Patty Wellborn

Email: patty-wellborn@news.ok.ubc.ca


 

A UBCO researcher has created a modelling program that can help scientists plan for the restoration and conservation of coral reefs impacted by climate change. Photo credit: Jean-Philippe Maréchal.

A UBC Okanagan research team has created a computer modelling program to help scientists predict the effect of climate damage and eventual restoration plans on coral reefs around the globe.

This is a critical objective, says Dr. Bruno Carturan, because climate change is killing many coral species and can lead to the collapse of entire coral reef ecosystems. But, because they are so complex, it’s logistically challenging to study the impact of devastation and regeneration of coral reefs.

Real-world experiments are impractical, as researchers would need to manipulate and disrupt large areas of reefs, along with coral colonies and herbivore populations, and then monitor the changes in structure and diversity over many years.

“Needless to say, conducting experiments that will disturb natural coral reefs is unethical and should be avoided, while using big aquariums is simply unfeasible,” says Dr. Carturan, who recently completed his doctoral studies with the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science. “For these reasons, no such experiments have ever been conducted, which has hindered our capacity to predict coral diversity and the associated resilience of the reefs.”

For his latest research, published recently in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, Dr. Carturan used models to create 245 coral communities, each with a unique set of nine species and each occupying a surface of 25 square metres. The model represents coral colonies and different species of algae that grow, compete and reproduce together while also being impacted by climate.

Crucially, he notes, all the key components of the model, including species’ traits such as competitive abilities and growth rates, are informed by pre-existing, real-world data from 800 species.

The research team simulated various scenarios—including strong waves, a cyclone or intense heat—and then measured each model reef’s resilience taking note of damage, recovery time and the quality of the habitat 10 years after the disturbance.

By running so many scenarios with computer modelling, the team found that more diverse communities—those with species having highly dissimilar traits—were most resilient. They were better at recovering from damage and had greater habitat quality 10 years after the disturbances.

“More diverse communities are more likely to have certain species that are very important for resilience,” Dr. Carturan explains. “These species have particular traits—they are morphologically complex, competitive and with a good capacity to recover. When present in a community, these species maintained or even increased the quality of the habitat after the disturbance. Contrastingly, communities without these species were often dominated by harmful algae at the end.”

Coral diversity determines the strength and future health of coral reefs, he adds. Coral species are the foundation of coral reef ecosystems because their colonies form the physical habitat where thousands of fish and crustaceans live. Among those are herbivores, such as parrotfish and surgeonfish, which maintain the coral habitat by eating the algae. Without herbivores, the algae would kill many coral colonies, causing the coral habitat to collapse, destroying its many populations.

“What is unique with our study is that our results apply to most coral communities in the world. By measuring the effect of diversity on resilience in more than 245 different coral communities, the span of diversity likely overlaps the actual coral diversity found in most reefs.”

At the same time, the study provides a framework to successfully manage these ecosystems and help with coral reef restoration by revealing how the resilience of coral communities can be managed by establishing colonies of species with complementary traits.

Looking forward, there are other questions the model can help answer. For instance, the coral species vital for resilience are also the most affected by climate change and might not be able to recover if strong climatic heatwaves become too frequent.

“It is a very real, and sad conclusion that we might one day lose these important species,” Dr. Carturan says. “Our model could be used to experiment and perhaps determine if losing these species can be compensated by some other, more resistant ones, that would prevent the eventual collapse of the reefs.”

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New research from Dr. Kyle Larson’s lab has been able to pinpoint a timeline of when the rocks atop the summit pyramid of Mount Everest were deformed as part of the growth of the Himalaya. Photo credit: Kyle Larson.

It’s been a topic of debate among geologists for years—when did the deformation of rocks at the top of Mount Everest take place?

Over the years, several theories have been proposed—but none have stuck—until now.

In a recent study led by UBC Okanagan researcher Dr. Kyle Larson, the team found evidence that shows, for the first time, that the rocks atop Everest were deformed as part of the Himalaya’s development. Dr. Larson explains the rocks were sheared in response to the collision more than 45 million years ago between India and the Eurasian landmass. This collision is responsible for the development of the 3,000-kilometre-long Himalaya range between India, Nepal and Tibet.

Dr. Larson is a professor in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science and Director of the Fipke Laboratory for Trace Element Research. His latest study, published in Terra Nova discusses what this means for the future of geological research. Dr. Larson is also UBCO’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Researcher of the Year.

