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Say it ain't snow

Biology student Gajra Garg had never seen snow until she arrived in Montreal from India this past fall, but she isn't letting the weather slow her down
January 31, 2011
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By Russ Cooper
Source: Concordia Journal

Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship Program student Gajra Garg is studying biology at Concordia until April 2011. | Photo by Concordia University
Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship Program student Gajra Garg is studying biology at Concordia until April 2011. | Photo by Concordia University

Gajra Garg had never seen snow until she arrived in Montreal from India this past fall. Quite fitting, then, that she comes to our sometimes climatically inhospitable city to research biological tolerance to environmental stress.

Granted, the 23-year-old biology graduate student is examining stress on plants, not people.

“I heard it was going to be cold here,” she says. “It is.”

Despite the weather, Garg – one of 16 students who have (or will) come to Concordia this academic year from partner universities – is taking advantage of the opportunity afforded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) Canada to study at a renowned university.

Garg will be working with Department of Biology Professor and Chair Patrick Gulick at Concordia’s Centre for Structural and Functional Genomics over her six-month term (which ends in April) to study the molecular and genomic response of plants to environmental stresses, including salt stress, cold and drought.

Through their work, they have identified the specific genes in wheat that are activated by stress. They believe that the proteins encoded by these genes, when interacting with other proteins, are part of a signalling and control system that regulates the plant’s stress tolerance.

“Conceptually, it is like the discovery of a portion of a complex electrical circuit controlling stress resistance. We want to know what are the other components of the circuit and how they turn the circuit on and off and what appliances in the cell they turn on.”

By understanding the plant’s response to stress at a molecular level, they believe they will be able to improve crops’ resistance to environmental stress – not only in wheat, but potentially in a vast range of crop plants in various climates.

“The research we are doing is very interesting and will help me when I return to India,” she says.

Garg comes from Banasthali University for Women in the Rajasthan state of northwest India, where she recently completed her master’s degree in biology.

“I anticipated that she would be a very dedicated scholar, and indeed that turned out to be the case,” says Gulick. “It is a pleasure to work with such a highly motivated student.”

DFAIT manages the Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship Program, the Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program and the Faculty Leadership Pilot Program. These programs supported three professors along with the 16 students who wanted to study at Concordia. This is the fifth year that Concordia has participated in the programs.

Related links:
•    Sixteen emerging leaders selected to come to Concordia – Concordia News and Events, August 10, 2010
•    Concordia Centre for Structural and Functional Genomics
•    Concordia Department of Biology
•    Banasthali University



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