U of T Mississauga Receives over $2.7 Million in NSERC Grant Funding

Image of Professor Iva Zovkic
Monday, June 22, 2015 - 9:30am
By Carla DeMarco
Researchers from across five departments at UTM have received awards to fund projects ranging in topics from lake ice in Canada, to sexual selection in the wild, and mother-offspring dynamics.

Iva Zovkic is one of 16 faculty members at UTM to have received NSERC funding and it will go a long way to support her neuroscience research in learning and memory within the Department of Psychology.

“I am going to use the NSERC funds to try and figure out how histone variant exchange regulates memory formation,” says Zovkic, who admits that the experiments her lab conducts are expensive and the financial support is critical.

So she was even further delighted to hear that on top of the five year $165,000 Discovery Grant she received, she was additionally awarded the Discovery Accelerator Supplement that will provide her with $120K over three years. “This is just a wonderful step in getting my research established and allowing me to utilize innovative approaches to answer long-standing questions in gene regulation and neural plasticity,” says Zovkic.

Zovkic’s work is focused on histone variant exchange in memory formation and gene regulation in the brain. Histones are proteins inside the nucleus that package DNA and their modifications are involved in turning memory-related genes on and off in response to learning. This is all in relation to Zovkic’s research in epigenetics, which refers to a set of modifications that produce stable changes in gene activity without changing the sequence of the gene.

In the course of her program of research Zovkic has made an important discovery: that the histone-variant H2A.Z, which is typically studied in relation development and cancer, is also involved in regulating cognitive function, so down the road it could be used to treat memory-related disorders.

Zovkic sees huge potential for epigenetics overall and for histone variants in particular. Since histone variants are found across species, there are profound implications of this research for a variety of disciplines, not just neuroscience, with applications for research in a number of areas such as aging, disease, and mental health.

“Histone variants are well known factors that regulate cancer, they regulate gene expression in plants, they are a system that basically exists across species but we still don’t really know how they work,” says Zovkic. “Although current studies are focused on H2A.Z, diverse histone variants exist in the brain. By putting different variants together, we can entirely change the way that genes respond to environmental signals, making them a strong candidate for understanding learning and memory formation.”

Along with Zovkic and her project “The role of nucleosome composition and histone-variant exchange in associative learning and memory,” the full list of UTM researchers awarded Discovery Grants include the following recipients:

  • Laura Brown, Geography, Monitoring and Modelling Lake Ice in Canada
  • Craig Chambers, Psychology, Integrative mechanisms in real-time spoken language processing
  • Ingo Ensminger, Biology, How will Global Change Affect Function Of Future Trees and Forests
  • Ted Erclik, Biology, Genetic mechanisms underlying neuronal migration in the developing Drosophila brain
  • George Espie, Biology, Physiological and Molecular Analysis of the Cyanobacterial CO2 Concentrating Mechanism
  • Norm Farb, Psychology, Neural Mechanisms of Interoceptive Representation and Regulation
  • Alison Fleming, Psychology, Not all rat pups are treated equally: Behavioral, neural, and (epi)genetic mechanisms mediating mother-offspring dynamics
  • Ian Graham, Mathematical and Computational Sciences, Loewner theory and holomorphic mappings in several variables
  • Darryl Gwynne, Biology, Sexual Selection and Viability in the Wild: the Evolution of Sex Differences
  • Voula Kanelis, Chemical & Physical Sciences, Studies of the effects of phosphorylation and protein interactions on ATP-binding casette transporter activity
  • Igor Lehnherr, Geography, Climate Change Impacts on Mercury and Methylmercury Sources to Arctic Ecosystems
  • Lindsay Schoenbohm, Chemical & Physical Sciences, How do Continental Plateaus Grow? Mantle to Surface Dynamics of the Anatolian and Andean Plateaus
  • Robert Reisz, Biology, Patterns of diversification in terrestrial vertebrate evolution

Additionally, Zovkic in Psychology and Lindsay Schoenbohm in Chemical & Physical Sciences each received a Discovery Accelerator Supplement, and Marc Johnson from Biology and Joshua Milstein each received a Research Tools and Instruments Grant, which will equip their individual labs with a high capacity freeze dryer and a super-resolution microscope, respectively.

"The total funding is a significant influx of research support for U of T Mississauga," says Bryan Stewart, UTM's Vice-Principal, Research. "We are very appreciative for this NSERC funding of basic, investigator-driven research."

In total, more than 3800 researchers across 70 universities in Canada will receive a boost of over $340 million from NSERC’s Discovery Grants program. For the full list of recipients, please see NSERC’s website.