Can you share some insight as to why determining when these rocks were deformed has been historically difficult?

Given the difficulties in just reaching the summit, including weather issues, the expense of an expedition—and the high altitude that affects physical performance and cognition—collecting samples from the top of Everest is not simple. And it can be potentially deadly.

Without the appropriate samples and the analytical techniques that can date the types of minerals in the summer rocks, as geologists, we’ve been scratching our heads for quite some time trying to figure out which of our theories made the most sense.

Some studies propose the summit rocks were deformed as part of the Himalayan collision, while others suggest it likely happened 500 million years earlier during the formation of the supercontinent, Gondwana. The bottom line is there was never a definitive answer.

What did your results reveal?

Our study shows these rocks were deformed as part of the development of the Himalaya range, specifically about 45 million years ago.

Interestingly, the rocks at the top of Everest were deformed at the same time as the rocks at the base of the Himalaya, more than 50 kilometres below Earth’s surface. This is very rare because typically deformation happens in discrete zones—it takes a lot of energy to deform rocks and it usually follows specific horizons of weakness in Earth’s crust.

Deformation of the entire crust at once indicates a large-scale change—or event. And if you look at what was happening regionally at this time, there was a plate tectonic reorganization in the South Pacific including a significant bend in the Emperor/Hawaiian seamount chain. This can be easily seen on Google Earth. This is why we argue that the top of Everest provides a “plate tectonic view” as it seems to record the time at which all this regional plate tectonic shift was happening.

How were you able to come to this conclusion?

We applied a relatively new method for dating rocks that was not previously possible. It looks at the amount of uranium and lead in the mineral calcite. Uranium is unstable and radiogenically decays to lead. Because we know how fast this happens, we can measure how much uranium versus how much lead was in the rocks to calculate its age exactly.

How will your results affect future research in this area?

Getting access to rocks from the summit of Mount Everest is rare, so this research is an excellent example of how we can take a small bit of rock and use the information we obtain through dating techniques to tell a massive plate tectonic story—it’s a pretty extraordinary process.

A photo of Mount Everest

Researchers have determined the rocks at the top of Everest were deformed at the same time as the rocks at the base of the Himalaya, more than 50 kilometres below Earth’s surface. This is a very rare occurrence and indicates a large-scale geographic change took place. Photo credit: Kyle Larson.

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Dr. Rob Shaw, one of Canada’s top wheelchair tennis players, is UBC Okanagan’s 2022 recipient of the Governor General Gold Medal.

Some might think it’s a bit ironic that the winner of UBC Okanagan’s Governor General Gold Medal is already a gold-medal-winning athlete.

But Dr. Rob Shaw, who graduates this week with his Doctor of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Studies, can quickly explain how much hard work goes into earning an honour of this calibre. Dr. Shaw is a wheelchair tennis player who won a gold medal at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Peru. He is the highest-ranked member of the Canadian wheelchair tennis team and last summer he competed in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

He didn’t get there without a lot of hard work. The same could be said of his accomplishment at UBCO.

Dr. Shaw is the highest-ranked graduate student at UBCO, an honour that has earned him the Governor General’s gold medal.

“Looking at past winners I can’t help but feel humbled by this award,” he says. “Five years ago, my supervisor and I committed to completing a PhD that would make an impact beyond the silos of academia and extend into the community to benefit people living with spinal cord injuries. I’d like to think that this award reflects that we achieved that goal.”

While earning his doctoral degree, his research focused on how peer mentorship can improve the health and wellbeing of people who have incurred a spinal cord injury. While his supervising professor Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis describes his research as exemplary, she notes he has also become an internationally respected scientist and a community leader.

Throughout his degree, Dr. Martin Ginis says he has embraced an interdisciplinary spirit, but his impact extends beyond the traditional walls of academia and into the community. His leadership and expertise are frequently sought out by local, national and international organizations, and he has an unwavering commitment to examining and resolving pressing societal issues.

“An excellent scientist can produce a lot of great research. But an excellent scientific leader finds the potential in people and has the courage to inspire and support them. Rob has achieved excellence and acclaim as both a scientist and scientific leader,” she adds. “Through his research and leadership, and his outstanding global citizenship, Rob is making the world a better place.”

Dr. Shaw, however, says this award is only possible thanks to the support from Dr. Martin Ginis and others he has worked with along his doctoral journey.

