The big T

Got the word this week that my tenure app was successful. Whoa! well, that’s a big relief. Looks like the folks at Western will be stuck with me for the long haul ūüôā¬†


The Cornhuskers

Was down at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln late last week giving a talk in the biological sciences dept. Big thanks to Alan Christensen for hosting me and all the great students and profs I met. Great city and very nice university.



I’ve been MIA from lab updates for far too long. 

My star MSc student, Matheus Sanita Lima defended his thesis in August, and has three new papers in the pipeline. He’s taking some downtime in Brazil before (most likely) pursuing a PhD in Germany at a leading evolution lab. Matheus will be (and already is) missed by many on campus at Western. 

The other lab members, old and new, are all plugging away tirelessly on various genome projects of algae. I’m still doing lots of pop-sci writing and have some reviews and essays coming out in the next little while. I’ve slowed slightly on the Writers in Residence front, but plan to have new pieces posted to the Hipademic site over the fall.

On other fronts, I submitted my tenure package over the summer and now just have to wait for the final verdict. I won’t be teaching this academic year as I’ll be on parental leave from Nov to May, hanging out with a little guy called Kipling, who is eager to find out the results of my tenure app. 

More updates to follow soon. 



Winter …


It’s been a while. My first few weeks of 2017 have been eaten up by¬†2nd-year genetics and a 4th-year course on genome evolution. This is my third time teaching the BIG genetics course (Biology 2581B) at Western, and I still get super nervous before each lecture. Be sure to check out our various essays and research articles, including a study of the largest chloroplast genome ever found in a non-photosynthetic alga!¬†Also, I wrote a long piece on scientific blogging, titled “confessions of science blogaholic” and a shorter essay,¬†calling upon scientists of all stripes to communicate more effectively with the public.¬†My undergraduate writers are still going strong ‚Äď read the most recent pieces at Hipademic. Enjoy the winter and stay warm. ~david


A walk in the park


Fall is blowing by like a dried leaf in the wind. I’ve been checking out the bright autumn colours in my local park. I’m so fond of this park that I’ve managed to incorporate it into a commentary for the journal EMBO Reports. The article, aptly titled “A Walk in the Park“, talks about the recent popularity of Pok√©mon Go and its potential impact on biodiversity research.

My writers in res are hard at it: Udara Jay has a new piece about his startup company Tidl, which is re-envisioning and invigorating the online resume. And Karan Kumar writes about the techniques and ethics of building a designer baby.


designer_babies_bnrMSc student Matheus Sanit√° Lima and I have a short highlight article about a new software for analyzing organelle transcriptomes called ChloroSeq, which was published in Briefings in Bioinformatics. Matheus also organized this years Western Biology Graduate Research Forum, which took place on Oct 14 and 15. The event was a huge success, but Matheus is quite tired.

That’s all for now. ~david



Introducing Hipademic


Starting September 2016, Smith Lab Writers in Residence will be posting¬†essays to Hipademic¬†‚Ästa new publication on the blogging platform¬†Medium. An essay will be published every Monday throughout the academic school year (Sep‚ÄďApril). Some of the essays will be new articles, others will be previously published pieces, but all of them will be intriguing, engaging, and totally ‘hipademic’.

We also have a hipademic Facebook page and a Twitter account (@hipademic). Western Science undergrad and design guru Udara Jay will be helping edit and publicize the magazine.

Our first article, titled Putting the “Pop back into popular science”, appeared this past Monday (12 Sep) and was written by Dennis He ‚Äď one of the original Smith Lab Writers in Residence.

Stay tuned.



