The University of Windsor is preparing for a safe return to campus. Learn More.
Daniel HeathDaniel Heath is heading GEN-FISH, a four-year project that involves creating a genomic toolkit to assess the health of freshwater species. Fish farm operators and consultants hired to do environment assessments are already lining up to be among the first to use the new technology.

Fish genome project attracts early attention

Fish farm operators and environmental consultants are beating a path to the doors of Daniel Heath and his colleagues to be first in line to use a new genomic toolkit to assess the health of freshwater species.

Dr. Heath, a professor of integrated biology at UWindsor’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, is leading a $9.1 million national research project that involves, in part, developing a chip to determine whether fish are suffering from environmental problems like low oxygen levels, pollution or abnormal temperature.

The technique relies on gene expression, using minimally invasive blood samples or gill cells from fish and allowing the specimens to be sampled in the field then immediately released. It will replace traditional techniques that require fish to be caught and killed before testing — not ideal for species whose low populations put them at risk of extinction.

Heath said the technology will be ready to roll out to end users in the middle of next year at the earliest. But he’s already hearing from anxious fish farm operators and consultants who do environmental assessments for land developers. Testing for gene expression could prove to be cheaper and easier, they say.

“We had no idea people would be so interested,” said Heath, who joked he anticipated having to scrounge around for willing participants. “The level of buy-in is really high.”

The four-year research project, named GEN-FISH, aims to develop a suite of procedures to identify species and monitor stressors based on gene expression. They will also develop web-based resources and software to help users monitor and react to threats.

At UWindsor, Heath is collaborating with fellow researchers Christina Semeniuk, Trevor Pitcher, Hugh MacIsaac, Oliver Love, Phil Karpowicz, Dennis Higgs, and Amy Fitzgerald. They are among more than 70 researchers from British Columbia to New Brunswick on the project that holds the promise of ensuring the sustainability of freshwater fish stocks in Canada for generations to come.

The project will also develop management tools based on a technique called environmental DNA, or eDNA. Heath is a pioneer in eDNA, which involves the collection and analysis of water to identify all the species that exist in the ecosystem from which the water sample was drawn.

The eDNA process relies on identifying genetic material in the water. It is less invasive and more comprehensive than traditional techniques that require specimens to be captured.

The process will be used to create what Heath calls a “fish survey toolkit” in the initial part of the project. The second part of the project involves creating the “fish health toolkit” which identifies gene expression markers to denote if the fish are healthy or stressed.

The toolkits GEN-FISH researchers are developing will make Canada a world leader in the complete and accurate assessment of freshwater fish populations. They will help scientists and managers overcome the logistics of surveying and monitoring Canada’s more than two million lakes and the rivers and streams that connect them.

“This is the largest application of genomic tools for freshwater fishery management and conservation in the world,” Heath said.

The project has received funding from the federal and provincial governments, with more in-kind contributions coming from other partners.

GEN-FISH has secured its funding with the help of Ontario Genomics, a provincial agency that works with federal funding agency Genome Canada to encourage genomics innovation. Ontario Genomics is also administering the project’s funding.

“This project is a perfect example of how genomics is foundational for the development of tools and technologies that provide solutions for our most pressing problems,” said Bettina Hamelin, president and CEO of Ontario Genomics.

“At Ontario Genomics, we envision a world of healthy people, a healthy economy, and a healthy planet through genomics innovations. The GEN-FISH team’s work aligns with our goals to protect our natural habitats that constitute the livelihoods of rural, northern and Indigenous communities.”

GEN-FISH began in earnest in January, but the pandemic forced researchers to rethink their approach.

“Many of our government partners shut down or scaled back on field work,” Heath said.

Researchers were able to get back into the field by late summer, but in the interim, they relied on previously collected data, compiling eDNA profiles of fish communities, he said.

“We’ve actually made significant steps forward. We’re making progress despite the restrictions of COVID.”

—Sarah Sacheli

Chris Boyd sitting next to river with laptop computerChris Boyd, student stage manager of Thank You for Your Labour, demonstrates the possibility of streaming the University Players show from just about anywhere with an internet connection.

This weekend is the last chance to step into the stream with University Players

University Players’ fall digital season continues tonight —Thursday, Nov. 19 — via Zoom.

In partnership with Toronto theatre company Outside the March, the players are presenting a series of new Canadian works commissioned for the graduating BFA in Acting class.

The project also serves as research material for drama professor Michelle MacArthur and her team, who are working under a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant to examine the impact of live digital performance with analysis of the creative process and audience experience.

The second weekend of the series continues with The Jubilant, a dramatic and touching look at communication in the time of COVID-19 from Elena Eli Belyea, winner of the Tarragon Theatre’s 2018-2019 RBC Emerging Playwright Prize. Guest director Kim McLeod, whose professional work focuses on contemporary performance practices, including devising and approaches to digital performance, brings her unique perspective to the piece. Love, loss, and longing intersect in this new work written for and about the internet.

Marcus Youssef’s work Thank You For Your Labour forms the second half of the evening, promising a current and close-up view of relationships among a group of students as they attempt to put together a musical fundraiser on campus. The piece is directed by Mitchell Cushman, Artistic Director of Outside the March and Creative Curator on The Stream You Step In. Good intentions meet unspoken desires in this Zoom comedy about whiteness, isolation, and how hard it can be to do the right thing.

Shows run November 19-22 at 8pm. Tickets to each double-feature performance are $20 and can be purchased through the online box office. The shows are presented in Zoom’s Webinar format. Patrons are required to register in advance to receive a unique link to the show, and must be purchased before 3pm on the day of the performance. For more information, please visit www.universityplayers.com.

photo of campusThe Windsor-Essex County Health Unit has confirmed another case of COVID-19 on the UWindsor campus.

