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Applications Open For Postdoc Teaching & Leadership Program

Dennis KolosovDennis Kolosov credits a made-at McMaster program for helping him make the move to the Golden State.

Dennis, an NSERC and McCall MacBain Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Biology, will join California State University in January. He was among the first group of postdoctoral fellows to participate in the McCall MacBain Postdoctoral Fellows in Teaching and Leadership Program that launched last fall.

“It was an amazing immersive experience,” Dennis says about the program. “I truly believe that my participation in this program can at least in part be credited with helping me land interviews and a tenure-track faculty position at California State University.”

The first-of-its-kind program, funded by John and Marcy McCall MacBain, helps postdoctoral fellows hone their skills as future educators and academic leaders.  The program was developed by Program Faculty Advisor Joe Kim and Program Manager and Research Coordinator Connie Imbault from the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior. 

“Our inaugural group of Postdoctoral Fellows have already achieved amazing accomplishments, from publishing op-eds in national media outlets to securing tenure-track faculty positions,” says Connie. “We can’t wait to meet our second cohort and see the remarkable things they can do. Their success makes us so thankful to the McCall MacBain Foundation for their generous support in funding this program.”

Up to 10 Postdoctoral Fellows will participate in professional development workshops and journal club meetings, complete a discipline-based education research project and publish an op-ed about their research. Dennis was among the first-year Fellows to have an op-ed published in The Conversation Canada.

Open to all postdoctoral students in the Faculty of Science, the deadline to apply for the 2020-2021 program is Aug. 12. An online information session will be held on Aug. 5 at 11 am. The Faculty of Science will reimburse postdoctoral supervisors 20 percent of their postdoctoral fellows’ stipends during the fall and winter terms.

Here’s what other postdoctoral fellows had to say about the McCall MacBain Postdoctoral Fellows in Teaching and Leadership Program:

Emily Dunford

“Without the support of this program, I would not have had the confidence to write an op-ed, let alone submit it to The Conversation Canada and have it published. I you are interested in a career in academia, where teaching is a requirement, this program is an excellent opportunity to learn critical teaching, learning and science communication skills.”

Emily Dunford
Department of Kinesiology

Pat Clancy

“I would strongly recommend the McCall MacBain program to any postdoc at McMaster who has an interest in teaching or educational research. It was a fantastic experience and a great introduction to the teaching and learning community here at Mac. I’ve started a new teaching-focused position in the Department of Physics & Astronomy and hope to be involved in the program again.”

Pat Clancy
Department of Physics & Astronomy

Oana Birceanu

“I had the opportunity to connect with post-doctoral fellows from other Departments, talk with them about teaching and their research and form a community that otherwise would not have been possible without the fellowship. The McCall MacBain program provided additional teaching tools that I will always carry with me. When I think about designing my lectures, I now have different perspectives of looking at the content and its delivery, at the assessments and at student engagement.”

Oana Birceanu
Department of Biology

Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Emily Dunford

'Prehabilitation': Training your body for surgery may improve recovery, reduce complications

Exercise training can improve your physical fitness incrementally in as little as two weeks, making it a viable option for people about to undergo a surgical procedure. (Shutterstock)
Emily C. Dunford, McMaster University

If you’ve had a surgery postponed due to the pandemic, or one is on the horizon, there may be some work you can do right now to prepare and to help improve your postoperative outcome.

Prehabilitation, a strategy that uses exercise to improve patients’ functional capacity before surgery to help improve outcomes, is increasingly recommended for those facing scheduled surgeries, and it’s improving outcomes and experiences for patients across a wide range of situations.

There’s no guarantee, of course, but it gives patients much greater agency over their own health, and it’s never a bad idea to do what you can to lower your risk of complications following surgery.

Postoperative risks

Statistically, dying within a month after an operation accounts for 7.7 per cent of deaths globally, which makes it one of the top three factors contributing to global fatalities, trailing only heart attack and stroke.

While death is the most severe outcome, surgery patients are also susceptible to additional post-operative complications such as intense fatigue, longer hospital stays or hospital re-admittance, anemia and anorexia among a host of others. Those most at risk post-operatively are generally older adults that already live with other chronic diseases, take various medications and have a lower fitness level.

