Brett Saremba, a MSc. student studying biochemistry, also earned his BSc. in Environmental Chemistry at UBC-Okanagan, commenting “Ya, I’ve been here too long. Get over it”. Me too, Brett, me too.
As an undergraduate, Brett was not exposed to research until the summer he graduated, when he received a research position under the supervision of Dr. Mark Rheault. It was ultimately this position that inspired him to continue research at a graduate level, where he could apply the hard skills he learned in his chemistry degree, such as mass spectrometry (used to find concentrations of analytes -compounds of interest- in a mixed matrix). In the case of his current research, Brett is using hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography (HILIC).
The goal of Brett’s research is to add to the fundamental knowledge of how generalist herbivore insects metabolize / detoxify plant derived xenobiotic compounds, such as nicotine. His research involves using an insect model (The Cabbage Looper, Trichoplusia ni) to track nicotine through the insect body to determine which biochemical pathways are used to detoxify this compound. It is through determining which part of the body nicotine is metabolized, and what it is metabolized to, that Brett can elucidate which pathway and which enzymes are used to detoxify it. He uses HILIC-MS/MS to quantify nicotine and several of its metabolites present in various insect body compartments, such as the gut and blood, after dietary exposure to nicotine.
Brett likes to spend his free time golfing, skiing and communicating with UBC-O faculty. (I am not sure about the last one, but he is the B.G.S.S.’s own faculty liaison).
Author: Melissa Larrabee
Tirhas Gebretsadikan loves plants. As a child, she would plant all sorts of different seeds in her family garden such as mango, avocado, lemon and orange. Tirhas knew from a young age that she wanted to study plant science. Her home country, Ethiopia, relies heavily on agriculture and she hopes to contribute scientific advances in plant science to help farmers grow their crops.
The goal of Tirhas’s project is to determine fruit yield and quality of sweet cherry grown in the Northern Okanagan Valley under climate change by optimizing water use and soil health in the new areas.
Elevated areas have limited water, so Tirhas is exploring whether sweet cherry can grow and produce healthy fruit when grown with regulated deficit irrigation (less water). In addition to this, Tirhas is looking at the soil health, specifically soil biological properties (organisms in the soil), in these new regions. Her aim is to determine if the soil microbes are having a positive or negative impact on cherry production. For example, AMF (arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi) provide a positive impact through symbiosis with the cherry tree. The AMF give the tree water and minerals in exchange for carbon. In contrast, nematodes provide a negative impact by penetrating the tree root, destroying the issue and eventually causing plant death.
Lastly, Tirhas is happy to be studying in Canada; she loves Canada. One of the reasons is because she was the beneficiary of scholarship given by C.I.D.A. (Canadian International Development Agency) when studying in Ethiopia. The C.I.D.A aims to give equal opportunities to men and women studying postharvest science in Ethiopia. The project is called ‘Postharvest Management to Improve Livelihoods’ and supports students to become leaders in postharvest management to improve local agriculture projects. If you are interested in learning more, check out this graduate report.
Author: Melissa Larrabee
As a child, Sydney Morgan wanted to be a marine biologist, but somewhere along the way she realized that 'microbes were [her] calling'. She still wants to save the whales (who doesn't?), but in the meantime she is pursuing a PhD in Biology.
During Sydney's Honours project (UBC-O) under the supervision of Dr. Dan Durall, she found some interesting, novel results that she wanted to follow up on. She was accepted into the MSc program at UBC-O and quickly transferred to the PhD program.
The goal of Sydney's research is to determine how native yeast found in the winery and vineyard interact in wine fermentations to produce wines with unique sensory profiles. Ideally, she would like to find yeasts that are native to the Okanagan Valley that can make quality wines, which could help give locally produced wines a defined terrior.
One of the issues with native wine yeast is that they can sometimes produce 'off flavours', so wineries do not necessarily want them dominating during fermentation. However, some species of native yeast are assets to winemakers that can help the wines achieve greater richness and complexity, and can even ferment the wine to completion (meaning all the sugar has been converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide).
When asked what the most challenging aspect of her research is (besides not drinking the wine), Sydney said that working with vineyard yeasts can be difficult because less research has been conducted on them, making them difficult to characterize and work with in the laboratory.
Wine culture is an important part of the local economy and identity, and Sydney feels honoured that her research will be able to positively impact the local winemaking community, and eventually the consumers of that wine.
Lastly, Sydney is an avid member of the local community, giving her time to volunteer as the President of the B.G.S.S. and the Volunteer Engagement Lead for the Kelowna Chapter of Crohn's and Colitis Canada.
Author: Melissa Larrabee
To commemorate World IBD Day (May 19), the B.G.S.S.’s first ‘Research Spotlight’ is on UBC-O PhD students, Natasha Haskey and Mehrbod (Bod) Estaki.
IBD is a term used to describe chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. The two most common diseases are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohn’s disease is caused by inflammation in the lining of the entire digestive tract, whereas ulcerative colitis is caused by inflammation and ulcers in the large intestine. People with IBD may suffer from diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloody stools, fatigue and weight loss.
To date, there is no cure for IBD; however, medications are available to decrease inflammation and manage symptoms. Researchers are still trying to uncover the causes of IBD, but it is thought that there are several factors: overactive immune system, diet, imbalanced bacteria in the intestine, the environment, and/or genetics.
In an effort to find answers, Natasha and Bod are exploring how diet and active lifestyles can change the gut microbiome (intestinal bacteria) and whether those changes affect IBD.
Bod’s research goal is to understand what role the gut microbiome plays in preventing and treating IBD, and the main focus is to determine if a physically active lifestyle can benefit intestinal health and whether that can reduce IBD symptoms. To date, there are no guidelines on whether people with IBD should exercise or not. Bod aims to figure out if exercise can be used in conjunction with regular treatments to reduce the symptoms of IBD.
Natasha along with her Supervisor, Deanna Gibson (Associate Professor, UBC-O) are a conducting a clinical study with Dr. Singh (Gastroenterologist, Kelowna) looking at how diet impacts the gut microbiome of patients living with ulcerative colitis. The study’s goal is to determine how patient diet impacts disease symptoms, disease activity, and patient quality of life. Natasha, Gibson and Singh are hopeful that the research will explain how diet plays a role in ulcerative colitis by impacting intestinal bacteria. Understanding the diet-bacteria-ulcerative colitis relationship may lead to novel ways to manage IBD, such as diet treatment.
If you are interested in volunteering for this cause, consider applying for the Kelowna Gutsy Walk (June 4, 2017).
If you are suffering from ulcerative colitis and would like to participate in the clinical study, please see below.
Author: Melissa Larrabee