University of Calgary

Prestigious platform

UToday HomeNovember 21, 2012

Jill Hagel’s synthetic biology research is aimed at replacing plants in producing pharmaceuticals. Photo by Riley BrandtJill Hagel’s synthetic biology research is aimed at replacing plants in producing pharmaceuticals. Photo by Riley BrandtJillian Hagel, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biological Sciences in the Faculty of Science, is one of only 30 young scientists from across Canada chosen to present at a landmark conference hosted by the Gairdner Foundation and Genome Canada.

Genomics: The Power and the Promise – in Ottawa Nov. 27 and 28 – selected 30 posters from almost 300 applications submitted by graduate students and postdoctoral fellows across the country.

“I am pretty excited about this,” says Hagel, who works in Peter Facchini’s biochemical genomics research lab.

She will be presenting her work on the discovery of a key enzyme involved in the production of medicinal plant alkaloids, research that could lead to replacing plants in production of pharmaceuticals such as antimicrobial and anticancer drugs. The work has recently been published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

“Making these medicinal compounds in microorganisms instead of using plants is a more sustainable way to produce them,” Hagel says. “It can reduce the costs of pharmaceuticals, too, so down the road drugs might be less expensive. You can also use this platform for engineering novel pharmaceutical that plants can’t make.”

Peter Facchini, professor in the biological sciences department, says being selected to present at the conference is an outstanding achievement.

“Jill is one of the best, for sure. She keeps coming up with these really great discoveries,” he says. “We have world-class research in synthetic biology going on at the University of Calgary and we have exceptional people like Jill who are working here and being trained here.”

Facchini is one of several faculty members from the University of Calgary who are slated to attend the conference. Gerrit Voordouw, an NSERC industrial research chair in petroleum microbiology, and a professor in biological sciences, is a discussion panelist at the conference.

For her part, Hagel is looking forward to meeting other researchers in plant biochemistry as well as microbiology.

“It’s going to be a real diverse crowd and there’s going to be a chance to meet people working in all sorts of areas that are using the same technology and having similar effects on science,” she says. “It’s going to be pretty interesting.”