ChangeMAKErs - Dr. Dylan MacKay

Dylan MacKay

Welcome to ChangeMAKErs, a new MAKEManitoba podcast series highlighting research and innovation powered by members of the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences.

In this episode, host and FAFS research facilitator Dr. Chantal Bassett chats with Dr. Dylan MacKay, Assistant Professor, Department of Food and Human Nutritional Sciences. Learn about his journey to the University of Manitoba and his research into nutrition and chronic disease and how it is shaped by living with type 1 diabetes.

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Transcript

Intro:

The way we grow and produce food is ever changing, shaped by consumers and the climate in which we live and farm, research at all points of our food system is essential for continuously improving foods journey from farm to table . The Manitoba Agriculture and Food Knowledge Exchange explores timely research, innovations and applications that make our food system better than ever. Join us for today's podcast.

Chantal Bassett:

Hello and welcome. This is ChangeMAKErs, a Manitoba Agriculture and Food Knowledge Exchange, otherwise known as MAKE, podcast series with me Chantal Bassett. In each episode, we'll chat with an academic member of the faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the University of Manitoba to find out about the research and innovation they're working on and how this is shaping agriculture and food production in Manitoba and around the world. Now, as the research facilitator for the faculty, I get to work with all our incredible innovators, and I think it's high time for you to get to know them too. Today I'm joined by Dr. Dylan MacKay, assistant professor in the Department of Food and Human Nutritional Sciences. Thanks for joining me, Dylan .

Dylan MacKay:

Well, thanks for having me.

Chantal Bassett:

Dylan, before we get into the details about what you study, can you share your origin story? How did you get to be a professor at the University of Manitoba.

Dylan MacKay:

For that, go back a long time ago when I was 13 years old. I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and so that's pretty much a straight line to the type of work I do now. So I do a lot of nutrition and human clinical trials and the impact of nutrition on health. You know, when I was 13, I was losing some weight and I was thirsty all the time. I was exercising a lot and I really liked sports. And I was sitting down one day to read a newspaper and I saw a Diabetes Canada ad that said, are you thirsty all the time? You might have diabetes. And I remember putting down the newspaper 'cause I just, I think I just had like probably two or three litres of water at a single sitting and then refill the empty two litre bottle to sip on while I was reading newspaper. And I put it down and I said, "mom, you know, I think I have type one diabetes". My mother was a registered dietician , she definitely influenced why I do the research that I do as well. And she's like, no, definitely not. And so we made an appointment after school the next day. I went there, I walked over from school, they did the testing and I always remember like the face of the person coming back in, being like, "where are your parents"? And then I was like , you know , only my dad's at work, my mom's at home. And they're like, yeah, somebody has to... you have to leave here and go to the hospital. And so I left my family doctor's office went to the Janeway in St . John's, New Foundland, the children's hospital. And I stayed there for a whole week to start on insulin and learn how to survive with type one diabetes. So to extrapolate that, it's kind of intense, you know, with type one diabetes, you're constantly thinking about the impact of food on your health in an almost immediate way. It reinforces it. So I think, because I think about it all the time, I figured I might as well make that my job as well.

Chantal Bassett:

So in terms of like... how did you get into your studies?

Dylan MacKay:

How did I get into my studies? Well, at first I was thinking after, you know, in high school I wanted to do medicine. Maybe, you know, its very common for people with type one to have lots of interactions with healthcare systems . So they think medical field, you know, good experiences or bad experiences with healthcare people. So you want to do it just like them or better. And so undergraduate, I did an undergraduate in biochemistry. Really thought that was sort of the pre-med program at my home university. I didn't get into medical school the first time I applied and I decided to do a master's degree in biochemistry and nutrition. And then I realized that in that program I fell in love with research and I thought, well, this is even better than treating people. It's creating the evidence for it. And so that was a master's where I looked at the development of type two diabetes in pigs. So in pig models and I grew piglets from three days old until 13 months. It was a really long masters. And I got all kinds of experience in like surgery and glucose response testing, all kinds of biochemical assays. And it was a really fantastic supervisor Dr. Robert Bartolo and Janet Burton at Memorial University. And they're fantastic scientists. I just loved how they lived their life and the work life balance. And somewhere in that master's I said that this is what I want to do. I want to be a professor. And so the next step would be to get a PhD towards the end of my master's . I had to find a place to do my PhD. And someone recommended the University of Manitoba.