The skill of the surgical team is not the only factor that affects the outcome of surgery. (Unsplash/National Cancer Institute)

The success of a surgical procedure depends on more than the skill of the medical staff and the complexity of the operation. It is becoming apparent that the likelihood of the patient returning to a physically and psychologically healthy state is also dependent on what they do in the weeks leading up to the surgery.

Scientists have shown that an effective way of increasing chances of success is to physically train in the time leading up to a surgery. In this time of uncertainty, when many surgeries have been delayed, prehabilitation might be an opportunity to help optimize outcomes.

Exercise can improve fitness incrementally in as little as two weeks. (Pexels)

Doctors are often concerned with a patients’ risk factors, like high blood pressure, blood lipid status or obesity, many of which are difficult to control. Perhaps physical fitness, something you can change with exercise training and impacts several risk factors, should be added to this list. Exercise training can improve your physical fitness incrementally in as little as two weeks, making it a viable option for people about to undergo a surgical procedure.


The concept of prehabilitation is based on the idea that patients with a higher functional capacity, or fitness level, will better tolerate a surgical procedure, have fewer post-operative complications and demonstrate better functional, psychological, social and surgical outcomes.

People with higher functional capacity before surgery may have better post-operative outcomes. (Unsplash/Yulissa Tagle)

Think of your fitness as a pitcher of water, and each outcome after surgery as a plant. The more water you have at the start somewhat predicts how many plants or outcomes you can care for. Critically, scientific evidence suggests that an individual’s fitness level may be a stronger predictor of post-operative risk than traditional risk factors, as small improvements in fitness have been associated with substantial improvements in survival.

The great news is that we know that many types of exercise training are effective, including brisk walking or jogging, high-intensity interval training, weightlifting, breathing exercises and muscle- or joint-specific training.

The current fitness of the patient is an important factor to consider when prescribing a pre-surgical exercise program, as someone with a higher fitness level will most likely be able to complete a more challenging program, such as high intensity interval training combined with strength training, and will require more activity to see physical gains. By contrast, an older, frail patient undergoing chemotherapy in preparation for a surgical procedure will be more limited in their fitness level, and may only be able to complete deep breathing exercises with a focus on strengthening their inspiratory muscles, which are respiratory muscles used when inhaling, such as the diaphragm.

Preparing for delayed surgeries

Regardless of the specific exercise program, it seems that these exercise interventions are safe, and may be associated with improved post-operative outcomes.

Like training for a race or sporting event, prehabilitation programs are most effective when combined with nutritional and psychological interventions. Surgery induces a stress response causing an increased need for additional energy sources, which can be relieved with nutritional supplementation, such as eating a diet higher in protein.

People whose surgeries have been postponed due to the pandemic have an opportunity to do prehabilitation. (Shutterstock)

Addressing a patient’s anxiety regarding pain management, and behavioural modifications like quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption, have been shown to independently decrease the risk of postoperative complications. The best postoperative results have been observed when a multi-pronged approach, or a program designed to address all aspects of a patient’s health, has been applied.

In health care, it’s possible to switch gears. If we use prehabilitation and approach surgery like training for a race, we could see better outcomes, fewer deaths and healthier patients. This is even more important now, amid the current pandemic. With so many surgeries delayed, many patients have some extra time for prehabilitation that could improve their outcome.The Conversation

Emily C. Dunford, Postdoctoral Fellow in Kinesiology, McMaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Dennis Kolosov

How very hungry caterpillars grow and grow and don’t get sick

A caterpillar of the cabbage looper moth (Trichoplusia ni), a pest that feeds on vegetables. (Shutterstock)
Dennis Kolosov, McMaster University

What if I told you that right in your backyard there lives a creature that eats five times its weight every day and grows a thousandfold in weeks. Instinctively, you’d probably want to stay away from the gluttonous beast! However, it wouldn’t be interested in you at all — in fact, it’s a vegan. Feel safer now?

Well, you shouldn’t.

You may have come across this gluttonous beast in kindergarten: the hungry hungry caterpillar, who ate his way through pages of food. Humanity loses $470 billion of food to crop pests like caterpillars every year. To put this in perspective, this is how much money Austria (yes, the whole country) made in 2018 (its gross domestic product).

The tomato fruitworm — larva of Helicoverpa zea moth — is a major agricultural pest. (oliver.dodd/Flickr), CC BY-SA

Caterpillar growth

Caterpillars turn into butterflies and moths, which are important pollinators of plants and crops. So, this group of insects is like a very nice couple with a few very annoying kids.

