March 27, 2019
Professor, University of British Columbia
What environmental issue does your research attempt to address?
Our food system is one of the major causes of global environmental degradation today and it is only expected to worsen. My research seeks solutions to this challenge, focusing both on reducing the environmental footprint of conventional food systems and examining the potential of alternative food systems.
What drew you to this area of research?
I have always been concerned about humanity’s environmental impact on our planet. As a teenager, I became aware of, and concerned about, environmental issues in the city where I grew up. As a young boy, I fell in love with the landscape of my grandmother’s village in Kerala, which has a mix of farmlands, home gardens, and woodlands. So I came to understand early on both what I loved and how human activities could alter them. Later on, I became aware of more planetary-scale environmental issues and pursued graduate research in the areas of climate science, land change science, and food systems science.
What benefits do environmental sciences bring to genomics research?
A major concern people have related to genomics research in agriculture is that of genetically modified foods. Among other concerns related to human health or impact on farmers, there are environmental concerns about the development of resistance, about the spread of transgenes from genetically modified crops into other crops, or the potential lack of genetic diversity in our crops. Addressing these concerns is a vital part of GE3LS research. On the other hand, genomics research brings many potential environmental benefits, including improving nutrient or water-use efficiency, reducing pesticide use, developing heat, drought, and salinity tolerance, or improving photosynthetic efficiency. The environmental sciences are key in evaluating the potential benefits and costs associated with the application of genomics in agriculture.
As someone living and working in British Columbia, what is your favorite thing to do or place to go?
You might expect the answer to involve skiing, but no, I have not gone downhill skiing yet. My absolute favourite thing so far has been to visit the Gulf Islands – they are just magical, time seems to slow down there. And I really love the ferry rides – so much more pleasant and civilized compared to taking planes.
What’s on the top of your ‘Bucket List’ right now?
Going to Whistler with my family. Not necessarily for skiing, but maybe snowshoeing. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it there this season.
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.