Goodbye summer, hello academic year


Well, the summer zoomed by and now the students have swarmed the campus and are roaring to go for the new academic year. At the start of the Rio Olympics, writer in residence and varsity swimmer Charis Huddle published an inspiring article about her¬†dreams of Olympic gold. On the research front, Smith Lab MSc student Matheus Sanit√° Lima published an article on the ‚Äúincomplete organelle genome‚ÄĚ in Molecular Ecology Resources, and I wrote an opinion piece in their sister journal Molecular Ecology about the mutational hazard hypothesis. And if you get a chance, check out my essay ‚ÄúOne scientist‚Äôs struggle to be a better writer‚Ä̬†‚Äď it might just bring a tear to your eye ūüė•¬†Best of luck this term. ~david


Summer updates


Long time not talk. I’ve been out and about. Ate some lobsters in Nova Scotia and experienced winter in summer in Newfoundland. A few quick updates: Patrick Keeling and I have a new review out on crazy cool and totally weird gene expression in protists. It’s online¬†now at¬†the Annual Review of Microbiology, but if you don’t have access you can download the paper here. Also, check out¬†writers in residence Neeraja Murali Dharan’s new article on leadership and Dennis He’s essay on science internships, both of which made the Western Science Homepage (pics shown below).





Go go Gonium

GoniumTurn the music up and uncork the champagne ‚Äď I’ve published a Nature paper! Well, technically it’s a Nature Communications paper and admittedly I’m buried deep in the author list. Nevertheless, the paper is awesome. The lead researcher is Erik Hanschen, a PhD student in Rick Michod’s lab at the University of Arizona, and the senior author is Brad Olson, an assistant prof at Kansas State University. The paper describes the Gonium genome.¬†Gonium¬†is a 16-celled green alga closely related to the unicellular species¬†Chlamydomonas, which is the Brad Pitt of green algae. In short, the DNA sequence of¬†Gonium when compared to that of¬†Chlamydomonas¬†provides some interesting insights into the origins of multicellularity. You can read the paper here and see various press coverage¬†in¬†EurekaAlert!, the Washington Post,¬†and the¬†the NewHistorian.


Third time’s a charm


Those who know me well, know that I’m addicted to coffee, red wine, dark chocolate, Raymond Chandler novels, cats, and running long distances at slow speeds. This past week I ran my ninth marathon and third Boston Marathon. Yes, when I’m not at the computer or in the classroom I like toeing the line with¬†skinny dudes in short shorts, fluorescent sneakers, and silly headbands. The Boston Marathon is an academic’s dream course. The start is way ‚Äď like 42.2 km ‚Äď out of town and the course winds its way back to Boston passing multiple university campuses, including Wellesley College and Boston College, and coming very close to Harvard. At the halfway mark, just as my legs were starting to burn, I passed Wellesley, bringing¬†back memories of the¬†2010 Chlamydomonas meeting, which was held there. Nothing gives a tired marathoner inspiration like fond recollections¬†of a five-day conference on the finer points of a unicellular green alga. Later, I wiped the snot and Gatorade from my beard and grabbed a quick kiss from a student a Boston College (all runners are offered free kisses, seriously), which kept me going to the end. It was a beautiful,¬†sunny day and¬†I made it to finish in 2 hours and 53 minutes, giving me lots of time to check my email and respond to like a zillion emails from second-year-genetics students who have their midterm this Wednesday. I don’t know when I’ll tackle my next marathon, but hopefully I have a few more in me. ~david


Hot and sunny Miami


Just got back from Miami University. That would be Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Hey, it wasn’t so bad ‚Äď the leaves were on the trees, which is more than I can say for London, Ontario.

Miami U is an old old university and branded as “the original public ivy“, meaning that it is “a public university that provides an exceptional return on your education investment, has a rich history and tradition, and has a picture-perfect campus.” Well, I don’t know about the return on the education investment, but the campus is picture perfect.

But I was doing more that just drooling at the ivy-covered buildings and manicured gardens. I gave a seminar to the microbiology department on the coolness of organelle genomes. I also had lunch with the Microbiology grad students, who were all very nice (almost as nice as the students from Western Biology).

My host at Miami was Rachael Morgan-Kiss. Unlike me, Rachael is a “real” biologist ‚Äď she actually goes into nature and observes¬†living things. Even cooler, she goes to the Antarctic to study algae in permanently ice-covered lakes (the picture above shows¬†Antarctic¬†algae growing in her lab).

Thanks for the fun visit, Miami U. And although I’ve never been to Miami, Florida, I bet it is not nearly as nice as Oxford, Ohio.