Chantal Bassett:

Okay. So you've been here since your PhD? And what did you study then?

Dylan MacKay:

I studied nutrigene genetics, basically. Uh , you know, I did some , uh, molecular biology work in my master's , some, some early gene expression work and the idea of genetics and, and diet and, you know, the idea of like personalized nutrition was sort of really evolving at that time. Uh, and there was actually a posting for an open position for like a Canada research chair in Nutrigene Genetics at the time, at the University of Manitoba. And that's sort of what attracted me here, that posting wasn't filled yet. So I came to a differences supervisor, but I , I did a project focused on clinical trials in humans. And so that was really, I switched from pigs to humans and extra different challenges. And , uh, I really liked that. So it's continued, you know, interventions in humans to create evidence for, you know , uh, dietary interventions and lifestyle interventions for health is where, where it went from there.

Chantal Bassett:

And once you graduated from your PhD, what was the career path that led you to this?

Dylan MacKay:

Well, since my Master's, I kind of had that dream tenure track, like research , researcher , professor , as a career. So PhD went into a postdoc where it was just more and more focused on different nutritional interventions, different populations in clinical trials, different types of clinical trials. And then continuing to focus on clinical trials as the thing that I do or as what I would get hopefully good at some point, getting better and better at designing and implementing nutritional intervention. And then when I started my independent career , where I got to pick more of the focus, it was a lot around engaging people from different populations. My experiences, living with type one, but if you're gonna create interventions or you're gonna test interventions for populations, having people with lived experience of those or having formed the interventions by people who are delivering them. So the physicians that treat those populations or the clinicians that treat those populations. So it was an engaged clinical trial research and then the diabetes because of my personal connection to it and chronic kidney disease because of the incredible collaborators I met in Manitoba. And the unique potential to do research in chronic kidney disease that exists in Manitoba. Because I think kidney disease is very related to nutrition in many ways and impacted by what someone eats. And also, unfortunately, there's a disproportionately high burden of chronic kidney disease in Manitoba. Those burdens offer the chance to have more significant improvements or opportunities to do research to improve interventions for those populations.

Chantal Bassett:

What motivates you in deciding what to study next?

Dylan MacKay:

That's really the engagement. Sometimes you'll get an idea, today I was teaching a class and someone was presenting on a topic and it just seemed like a fantastic idea and if it fits the potential for human clinical trials in nutrition, then that's sort of what I'm interested in. And then the potential for it to get funded, the potential impact of it. If there are people who represent that population, it could impact , that can help inform the ideas. That's sort of how we pick the ones we focus on. Right now we really have a lot of different projects already going. So the future ones are evolving from those as some are completed. You build new ones or you advance them, but they're really focused on type two diabetes and chronic kidney disease. And a lot of the questions we're asking are informed by people who treat those populations or people who represent those populations.

Chantal Bassett:

So Dylan , can you tell me a bit about your research group and what you're studying today?

Dylan MacKay:

We call the research group the M&M Lab. It's myself and Dr. Rebecca Mollard, who's based at Seven Oaks Hospital. We do basically nutrition and chronic disease research, strong focus on chronic kidney disease, type two diabetes and obesity. And then I have some projects with rheumatologists at the Health Sciences Center, Dr. Hani El-Gabalawy and Dr. Liam O'Neill looking at the prevention of rheumatoid arthritis. But the core element of our research is human clinical trials. We do a lot of acute glucose response trials, so new food products and new formulations that are looking to reduce the glycemic impact of foods. We do sort of glycemic response testing. And Dr. Mollard is just a world expert in that. And I've learned and been able to work with her to do those trials. So right now we have one looking at wild rice versus brown rice versus blends of wild rice and brown rice versus white rice. You know, no one's really looked at the glycemic impact of wild rice before in these types of trials. So it's very unique to have a food that has historically been consumed in North America for millennia, but no one's really done the comparisons to see how much better these products might be in terms of glycemic response. So it's personal interest for me and I think it's really valuable to have that information. Classically it's an indigenous crop that's looking to be developed to expand, how it's grown and the economics. But also to investigate the health impacts. And that's sort of where my research comes in, the health impacts of potential foods. And then another one that I'm really interested in is sort of the delivery of groceries as part of the intervention. So through work with my colleague Dr. Naveed Tangri , who's a nephrologist and a fantastic clinician researcher, there is a condition called Metabolic Acidosis that occurs in chronic kidney disease where the kidneys fail or have reduced function. They have trouble maintaining the acid base balance in the blood. So normal healthy kidneys, people don't really need to worry about the acid base balance of their diet. The buffer systems take care of that. But as the kidneys begin to fail, some people get more acidic or they sometimes have more base, depending on their diet because the kidneys regulate that balance. But the acidic blood and body is really bad because it impacts a ton of systems in your body. And so it needs to be treated and if not treated it's associated with really fast acceleration of kidney failure and bad outcomes... increased mortality. So right now it's treated with sodium bicarbonate tablets, basically taking baking soda tablets. It's like creating a volcano, but essentially large sodium bicarbonate tablets multiple times a day, three or four grams of it. It's not a great intervention in terms of lots of people don't continue with it because it's painful and uncomfortable, there's a huge pill burden to it. And the idea is that they're trying to reduce the dietary acids in the stomach with this sodium bicarbonate research out of Texas. And some other places have suggested that you can modify the acid load or the acid-based balance of the diet. And that's where most of the acid load that the kidneys have to deal with comes from. And turns out that fruits and vegetables are actually sources of dietary bicarbonates. And so, you can design interventions that provide bicarbonate, but not in the tablets, just through the diet. And so we have a trial that's looking to compare feasibility trial here in Winnipeg and in Halifax and in Nova Scotia. Where we're recruiting individuals with Metabolic Acidosis. They're gonna get groceries delivered fruits and vegetables delivered to their house on a weekly basis as the treatment for their metabolic acidosis. And comparing that to the tablets in a randomized controlled trial, the idea there being that if you provide it through food, it might be more tolerable, less side effects, more chance of continuing with the intervention. And we know that fruits and vegetables have all kinds of other beneficial health effects... benefits to potentially blood sugar, blood pressure, those kinds of things. And then it's the provision of food without barriers and for free , rather than a drug has potentially economic and social benefits. So that's what's really interesting me is those kind of interventions where you give people food as the intervention. And so Metabolic Acidosis and chronic kidney disease, I think is the best population we could think of to show that that model works. But then I think scaling that or thinking of other ways to do that for other chronic disease populations is really what I want to do for the rest of my career. And then the translation of that, if we show it's as effective as a medication, how do we develop systems? You know, working with the fruit and vegetable growers and the delivery systems and logistics and grocery stores on creating programs where you don't get a subscription, you get...sorry, you don't get a prescription. You get some type of like subscription for food delivery on a weekly basis for your condition. And if you think about some of the drugs that get approved for chronic kidney disease or any disease these days where they can come in with like treatment that cost $20,000 a year, and they're still getting approved for some cases in the healthcare system we all pay for. Then that $20,000 a year that makes the cost of weekly fruit and vegetable delivery more affordable. Some people will immediately balk at the idea and say, oh that's not possible. You can't do that. And I think the pandemic has shown that we can deliver foods regularly. Grocery stores have set up the infrastructure to deliver groceries. Things like those meal delivery services or the companies that almost prepped meals get delivered at your house. You could do all your meals that way. You could never grocery shop outside of your house again. And that same thing could be used for healthcare interventions. And creating the evidence for which populations to do those types of interventions and designing those interventions is really what I'm interested in.

Chantal Bassett:

Now that's truly fascinating in terms of not just about a message and whenever I talk nutrition with somebody, it's well known that let's say wild rice is healthy, fruits and vegetables are healthy, but that's just the message. It's the putting it into action is often the challenge. So by designing an intervention that is meant to reduce barriers. And that's what you're hoping to see an increase in uptake. I am also hearing that it's not just about prevention, it's about actually using nutrition as a treatment.

