Young Scientist Profile: Nicole Smith, doctoral student

Published: February 12th 2019
Nicole Smith, doctoral student.

Young Scientist Profile:  Nicole Smith, doctoral student

Hails from St. John’s, where she is currently pursuing doctoral studies at Memorial University in Newfoundland. Her MSc in biochemistry and BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry and Neuroscience are also from Memorial.

Field: marine biology, specializing in fish immunology.

I work with Dr. Matthew Rise’s group (Department of Ocean Sciences) and am co-supervised by Dr. Sherri Christian (Department of Biochemistry). I met Matt, the Canada Research Chair in Marine Biotechnology, when I received a Research Assistant II position in 2014 at the Cold-Ocean Deep-Sea Research Facility (CDRF) located at the Ocean Sciences Center, Memorial University. I worked full-time as a research assistant (RA) for 1.5 years, and then decided I would like to complete a PhD with Matt and Sherri, designing a project that uses some of the techniques and equipment that I run at the CDRF (flow cytometry to analyze various cell characteristics including cell size, cell count, cell surface proteins; confocal microscopy for high resolution optical imaging, and scanning electron microscopy equipment). I still hold a part-time position as an RA at the CDRF while completing my PhD.

Current Projects:

• Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC): Characterization of Atlantic Salmon Macrophage Differentiation. Sept 2015-May 2019

• Genome Atlantic: The Effect of Functional Feed Ingredients on Atlantic Salmon Macrophages. January 2016-January 2018

The Challenges: Part of my project, which is funded by the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, involves characterizing macrophage differentiation in Atlantic salmon. Macrophages are important cells in the immune system, and while they have been well characterized in mammals, they have not been in fish.

In addition to characterizing macrophage differentiation, another part of my project, which was funded through Genome Atlantic, involves testing various functional feed ingredients (FFI) on Atlantic salmon macrophages to determine if the FFI have immune modifying properties. 

The Objectives:  As fish in aquaculture are prone to infection, having both financial and environmental effects, it is important to fully clarify the markers and mechanisms behind macrophage differentiation, especially in economically important fish such as the Atlantic salmon, so that we can better understand how these immune cells work.

In the Genome Atlantic-funded project we want to find out if various functional feed ingredients (FFIs) have immune modifying properties in Atlantic salmon macrophages and whether these FFIs could potentially be used as a safe and natural feed additive in aquaculture.

The Projects’ importance: By better understanding the fish immune system, we can help fight and prevent disease in farmed fish. Advances in this field will improve the sustainability of aquaculture world-wide.

The Exciting Part: This project calls for me to use many different techniques including genomic techniques such as microarray and RT-qPCR, flow cytometry, confocal microscopy and in vitro cell culture. Coming from a mammalian background (Master of Science in Biochemistry) it excites me to apply techniques and methods used in the mammalian world to fish research, which is a relatively new concept.

Project’s significance for Your Career Path:  I hope to become a senior scientist in industry or government, whether that be in mammalian or fish research. The wide variety of methods and equipment I am using in these two projects, as well as in my position as a RA, are expanding my skills to equip me for greater roles in future research investigations. In the immediate term these experiences are also helping with my doctoral studies.