Matt Vijayan, PhD, named Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Environmental Physiology and Toxicology

Professor Vijayan was recently awarded the Canada Research Chair (Tier I) in Environmental Physiology and Toxicology. He is a leader in the field of fish stress physiology and his research addresses how animals cope with environmental insults. The paradigm utilized is predominantly the performance of fish in response to stressors, and the role of stress steroids in adapting animals to stress. His research program takes an integrated multi-tiered approach using genes, proteins and other biochemical and physiological end-points to address the concept of stress. The fundamental knowledge gained about stress-responsive pathways and their functioning during stress adaptation and maladaptation acts as a catalyst in his effort to develop sensitive tools (molecular probes) to predict long-term and population level damage due to pollutants for environmental monitoring.

Lately his research focuses on the impact associated with transfer of excess hormones (and pollutants) from mother to eggs on the developmental programming in fish. This is one area of risk assessment that has received scant attention, but it is extremely important given the recent findings that contaminants are transferred from mother to eggs in wild fish and lead to growth defects. Dr. Vijayan's group is testing whether bisphenol A (an industrial chemical, used in the manufacture of hard plastics, that is ubiquitously distributed in the aquatic environment) accumulation in fish eggs will lead to long-term growth and stress defects in fish and if this is passed on from generation to generation. The key question being addressed is what is the mechanism that is leading to these generational effects from ancesteral exposures. This has serious implications from the stand-point of population level changes and studies are warranted in fish to identify compromised health and/or performance phenotypes that are evident in multiple generations. Identification of sensitive and reliable markers that will predict generational effects will be a major task of his research program and will lead to the development of novel risk assessment tools/protocols with high predictive value for population level damages.

Dr. Vijayan intends to develop a world renowned lab in environmental "OMICs" that will attract students and post doctoral fellows and will provide a unique multidisciplinary training combining toxicology, molecular biology, and environmental monitoring. The overall goal of Dr. Vijayan's research program is to enhance the fundamental knowledge of fish stress physiology in order to develop novel early warning signals (biomarkers) that will predict long-term impact of contaminants. The development of a tool kit for risk assessment will assist water managers in making informed science-based policy decisions for protecting and preserving our aquatic ecosystem.

He has over 120 papers in refereed journals and has supervised over 15 graduate students. He is currently supervising 8 PhD, 1 MSc, 1 post-doctoral fellow and 2 research technicians. He is regularly invited to present his research at National and International meetings and at Universities world-wide.