Canada Research Chair, Food Security and Environment
University of the Fraser Valley
What social issue does your research attempt to address?
My research attempts to address awareness and response to bioengineered dairy products within industry, farming and the general public. The possibility of producing milk without cows might seem like science fiction, but this very real technology could potentially provide significant benefits in terms of health, diversity within plant-based diets, and within remote communities where food insecurity is a pressing issue.
What drew you to this area of research?
As a food researcher I was intrigued by how quickly cellular agriculture is advancing. I was also drawn in by the diversity of these applications. Researchers are pursuing alternatives to meat, milk, silk, leather, and almost any other application of animal agriculture we can imagine. The potential benefits for the environment and for society are tremendous. I attended the first annual conference on cellular agriculture in San Francisco in 2016, and I was hooked. One of the companies there was developing cultured gelatins, which when used in medical applications won’t pose the allergy risks of animal-based gelatins. To show off their technology, they made gummy bears based on mastodon DNA. When I saw those little colourful bears I realized just how paradigm-changing these technologies will be.
What benefits do social sciences bring to genomics research?
People fear change. When the automobile was introduced, some regions required that a man on foot waving flags precede the new contraptions to protect the public. Genomics and bioengineering hold the potential to radically improve quality of life, but the public is quite fearful. Social scientists can measure public reaction and propose solutions to social problems and concerns as they arise.
As someone living and working in British Columbia, what is your favorite thing to do or place to go?
The best part about moving back to the West Coast is access to the beach! I go to the beach as often as I can. And the beach is even better with a nice picnic.
What’s on the top of your ‘Bucket List’ right now?
I’m teaching a course right now on fermentation technologies, and the more I learn the more I want to go to Japan to try their fermented foods. I’m particularly interested in trying brined wasabi fresh from the source.
About Genomics and Society
Genome BC has taken a leadership role in exploring the societal aspects of genomics research. One way we do this is through supporting genomics-related social science and humanities research. This area of research doesn’t just focus on genomic impacts on society once the scientific research is complete . Through collaboration, it also aims to inform on the societal dimension of scientific research questions, research design and funding allocation. This can help genomics research produce social benefits and achieve public value. In the context of Canada’s Genomics Enterprise, this research is referred to as ‘GE3Ls – Genomics and its Environmental, Economic, Ethical, Legal and Social aspects and is distinct from the anticipated socio-economic benefits of the project itself. Learn more about Genomics and Society here.