Justin Nodwell

Justin Nodwell


BSc, University of Toronto, 1982-86
PhD, University of Toronto, 1986-93
Postdoc, Harvard University, 1993-98

Address Medical Sciences Building
1 King's College Circle
Toronto, ON M5S 1A8
Lab Nodwell Group
Lab Phone 416 946 3161

I became interested in science when I was 15 years old. I was watching ‘the Nature of Things’ on TV and a stop action film of dividing plant cells came into view. The voice of David Suzuki announced that people were  trying to understand how this process and I was hooked. It was an extraordinary moment – how do those irregular yet organized biological shapes work? I went on to a BSc in genetics and a PhD in molecular biology. I have been fortunate to have outstanding mentors, Jack Greenblatt as a PhD student and  Richard Losick when I was a postdoctoral fellow. My first independent position was at McMaster University (1998-2013) and I arrived at the University of Toronto in 2013 intent on continuing with the work I had started at McMaster and to take on the additional role of Chair of Biochemistry. I have never looked back – I love my job and the life of a scientist.

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Research Description

Chemical Communication and Warfare Among Microorganisms

All bacteria secrete small organic molecules that have biological activities. Some serve as signals that coordinate group activities, others are toxic to competing organisms and serve to protect the producer and define its niche, still others bind and sequester rare nutrients. Our goal is to understand the biological roles and biochemical activities of these molecules.

Importantly, these molecules are extremely useful as drugs. Our research therefore straddles the line between fundamental questions on the chemical biology of microbial life and the quest for new medicines. This is important both because there is a significant need for new therapeutic approaches to infectious disease – due in part part to the inexorable increase in antibiotic resistance, and for other diseases such as cancer. By harnessing the chemical biology of microbial life therefore, we aim to have an important impact of the development of new, life saving medications.


Nodwell Lab studies the way in which bacterial cells respond to chemicals. Our focus is on the fascinating bacterial genus Streptomyces. Streptomycetes are known for their ‘secondary metabolism’, which is the source of antibiotics, chemotherapeutics, antifungals and many other drugs. Paradoxically, streptomycetes produce antibacterial compounds without killing themselves and we are interested in the mechanisms that allow this to happen.


View all publications on PubMed