BSc (Environmental Science) University of Manitoba
PhD (Cell and Systems Biology) University of Toronto
Dr. Olivia Wilkins leads the Plant Systems Biology research group at McGill University. She received her PhD from the University of Toronto in 2010. From 2011 to 2015, she was a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Genomics and Systems Biology at New York University. In 2015, she was a Visiting Scientist at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. In 2013, she was awarded a Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development Award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She serves on the editorial boards of multiple scientific journals including Frontiers in Plant Science Abiotic Stress, BMC Plant Biology, and Scientific Reports.
Awards and Recognitions
2014 - Scientist-Writer Fellow (Kavli Foundation)
2013 - BREAD (Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development) Ideas Challenge winner (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Science Foundation)
Review Editor and Editorial Board Member Plant Abiotic Stress (Frontiers in Plant Science Journal)
Associate Editor BMC Plant Biology (Evolution and Genomics)
Editorial Board Member Scientific Reports
Canadian Society of Plant Biologists
American Society of Plant Biology
New York Academy of Science
Graduate Women in Science - Fellowships Committee
Gene regulatory networks are at the interface between environmental perception and environmental response in all living things. My research uses the tools of systems biology to study and manipulate gene regulatory networks in cereal crops in order to improve their response to climate change-associated environmental stressors.
We study how plants perceive the environment and how they use this information to formulate adaptive responses to environmental stress. We use the tools of systems biology to study and to reprogram gene regulatory networks, the interactions between transcription factors and regulatory sequences encoded in DNA, as they are the interface of environmental perception and response. Our research focusses on three interconnected themes:
Regulatory diversity across ecotypically divergent crop varieties: Cereal crops have been selected by producers and breeders to grow in a wide range of environments. As a consequence, these varieties have acquired markedly different responses to environmental stresses. These differences provide invaluable guidance for rationale crop design.
Cell type specific regulatory networks: Different cell types within a tissue play different functional roles and have distinct gene regulatory networks. By studying these tissue-specific regulatory networks, we can target genome editing to have maximal impact on stress response and minimal impact on other agronomic traits.
Regulatory networks in agricultural settings: One of the challenges of engineering agricultural crops with improved environmental stress tolerance is translating experimental advances from the lab into the complex and fluctuating environments found in the field. Studying gene regulation in the field is the essential next step for crop improvement.
I am currently accepting graduate students. Click here for more information.