Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Craig Kerr, Graduate Student Representative

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology strives to understand the molecular mechanisms that drive biological processes. First established in 1950, the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB) contained only three faculty members and four graduate students. Eighteen years later, in 1968, BMB helped to establish UBC as a top research institute when Dr. Michael Smith was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his development of Site Directed Mutagenesis – a world-renowned technique. Today, BMB has expanded to over 40 faculty members, associate members, and instructors on top of evolving into a thriving graduate program consisting of over 60 MSc and PhD students. Every student in the program participates in the BIOC 530 seminar course where they present their own research to the department each year. Third year PhD students have the opportunity to compete for the coveted Zbarsky Award, which is given out to the best seminar as voted on by your peers.

Research within BMB spans a variety of different areas including: membrane biology, protein trafficking and secretion, systems biology, drug development, structural biology, enzymology, signal transduction, regulation of transcription, and mechanisms of disease related to pathogens, cancer, metabolism and vision.

The department also creates an engaging scientific community through various social events such as an annual BMB retreat and monthly poster sessions. As well, there is an active Graduate Student Association that organizes departmental intramural teams and plan events, including an annual BBQ and pub nights.

Overall, the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology provides an environment to conduct research and study at the highest level where only your imagination is the limit. Consequently, it draws high caliber faculty and trainees from across the globe, whom study a diverse array of topics such as:

How can superior drug delivery systems improve therapeutics? Bone disorders affect thousands of people across Canada. Typically, bone is a difficult organ to target with drugs due to its low accessibility. Enter, Mina Ordobadi, a second year M.Sc. student in Dr. Pieter Cullis’ Lab within the Life Sciences Institute. Mina is looking to circumvent this issue by developing lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) as a drug delivery system to bones. Using bone-specific targeting ligands, the LNPs are loaded with novel small molecule drugs which can potentially promote bone health and treat diseases such as osteoporosis. Taking advantage of microfluidic techniques to formulate LNPs, she is able to optimize the delivery efficiency for each drug in an in vivo setting. This exciting research will hopefully lead to new potential therapeutics for the treatment of bone-related disorders.


Mina Orobadi



Stefanie Novakowski

Can endogenous machinery in the blood be engineered to treat disease? Centered at the interface of engineering and biochemistry are students like Stefanie Novakowski. Stefanie is a second year M.Sc. student in Dr. Christian Kastrup’s Lab located in the Michael Smith Laboratories. Interested in treating blood disorders such as atherosclerosis, Stefanie looks to engineer platelets for the targeted delivery of therapeutics. While circulating throughout the bloodstream, platelets release many factors into the extracellular environment, including mRNAs and miRNAs, provoking physiological and pathological processes such as blood clotting and inflammation. To this end, Stefanie is utilizing lipid nanoparticles to deliver the materials for RNA synthesis to platelets ex vivo. These engineered platelets can be used for targeted delivery of therapeutic RNA to specific sites of disease within the vasculature.


What mechanisms contribute to prevailing antibiotic resistance in bacterial pathogens? Opting to pursue his passion in science over playing hockey, Dustin King, works at the forefront of macromolecular structure determination and structure-based drug development. Recipient of the Zbarsky award and currently a fourth year Ph.D. student, Dustin is investigating the bacterial resistance mechanisms to β-lactam antibiotics. The β-lactam antibiotics such as penicillin have long been a cornerstone for the treatment of bacterial disease and constitute over 50% of all antibiotic prescriptions worldwide. Thus, the ever-growing resistance to this important class of antibiotics is frightening. The most prevalent cause of resistance is due to the expression of β-lactamase enzymes that are capable of hydrolyzing the lactam ring, rendering them inactive. Based in Dr. Natalie Strydnaka’s Lab in the Life Sciences Institute, Dustin employs X-ray crystallography and other enzymatic assays to probe the mechanisms of β-lactamases with the goal of finding new therapeutic targets.


Dustin King



Benjamin Martin

What role do histone modifications play in gene regulation? Studying histone acetylation and gene activation is Benjamin Martin, a fourth year Ph.D student in Dr. LeAnn Howe’s Lab. One of the hallmarks of transcribed chromatin is acetylation of histone proteins, but the mechanistic role of this modification in gene expression remains uncertain. Working with the Molecular Epigenetics group in the Life Sciences Insititue, Benjamin is answering a central question of chromatin biology: does histone acetylation occur as a cause or a consequence of transcription? Despite histone acetylation’s importance in eukaryotic transcription and its involvement in human disease, this fundamental question remains largely unaddressed. This research directly tackles the issue and aims to uncover histone acetylation’s role in gene expression. Outside of research he spends his time playing on the Canadian field hockey team and is currently preparing for the Commonwealth games next summer in Glasgow.


Selected Publications

Kim, J.H., Resende, R., Wennekes, T., Chen, H.M., Bance, N., Buchini, S., Watts, A.G., Pilling, P., Streltsov, W.A., Petric, M., Liggins, R., Barrett, S., McKimm-Breschkin, J.L., Niikura, M., and S.G. Withers. Mechanism-based covalent neuraminidase inhibitors with broad-spectrum influenza antiviral activity. (2013). Science 340:71-5.

Maltby, V.E., Martin, B.J., Brind’Amour, J., Chruscicki, A.T., McBurney, K.L., Schulze, J.M., Johnson, I.J., Hills, M., Hentrich, T., Kobor, M.S., Lorincz, M.C., and L.J. Howe. Histone H3K4 demethylation is negatively regulated by histone H3 acetylation in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. (2012). PNAS 109:18505-10.

King, D.T.,Worrall, L.J., Gruninger, R., and N.C. Strydnaka. New Delhi metallo-β-lactamase: structural insights into β-lactam recognition and inhibition. (2012). J Am Chem Soc 134:11362-5

Kristensen, A.R., Gsponer, J., and L.J. Foster. A high-throughput approach for measuring temporal changes in the interactome. (2012). Nature Methods 9:907-9.