Marc Ekker


Marc Ekker

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Marc Ekker


Research Focus

Ekker's research into the area of evolutionary developmental biology – using mice, zebrafish and lamprey DNA – aims to explore the hypothesis that it is not only the genes themselves, but how they are regulated that makes the difference. Ekker's work in particular pinpoints the Dlx homeobox genes, which play an important role in how the brain and head develops in embryos.

Research Relevance

Scientists believe a change in the function or the regulation of genes during embryonic development can lead to the development of certain types of disease. Dr. Ekker's working hypothesis is that a shift in Dlx regulation could be directly related to some cases of autism. His research aims to explore how and why that could happen.

What's in a species?

The Human Genome Project mapped the gene sequences that make up our genome, and provided valuable raw information that will inform research far into the future. But what that mapping project didn't explain is what these sequences do. Much still has to be discovered about how our genes are regulated as we develop in the womb. What it is that controls their expression during embryonic development? What switches them on and off? Research in evolutionary developmental biology examines what is sometimes called "the second genetic code". It tries to explain how a fish can have many of the same genes as humans, yet look and act so differently.

Ekker has become a world leader when it comes to vertebrate developmental genetics. He has already accomplished groundbreaking work in the specific area of Dlx homeobox genes, identifying and characterizing key elements which regulate their function. He has an exceptional publication record, in the last five years publishing more than two dozen frequently-cited papers in top journals, including Development and Journal of Neuroscience. A full professor in the department of biology, he is also director for the Centre for Advanced Research in Environmental Genomics (CAREG). As a postdoctoral student at the University of Oregon, he was among the first to clone multiple gene families from zebrafish, and among the first to recognize zebrafish have multiple copies of single copy human genes.

Awards and Accomplishments

  • Faculty of Science Researcher of the Year Award (2006)
  • MRC Scientist Award/CIHR Investigator Award (2000)
  • Premier's Research Excellence Award (1999)
  • Medical Research Council of Canada Centennial Fellowship (1989)
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