Mark Lechner

Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Health Sciences

Director, Undergraduate Programs

Education

  • B.S. Microbiology, University of Notre Dame
  • Ph.D. Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, University of Chicago

Biography

Dr. Mark S. Lechner is a molecular biologist with a research background in human cancer and developmental biology.  Dr. Lechner received his B.S. in Microbiology from the University of Notre Dame and conducted his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Chicago on how certain human viruses such as HPV lead to cancer.  His subsequent research efforts were aimed at understanding the mechanisms that control early embryonic development and how genetic errors or environmental factors alter that process and lead to disease.  He has special interest in the field of epigenetics, where the interaction between genes and the environment takes place.  In 2001, Dr. Lechner was appointed as faculty in the Department of Bioscience & Biotechnology at Drexel University in Philadelphia as an Assistant Professor where he led teaching and research efforts until he joined the Faculty of Health Science at SFU in 2008.   

Research Interests

I am interested in the manner in which genes are turned into human traits or phenotypes.  Extrinsic or environmental signals are important determinants in the expression of a phenotype and these inputs can lead to traits – desirable or undesirable – that may be transient or permanent, some even lasting through generations.  To understand how this control is achieved, I have studied chromatin proteins that govern epigenetic regulation, which is the first step in going from genotype to phenotype.   This has led to studies of the well-characterized HP1 family of proteins and to new genes such as NIPBL, which when mutated leads to a congenital disorder known as Cornelia de Lange Syndrome (CdLS).  CdLS is a multisystem disorder that affects nearly 1 in 10,000 children with a spectrum of physical and mental defects that vary widely in severity.  Interestingly, disorders related to CdLS may be caused by similar genes and a paradigm for complex physical-mental disorders stemming from chromatin and epigenetic malfunction is emerging.  What is still unclear is why such disorders are so variable in severity (expressivity) in the presence of the same mutation.  This clearly indicates a multifactorial response that is likely a combination of genetic and environmental effects that have yet to be discovered.  My interests also include the role of selfish DNA in evolution and using bioinformatics to understand input/output from the human genome.  

Teaching Interests

I have numerous teaching interests that center around the cause of human disease.  These include the fields of genetics, cell biology, biochemistry, developmental biology and cancer biology.  I also maintain an interest in my B.S./Ph.D. background in microbiology and virology.  As an Assistant Professor at Drexel University I enjoyed teaching a range of courses at the undergraduate and graduate level.  These courses included Advanced Cell Biology, Recombinant DNA Laboratory, Bioinformatics and Genetics.  All of these courses included laboratory components that I conceived and developed.  Answering questions and solving problems in the laboratory is a particular passion of mine and I consider it a home away from home.  My general teaching philosophy is to equip students with the skills to find the right answers and ask even better questions.

Publications and Activities

Funding