Caterpillars have to grow a thousandfold in weeks, while eating nothing but leaves. In order to digest plants better, caterpillars produce a corrosive (very basic pH) environment in their guts, similar in properties to commercial cleaning products.

In addition, plants that are fed on by insects produce toxic chemicals to defend themselves from predators, which caterpillars must be able to render harmless. Rapid growth usually requires the best food and easiest metabolism. So, how does a creature that feeds on toxic plants and produces detergent in its gut grow so rapidly?

There is no delicate way of putting it: caterpillars are able to do this by pooping (not addressed in this article) and peeing effectively. Until now, how insects pee has been studied in mosquitoes and flies, but not caterpillars. But you can’t learn how a whale pees by studying a camel.

Caterpillar kidney design

For the past five years, members of Michael O'Donnell’s lab at McMaster University (including myself) have been investigating how excretion works in caterpillars. It turns out that caterpillar kidneys — outpouchings of the gut termed Malpighian tubules — have several cool adaptations that enable caterpillars to safely consume so much food.

Diagram showing the anatomical relations of the gut and Malpighian tubules in larvae of the cabbage looper, Trichoplusia ni. (O'Donnell lab, McMaster University), Author provided

Caterpillar kidneys are much more complex when compared to those of other insects — they are closer in complexity to human kidneys than those of adult moths and butterflies of the same species. Generally, animal kidneys require water flow from blood into the kidney because toxic wastes need to be dissolved in water so they can be excreted.

Caterpillar kidneys are connected to the intestine, enabling them to extract water from their food instead of using water from their blood. In fact, not only do caterpillars power their excretion with gut water, they use their kidneys to transfer some of the gut water into their blood, which helps them to grow rapidly.

However, this arrangement doesn’t work when there’s not enough water in the gut. In this case, the caterpillar kidney switches to using the water from their blood, so it can work uninterrupted. This allows their kidney to use water from the caterpillar’s blood to produce urine.

This switch is very rapid and involves some of the same mechanisms muscles and nerves use to respond to stimuli. This allows the caterpillar to work their kidneys non-stop regardless of whether it’s feeding or not.

Caterpillars’ kidneys can recirculate the same water to excrete metabolic wastes more than once, minimizing how much water they lose to peeing.

Caterpillar research

It took us several years to begin understanding how caterpillars could switch between using water from blood or intestine to power their kidneys and why it is safe for caterpillars to do so.

Our work at McMaster University shows us how caterpillars have highly efficient kidneys that enable their growth. Understanding this can help us interfere with their feeding on our crops. Of particular importance is how the caterpillar kidney is different from that of other animals (including us). This will ensure that any control strategies implemented will not affect the bees, birds and humans in the same habitat.

Now, more than ever, while faced with COVID-related food shortages, we must be cognizant of where our food comes from and what it takes for it to get to us. Finding out how caterpillars pee will help us put a dent in that $470 billion of crops we lose to insect pests every year. The Conversation

Dennis Kolosov, NSERC and McCall MacBain Postdoctoral Fellow; Sessional Lecturer; oCUBE Communications Committee Chair, McMaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Oana Birceanu

'Vampire fish' gorged on Great Lakes trout until the invasive species was subdued

Many people living near the Great Lakes have forgotten what a sea lamprey is. (Shutterstock)
Oana Birceanu, McMaster University

A sea lamprey has no jaw, no proper teeth and no bones. Yet this predator can attach like a suction cup to a fish 100 times its size, use its tongue to burrow a hole into its side, liquefy its tissues and eat it.

A single lamprey can kill up to 20 kilograms of fish in just two years. On this fishy, bloody diet, a young lamprey weighing five grams will grow 40 to 50 times larger by the time it becomes an adult. And there are thousands of these vampire fish in the Great Lakes.

Are you horrified yet?

I am not, and here’s why: the Sea Lamprey Control (SLC) Program has the situation under control.

The SLC is one of the most successful invasive species management program in the world. It is so successful that those of us living in the Great Lakes basin have forgotten what a sea lamprey is. That is an extraordinary thing, because it means that the scientists are doing their job.

As a fish physiologist and toxicologist who has worked on SLC projects for many years, hearing about such a success makes me very happy. My work and that of my colleagues is having an impact! But is forgetting about the sea lamprey a good thing?

