Brendan Snarr, SMUS ’05, PhD Research at McGill

SMUS-University-Counselling

Do you think fungus is only mushrooms, blue cheese, and beer?

Representing one of the most diverse kingdoms in taxonomy, fungi encompass everything from brewers’ yeast to bread mold, from shelf fungus to lichen. Fungi hold the record for the largest organism in the world (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=strange-but-true-largest-organism-is-fungus), as well as the fastest (http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/news/news/1469/). There are even fungi that infect the brains of insects, turning them into mindless zombies (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuKjBIBBAL8)!

It was this vast diversity in this understudied group of organisms that led me to the McGill University laboratory where I am currently doing my PhD research. I work on the common bread mold Aspergillus fumigatus, whose airborne spores are found everywhere in nature. Consequently people will inhale up to 100 a day, but luckily our immune system prevents the spores from growing. However, for people with cystic fibrosis, the mucus in their lungs prevents the immune system from reaching the spores, which are then able to grow and attempt to digest the person from the inside out. The immune system will then try in vain to fight this infection with inflammation, which more often than not will cause more harm than good. My research focuses on understanding the exact cause of this inflammation, and discovering ways to direct it towards a more appropriate and effective immune response. It is my hope that this work will lead to a treatment for this terrible fungal infection, and allow those living with cystic fibrosis to breathe a little easier.

BSNARR_Science1My passion for science started at an early age, but only really took root when I arrived at SMUS in grade 8 in 2000. My grade 8 teacher Lindsay Thierry opened my eyes to the opportunities and breadth of the topic, and my Senior School teachers Mel Jones, Simone Kuklinski and Peter Gardiner focused my interests on the areas of chemistry and biology. I would not have made it to where I am today if it were not for the passion and dedication that all of my teachers had for their students, which ultimately shapes the truly remarkable learning environment that is SMUS.

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Jake Humphries is Career Day Co-ordinator and an ELL teacher at St. Michaels University School.

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