Dr. Benjamin Scott, President
Ben is a postdoctoral associate at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). His research is focused on engineering cellular signaling to develop new drug discovery platforms, and to create cell-based therapies. Ben holds a Bachelor’s degree in Life Sciences from McMaster University, where he first developed an interest in the origins of life and protein engineering. He then completed a Master’s degree in Medical Sciences at McMaster, and a PhD at the University of Toronto, focusing on synthetic biology. Passionate about student engagement, he has lead several student unions and founded McMaster University's first iGEM team.
He loves anything and everything to do with synthetic biology and he’s excited to help the community grow in Canada. He believes that Canada can become a leader in the field, first by promoting existing research, and eventually with specific training programs and improved funding. He founded SynBio Canada to work actively towards these goals.
Dr. Laura Prochazka, community officer university of toronto
Laura, grown and educated in Switzerland, moved to Canada in fall 2016 to work as a Postdoctoral researcher at the University of Toronto. Her main expertise lies in engineering multi-input gene circuits in human (stem) cells. She is inspired by the opportunities Synthetic Biology can offer in particular to increase our understanding of human cell fate decisions and to generate novel cell-based therapeutics.
Laura holds a Bachelor and Master degree in Biochemistry from the University of Zurich and a PhD in Mammalian Synthetic Biology from ETH Zurich. She is recipient of the Medicine by Design (MbD) Postdoctoral Fellowship Award. Laura led and contributed to work that has been published in peer reviewed highly influential journals such as Science, Nature Communications, and ACS Synthetic Biology. She has supervised and judged several iGEM teams, is currently educating and mentoring students in Synthetic Biology at the University of Toronto and is organizer of the MbD Synthetic Biology Discussion Group. We are therefore very happy she is joining our team to represent the University of Toronto as a Community Officer where she continuous to do that what is already doing – organizing discussion groups, connecting scientists, writing blog posts and sharing interesting Synthetic Biology news.
SAMIR HAmadache, community officer Western university
Samir is pursuing his honors genetics and biochemistry degree at Western University (London, Ontario), where he became acquainted with the synthetic biology field and community. He is currently completing a molecular biology research internship at Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Samir is an active student politician and advocate for the advancement of synthetic biology. In 2016, Samir spearheaded a campaign, alongside faculty members and students, successfully lobbying for the creation of Canada’s first undergraduate synthetic biology program at Western University. He believes that more academic and experiential opportunities need to be created to make Canada a global leader in this field of study.
He plans to pursue graduate studies in applied synthetic biology in coming years. For more, visit his LinkedIn profile.
Taylor Sheahan, Community Officer University of Lethbridge
Taylor is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Lethbridge under the supervision of Dr. Hans-Joachim Wieden. She is a member of the Alberta RNA Research and Training Institute (ARRTI), the first RNA focused research center in Alberta. Taylor’s research is focused on creating novel cell-free biological tools to aid in the development of synthetic biological systems for practical applications and to overcome current limitations of cell-based approaches. She was involved with the 2016 and 2017 Lethbridge Collegiate iGEM teams, receiving Gold for their work. The 2017 team was also nominated for Best Integrated Human Practices, Best Education and Public Engagement, Best Software, and a Security Commendation.
Taylor holds a Master’s of Engineering Science in Biomedical Engineering from Western University (London, Ontario) and a Bachelor’s of Science in Chemical Engineering from Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario). Her background in engineering provides a unique perspective to how she approaches the field of Synthetic Biology. She is very excited to be a part of this growing community in Canada and to share her passion for developing biologically engineered solutions to address real world problems.
For more, visit her LinkedIn profile.
Nathan Braniff, Community officer university of waterloo
Nathan is a PhD student in applied mathematics at the University of Waterloo. He is a member of the Ingall's Quantitative Cell Biology Lab where he works on mathematical and computational tools for the improved design of synthetic biological systems. He holds a Master’s in Computer Science from Queen’s University and Master’s in Mathematics from the University of Waterloo.
His current research focus is on experimental design and system identification methods utilizing optogenetics for the study of dynamic gene expression networks. He is passionate about synthetic biology and contributing to the growing SynBio research community in Canada.
Fatima Sheikh, Community Officer McMaster University
Fatima is heading into her third year of Honours Life Science at McMaster. She hopes to complete an interdisciplinary minor in Globalization studies, as is passionate about health equity and other issues concerning the global community. She leads the McMaster Public Health Association (MPHA) and Me to We (Hamilton), which allows her to interact with people who are interested making a difference in the community.