Dylan MacKay:

In this case. Yes. And I think there are specific cases where that would cross into the treatment because the problem there is too high an acid load in a diet, and we can treat it with a drug or we can change the acid load in the diet. And I think there are circumstances in certain chronic diseases where that works. And like in diabetes and chronic kidney disease, I think those are the chronic issues and potentially arthritis, that's where some of those potentials exist. But in other cases, I think it would be prevention as well. The amount of cost that you can put in prevention is obviously the farther you get away from the expensive endpoints and the less we can invest in them. But there's a balance along that line where I think those interventions have space. And that's where I want to do my research or our research. And, and I think it's really interesting because when we think of evidence for nutrition, it's really messy and everybody eats and everybody thinks they're an expert in it. And we tend to use a lot of nutritional epidemiology, like observational research to develop our guidelines. But then those guidelines and recommendations even in the healthcare system are often "go eat these things". And in many cases, especially if you think of the burdens of chronic disease and the way socioeconomic status intersects with risk and geography intersects with the risk for these conditions, we know that to a lot of the people just telling them to do it, you might as well tell 'em to go fly away as well. So that is an ineffective intervention. And so when you test those ineffective interventions where you tell people to change their diet and they can't because they don't have the autonomy or ability or access or sovereignty to do those changes, we just end up with messy noisy data. And then we risk people thinking... nutrition system, I can't make a sense of this. One trial's this way, another trial's that way. You end up with a healthcare system that may say, I tell all my people to change their diet and they never do, and they come back in 3 months and I put 'em on this drug. And it starts to work in a way, if you're testing an intervention that you know, people don't have the ability to do, you've tried nothing and you're all out of ideas, come up with interventions where we try to reduce the barriers. You deliver the foods directly to the house. If that doesn't work, maybe you can deliver foods ready to eat directly to the house, investigate why the interventions are not being taken up or successful, and then make those better. If we fundamentally believe the mechanism works. And that's what I like to get up every morning and think about it .

Chantal Bassett:

But in terms of... does your intervention include beyond delivery recipes or consultations with dieticians? There's a difference between getting the food and letting it go to waste or utilizing it.

Dylan MacKay:

It's both of those things, that education in that time with a dietician, we know there's value for those things. But if the person leaves and they can't access the ingredients in foods or food preparation or time to do it, it's not gonna work. And if we just give them food and no information, in the interventions that we have educational material that outlines the intervention or helps facilitate the intervention. At least for the food delivery trials that we're doing right now, we have education 1 or 2 hours with a dietician every time we change, explaining how to do the intervention, how to weigh out the food, how to dose, or eat the right amounts and determine what to eat and different ways to prepare the foods. In those interventions, we're delivering fruits and vegetables that are not necessarily ready to eat. So we want them to be incorporated into diet, but education around that and support around that is critical. So it's not the same of just delivering food. And it's also not the same of just telling people to change. It's gotta be both.

Chantal Bassett:

So in terms of... what do you predict could be lessons learned from this trial beyond somebody with a... if I'm not in that population of metabolic acidosis, what could I still learn from the research that you're doing?

Dylan MacKay:

I think we're learning so much about the logistics of setting up those kinds of interventions. The results are obviously gonna be applicable to that population. But I think if we can show our next step for this trial, we're looking for funding. This current trial's funded by CIHR and it's in 2 sites, but we're looking for a trial that's, you know, 10 or 20 times as big where we have sites lined up coast to coast. Like from Cape Breton to Victoria, 15 different hospitals where we would do a large randomized controlled trial for this intervention and show that it works all across Canada. This type of model can work for other chronic disease conditions. And that there are likely price points and economies of scale where we can give people food, part of the healthcare system with wraparound support, where it's integrated with your primary care and dietetic support, you know, videos and education to make the intervention more effective or more likely to help. And I think that as a model it hasn't really been demonstrated well, especially with very high quality RCT evidence. I would love to be able to set that so that people could look eventually at this program of research and say, well, maybe we should try this in a different condition. Or maybe someone's done this before, can we take that delivery model and apply it to other conditions?

