Dr. John Archibald
Inflammation, Infection & Immunity
“If you want to defeat dangerous pathogens, you have to know your enemy,” says microbial genomics researcher Dr. John Archibald. “Microbes evolve incredibly quickly, which makes them difficult to combat when they infect humans, animals, or the food or water supply.”
Dr. Archibald, an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, is tracing how eukaryotic micro-organisms evolve. Larger and more complex than bacteria, many of these nucleus-containing microbes cause disease. Plasmodium – which causes malaria – is an infamous example.
Dr. Archibald and colleagues are studying a group of photosynthetic eukaryotes called cryptomonads. These microscopic algae have acquired the ability to produce energy from the sun by ‘eating’ other single-celled organisms that contain chloroplasts, the light-harvesting organelles of the plant-world. These organisms, however, acquired their chloroplasts the same way. “There are organisms within organisms, like Russian nesting dolls,” he notes. “Once in close association, these cells begin trading genetic material, creating entirely new organisms.”
Dr. Archibald is developing a model system to study the step-by-step mechanisms of this gene transfer and integration process, known as genome reduction. “Understanding how pathogenic microbes and their genomes evolve is the key to finding ways to fight them.”
Apart from his growing track record as a top-notch researcher, Dr. Archibald is proving to be a strong research leader. Due to his success in obtaining $1 million worth of DNA-sequencing services through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute Community Sequencing Program, he is leading a team of 20 people, in Canada, the U.S., Japan, and Germany, in a project to sequence the genomes of two important microbes. He also holds funding from CIHR, NSERC, Canada Foundation for Innovation, and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.
In 2008, Dr. Archibald received a Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation Award of Excellence in Basic Research and a CIHR New Investigator Award.