New Faculty Profiles showcase GSA members who are establishing their first independent labs. If you’d like to be considered for a profile, please complete this form on the GSA website.


Mike Downey

Assistant Professor (Since November 2014)
Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
University of Ottawa
Lab website
Twitter: @DowneyUOttawa


Research program:

Our lab studies protein lysine acetylation. Although acetylation was originally characterized as a histone modification regulating transcription, recent work has identified thousands of non-histone substrates in organisms from bacteria to humans. In budding yeast, over a third of all proteins are acetylated, suggesting that acetylation rivals phosphorylation in its prevalence across the proteome. We aim to uncover how enzymes regulating acetylation (called HATs and HDACs) chose their substrates, and how we can exploit this to learn about conserved pathways that underlie important aspects of human disease. A critical avenue of exploration in our lab is to understand how multi-subunit complexes that house HAT and HDAC enzymes serve as substrate selection platforms. We are also interested in elucidating how acetylation competes with other lysine-based modifications such as ubiquitylation. We use a combination of proteomics, functional genomics, and molecular biology tools to answer these emerging questions in both yeast and mammalian cells. We focus on two main functional outputs: genome stability and the regulation of cell growth. Our work has implications for cancer, metabolic diseases, and aging.


I’ve made a conscious effort to grow my lab slowly to assemble a team that works well together. I’m always on the look out for new students (both graduate and undergraduate) and post-docs to join the group. My lab provides training in proteomics and functional genomics. There are opportunities for trainees interested in the yeast model system or tissue culture work. My lab is situated in the Ottawa Institute for Systems Biology, which provides a broad and interactive training environment. (Contact Dr. Downey)


Role of GSA in your career:

Yeast Genetics Meetings have been a great way for me to meet scientists in my field and to get feedback on my latest projects. My lab will be attending The Allied Genetics Conference in July.


Previous training experiences:

  • Undergraduate Degree in Molecular Biology and Genetics at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada
  • PhD student with Daniel Durocher, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada (studied telomere biology and the DNA damage checkpoint response)
  • Post-doc with David Toczyski, University of California, San Francisco (studied protein acetylation)


“My favourite thing about science is still testing that ‘out of the blue’ idea that could open up a new direction in the lab or raise the impact of a current project. In particular, the yeast model system allows us to test these ideas in days or weeks instead of months.” – Mike Downey on his favorite thing about his work



I am the coordinator for a graduate course on cell signaling. This course is designed to introduce students to key themes in extra and intracellular signaling pathways and related therapeutic opportunities. I also initiated and coordinate a monthly “work in progress” seminar series for our department focused on cell biology and cell signaling.


Interests Outside of Work:

Ottawa is a great city for pubs, restaurants, and the outdoors. I take advantage at every opportunity!