 'knocked out' (loss-of-function) or over-expressed. Owing to interesting discoveries arising from their thesis research, at least 50% of my previous BIOL537 students have co-authored our refereed publications in ‘high impact’ biochemistry or plant science journals, a notable achievement at this early stage of their scientific career!

Significance of Our Research. Understanding the organization and control of carbohydrate and phosphate metabolism is crucial to ongoing biotech efforts to improve Canada’s crops, agricultural sustainability, and food security. Results of our research may lead to rational strategies for boosting the oil content of transgenic seeds via metabolic engineering. Similarly, our studies of the biochemical adaptations of phosphate-starved plants has generated knowledge and molecular tools that are facilitating the development of phosphate-efficient transgenic crops, urgently needed to reduce agriculture’s over-reliance on polluting and non-renewable phosphate-containing fertilizers.


Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000