Joanna Wilson, Ph.D.

Telephone: (905) 525-9140

Office: LSB-528 Ext 20075

Lab: LSB-526 Ext 20320



Interests & Activities

Interests: Environmental physiology and aquatic toxicology of vertebrates, cytochrome P450 proteins, endocrinology
My research focuses on the evolution and function of cytochrome P450 enzymes and the effects of environmental contaminants on aquatic species.  My research intersects environmental physiology, ecology and evolution, and bioinformatics and functional genomics
Environmental Physiology: We are interested in the physiological impacts of contaminants, particularly human pharmaceuticals, on aquatic species.
Ecology and Evolution: We study the evolution of cytochrome P450 enzymes, a protein superfamily that is important for production and metabolism of steroid hormones and critical for drug metabolism.
Bioinformatics and functional genomics: We are involved in annotation of cytochrome P450 genes in fish genomes, bioinformatics approaches in support of our evolutionary studies, and transcriptomics (using microarrays) to examine how contaminants alter gene expression in fish.
Research rooted in:

  • comparative physiology
  • endocrinology
  • combining field and laboratory research
  • environmentally relevant questions

Research tools:

  • physiology
  • molecular biology
  • histology
  • biochemistry
  • transcriptomics
  • bioinformatics, phylogenetics
  • Galus, M., Kirischian, N., Higgins, S., Purdy, J., Chow, J., Ragaranjan, S., Li, H., Metcalfe, C., and Wilson, J.Y. 2013. Chronic, low concentration exposure to pharmaceuticals impacts mulitple organ systems in zebrafish. Aquatic Toxicology. 132-133:200-211.
  • Galus, M., Jeyaranjaan, J., Smith, E.M., Li, H, Metcalfe, C., and Wilson, J.Y. 2013. Chronic effects of exposure to a pharmaceutical mixture and municipal wastewater in zebrafish. Aquatic Toxicology. 132-133:212-222.
  • Smith, E.S., Iftikar, F.I., Higgins, S., Irshad, S., Jandoc, R., Lee, M., and Wilson, J.Y. 2012. In vitro inhibition of cytochrome P450-mediated reactions by gemfibrozil, erythromycin, ciprofloxacin and fluoxetine in fish liver microsomes. Aquatic Toxicology. 109:259-266.
  • Harskamp J., Britz-McKibbin P., Wilson J.Y. 2012. Functional screening of cytochrome P450 activity and uncoupling by capillary electrophoresis.Analytical Chemistry. 84:862-6.
  • Kirischian N.L., Wilson J.Y. 2012. Phylogenetic and functional analyses of the cytochrome P450 family 4. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 62: 458-71.
  • Smith E.M., Iftikar F.I., Higgins S., Irshad A., Jandoc R., Lee M., Wilson J.Y. 2012. In vitro inhibition of cytochrome P450-mediated reactions by gemfibrozil, erythromycin, ciprofloxacin and fluoxetine in fish liver microsomes. Aquatic Toxicology. 109:259-66.
  • Kirischian, N., McArthur A.G., Jesuthasan C., Krattenmacher B., and Wilson J.Y. 2011. Phylogenetic and Functional Analysis of the Vertebrate Cytochrome P450 2 Family.Journal of Molecular Evolution, 72:56-71.
  • Scornaienchi, M.L., Thornton, C., Willett, K.L., Wilson, J.Y. 2010. Cytochrome P450 mediated 17-beta estradiol metabolism in zebrafish (Danio rerio).Journal of Endocrinology, 206:317-325.
  • Marentette, J.R., Gooderham,K.L., Hynes, H., McMaster, M.E.,  Ng, T., Parrott, J.L., Slater, G.F., Wilson, J.Y., Wood, C.M., and Balshine, S. 2010. Signatures of Contamination in Invasive Round Gobies (Neogobius melanostomus): A double strike for ecosystem health in highly polluted areas? Journal of Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, 73:1755-1764.
  • Scornaienchi, M.L., Thornton, C., Willett, K.L., Wilson, J.Y.  2010. Functional differences in the cytochrome P450 1 family enzymes from Zebrafish (Danio rerio) using heterologously expressed proteins.  Archive of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 502:17-22.