The invasion

How did the sea lamprey become such a successful invader? The first ones arrived in Lake Ontario in the 1800s, making their way from the Atlantic Ocean, through the Hudson River, following the Erie Canal. They remained in Lake Ontario for over a century because Niagara Falls barred them from moving any further.

Once the Welland Canal was modified by mid-1900s, allowing ships to circumnavigate Niagara Falls, the sea lamprey population boomed. They had finally gained access to the upper Great Lakes. Suddenly, lampreys had more space, found more food and colonized more spawning grounds. The invasion had begun.

Sea lampreys are quite fertile (like other invasive species) and have a unique life cycle — for a fish. One female can lay 40,000-67,000 eggs, and they do it in almost every stream and river that drains into the Great Lakes.

An adult sea lamprey caught at the mouth of the Humber River in Toronto. (Oana Birceanu), Author provided

Those eggs hatch into larvae, called ammocoetes, which are eyeless, worm-like creatures that burrow in the sediment, making it impossible for predators to find them. The ammocoetes live like this for many years, feeding on algae and decomposing matter, until they are big enough to transform into the sucking predator we love to hate.

When the lamprey invaded the Great Lakes, lake trout — their preferred food and once a top predator fish — were transformed into Swiss cheese and began dying out. By the mid-1960s, the lake trout harvest in the Great Lakes had declined to less than 200,000 kilograms per year from eight million kilograms per year in the 1920s.

Alewives, small fish that lake trout ate, were no longer preyed upon. They became so abundant that every year there were massive die-offs in the lakes, and millions of dead fish would wash out on the beaches.

Imagine walking on Toronto Islands, on a midsummer’s day, and seeing a fish tsunami coming towards you from all sides. That is what the Toronto waterfront looked like at that time. Now imagine the smell that came with it.

Gaining control

In the 1950s, Canada and the United States established a partnership to tackle the sea lamprey problem. And so, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC) came to be. Today, the GLFC helps manages the US$7 billion Great Lakes fishery through research and lamprey population control.

How do scientists control the sea lamprey population? They use barriers and dams to stop the adults from spawning in rivers and streams, release attractants or repellents during the spawning season to guide the adult lamprey into traps, sterilize lamprey males and release them to compete for females, and they apply pesticides, or lampricides, to streams to kill the larvae, without harming other fish.

Sea lamprey feeding on a lake trout. (Great Lakes Fishery Commission/Wikimedia)

Without these control measures, the lamprey would be back on top of the food chain and the Great Lakes fisheries would collapse once more.

A look to the future

The Great Lakes basin is changing. The climate is getting warmer, which means that lampreys are moving to new, pristine, previously colder and sea-lamprey free habitats. Some of the barriers and dams that once kept lampreys out are deteriorating, while others are purposefully removed to improve native fish passage.

Field scientists who know the sea lamprey inside and out say that the best control measure for invasive fish species is concrete: barriers and dams. Research on novel fish passages and ladders, man-made passages designed to allow migratory fish access to rivers for spawning, is underway and the results look promising.

The new FishPass project in Traverse City, Mich., provides the best of two worlds: it keeps adult lamprey away, but lets native fish species pass through to reach spawning grounds. In addition, it provides a recreational heaven for locals, tourists and all those kayaking enthusiasts.

Next time you are out fishing on the Great Lakes, enjoying the waves and the breeze while a meter long, 10-15 kg lake trout is tugging on your line, remember that those fish almost disappeared 60 years ago and the harbour was full of dead alewives.

Read more: You can't control what you can't find: Detecting invasive species while they're still scarce

With new invasives like Asian carps and round gobies threatening our native fish species, it is important to not forget the past and to plan for the future.

Remember what a sea lamprey is, because those who are currently controlling their populations are the experts who will be protecting your fishing waters from those invasive species that are knocking at the Great Lakes door.

This is a corrected version of a story originally published on May 20, 2020. The earlier story said that by the mid-1960s the lake trout harvest had declined to less than 200 kilograms per year from 8,000 kilograms per year in the 1920s, instead of saying the harvest had declined to 200,000 kilograms per year from eight million kilograms per year.The Conversation

Oana Birceanu, NSERC Post-doctoral Fellow, Department of Biology, McMaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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