The Developmental Biology Research Initiative (DBRI) is dedicated to hypothesis-driven research in non-mammalian model organisms to address fundamental problems in cell and developmental biology. Its goal is to advance knowledge in a research area that has enormous potential applications for biotechnology and medicine.

DBRI: the well spring of exciting developments in Life Sciences at McGill University

The source of fundamental advances in addressing human health, disease, and aging is a dynamic core of effective, inspired and fast-moving research – the hallmark of McGill’s innovative Developmental Biology Research Initiative (DBRI).

Defined as the study of how cells become organized to carry out vital functions, developmental biology is central to our understanding of cells, life and disease treatments. There has never been a greater premium on harnessing the power of developmental biology research to fuel the discovery and development of treatments, drugs and technologies. There has never been a greater need to leverage the full value of new knowledge and research in today’s rapidly-changing world. There has never been a better time to accelerate efforts to integrate developmental biology into the full spectrum of Life Sciences.

McGill’s Developmental Biology Research Initiative is expressly designed to fill this ambitious mandate. The DBRI will be an integral component of the McGill University Life Sciences Research Complex (MULSRC). Strategically located – and integrated - in two of the Life Sciences Complex buildings, the DBRI will serve as a responsive, interdepartmental research ‘well spring’ supplying the pipeline for commercially-viable biomedical outcomes. It will serve the university, the community and Montreal’s growing biopharmaceutical sector by catalysing the development of valuable treatments, drugs and technologies.

Who we are and the DBRI mission:

The Developmental Biology Research Initiative (DBRI) is located within the Department of Biology at McGill University and is comprised of cell and developmental biologists working with five principal groups of model experimental organisms or systems – yeast, worms, fruit flies, plants and frogs. Researchers in the DBRI use these organisms to derive new and fundamental insights into how cells function as well as how organisms develop from a single specialized cell, the fertilized egg. Why is the study of cell and development biology in model systems important and innovative? Although multicellular organisms are made up of many different cell types that play specific roles, and the investigation of cell differentiation in multicellular organisms is complex, many aspects of these are conserved in simple model systems. For example, asymmetric growth in a simple eukaryote like yeast involves the same types of proteins as the polarized growth of neurons in humans. Certain invertebrate model organisms, such as the multicellular roundworm, Caenorhabditis elegans, and the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, are particularly suited to studying developmental biology, the mechanism by which multicellular beings are patterned and organized.  Genetic tools are available in these organisms to facilitate gene discovery and rapidly elucidate genetic networks that underlie development.

DBRI: Facilities - The McGill Life Sciences Research Complex

The DBRI is located in the Stewart Biology Building at McGill University, and is an integral component of the McGill University Life Sciences Research Complex (MULSRC). In addition to its current location in Stewart, it is integrated into the complex of buildings – the McIntyre Medical Building, the Bellini Life Sciences Building and the Cancer Pavilion (as well as the Stewart) – which makes up the McGill University Life Sciences Research Complex. The DBRI includes 30 laboratories, spread over 13,000 sq ft of new research space in the Francesco Bellini Life Sciences Building as well as 27,000 sq ft in a renovated area of the Stewart Biology Building. The DBRI reflects one of five research themes for the MULRSC which includes cancer studies, genetics of complex traits, chemical biology and cell information transfer systems as well as developmental biology.

The DBRI facilities in the renovated space in the Stewart Biology Building includes: 1) high-performance microscopy for live analysis and rapid, automated imaging; 2) high-throughput robotics for genetics, genomics, and proteomics; 3) the latest data management technologies, as well as 4) new and renovated lab space and 5)  core and specialized equipment facilities. Funding for both renovations to the Stewart Biology Building, and for new equipment infrastructure was provided by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and its partners.


Funding partners:

The primary source of funding of the DBRI comes from the Innovation Fund of the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). Under this program, Dr Lasko and his team, which was one of only two teams at McGill to receive Call IV funding in Spring 2004, were awarded $19,775,733 for the DBRI. Forty percent of this amount was provided by the CFI Innovation Fund while another forty percent was provided by the Québec government under the auspices of Recherche Québec. McGill University contributed an additional $1.8 million, through the offices of the Vice-Principal (Research), the Faculty of Science, and the Department twelve (12) percent - an amount of $2.3 million - comes from contributions from the following industry partners: 

  • Affymetrix
  • Apple Computer
  • Beckman Coulter
  • BioRad
  • Carson Group
  • Eckel Industries
  • ESBE Scientific
  • Fisher Scientific
  • GE Healthcare Bio-Sciences (formerly Amersham Biosciences)
  • Leica Canada
  • Li-Cor
  • MEGS
  • MJ Research
  • Miranda Lauzon
  • Nikon Canada
  • Quorum Technologies
  • Steris
  • Tekniscience
  • Union Biometrica
  • VWR

Of the nearly $20 million awarded, approximately $10 million will be used, as mentioned above, to renovate laboratories in the Stewart Biology Building, with another $10 million going to purchase core and specialized laboratory equipment. Together these will provide the DBRI with the modern facilities needed to maintain standards of research excellence in developmental biology. Here are just a few of the DBRIs new equipment items being purchased with CFI funds:

  • Spinning disc confocal system (Suppliers:  Leica and Quorum) 
  • GFP sorter for C. elegans and Drosophila embryos (Supplier:  Union Biometrica)
  • Affymetrix chip reader (Supplier:  Affymetrix)
  • Customizable robot system (Supplier:  Beckman)
  • DNA analyzer (Supplier: Licor)

Research collaborators and partners:

Researchers in the DBRI collaborate with researchers all over the world. Many of its most significant collaborations involve its graduate students. That is, unlike many other large international research institutes that stand alone, through its grounding in a major academic department, a large portion of DBRI research is conducted by graduate students. Graduate education is central to the DBRI mission of training through research. It is often students in the DBRI who are the primary authors of the high-profile research articles it produces, and students who present at international conferences the newest data emerging in the DBRI laboratories.

The DBRI entered into an agreement which would allow for future collaboration and exchange with the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB), Kobe, Japan. The core research program of the CDB is devoted to three themes: mechanisms of development, mechanisms of regeneration and the scientific bases of regenerative medicine. Areas of research within these themes include evolutional regeneration biology, vertebrate body plan, morphogenetic signaling, cell asymmetry, stem cell biology, organogenesis and neurogenesis, and cell adhesion and tissue patterning. In 2003, the CDB held its first international symposium, on the topic of the “Origin and Formation of Multicellular systems.”