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Jean-Philippe Demers

Location: St. Athanase, QC

Award: Young Canadians


Year: 2001


Genes: What a Puzzle

News Release

Quebec Student's DNA Work Earns $4500
Manning Young Canadian Innovator Award

KINGSTON, Ontario (May 18, 2001) --- Jean-Philippe Demers, of St. Athanase, Quebec today was honoured today as one of eight Manning Young Canadian Innovators at the Canada-Wide Science Fair, which concludes Saturday at Queen's University.

The eight Manning Innovators represented regional science fairs from Quebec. Ontario, Manitoba and Vancouver.

Demers is a senior student at Ecole Secondaire Marcellin-Champagnat and a representative of the Montérégie Regional Science Fair. His investigations concern the manner in which cytosine methylation influences the suppression or activation of a gene in the cell.

His work earned him a first-round selection as one of eight students to receive a $500 cash award. That was then topped up with an additional $4000 cash prize, both from the Manning Awards Foundation, and co-sponsored by Alberta Energy Company.

Demers will be presented his larger cash award this Fall, coincident with the annual national recognition of senior Canadian innovators by the Manning Awards Foundation. He also received the Bronze medal in the Senior Division of the Life Sciences category.

This project demonstrated that gene expression is strongly influenced by the degree to which cytosine bases are methylated in DNA. Gene expression is regulated by proteins which complement to a promoter or suppressor DNA region of a gene, thereby regulating the degree to which that gene actively participates in the metabolism of a cell. By a series of very ingenious experiments, Demers showed that when cytosine becomes methylated, the affinity of a promoter protein to its site in the DNA of the luciferase gene diminishes and thus the amount of luciferase manufactured by the cell becomes less. However, somewhat of a surprise, Demers also discovered that under certain experimental conditions, instead of methylation causing an inhibition of luciferase synthesis, such change may actually increase gene expression to a level which far exceeds that usually observed.

When asked to provide an explanation for his results Demers, rather than coming up with facile answers, instead responded by proposing the next set of experiments which are needed to advance an understanding of how gene expression is exactly controlled in a cell.

"This young scientist has shown a high degree of scientific skill and sophistication, and his successful experiments certainly will advance our understanding of how the process of cytosine methylation may be one manner in which a cell can regulate gene expression. The balance between suppression or promotion of gene expression is of course of primary importance in the origin of many diseases" explained Dr. Nico M. van Gelder, professor emeritus in neurobiology and neurochemistry at Queen's University, co-ordinator of judges for the Manning Awards.

"These young Canadians have clearly demonstrated an innovative capability. It is important to receive recognition for their accomplishments to date and more importantly, the encouragement to pursue their interests," said Dr. Carol Beatty of the Queen's School of Business and a member of the national Selection Committee of the Manning Innovation Awards Foundation.

For more information about the Manning Innovation Awards Foundation, please contact Donald Park, Executive Director, at (403)-266-8288 or visit the Foundation's website at www.manningawards.ca

Media Contact
Dick Wilson, Director Public Affairs, Alberta Energy Company
Cell: 403.860.3850