  • Bowley, L.A., Alam, F., Marentette, J.R., Balshine, S., Wilson, J.Y. 2010. Characterization of vitellogenin gene expression in round goby (Neogobius melanostomus) using a quantitative PCR assay. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 29:2751-2760.
  • Smith, E.M. and Wilson, J.Y. 2010. Assessment of cytochrome P450 fluorometric substrates with rainbow trout and killifish exposed to dexamethasone, pregnenolone-16α-carbonitrile, rifampicin, and β-naphthoflavone. Aquatic Toxicology 97:324-333.
  • Smith, E.M., Chu, S., Paterson, G., Metcalfe, C.D. and Wilson J.Y. 2010. Cross species comparison of fluoxetine metabolism with fish liver microsomes.Chemosphere 79:26-32.
  • Wilson, J.Y. and Stegeman J.J. 2010. Catalytic and Immunochemical Detection of Hepatic and Extrahepatic Microsomal Cytochrome P450 1A1 (CYP1A1) in White-sided Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus) Aquatic Toxicology 96:216-224.
  • Noori, A., Selvaganapathy, P.R., and Wilson, J. 2009. Microinjection in a microfluidic format using flexible and compliant channels and electroosmotic dosage control. Lab on a Chip 9: 3202:3211.
  • Hooker, S.K., Metcalfe, T.L., Metcalfe, C.D., Angell, C.M., Wilson, J.Y., Moore, M.J., and Whitehead, H. 2008. Changes in persistent contaminant load and CYP1A1 enzyme activity in biopsy samples from Northern bottlenose whales, Hyperoodon ampullatus, following the onset of nearby oil and gas activity. Environmental Pollution, 152 (1): 205-216
  • Wilson, J.Y., Wells, R. Aguiliar, A., Borrell, A., Tornero, V., Reijnders, P., Moore, M., and Stegeman, J.J. 2007. Corrrelates of cytochrome P450 1A1(CYP1A1) expression in bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops Truncatus)integument biopsies. Toxicological Sciences, 97(1):111-119.
  • Garrick, R.A., Woodin, B.R., Wilson, J.Y., Middlebrooks, B.L., and Stegeman, J.J.  2006.  Cytochrome P4501A is induced in endothelial cell lines from the kidney and lung of the bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncates. Aquatic Toxicology, 76(3-4):295-305.
  • Wilson, J.Y., Cooke,S.R., Moore, M.J., Martineau, D., Mikaelian, I., Metner, D.A., Lockhart, W.L., and Stegeman, J.J. 2005.   Systemic Effects of Arctic Pollutants in Beluga whales Indicated by CYP1A1 expression.  Environmental Health Perspectives, 113(11):1594-1599.
  • Wilson, J.Y., McArthur, A.G., and Stegeman, J.J. 2005. Characterization of a Cetacean Aromatase (CYP19) and the Phylogeny and Functional Conservation of Vertebrate Aromatase.  General and Comparative Endocrinology, 140:74-83.
  • Angell, C.M., Wilson, J.Y., Moore, M.J. and Stegeman, J.J. 2004 Cytochrome P450 1A1 expression in cetacean integument: implications for detecting contaminant exposure and effects.  Marine Mammal Science 20(3):554-566.
  • Godard, C., Smolowitz, R., Wilson, J.Y., Payne, R., Stegeman, J.J. 2004. Induction of cetacean cytochrome P4501A1 by B-naphthoflavone exposure of skin biopsy slices.Toxicological Sciences 80:268-275.
  • Wilson, JY; Kruzynski, GM; Addison, RF. 2001. Experimental exposure of juvenile chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) to bleached kraft mill effluent: hepatic CYP1A induction is correlated with DNA adducts but not with organochlorine residues. Aquatic Toxicology, 53(1):49-63.
  • Wilson, J.Y., Addison, R.F., Martens, D., Gordon, R. and Glickman, B. 2000. Cytochrome P450 1A and related measurements in juvenile chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) from the Fraser River.  Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences,  57(2):405-413.
  • Hodson, P.V., Efler, S., Wilson, J.Y., El-Shaarawi, A., Maj, M. and Williams, T.G. 1996. Measuring the Potency of Pulp Mill Effluents for Induction of Hepatic Mixed Function Oxygenase Activity in Fish. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, 49(1):83:110.
  • LaPierre, N., Wilson, J., Bourreau, J.P., Tougas, G., Kwan, C.Y., Daniel, E.E. 1993. Norepinephrine Release in Rat Vas Deferens – Effect of Rauwolscine and BHT-920. Life Sciences, 53(2): PL19-PL24.

