The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) recently announced new investments to help create world-firsts in knowledge, including new grants for three Mount Saint Vincent University faculty: Dr. Chérif Matta, Dr. Derek Fisher and Dr. Mirwais Qaderi.

“Discovery is the foundation of all advancements,” said The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. “Through this major investment in some of Canada’s most promising and innovative researchers we are supporting scientists and students to become global leaders in their field. By helping to expand the frontiers of science, we are investing in a better society and a brighter future for Canadians.”

Dr. Chérif Matta

Professor of Chemistry and Physics 
NSERC Award: Discovery Grant valued at $180,000 over 5 years
Study: Theoretical Investigations of some Outstanding Problems in Biophysical Chemistry

An internationally celebrated researcher in theoretical, quantum, and computational (bio)chemistry, Dr. Matta describes his research as falling into two categories: “Research with a biological application and drug design bent, and research in the continuum between physical chemistry and chemical physics.”

Dr. Matta’s new NSERC award will enable research to help resolve fundamental problems in evolutionary biochemistry and in mitochondrial biophysics that cannot otherwise be resolved experimentally. Computational quantum chemistry, along with mathematical and theoretical modeling, will facilitate experiments that complement, build upon, extend, and guide wet-lab experiments.

Dr. Matta will determine whether thermodynamics has driven the formation of nucleosides and nucleotides, the building blocks of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), into today’s form, instead of other structurally similar choices that were never picked by evolution as the building blocks of contemporary organisms’ nucleic acids.

He will also address key questions in the biophysics of mitochondria, for example exploring the effect of the electric field that crosses the inner mitochondrial membrane on some of the key reactions of the electron transport chain and its potential influence on the rate of reactive oxygen species providing a self-limiting mechanism for the lifetime of the mitochondrion.

Dr. Derek Fisher

Department Chair and Associate Professor of Psychology
NSERC Award: Discovery Development Grant valued at $30,000 over two years
Study: Moderation of Nicotine’s Cognitive Effects by Menstrual Cycle Phase

Award-winning MSVU researcher Dr. Fisher’s work uses brain-derived event-related potentials (ERPs) to investigate questions within the fields of cognitive and clinical neuroscience. His new NSERC grant will support a study of how nicotine affects brain activity, and therefore behaviour, across the course of the menstrual cycle.

Brain activity and performance on tasks is known to change across the menstrual cycle, and nicotine also changes brain activity and performance on tasks through its stimulating effects. We don’t know, however, if the effects of nicotine on the brain work to alter (for better or worse) some of the changes in brain activity we see across the menstrual cycle, a question of increasing importance given the rise in nicotine consumption through the emergence of e-cigarettes and vaping.

One of the reasons why we don’t know how nicotine affects the brain at different points of the menstrual cycle is because women have historically been ignored as participants in drug studies, including studies looking at common drugs like caffeine and nicotine. This is problematic because the results are often generalized to humans as a whole. Not only is there very little human research considering sex as a biological variable when examining how nicotine affects the brain, there is virtually no research examining how these effects change in women across their cycle.

This work advances a broader program of research in Dr. Fisher’s lab to document the effects of psychoactive substances across the menstrual cycle to make it easier for women to be included in future studies.

Mirwais QaderiDr. Mirwais Qaderi

Associate Professor of Biology
NSERC Award: Discovery Development Grant valued at $30,000 over two years
Study: Methane: its formation and function in plants

With a long list of publications and grants to his name, Dr. Qaderi is a recognized expert on the effects of climate change on plants. His research has important implications for the agriculture industry, including the safeguarding of Canada’s food production. Exploring plant responses to multiple components of climate change is critical for a better understanding of crop production and seed development.

Dr. Qaderi’s new NSERC grant will support a study of the formation and function of methane in plants. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential of nearly 34 times higher than carbon dioxide.

Using a novel in vitro culture system, Dr. Qaderi will be able to subject plants to specific growth conditions, determine the effects of additives that may affect methane synthesis, apply potential precursor compounds, and study the metabolism of methane in mutants deficient in the synthesis of potential precursors.