“I am extremely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish, and I owe this award to her, my lab mates, my community partners, and most importantly to my participants who allowed me into their world so that I could try to make a real difference in their lives.”

Dr. Shaw has been described by Dr. Martin Ginis as an outspoken champion of equity, diversity and inclusion.

“He consistently reminds and challenges all of us to think about inclusion and accessibility in how we conduct and share our research with others.”

The importance of inclusion is also reflected in both the name and the criteria of the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation. This week it will be presented to UBC Okanagan student Azzah Al Zahra Farras, who just completed her Bachelor of Arts with a joint major in philosophy, political science and economics.

Shortly after arriving at UBCO in 2018, Farras established a campus-wide chapter of Amnesty International and began hosting conferences and events to examine local and international issues. She coordinated weekly sessions where students could discuss international injustices, while creating a safe space for marginalized students to share their stories and discuss opportunities for students to engage in change.

“Through the Amnesty International chapter, we created opportunities for students on campus to share issues about human rights, protection, justice and conflicts that they care about from their own country,” says Farras, explaining the students had engaging conversations about many issues including the farmer’s protest in India, Tibetan rights to self-determination, the Palestinian rights, and democratic rights for people living in Thailand.

“I am surrounded by a very international community at UBCO and it’s something we should all look forward to in universities,” she adds. “I have a lot of friends from different countries that support me and also celebrate my culture and my beliefs and values as I celebrate theirs. That’s what I’m really happy about.”

In September 2021, she joined the UBC Okanagan Library team as a student representative of the UBC’s Inclusion Action Plan and Indigenous Strategic Plan, where she independently developed projects to highlight Arab, Muslim, Asian, Indigenous and Black voices in literature and academia. Farras built multiple book displays at the library and designed digital LibGuide sites that list resources based on each theme, granting students information and access regardless of their location during COVID-19.

Farras recalls the day when a student approached the service desk and tearfully thanked the library staff saying how encouraging it was to see students with hijabs represented at the library and it helped make her feel included.

“For me, this was a full-circle moment,” says Farras. “Although I did feel isolated in my first year, I was able to change that situation for younger hijab-wearing students. I believe these efforts transpired important representation at UBCO. It raises important conversations on institutionalized racism and discrimination against marginalized groups. I am honoured to be a part of that shift.”

UBCO Librarian Christian Isbister says Farras worked tirelessly to engage the campus community and bring awareness to diverse voices in the library collection. Her book displays were always popular and well-received, and her work on the Book Fairies project helped encourage reading of more diverse authors, including Indigenous, Black, Asian and Arab writers.

“Azzah has dedicated herself to the promotion of inclusion on our campus,” says Isbister. “At the library, she demonstrated great leadership in developing initiatives to highlight diverse voices in our collection, and foster a sense of welcome and belonging for students belonging to marginalized communities. It was a pleasure to get to work with Azzah, and her presence in the library will be greatly missed.”

Also, this week, Anna Bernath, who just completed her Bachelor of Science degree with concentrations in biochemistry and molecular biology, was awarded the Pushor Mitchell Gold Medal Leadership Prize.

The $10,000 prize is the largest donor-funded award available to graduating Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science students. The award recognizes a student who has excelled academically and demonstrated leadership while earning their degree.

Bernath joined Dr. Andis Klegeris’ Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology Lab as a volunteer research assistant, and contributed upwards of 250 hours in the facility. She also conducted research studying the role of microglia—immune cells of the brain—in Alzheimer’s disease. When not in the lab or studying, she worked as a teaching assistant, acting as a liaison between faculty and students.

“I have immense gratitude for the faculty, staff and UBCO colleagues who created invaluable opportunities for growth and leadership, and I hope I made a lasting impact on junior students and excited them about research endeavours,” says Bernath.

The Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Award has been presented to a student at UBCO since 2009, explains Andrew Brunton, Managing Partner at Pushor Mitchell.

“Pushor Mitchell is very pleased to see another deserving student receive this award,” says Brunton.  “Our firm has been supporting this prestigious award at UBC Okanagan for 13 years now, presented to students based on both academic excellence and community leadership. We applaud this year’s recipient Anna Bernath and wish her luck with her career in neuroscience research.”

Farras and Bernath will be recognized as they cross the stage at Thursday’s convocation while Dr. Shaw will receive his medal Friday morning.

