Roger Linington Advances to Tier 1 Canada Research Chair for work in natural chemistry

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Photo courtesy of SFU News

Written by: Karissa Ketter, News Writer 

SFU professor and researcher Dr. Roger Linington said in an interview with The Peak that his selection as Tier 1 Canada Research Chair (CRC) will allow him and his research team to “to tackle questions that would have otherwise [ . . . ]  been impractical.” 

With the CRC advancement, he is currently working on inverting the process of how natural chemistry is studied. According to Linington, “There is a long history of studying chemistry from nature,” such as looking at molecules to create pharmaceuticals or antibiotics for diseases (such as diabetes and COVID-19). 

“Those projects have historically been done on a case-by-case basis. So the way that that research was usually performed was that you might make a set of samples from the environment and test all those samples against your target item.” He added that if a sample showed promise, it would be studied “to figure out why it [was] active and which molecule [was] responsible. That’s the way in which many of our current drugs have been found.” 

His research is now looking to correct systematic flaws. “The problem with that approach is that there is an increasingly high rate of redundancy [ . . . ] [people] are finding the same things over and over.”

Linington explained that the “research program is really looking at developing methods to look broadly at all of chemical space at the outset.” He aims to “ask at the very beginning, ‘What is the full chemical landscape of this set of samples?’ and ‘What do all these samples do against some target of choice?’” With this information, his team can determine how each sample behaves and “can start making predictions about which molecules are causing which effects.”

According to Linington, “It completely inverts the discovery model for investigating natural chemistry and [can] hopefully lead to a whole realm of discoveries.”  

Linington noted that he felt it to be a great personal honour to be selected for part of the program. He said “the CRC is really a spectacular program” that allows researchers to dive into more subject areas and has a “substantive impact on the way research is performed in Canada.”

Before beginning his career at SFU in 2015 during his time in Tier 2 of CRC, Linington was working with chemical biology in Santa Cruz, California. Linington credits his ability to learn more about data science and programming to his advancement to Tier 1 of CRC.  

In December of 2019, Linington published the Natural Products Atlas which he describes as “an open atlas, that is open access, [ . . . ] of all of the natural products, or molecules of nature, produced by microorganisms. So, it’s supposed to be a comprehensive database and resource for the wider chemical community which describes everything that’s being found in the literature today from microorganisms.”

Dr. Linington was selected for the CRC program this year along with eight other SFU researchers that are working in an array of research fields. More information on the work of Dr. Linington can be found on Linington Lab’s website