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Renee Hilker

Position/Title: MSc candidate
email: hilkerr@uoguelph.ca
Phone: ext. 56689
Office: ANNU 032

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Previous Education

I obtained my Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Biology from the University of Waterloo in 2019. I was in the co-op program and spent two of my co-op terms working in research. My first research experience was with Dr. Rose Labbe at Agriculture Canada working on combatting pepper weevil (Anthonomus eugenii) infestations in Canada, from which I was able to publish my first scientific article. My second experience was with Dr. Moira Glerum at the University of Waterloo studying copper metabolism in yeast. I knew that I wanted to continue in research, so I decided to pursue graduate studies at the University of Guelph because of their reputation for excellency in animal science research.

Current Work

In September 2019, I began my master’s studies in the department of Animal Biosciences under the supervision of Dr. Julang Li. My thesis work focuses on the mechanisms controlling follicle maturation and ovulation in pigs (Sus scrofa). Oocyte growth is heavily influenced by the genes expressed in the surrounding granulosa cells. I am investigating how microRNAs alter gene expression in granulosa cells and how this ultimately impacts follicle growth. This study is fundamental to enhancing our understanding of oocyte growth.

I am currently drafting a publication on miR-21’s role in granulosa cells. Previous work by Dr. Bo Pan in the Li Lab has uncovered that miR-21 downregulates TIMP3 to promote extracellular matrix remodelling and oocyte maturation. This upcoming publication will highlight miR-21’s role on estradiol production and proliferation in granulosa cells. I also presented this research at the 53rd  Society for the Study of Reproduction Annual Meeting. My next phase will be investigating miR-29b, whose role in granulosa cells has largely been uncharacterized. Most microRNAs bind to mRNAs in the cytoplasm, however work by Dr. Derek Toms in the Li Lab showed miR-29b localizes to the nucleus in granulosa cells (in review). I hypothesize that miR-29b is binding to DNA in the nucleus to regulate transcription. I will investigate this using modified chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP). MiR-21 and miR-29b could prove to be valuable biomarkers for sow fertility. They may also be indicators of potential ovarian disorders such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).