Other University of British Columbia medal (top of class) winners are:

  • UBC Medal in Arts: Abhineeth Adiraju
  • UBC Medal in Education: Anica McIntosh
  • UBC Medal in Engineering: Rachel May
  • UBC Medal in Fine Arts: Amelia Ford
  • UBC Medal in Human Kinetics: Kenedy Olsen
  • UBC Medal in Management: Jo-Elle Craig
  • UBC Medal in Media Studies: Jordan Pike
  • UBC Medal in Nursing: Camryn McCrystal
  • UBC Medal in Science: Megan Greenwood

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UBC Okanagan’s courtyard will be filled with graduates and their families as convocation ceremonies return to campus this week.

UBC Okanagan’s graduating Class of 2022 will be remembered for two things: its size, the largest group of graduates in the campus’s history, and the fact it will be the first in-person convocation ceremony in more than two years.

On June 9 and 10, UBCO will confer more than 2,400 degrees in six different graduating ceremonies. The last time graduating students crossed the stage in person was in 2019, with both the 2020 and 2021 ceremonies held virtually.

“We are always proud of our students,” says UBCO Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dr. Lesley Cormack. “But the students graduating this year have completed their studies under circumstances they couldn’t have imagined when they embarked on this journey. Their success during these unusual times proves how hard they have worked and how determined they are.”

Indeed, many of the students receiving their undergraduate degrees this year have spent more than two years learning online and through remote lectures, labs and exams. And it hasn’t been easy.

Ozren Petkovic started his studies in 2018, to work towards his Bachelor of Science in Microbiology. When the pandemic was declared in 2020, Petkovic hunkered down at home, determined to complete his degree. But he made a point of keeping in touch with his friends, organizing virtual chats and regular game nights.

Despite doing much of his education remotely, Petkovic remained involved in campus life and is the recipient of UBCO’s Golden Apple Teaching Award for supporting learning outside the classroom. He has also been a member of the orientation team for the past few years, and has worked with several different departments supporting student learning and engagement on the UBCO campus—including being a supplemental learning leader, peer mentor, chemistry course union tutor and president of the pre-med club.

If he was to advise a new student, Petkovic would tell them to take their education one step at a time—don’t rush through these years—and do some learning away from the classroom.

“Finishing university is a marathon rather than a sprint. There is no need to overexert yourself in your first few years when you have more to go,” he says. “And yes, university is about going to class but it is also what you do outside of class. If you are new at university, find something you are passionate about, join that club and get involved.”

As Petkovic, along with 2,400 fellow students cross the stage—UBCO’s largest graduating class ever—Dr. Cormack notes the next few days will be filled with special moments for this year’s graduates and their families. Convocation ceremonies take place Thursday, June 9 and Friday, June 10, with three ceremonies each day.

“It’s wonderful to be able to gather in person again to celebrate the success of our students,” adds Dr. Cormack. “Once again, our students have shown their resilience and ability to cope and thrive in the face of change. With everything they have accomplished over the course of their studies, I’m incredibly proud of the extraordinary UBC Okanagan Class of 2022. Congratulations to you all.”

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Wine grapes are particularly sensitive to drastic changes in temperatures. Even minor weather variations can jeopardize flavour and aroma development, making wine production vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Elizabeth Wolkowich photo.

In all wine-producing regions of the world, climate change is disrupting the traditional science of winemaking.

Devastating frosts and periods of intense drought and heat, combined with the danger of wild fires and smoke, have forced wine-producing regions from Bordeaux to Napa Valley to British Columbia to constantly adapt to changing and volatile conditions.

The sensitivity of wine grapes is what makes wine production so vulnerable to the effects of climatic shifts. Even minor variations in temperature can jeopardize certain flavour and aroma development, explains Dr. Jacques-Olivier Pesme—Director of UBC’s Wine Research Centre (WRC).

Dr. Pesme is moderating the Canadian portion of this week’s French Ameri-Can Climate Talks (FACT-B). Established in 2015 by the French Embassies in the United States and Canada, FACT-B is a series of high-level conferences that bring scientists, wine growers, consumers, associations and public authorities together to proactively discuss climate change and how it is affecting the wine industry.

This week, Fact B will welcome both French and local leaders to Kelowna, Vancouver and San Francisco. Dr. Pesme discusses sustainability and how wine producers may consider new practices to adapt to the forecasted climactic shifts to wine production.