Health unit confirms another campus case of COVID-19

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit has confirmed another case of COVID-19 on the UWindsor campus, unrelated to those previously reported. The affected member of the campus community is self-isolating and all appropriate protocols and cleaning measures have been taken.

As with all COVID-19 cases, the WECHU will lead all contact tracing and the University continues to work with and support the health unit as needed. There is no additional risk to the campus community at this time.

The University of Windsor is currently following a remote learning model with most classes being held online this semester. Students, staff, and faculty are reminded to restrict social gatherings, practice good hygiene; wear a mask; keep 2m from others when possible; and complete a self-assessment questionnaire prior to attending campus, available at: www.uwindsor.ca/returntocampus/336/before-going-to-campus.

Updates will be provided at uwindsor.ca/returntocampus.

The University’s response to confirmed cases of COVID-19 can be found here: www.uwindsor.ca/returntocampus/354/confirmed-case-covid-19-campus.

Banner celebrating one-thousandth customerThe Bb Café provided support in the Blackboard learning management system to its 1,000th guest last week.

Blackboard support service records 1,000 assists since pandemic start

The Centre for Teaching and Learning held virtual celebrations last week as its support sessions for users of the Blackboard learning management system topped 1,000 participants.

Cyndra MacDowall, a professor in the School of Creative Arts, was the 1,000th visitor to the Bb Café. She came with questions and left with answers — and a $50 Amazon gift card. Runner-up Thomas Dilworth, the 999th support recipient, received a $25 Amazon gift card.

“I think the Bb Café is fabulous,” said Prof. MacDowall. “Remote teaching is enormously demanding, and I am so glad that I can easily call on the café folk to help with simple and complex questions.”

She said she found it challenging to teach art online.

“BlackBoard is definitely not built to work for teaching photography, or any other art forms online, so it’s a challenge to conceptualize how to make it work with what I teach. It’s excellent to have the café folk for support as I need them.”

Dr. Dilworth, a professor in the Department of English and Creative Writing, echoed MacDowall’s sentiment.

“I’ve used Bb Café so often, few others would have odds as good,” he said. “To me, you guys have been essential, never mind helpful. I am deeply in your debt, and so are my students.”

The Bb Café was initiated as an emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic to provide online live support for instructors and their assistants. Since those early days in March, access to the service has grown.

The centre employed six co-operative education students during the summer and fall 2020 semesters, funded by the Student Work Placement Program accessed through the Co-operative Education & Workplace Partnerships office.

The Office of Open Learning has also benefited from federal grants to support the campus in online course delivery, with some of its student employees joining staff in the Bb Café.

Both offices have engaged in employing and training co-op students for the summer and fall semesters and plan to offer more students the opportunity to gain valuable work experience through the 2021 winter semester.

Instructors and their assistants can access the Bb Café at uwindsor.ca/bbcafe Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It will extend its hours of operation during the upcoming exam period. For more information on accessing the Bb Café, hours of availability, or other helpful workshops, visit the COVID-19 Preparedness Workshops wiki page.

illustration of class action -- a group of people arrayed against a factoryThe Class Action Clinic at Windsor Law has released a second video illustrating the basic elements of the class action settlement claims process.

Clinic releases second video educating public on class action law

The Class Action Clinic at Windsor Law has released its second public legal education video, illustrating the basic elements of a class action settlement claims process. When all members of the group or class cannot be identified directly, a claims process is necessary to divide the money paid by the defendant.

According to law professor and clinic director Jasminka Kalajdzic, the video provides accessible information to the public about how class members can claim their share of compensation once a settlement has been approved by the court.

“The number one complaint that class members have with class actions is that information about these cases is hard to find and understand,” says Prof. Kalajdzic. “I’m very pleased that the clinic is contributing to a better understanding of the law in this field."

The script was prepared by Kalajdzic, clinic staff lawyer Andrew Eckart, and current law students Flavia Zaka and Mariam Rajabali.

This is the second video produced and animated by Hello Adventure Animation, a digital marketing and graphics firm located in Guelph, with funding from the Law Foundation of Ontario.

Launched in October 2019, the Class Action Clinic at Windsor Law provides a range of legal services, information, assistance with filing claims in settlement distribution processes, public education, and outreach. To learn more about the Class Action Clinic, visit its website.

—Rachelle Prince

Dancer in traditional Indian dress.Registration is now open for presenters at the 2021 Celebration of Nations cultural festival, which will be held online.

Celebration of Nations seeking participation

The 2021 Celebration of Nations will be presented online to celebrate the rich cultural diversity of the campus community.

The event gives students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to learn about other cultures and to celebrate their own heritage through performances, demonstrations, and displays of food, dance, dress, and music.

Performers and participants are key to the success of the event. Click here to register as a presenter for performances, cooking segments, or cultural showcases. Registration is open until Dec. 11; the event itself will be held March 15 to 19.

Tech Talk logo

Video explains process of consenting to online pay statements

myUWinfo.uwindsor.ca is the University of Windsor’s employee gateway to human resource information.

Eva Bernachi of Information Technology Services walks through how UWindsor employees can provide their consent to view and print pay statements and tax forms online in this 119-second Tech Talk video. If you want more information about myUWinfo, click on the link in the Comments section below the video.

Tech Talk is a presentation of IT Services. More Tech Talks are available at www.uwindsor.ca/its/tech-talk.