Associate Professor, Department of Human Genetics
Ken Dewar obtained his PhD from Université Laval in 1995 studying the genome structure of the Dutch elm disease fungus, Ophiostoma ulmi. After completing post-doctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania where he participated in the mapping and sequencing of the genome of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, he joined the Whitehead Institute/MIT Center for Genome Research (now the Broad Institute) in 1997. There, as part of the Human Genome Project, he led teams for genome mapping and chromosome closure.
My research interests straddle advanced DNA sequencing technologies and bioinformatics. I am interested in strategies for genome assembly and how to use bioinformatics to know that “we have got it right”, then using the assemblies as references to discern genetic variation and to annotate genetic processes. I firmly believe that genomics is not only transforming human biomedical research, but is revolutionizing research across the full breadth of life sciences. The ability to use core instrumentation and expertise throughout biology is underpinning new advances in the fields of research including, but not limited to human and animal medicine, food safety, environmental assessment, and biotechnology.
1. Genome architecture.
I have >20 years of experience studying how genomes are organized. A fundamental aspect of this work has been the continually evolving implementation of strategies to sequence entire genomes, and with that, the development of QA/QC measures to ensure that genomes are assembled properly: from the base accuracy level through to the fidelity of chromosomal length pseudomolecules (contigs and scaffolds) to the actual genome. Over the course of my career I have participated in landmark projects including the sequencing of the Arabidopsis thaliana genome and the human genome project. More recently, my McGill research team, working in close conjunction with the McGill University and Genome Quebec Innovation Centre, have been using massively parallel sequencing for dozens of bacterial genome (2-6 Mb) sequencing projects and a growing number of fungal genomes (20-40 Mb). We are also collaborating with colleagues at the Washington University Genome Center (Drs. W. Warren, G. Weinstock, and E. Mardis) and UCLA (Dr. N. Freimer) on the genome sequencing of the vervet monkey genome, an ambitious project to sequence >120 individuals, including representatives of the major African subspecies.
2. Comparative Genomics.
The overarching objective of investing effort to sequence genomes (and ensuring that they are accurate) is to subsequently use them as references to determine genetic variation across individuals or species and to provide frameworks to measure differential expression of genes, sites of differential methylation, sites of differential transcription factor binding, etc. Our laboratory has led or participated in projects to identify large scale rearrangements in the vervet monkey genome, to assess genetic diversity in pathogenic Clostridium difficile, to decrypt a secondary form of gene transcription in Ciona intestinalis, to identify mutations for laboratory induced antibiotic resistance in Streptococcus pneumoniae, and to identify mutations affecting beta-cell generation and its role in diabetes. In many cases, these have been recognized as community resource projects and we have followed early data release guidelines.
3. Expanding the impacts of genomics in non-model systems.
I have been fortunate to be able to merge my personal research interests with my role as Acting Scientific Director of the Innovation Centre (2007-2011) to make genomics technologies and expertise increasingly available to an incredibly wide spectrum of researchers and projects. Our Centre is now a resource for studies that were simply inconceivable only a few years ago. We now participate in projects that literally span the globe (Arctic versus Antarctic microbiomes, PIs Jacques Corbeil and Connie Lovejoy, U. Laval) and extend into outer space (International Space Station water purification system biofilms, PI Shawn Levy, HudsonAlpha Institute). While my own contribution to the vast majority of projects is nonexistent or minimal, I am proud that a mindset of “genomics for life” has taken hold throughout the Innovation Centre.