How do changes in environmental conditions affect winemaking from grape to glass?

Climate change affects all aspects of our day-to-day life.

Naturally, wine does not escape the rule. The changing environmental conditions can provoke an earlier phenology/flowering which can be good in certain regions.

But not always, and this can have an impact for all aspects of wine production and in particular the harvest period. For instance, in many wine regions climate change will have an impact on higher levels of sugar and alcohol as well as lower levels of acidity in the grapes. This combination is undesirable because it will favor the production of wines that are less sharp, less bright, heavier and highly concentrated—which isn’t what consumers are looking for.

Are specific grape varieties, or wine regions, in danger?

Some wine regions may actually benefit from the forecasted shifts of climate. Typically, northern regions didn’t have the right conditions to growing grapes. For instance, the United Kingdom is interesting in that respect as we have seen the development of a new sparkling wine industry, inspired by Champagne.

However, in some parts of South Australia, around Riverland—the largest Australian winery region—it is the opposite. Heat and droughts are now so intense it raises the question of the sustainability of maintaining the production of wine grapes in some wine regions across the world.

These types of changes present significant challenges to growing grape varieties in many regions around the world. They’re not in danger per se, but as a wine region’s environmental conditions change, formerly successful varietals will no longer thrive. Take for instance, Merlot, which is the main varietal grown in Bordeaux. With climate warming, the Bordeaux region is becoming less suitable for the Merlot grape.

However, these changes could be seen to present opportunities to innovate and has led to the rediscovery and testing of long-forgotten and discarded native grape varieties—a kind of viticultural archaeology. The late ripening, acidity and resilience to climate stress of several of these ancestral varieties could withstand potentially extreme environmental conditions.

How is UBC’s Wine Research Centre (WRC) working with Canadian wine producers to help adapt to climate change?

The WRC’s mission is to support the development of a competitive and sustainable BC wine industry. We see our role is to co-create knowledge with the wine producers—knowledge produced by the B.C. region but also through collaboration with leading institutions around the world such as the Universitie de Bordeaux.

Working together with industry and researchers the work of the WRC is wide-ranging. Our group of researchers assess the effect of climate and specific environmental factors on grape ripening and composition, investigate smoke odour compounds in grapes and wines caused by wildfires, and also explore the impacts of climate change on phenolic compounds.

What could global consumers expect to see as a result—will there be higher prices or a lower quality of wine in response to environmental changes?

If we take the right measures, in a place like BC, climate change could be seen as both a challenge and an opportunity. With great conditions for producing premium wines, BC has an opportunity to invest in the wine industry in ways which are better for both for the environment and for the consumer.

One thing is for sure, climate change in BC is a game-changer, and our Centre is hoping to work alongside industry to be best prepare to adapt to those changes.

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From left: Dr. Margaret Macintyre Latta, Dr. Jennifer Davis Dr. Kyle Larson and Rhyann McKay.

Four UBC Okanagan researchers—whose work is making a difference locally and globally—were recognized at a special event last week when the campus celebrated the Researchers of the Year.

In a university dominated by timely and meaningful research, it’s hard to stand out in the crowd. But Phil Barker, UBCO’s Vice-Principal and Associate Vice-President of Research and Innovation, says the unique and outstanding contributions from this year’s winners allows UBCO to shine the light on their accomplishments.

“The Researcher of the Year ceremony is one of my favourite events of the year. It is a distinct pleasure to acknowledge some of our star researchers and highlight their contributions,” he says. “UBC Okanagan is one of the most rapidly expanding campuses in Canada and we are attracting top-notch scholars and researchers who are leaders in their fields.”

The winners of the prestigious awards are Dr. Jennifer Davis for health research, Dr. Kyle Larson in natural sciences and engineering and Dr. Margaret Macintyre Latta, the winner of the social sciences and humanities award. Rhyann McKay was recognized as the Student Researcher of the Year.

Teaching in the Faculty of Management, Dr. Jennifer Davis is a Canada Research Chair in Applied Health Economics. Her research focuses on improving the health of older Canadians who are at risk for falls or cognitive decline. Much of her work assesses the economic value of dementia and mobility intervention and prevention efforts through partnerships with clinicians. Dr. Davis’s international collaborations have resulted in policy change and significant advancements in applying health economic evidence to lifestyle interventions.