She recently joined the McMaster iGEM Team, where she leads the Outreach Team. Their project uses a bacterial system to investigate mechanisms of amyloid-beta aggregation in Alzheimer’s disease, an increasingly pressing concern considering Canada’s aging population. Fatima believes that synthetic biology has enormous potential, especially in Canada.
Brendan Grue, Community Officer Dalhousie University and Saint Mary’s University
Brendan is completing his PhD in Biomedical Engineering at both Saint Mary’s University and Dalhousie under the supervision of Dr. Samuel Veres. His research is focused on developing a new class of orthopaedic implants aimed at the repair and regeneration of bone tissue. He completed his undergraduate degree in Microbiology and Immunology at Dalhousie where he conducted research in areas such as blueberry pathology, cancer biochemistry, and oncolytic viruses. Brendan believes strongly in the need to bridge together various existing disciplines in order to pull together the knowledge required to grow and incubate new fields, such as synthetic biology.
Kenza Samlali, Community Officer Concordia University
Kenza Samlali is a PhD candidate at the Center for Applied Synthetic Biology, Concordia University in Montréal. In 2017, she moved to Canada from Belgium to pursue her current doctoral studies at the Shih Lab and be part of the vibrant synbio culture at Concordia. Her research involves developing microfluidic devices to automate synthetic biology applications ranging from single-cell analysis to directed evolution.
Kenza's anti-disciplinary approach is visible throughout her career. She holds a Bachelors and Masters degree in Bioengineering from KU Leuven (Belgium) with a minor in innovation and leadership. During and after her studies in Belgium, she had a go in the start-up world. Kenza also helped building up Bricobio, a non-profit biology community lab (‘DIYBio lab’) in Montréal. Here, she currently is a community manager. Bricobio is a research collective and non-academic lab space, that tries to reconnect the public with biotech, through education and outreach in a maker environment for curiosity driven research. Kenza is strongly involved in the global community DIYbio movement and other open science initiatives, that inherently grew out of iGEM and the synthetic biology community. Her current ambition is to further stimulate community science and get involved in the science policy around SynBio. She believes biosafety, - security and - ethics research questions should be an integral part of any synbio project.
Amy Chen, Community Officer University of Calgary
Amy is in her final year of the Honors Bachelor of Health Sciences Program, an interdisciplinary and research-intensive program, at the University of Calgary. She hopes to combine her interest in molecular biology, medicine, and engineering to create innovative health solutions for the future.
Amy has been an active member of the University of Calgary iGEM team since winter of 2016. This past year, she and her team took their iGEM project a step further by designing a prototype for a component of their engineered system to test in microgravity as part of the CAN-RGX Challenge. Amy currently works as the North American iGEM Ambassador. As part of a diverse team of Ambassadors across the globe, she is developing programs, resources, and opportunities for iGEMers and alumni to innovate, connect, and impact the world. Amy believes that Synthetic Biology possesses the potential to create innovative solutions for real-world problems. She is currently collaborating with biotechnology and innovation companies, economic-decision-making parties, and industry experts to expand the ecosystem for synthetic biology in Canada to foster the development of more synthetic biology technologies and solution in the region.
Dr. Darin Bloemberg, Community Officer National Research Council Canada in Ottawa
Darin is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Research Council Canada (NRC), working on the Cancer Immunology team within the Human Health Therapeutics Research Center. He is currently developing novel CAR- (chimeric antigen receptor) T cell constructs, examining the mechanisms involved with cancer immune escape, and testing advanced CAR-T technologies using cellular engineering and genome editing. Darin envisions that CAR-T represents a stepping stone leading to next generation cell-based health interventions and that the limitless possibilities of synthetic biology will enable this revolution.
Darin completed a triple degree (BSc, MSc, PhD) in Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo, where he studied the cellular factors that mediate adaptive stress response mechanisms relevant to intermittent fasting, exercise, and aging. This work further defined how and why some “stressful” lifestyle factors (like salads and running) are considered physiologically beneficial while others (like pizza and UV radiation) are considered harmful.
For more information and to connect with Darin, please visit his LinkedIn profile.
Dr. Mads Kaern, community officer university of ottawa
Mads is a professor at the University of Ottawa. He believes that synthetic niology will continue to play a significant role in medical innovation, including engineered virus and engineered immune cells that can cure cancer. He has been part of the synthetic biology community since the early 00' and started working in the field with Dr. James Collins on sources of "noisy" signals in gene expression and the engineering of programable cell behaviour by creating "plug-ins" for interfacing synthetic gene networks and natural signalling pathways. To facilitate medical advances, he is a member of the Cancer Therapeutics Program at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and the Regional Genetics Program at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.