Evolution and Function of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes in Aquatic Species

My basic research program focuses on the cytochrome P450 superfamily of proteins with an emphasis on their evolution and function in aquatic species such as fish.  Cytochrome P450 enzymes, or CYPs, are important for production and metabolism of important biological signaling molecules such as hormones.  CYPs are also a key component of the defensome – the genes that aid in protection and defense from toxic compounds.  Vertebrate species have 50-100 CYP genes in their genome but the function of many of these genes in non-mammalian species is unclear.  Our projects involve genome annotation of CYP sequences, phylogenetic studies of CYP families, protein expression and functional testing of CYPs.  This research raised fundamental questions about CYP protein function and attracts students with strong interests in protein evolution, bioinformatics, molecular biology and biochemistry.

Environmental physiology and aquatic toxicology of vertebrates

My environmental research focuses on the effects of contaminants on marine and freshwater aquatic vertebrate species such as fish and marine mammals.  I am particularly interested in organochlorine compounds (e.g. dioxins, furans, PCBs, PAHs), endocrine disrupters and pharmaceuticals; all of which originate from human activities and are found in the aquatic environment.  This research is rooted in comparative physiology and endocrinology: contrasting data that exists in other vertebrate species when there is evidence of strong conservation of function, pathways, and expression of proteins across taxa.  I have a strong emphasis on combining field and laboratory research, in order to study environmentally relevant questions in the field and investigate cause and effect and mechanisms of toxicology with controlled experiments and in vitro studies.  Current studies focus on the zebrafish as a model aquatic organism and the round goby in the Great Lakes Region.  My environmental research uses tools of molecular biology, histology, biochemistry, physiology, transcriptomics, field and experimental studies to address these questions.

Impacts of Pharmaceuticals in the Aquatic Environment
Many studies have demonstrated that pharmaceuticals are entering the aquatic environment through waste water discharge.  In our lab, we use zebrafish as a model organism to determine the impacts of pharmaceuticals on adult and embryonic fish.  We study impacts of pharmaceuticals on reproduction and development, physiology (e.g. steroid hormone levels), and gene expression changes.  We are starting to determine life cycle impacts and examining the effects of parental exposure of the offspring.  This research will help us understand the effects of pharmaceuticals in the environment.

Endocrine Disrupters in Hamilton Harbour and the Great Lakes Region
Round goby are a benthic, territorial invasive species in the Great Lakes Basin.  In collaboration with Sigal Balshine (Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University), we are using gobies to study endocrine disrupters in Hamilton Harbour.  This species is ideal for this study because it does not have a wide range and thus its contaminant exposure will reflect local pollution.  We have developed a quantitative PCR method for monitoring vitellogenin gene expression in male gobies.  Vitellogenin, an egg yolk precursor protein, should not be expressed in males unless they have been exposed to a natural or xeno- estrogen.  Round goby, and other species in Hamilton Harbour, display intersex, a condition where male testis have both sperm and eggs.  We hope to identify sites polluted with endocrine disrupters within Hamilton Harbour and the Great Lakes Region and determine what contaminants are causing the endocrine disruption.


My research has been funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery and Strategic Project Programs, the Canadian Water Network (CWN), Canadian Foundation of Innovation (CFI), and Ontario Innovation Trust (OIT).