Queen's University

Dr. Virginia Walker

Professor, Department of Biology
LIFE & PHYSICAL SCIENCES, BIOLOGY, GENETICS, ENVIRONMENT, ANIMALS, CLIMATE
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Autobiography

I am a professor in the Department of Biology, with a specialization in molecular genetics. In the Walker Lab, our research interests concern stress genes and the molecular basis of resistance. This is a central question for scientific goals as diverse as predicting the impact of nanoparticle-containing food on our gut microbiota, the consequence of climate change on Arctic organisms, or the production of ice-binding proteins in environmentally-stressed overwintering plants, insects, fish or microbes.

I am the Project Leader of 'Towards a Sustainable Fishery for Nunavummiut,' a group supported by Genome Canada and other co-funders which strives towards the development of a sustainable, science-based, fishing plan for commercial fisheries in Nunavut.

I teach multile courses, including environmental microbiology, molecular genetics, biotechnology, and the commercialization of biological research. I enjoy teaching a range of students, from first-years to post-graduates. No matter what topic I am assigned, students will note that my approach is influenced by my enthusiasm for research and my love of genetics.

Most Recent Project

Ice-Binding Proteins in Plants

Sub-zero temperatures put plants at risk of damage associated with the formation of ice crystals in the apoplast. Some freeze-tolerant plants mitigate this risk by expressing ice-binding proteins (IBPs), that adsorb to ice crystals and modify their growth. IBPs are found across several biological kingdoms, with their ice-binding activity and function uniquely suited to the lifestyle they have evolved to protect, be it in fishes, insects or plants. Here we present an overview of plant freezing stress and adaptation mechanisms and discuss the potential utility of IBPs for the generation of freeze-tolerant crops.

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Other Projects

  • Towards a Sustainable Fishery for Nunavummiut

    The people of Nunavut, the Nunavummiut, face many challenges. Among the most pressing is affordable access to nutritious, safe and culturally-relevant food. Indeed, eight times more Nunavut Inuit households face moderate to severe food insecurity than in the rest of Canada. Food costs are 140% higher in Nunavut and this is linked to growing health problems such as diabetes and childhood rickets.

    Accelerated warming of the Arctic sea ice is allowing ships through the Northwest Passage and has dramatically increased access to traditional Arctic char, a fishery previously mainly pursued using hand lines through the ice. Ironically then, climate change has created new opportunities: Arctic char will now be more accessible providing an opportunity for increased employment and the prospect of economic returns to these Nunavut communities. Vital to the success of such initiatives, and our goal in this project, is the development of a sustainable, science-based, fishing plan for commercial fisheries, not only for Arctic char, but also for developing fisheries like Arctic cod and Northern shrimp.

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