A professor in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, Dr. Kyle Larson is an innovator of analytical techniques for tectonics research. His novel methods have led to fundamental discoveries about how major mountain belts form, including a solution to a decades-old geological controversy surrounding the origin of the Himalayas. As Director of the Fipke Laboratory for Trace Element Research, Dr. Larson’s work has helped develop paradigm-shifting methods for the rapid dating of geological material.

Teaching in the Okanagan School of Education, Dr. Margaret Macintyre Latta is a prominent researcher who transforms traditional approaches to education. A champion of interdisciplinary and community-based research, her focus is to advance curriculum as a shared learning experience that inspires reconciliation. Her research with Indigenous, school district and community partners helps educators to decolonize curriculum and teaching practices.

As a doctoral student in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, Rhyann McKay conducted research in partnership with provincial spinal cord injury organizations across Canada to co-develop behaviour change interventions for support providers to enhance wellbeing and self-care. McKay is currently a health system impact fellow at the University of Alberta, evaluating the implementation of acute care intervention.

“The purpose of these awards is to highlight and honour the research excellence that makes UBC a top-40 global university,” adds Dr. Barker. “I am impressed with the calibre of all our researchers, grateful for their efforts, and am very proud of this year’s recipients. I look forward to tracking their careers and celebrating their future successes.”

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Work done by UBCO researchers determined that the hatchery population at the Whitehorse Rapids Fish Hatchery is no longer genetically similar to the wild population and helps inform further conservation efforts.

A chance discovery of salmon DNA samples, taken in the 1970s and stored in a drawer for decades, has given new insight into managing present-day kokanee populations in Kluane National Park and Reserve (KNPR).

The fin and scale samples were from fish in the Kathleen Lake System in KNPR, where Canada’s northernmost wild kokanee salmon population lives. The park is cooperatively managed by Parks Canada, Kluane First Nation and Champagne and Aishihik First Nations through the Kluane National Park Management Board, explains Parks Canada Site Manager and Champagne and Aishihik First Nations citizen, Linaya Workman.

“These archival samples had been carefully stored but were largely forgotten until unearthed during an office move in 2013,” says Workman. “The genetic health of the park’s kokanee salmon became a concern after we started seeing really low numbers of returning spawners.”

Historically, the average number of spawning kokanee in a year was 3,660. But by the early 2000s, the numbers dropped dramatically—and in 2009 there was an all-time low of 20.

“While the population has somewhat rebounded since, park managers were concerned that this long decline had impacted the genetic health of the population, leaving it less able to adapt to future changes or stressors in the environment,” says Workman.

The archival DNA samples were sent to UBC Okanagan researcher Dr. Michael Russello to investigate the history of the population by examining genetic variation between fin and scale samples taken pre- and post-crash. Dr. Russello worked with master’s student Chris Setzke to compare the old and new DNA specimens.

DNA sequencing techniques have rapidly advanced and UBC researchers used a novel approach to analyze DNA from these 40- and 50-year-old samples, says Dr. Russello, a Professor in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science. He says the long-forgotten DNA proved a valuable resource, especially when compared with samples from today’s population.

“If we had not had access to these archival samples, inappropriate conservation initiatives may have been enacted, misdirecting resources or even potentially leading to adverse outcomes for the kokanee population in KNPR,” he adds.

For example, an analysis using only current DNA suggested that, based on certain genetic signatures, diversity in the system may have been lost due to the severe period of decline. However, by including the historical DNA samples, they found these genetic features were present even before the kokanee population crashed.

Essentially, the researchers determined no significant diversity was lost as a result of the decades-long population decline in KNPR.

The work done by the researchers further determined that the hatchery population at the Whitehorse Rapids Fish Hatchery—which was established using kokanee from KNPR throughout the 1990s—is no longer genetically similar to the wild population. This means hatchery kokanee should not be used to restore the KNPR population.

“Without these studies, it is possible that KNPR would have been stocked unnecessarily with hatchery kokanee,” Dr. Russello adds. “This could have ultimately reduced the fitness of the wild salmon populations in that system, which is the opposite of the intended conservation goals.”

It wouldn’t have been the first time ill-informed, but well-intentioned stocking practices led to a decline and loss of diversity in wild populations elsewhere, he explains.

“This work really shows the importance of gathering the best available scientific information before making decisions that could negatively impact the populations targeted for protection,” he adds.

