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McGill researchers contribute to six of 10 discoveries of year picked by Quebec Science

Published: 3 January 2017

Québec Science magazine has selected its 10 Discoveries of the Year for 2016, and McGill researchers figure in six of them. The annual list highlights top scientific research from across Quebec.

Two of the discoveries were led by researchers at McGill:

  •   Rewiring an artificial neuron -- Peter Grütter, Margaret Magdesian, G. Montserratt Lopez-Ayon, Megumi Mori, Yoichi Miyahara, Ricardo Sanz, Alyson E. Fournier and Alexis Gouylet-Hanssens.

A research team led by McGill University and the Montreal Neurological Institute has managed to create new functional connections between neurons for the first time. Apart from the fact that these artificial neurons grow over 60 times faster than neurons naturally do, they are indistinguishable from ones that grow naturally in our bodies. The researchers, led by Prof. Peter Grutter from the McGill Physics Department, used an atomic force microscope to attach a very small polystyrene ball (a few micrometers in size) to a portion of a neuron that acts as the transmitter, which they then stretched, a bit like pulling on a rubber band, to extend and connect with the part of the neuron that acts as a receiver. The findings were reported in in the Journal of Neuroscience

For decades, scientists have fiercely debated whether rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – the phase where dreams appear – is directly involved in memory formation. But a study published last May in Science by researchers at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute (McGill University) and the University of Bern provides evidence that REM sleep does, indeed, play this role – at least in mice. “We already knew that newly acquired information is stored into different types of memories, spatial or emotional, before being consolidated or integrated,” says Sylvain Williams, a researcher and professor of psychiatry at McGill. “How the brain performs this process has remained unclear - until now. We were able to prove for the first time that REM sleep is indeed critical for normal spatial memory formation in mice.” The results could have significant clinical implications. REM sleep is often perturbed in Alzheimer’s disease, and disruption of REM sleep may contribute to memory impairments observed in Alzheimer’s.

McGill scientists also contributed to four discoveries led by other institutions :

  • “Preservation of Earth-forming events in the tungsten isotopic composition of modern flood basalts” -- Hanika Rizo, UQAM, with Don Francis, McGill. (Science, May 13, 2016)
  • “Magneto-aerotactic bacteria deliver drug-containing nanoliposomes to tumour hypoxic regions”  Sylvain Martel, Polytechnique Montréal, with Samira Taherkhani, Sherief Hessa, Maryam Tabrizian, Yong Zhong Xu (MUHC), Sylwia Jancik (MUHC), Daniel Houle (MUHC), Danuta Radzioch (MUHC), Té Vuong, Gerald Batist and Nicole Beauchemin,McGill. (Nature Nanotechnology Aug. 15, 2016).
  • “Single-Cell Characterization of Viral Translation-Competent Reservoirs in HIV-Infected Individuals”,          Daniel E. Kaufmann, l’Université de Montréal, with Andrés Finzi and Nirmin Alsahafi, McGill and Jean-Pierre Routy, MUHC (Cell Host & Microbe, Sept. 14, 2016).
  • “Evolution of Hoxa11 regulation in vertebrates is linked to the pentadactyl state”, Marie Kmita, Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montréal, and adjunct professor, McGill Department of Medicine (Nature, Oct. 5 2016).


Readers are encouraged to vote for the Top Discovery of the Year.


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