Department of Cell Biology



The Department of Cell Biology is committed to research excellence in modern cell biology, including the areas of protein targeting, membrane trafficking, signal transduction, cell-cell interaction & development, cell growth & division, viral infection and rare diseases. Our faculty is dedicated to quality in teaching at the undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate levels to develop a new generation of exceptional investigators. The development of cell biology as a discipline stems from the works of Claude, Palade and deDuve in which these pioneers made the first successful attempts to link cellular structure with biochemical functions. Today, cell biology combines aspects from many disciplines such as molecular biology, biochemistry and morphology, molding them into a unique approach towards the examination of cell function. Currently the Department of Cell Biology is home to a unique and diverse group of 10 Principal Investigators. Our faculty members are nationally and internationally recognized in experimental cell biology.

Our mission is to develop and provide the highest quality educational programs in cell biology. The active research environment created by members of the Department has the training of students as a top priority. Our goal within this environment is to train and develop highly qualified students who will go on to productive health science related careers. The Department of Cell Biology is committed to a tradition of excellence and innovation in teaching as part of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta.


Meet the U of A's Spring 2022 Canada Research Chairs in Cell Biology

Michael Hendzel – Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry

Genome Cell Biology and Dynamics

Dr. Hendzel's research aims to understand what properties the packaging of DNA imparts to the genome of cells. Two meters of DNA are packaged into each cell nucleus, with diameters of only a few micrometres, while maintaining the ability to read, write, and repair it. Dr. Hendzel's recent work has found that the genome forms a gel, similar to Jell-O. This gel is decorated with binding sites that attract proteins that have a particular property–they can cause the water in the cell to separate, similar to oil separating from water. This could create a microenvironment that prevents the inappropriate expression of genes. This is important because some genes, such as endogenous retrovirus sequences which mutate our genome, must be shut down. Additionally, this gel state provides the DNA with an additional unexpected function–it can be used as structural support. This may be important in tissues that undergo significant strain, such as the contracting cells of a beating heart.

Our understanding of the genome is dominated by results from experiments done outside of cells. Dr. Hendzel's research focuses on the emergent properties that arise in the concentrated and complex environment of the cell. A gel state to chromatin and the creation of local microenvironments are examples of such properties. These introduce new and potentially transformational ways of thinking about these reactions, their mechanisms, and their control.