His NSERC-funded Synthetic Biology program uses an integrated genetic network engineering approach to study gene regulatory processes and develop artificial gene control systems. This program is driven by his long-term passion to understand how genomes encode "programs" that control and coordinate cellular behaviour and organismal development and fail during disease. This involves both foundational and applied research, including DNA assembly methods, artificial transcription factors, biological network design, systems modelling and simulation.
He initiated the uOttawa iGEM undergraduate training program soon after he arrived in Ottawa, and has been the organizer and the supervisor of the uOttawa iGEM team. Many iGEM team members have continued as graduate students in my program subsequently moved to world-leading institutions including MIT, Cambridge, Harvard and NYU.
Jehoshua Sharma, Community Officer University of Guelph
Jehoshua Sharma is in his fifth year of Microbiology Co-op, with minors in Molecular Biology & Genetics as well as Philosophy at the University of Guelph. He is currently a research assistant within the lab of Dr Rebecca Shapiro. There, he uses CRISPR-Cas9 to study the genetics of the drug-resistant pathogens, Candida albicans and Candida auris. His current research focus is on the discovery of compounds that can enhance the activity of established drugs and using CRISPR to study the potential gene targets of these compounds.
He is also one of the founders of iGEM Guelph and provides students with access to the tools that they need to conduct novel synthetic biology research independently. Through talks and outreach events, Jehoshua has made it clear that a significant aspect of his work is scientific communication. He believes that the confusion surrounding synthetic biology by the general public is solvable problem; and if the public can understand us, we can continue to advance even faster.
Dr. Fatima Awwad, Community Officer Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières
Fatima, born in Lebanon, holds a Bachelor degree in Biology from the Lebanese University (Beirut, Lebanon) and a Master degree in plant integrative biology from the university of western Brittany (Brest, France). She moved to Canada in 2013 to complete a PhD in molecular and cell biology in Sherbrooke (Qc). Fatima worked for long on plant metabolites functions and pathways before she started experimenting in bioengineered microalgae. Her main expertise lies in understanding engineering plant synthetic pathway into microalgae. She believes in the importance of synthetic biology to move life science from a descriptive discipline to a prescriptive discipline. Fatima is currently a MITACS Accelerate Postdoctoral fellow in Isabel Desgagné-Penix Lab, Canada chair of plant specialized metabolites in UQTR (Trois-Rivières).
Née au Liban, Fatima détient une license en biologie de l'université Libanaise à Beyrouth et une maîtrise en biologie végétale intégrative de l'université de Bretagne occidentale (Brest, France). Elle a visité le Canada la première fois en 2013 pour entamer un doctorat en biologie moléculaire et cellulaire. Elle a longtemps étudié la physiologie végétale et les voies métaboliques ainsi que la caractérisation de certaines molécules bio-actives. Fatima tient à l'importance de la biologie synthétique et comment ça participe à change la biologie d'une science descriptive en une science exécutive. Fatima est actuellement stagiaire postdoctorale au laboratoir d'Isabel Desgagné-Penix à l'université du Québec à Trois-Rivières.
Interested in helping, but don't want to commit to joining the Steering Committee? Your name could go here as a Contributor! We welcome anyone interested in fostering the synthetic biology community, in Canada or abroad. Just write one article about something you're interested in, and it will be posted on the SynBio Canada blog.
You could write a profile on an iGEM team or synthetic biology course at your institution, or conduct an interview with an interesting researcher. Or just talk about how cool synbio is! Get in touch if you want to become a Contributor.
Former Steering Committee Members
Andrew Diamond, Community Officer Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières
Andrew is a PhD candidate in cell and molecular biology at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. He is working on metabolic engineering to use unicellular algae as a platform for production of plant specialized metabolites. After having the chance to develop collaborations with different Canadian industries, Andrew discovered an interest in applied science. He believes that synthetic biology can promote the growth of several companies in Canada.
Andrew est un candidat au Doctorat en biologie cellulaire et moléculaire à l’Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. Ses travaux de recherche portent sur l’ingénierie métabolique afin d'utiliser les algues unicellulaires comme une plateforme de production pour les métabolites spécialisés de plantes. Après avoir développé des collaborations avec des industries canadiennes, Andrew a découvert un intérêt pour la recherche appliquée. Il croit que la biologie synthétique peut permettre d’accélérer la croissance de plusieurs compagnies au Canada.