U of C Pic

McFarlane Lab

Dr. Sarah McFarlane

Dr. Sarah McFarlane

Professor, Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy
Outstanding Achievement in Supervision Award, University of Calgary (2004)

BSc 1987 (McGill)
PhD 1993 (McGill)
PDF 1993-1996 (Univ California San Diego)

** McFarlane lab interested in hiring two new PhD students to start in 2022. Please use smcfarla@ucalgary.ca to contact Dr. Sarah McFarlane.


My lab studies how neural circuits formation and function, using the developing and mature visual systems of zebrafish and the frog Xenopus laevis as our models. We have two separate lines of discovery.

Progenitor position and biology in the embryonic, adult and injured retina (funded by CIHR and Lion’s Sight Centre Endowment):

We are interested in identifying the importance of progenitor position in receiving the necessary extrinsic signals that control retinal neurogenesis, in the embryo, the adult, and after retinal injury. We use zebrafish as our model, as this organism continues to grow its eye after the embryonic period, and unlike in mammals, is able to replace retinal cells that are lost because of injury. We are studying:

  1. How progenitor position in the embryonic retina and in stem cell niches of the mature retina influences neurogenesis (what cells get made and in what numbers).
  2. Whether these progenitor position-determining signals influence the types of neurons that get made by the retina after injury.
  3. What molecular signals determine progenitor position
  4. What molecular signals regulate the regeneration of cells of the retinal pigment epithelium, a single cell layer thick epithelium at the back of the retina that supports the light-sensing photoreceptors, after injury.

Exploring the development and function of retinal circuits (funded by NSERC):

We use Xenopus to understand the molecular mechanisms that control circuit development in the retina and visual system, including determining the molecules that guide developing retinal axons and their dendrites, the identity of the neural circuits that control vision and non-vision light dependent physiology, and the identity of the opsin proteins involved at the front end in activating these neural circuits. The lab has technical expertise in transgenics, confocal imaging of cells in the live embryo, in vivo gene transfer, gene expression analysis, and culture of in vitro cell lines.