Developmental biology

Dr. Paul Lasko - Owen Egan

When errors in normal growth and development occur at the start of life, miscarriages or birth defects are often the result. When the normal regulation of development goes wrong later on, diseases like cancer or neurodegeneration result. Advances in developmental biology are essential if we are to comprehend the basic causes of major disorders that ultimately impact a large proportion of humanity. Research in Developmental Biology at McGill is both productive and influential— and will become even more so with the establishment of the Life Sciences Complex. “People working in the complex will be forced to work even more closely than they have in the past,” says Developmental Biology Research Initiative Director Paul Lasko. “The life sciences require this level of cooperation today.”

Complex breathes new life into developmental biology

It doesn’t take long for Dr. Paul Lasko to explain how the McGill Life Sciences Complex will dramatically increase the calibre of research at the University. Lasko, leader of the Developmental Biology Research Initiative and Chair of McGill’s Department of Biology, names two scientists who have already made the decision to join the University based on the fact that the Life Sciences Complex was being built: Dr. Nam-Sung Moon, from Harvard University, and Gary J. Brouhard, from the famed Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Germany.

“We didn’t even interview people like that before we got this new facility,” said Lasko. “We didn’t feel that we were competitive.”

Developmental Biology is a relatively new field expected to revolutionize drug discoveries by investigating how and under what conditions genes exert their influence upon organisms. Discoveries made here will impact the lives of millions around the world.

While the Developmental Biology Research Initiative at McGill has scored notable research successes over the years—including the discovery of how the Bicaudal-C protein controls RNA synthesis of other proteins—the lack of cutting-edge facilities meant that McGill could not compete with the world’s top institutions.

“I went to Bangalore five years ago and was shocked to see how advanced they were compared to us,” explained Lasko. “But I visited the Max Planck Institute last year, and while they have more microscopes than we do, we’re using the same ones, the same technology. We’ve come a long way. The infrastructure has been absolutely essential to the success of this group.”

Inside the Life Sciences Complex, the Developmental Biology Research Initiative will include some 30 laboratories, spread over 13,000 square feet of new research space in the Francesco Bellini Life Sciences Building as well as the 27,000 square feet currently being renovated in the Stewart Biology Building. Lasko welcomes not only the space and equipment in the new facility, but also the open, interdisciplinary nature of the facility.

“People need to talk to each other,” he said. “It was intended in this facility not to provide researchers with walls, and I think this is going to work well. I already see people interacting more than they did in the past.”