This particular research tested the efficacy of a technique called Genotyping-in-Thousands by sequencing (GT-seq) to analyze these largely forgotten historical samples, Setzke says. GT-seq can target and sequence hundreds of predetermined areas across the genome and can be used for thousands of individuals at the same time. GT-seq only needs short fragments of DNA to obtain genetic information, which led the investigators to suspect that it could be an effective method to sequence older, more damaged DNA.

“As archival DNA tends to be damaged, it is difficult to sequence using methods that need long, intact fragments,” explains Setzke. “While GT-seq has been in use for a few years now, ours is the first study to show that it can be employed to effectively sequence archival DNA.”

The most significant finding, says Workman, is the discovery that the fish hatchery population is not genetically similar enough to the historical or current wild population to be used to restock the Kathleen Lake System.

“Protecting the park’s kokanee is important for maintaining ecological integrity,” says Workman. “And using hatchery fish to supplement wild populations is a tool used by fisheries managers elsewhere. But thanks to the UBCO researchers, we now know that this currently is not an option for Kluane’s kokanee.”

The findings of the two studies have been recently published in Conservation Genetics and Scientific Reports.

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Dr. Derek Muller.

What: How Do We Know What’s True? UBC Okanagan’s next Distinguished Speaker Series event
Who: Award-winning YouTube content creator Dr. Derek Muller
When: Thursday, March 31 beginning at 7 pm
Venue: Zoom webinar

We live in a time where accessing and sharing content can occur simultaneously. With the circulation of information and misinformation being at an all-time high—how do we know what’s true?

Many people are conscious of the vast amount of information being spread but are unaware that cognitive biases play a role in how data is processed and content is consumed.

On Thursday, March 31, UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science hosts Dr. Derek Muller as part of its Distinguished Speaker Series.

Dr. Muller is a passionate science educator, communicator and filmmaker, best known as the creator and director of the science-based YouTube channel Veritasium. His channel has more than 11.5 million subscribers and won the Streamy award for Science or Education in 2017 and 2021. He has hosted award-winning documentaries—Uranium: Twisting the Dragon’s Tail, Digits and Vitamania for international broadcast networks.

During his presentation, Dr. Muller will explore how cognitive biases unconsciously shape our judgements and particular modes of thinking that can help to avoid these pitfalls.

The Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science’s Distinguished Speaker Series brings compelling speakers to the homes of Okanagan residents to share their unique perspectives on issues that affect our region, our country and our world.

This virtual event is free and open to all, but online pre-registration is required.

To register, visit: speakers.ok.ubc.ca

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UBCO researcher Dr. Robert Godin took on the challenging task of comparing how different solar energy conversion technologies work to determine which is most efficient.

Located only about 150 million kilometres away, the sun is Earth’s closest star.

Its close proximity and immense strength create enough power to provide the planet with more energy than is needed. The quantity of sunlight that strikes the earth’s surface in just 90 minutes is enough to power the world’s energy consumption for a full year.

To capitalize on this natural resource, solar technologies convert sunlight into usable energy through various processes, one of which is photovoltaic panels. UBC Okanagan’s Dr. Robert Godin conducts research examining the effectiveness of different green energy-producing technologies, like solar panels and photosynthesis.

In a new study led by Dr. Godin, an Assistant Professor of Chemistry based in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, researchers took a closer look at existing solar energy conversion technologies to determine which types of characteristics and properties are useful indicators when considering how well devices made from various materials might perform.

“Part of the challenge with this type of research is the way different solar energy conversion technologies work—each is completely distinct,” explains Dr. Godin. “It’s not obvious how, or even if, you can compare photovoltaics—which generate electricity—to photocatalysts, which generate high energy chemical fuels such as hydrogen,” he explains.

While examining a range of conversion devices, the team determined how long in a device’s lifetime the excited state generated by light irradiation stuck around, and how long it took to complete the energy conversion process. Then, the team compared that ratio to the energy lost to make it happen.

“We were able to establish a clear link between these values—and that wasn’t something we were expecting going into the study,” says Dr. Godin. “This link between the ratio of lifetimes and energetic losses was found across all the different types of solar energy conversion devices we looked at—even machinery in natural photosynthesis systems.”

“We also predicted a similar trend when we greatly simplify the mechanistic model of solar energy conversion devices, which suggests that we found a useful way to condense many different and complex physics into a few critical factors,” he adds.

