Associate Professor; Dean of Students
T: 514-436-6151 | robin.beech [at] mcgill.ca (Email) | Parasitology, P-210
Professor Beech obtained a Joint-Honours degree in Genetics and Biochemistry from the University of Nottingham and a PhD in Molecular Population Genetics from the University of Edinburgh, from which he developed a life long interest in the interaction between the population biology of organisms and natural variation in their genome sequence. He moved to Canada in 1987 for a Postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Alberta to work on repeat gene families in conifers and population subdivision in bison. In 1992, he joined the Institute of Parasitology at McGill and introduced population genetic tools to the search for parasite genes linked with drug resistance, techniques that have become standard practice in this field. In 2006, his interest in bioinformatics led to a sabbatical year in Glasgow, with Prof John Gilleard, to work on the H. contortus genome project and a Le Studium Research Fellowship in France, 2013-2014, with Dr Cédric Neveu to model interactions of nicotine related compounds with parasite neurotransmitter receptors. He is the Associate Editor in Chief of Experimental Parasitology. His commitment to Graduate student training continues with a position as Associate Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral studies from 2015. He began playing the concertina and diatonic accordion in 2003, focusing on irish and quebecois traditional music.
Awards and Recognitions
Le Studium Research Fellow, 2013-2014
Parasitic nematodes pose a significant risk for both human and animal health, yet are fascinating organisms that provide a unique opportunity to biologists. Drug therapy is currently the best treatment we have for nematode parasitic disease and so my goal is to investigate the targets for anthelmintic drugs, the mechanisms by which drugs impact nematode physiology, the genetics and spread of anthelmintic resistance and increase our understanding of the evolutionary changes in drug targets from one species to another.
Nervous and muscular control is a particularly attractive drug target for existing drugs such as ivermectin, levamisole and monepantel. There is also great potential that new drugs may be developed to target the nematode neuromusculature.
My current focus is to use data mining, molecular evolutionary analysis and protein modelling to support an effort to identify and express novel pentameric ligand-gated ion-channels (pLGICs) and characterize their biochemical and pharmacological properties. These channels mediate fast synaptic signalling and neuromuscular control. Nematode parasites have a large number of LGIC subunit genes compared to insects and vertebrates and provide an opportunity to identify new drug targets. In addition, the subunit composition of LGICs targeted by specific drugs has been shown to differ between parasitic nematodes and the free living model nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. The evolutionary mechanisms by which this change occurs provides a way to investigate the role these different subunits play and the mechanisms controlling their assembly and direction to the synaptic junction.
The Helminth Genome Initiative has produced a wealth of genome data for more than 70 species and this resource allows the identification of key events in the evolution of LGIC. Focusing on these key evolutionary changes will allow us to understand the mechanisms responsible for changes in ion-channel composition and the constraints on channel function in vivo.
Doyle, S. R., A. Tracey, R. Laing, N. Holroyd, D. Bartley, W. Bazant, H. Beasley, R. Beech, C. Britton, K. Brooks, U. Chaudhry, K. Maitland, A. Martinelli, J. D. Noonan, M. Paulini, M. A. Quail, E. Redman, F. H. Rodgers, G. Salle, M. Z. Shabbir, G. Sankaranarayanan, J. Wit, K. L. Howe, N. Sargison, E. Devaney, M. Berriman, J. S. Gilleard and J. A. Cotton (2020). "Genomic and transcriptomic variation defines the chromosome-scale assembly of Haemonchus contortus, a model gastrointestinal worm." Commun Biol 3(1): 656.
International Helminth Genomes, C. (2019). "Comparative genomics of the major parasitic worms." Nat Genet 51(1): 163-174.
Blanchard A, Gégnard F, Charvet C, et al. (2018) Deciphering anthelmintic targets from parasitic nematodes: when the model becomes the exception. PLOS Pathogens (Submitted:)
Duguet TB, Charvet CL, Forrester SG, et al. (2016) Recent Duplication and Functional Divergence in Parasitic Nematode Levamisole-Sensitive Acetylcholine Receptors. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 10: e0004826.
Cotton JA, Bennuru S, Grote A, et al. (2016) The genome of Onchocerca volvulus, agent of river blindness. Nat Microbiol 2: 16216.
Courtot E, Charvet CL, Beech RN, et al. (2015) Functional Characterization of a Novel Class of Morantel-Sensitive Acetylcholine Receptors in Nematodes. PLoS Pathogens 11: e1005267.
Beech RN and Neveu C (2015) The evolution of pentameric ligand-gated ion-channels and the changing family of anthelmintic drug targets. Parasitology 142: 303-17.
Ashraf S, Beech RN, Hancock MA and Prichard RK (2015) Ivermectin binds to Haemonchus contortus tubulins and promotes stability of microtubules. International Journal for Parasitology 45: 647-54.
Urdaneta L, Beech R, Dent J and Prichard R (2014) A dyf-7 haplotype causes sensory neuron defects and is associated with macrocyclic lactone resistance worldwide in the nematode parasite Haemonchus contortus. International Journal for Parasitology 44: 1063-71.