Virginia K. Walker is a molecular geneticist who is fascinated by strategies organisms use to survive stress. These stresses range from freezing temperatures to fire, from climate change to nanoparticles, and even astrobiology themes. Her training started with a PhD in medical biochemistry in Calgary and a postdoctoral fellowship in genetics at University of Cambridge. She is a Queen’s University Research Chair and has done sabbatical research in western Canada, Alaska and Australia. Recently, and perhaps not surprisingly, she has found herself drawn to clay with its myriad of natural bacteria and fungal communities and is a student potter.
Piecing Together a Cold Quilt
Ice formation can have catastrophic effects on the landscape as well as on living systems. Discovering how some organisms manage to survive is a fascinating journey. For example, ice nucleation proteins provide a scaffold for ice to grow quickly and efficiently. Conversely, antifreeze proteins decorate embryonic ice crystals and inhibit their growth. These latter proteins are uniquely suited to the lifestyle they have evolved to protect, be it freeze-tolerant plants, Arctic fish, or insects. In plants these antifreeze proteins may also be part of their immune response to dangerous pathogens. However, as well as ice growth, ice melt as a result of climate change also presents challenges as well as opportunities. These research vignettes or “quilting squares” will be pieced together in a cold quilt, which hopefully will warm your imagination.