These findings may speed up the development of better solar energy conversion technologies, he says as this research identifies clear links between characteristics that are fairly easy to measure in isolated materials, and device efficiency that requires more complex fabrication.

“Being able to tell early on whether a new material has the potential to surpass current technology will greatly speed up the ability to move the best technologies into the marketplace—and as conversion technologies like solar panels become more mainstream, the less society will need to rely on the production of environmentally devastating fossil fuels.”

This study was recently published in the Chemistry Society Reviews.

The post UBCO researcher studies procedures to convert solar energy technologies appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

Dr. Thu-Thuy Dang shows undergraduate students how to harvest the happy tree (Camptothecin acuminata) for genome/RNA sequencing and chemical analysis.

It may come as a surprise to some, but many of the compounds used in modern-day medicine, including chemotherapeutic drugs, come from plants.

The tropical tree Camptotheca acuminata, known as “happy tree” in its native habitats in southern China and Tibet, produces a group of chemicals called camptothecinoids. These compounds are among the leading chemotherapeutic agents used to treat certain types of cancer.

Just two compounds derived from these camptothecinoids—irinotecan, used to treat both colorectal and small cell lung cancer, and topotecan, used to treat ovarian cancer—make up a multibillion-dollar global industry.

The parent chemical of these drugs in the happy tree, camptothecin, is a powerful cancer-killing agent itself. However, it has adversarial side effects and poor solubility.

Dr. Thu-Thuy Dang, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, and her research team in UBCO’s Plant Bioactive Compound Research Laboratory, have discovered a group of enzymes from the tree that oxidize camptothecin, enabling the production of topotecan, irinotecan and other similar compounds.

“The conversion of camptothecin to its hydroxycamptothecin derivative is a one-step reaction that looks simple on paper but is very challenging to do with chemical synthesis due to the compound’s complex structure,” says Dr. Dang. “Finding and manipulating the genes responsible for making it in the tree is how we solve this problem.”

The issue, as Dr. Dang explains, is that labour-intensive and unsustainable processes are needed to turn camptothecin into more clinically useful drugs. Camptothecin needs to be extracted from the plant, then converted in multi-step chemical reactions, first to its oxidated derivative, and then to drugs such as topotecan and irinotecan. Its chemical synthesis from camptothecin requires harsh reaction conditions with limited yields.

Alternatively, the derivatives can be harvested from the plant, but this approach is destructive and endangers the future supply of camptothecin-derived drugs. The challenge was finding the right genes in the plant genome, which contains tens of thousands of genes.

“It was truly like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” she says. “But thanks to state-of-the-art bioinformatic approaches and biochemical intuition, we came up with a manageable shortlist of gene candidates.”

While the process of screening was painstaking, the team eventually found two genes encoding for two enzymes that convert toxic camptothecin into the derivative and its close analogue. The genes were then moved to common baker’s yeast, where fermentation produced a milligram-level abundance of the hydroxycamptothecins for the semisynthesis of clinically important anti-cancer drugs.

“These new enzymes allowed the transformation of plant-derived camptothecin in one simple step to a chemical that we could readily convert into more soluble and structurally diverse anti-cancer drugs,” says Anh Nguyen, a recently graduated master’s student and study co-author.

In addition, because the team is now dealing with enzymes, their reactions can happen at room temperature in mild conditions, as opposed to the harsh conditions required for chemical synthesis.

This discovery is particularly significant because it drastically reduces the amount of time and effort spent on anti-cancer compound derivatization and semisynthesis. It also highlights plants as reservoirs of natural and potentially malleable biocatalysts for sustainable chemical production.

“This enzyme technology presents a unique opportunity for us to expand the camptothecinoids’ chemical space, and make more effective and accessible anti-cancer drugs with a new, more efficient manufacturing method,” says co-author Dr. T. Don Nguyen. “Thanks to these enzymes, we now have access to a suite of chemicals that were never before available in nature or even laboratories.”

Dr. Dang is now looking at how the plant makes camptothecin. Her ultimate goal is to put together the complete camptothecin pathway in a microbial system such as engineered baker’s yeast, thereby, making anti-cancer drugs more accessible.

UBC has filed an international patent on Dr. Dang’s use of the new enzymes to diversify camptothecinoids, a move she says will open the door to additional opportunities.

“Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada, and having an opportunity to work towards a future with more available treatments and ultimately, survivors, is a responsibility we take very seriously.”

This research was recently published in Communications Chemistry.