Chantal Bassett:

So Dylan , you've referred to an RCT , like a Randomized Control Trial. Can you tell me, like, I've heard that it's considered the gold standard. What is it and how does it impact or does it impact policy?

Dylan MacKay:

Yeah , so Randomized Control Trials are often considered the gold standard in showing causality. You test an intervention or a drug or a diet, and you're looking at outcomes of interest. So let's say for type 2 diabetes, you want to reduce the people's high blood sugar. So you take an outcome like HBA-1-C, it's a measure of glycemic variability. Over time you randomize some people to get the intervention and some people to not get the intervention or another intervention or continue hopefully on what's normally happening in that population, the standard of care, because you want to be introducing better and improve on what's already there for the most part. And randomization simply means that when people come into the trial they have a percentage chance of getting one or the other. And that's not always the same percentage chance, but we know that at the end, a certain amount of individuals will be allocated to one or and other interventions. And then we know we can compare them afterwards to determine which ones are better or similar depending on what the trial is looking at. So Randomized Controlled Trials, it's got randomization, it has a control and it's an intervention where you're testing something as opposed to observation. Where in nutrition, of course, it's very difficult, the observational research to figure out what people are eating, we have to ask them. Whereas in a nutritional trial, for the most part, we'd be trying to give them some of the things and then hoping they eat it. In terms of the level of evidence, the Randomized Control Trial is very near the top. The only thing that's higher than it is sort of systematic reviews and meta-analysis of Randomized Control Trial. Very important because systematic reviews, random meta-analysis of non-randomized control trials don't create better evidence than Randomized Control Trials. Yeah, the top of the evidence pyramid is RCTs and then on top of it, meta-analysis or combined multiple RCTs together.

Chantal Bassett:

And I would imagine that in nutrition, having randomization could be a challenge. It's kind of difficult to... in a pill form you could have a placebo and an identical looking form if I'm either consuming vegetables or not. Isn't that evident to everyone involved or how do you control for that?

Dylan MacKay:

Yeah, that's where I would say that doing trials in nutrition is harder than other trial areas where you can do better things. Like blinding is often an important thing. So people don't necessarily know which allocation they're getting. So if you were doing a surgical, the person may be unconscious, they don't know which surgery they got, or the people who evaluate the outcomes afterwards may not know which drug you're getting. And it could be a placebo, more of a challenge in nutrition. So then that makes what I do extra challenging. And I think it's because the concept of doing the original Randomized Control Trial or an original clinical trial is sometimes thought to also have been a nutrition intervention. It was looking at scurvy and it was James Lind a long time ago, a medic in the Navy trying to treat scurvy and they had treatments and one of them was salt water . One of them was nutmeg, one of them was oranges, one of them was apple cider. And they allocated, although not necessarily randomly, 2 sailors each who had scurvy to those conditions. The 2 sailors that got the oranges and the lime, I think it was the citrus fruit, did really well. The apple cider wasn't too bad either because it was the vitamin C in both of those things, except they didn't know what vitamin C was at the time. Salt water did not work out. The sulfuric acid wasn't great. And the nutmeg didn't really do anything. So they quickly saw that vitamin C and then all the ships would carry citrus fruits. So that one, not necessarily a challenge, but if you think about how ethical it was for those controls, you need to have ethical controls and interventions and the idea before you do a trial that you have equipoise , which is that you don't already know which ones better, are really important ethical standards in RCTs that have evolved since that original trial. And that makes nutrition very challenging because you can't not eat and everybody needs to eat. And when you change a diet, you're not just adding something. If you add something, then you're diluting all the other components in terms of their makeup of the diet, or you're replacing something you can't add without taking away. Because as I said, everybody needs to eat. And so that does make trials and nutrition extra challenging. Sometimes I envy the individuals who are doing the pharmaceuticals. Because you can just have a placebo tablet, as I mentioned before. Why the RCTs? Because they're sort of the gold standard for causality when people are... we only have so much money in healthcare and budgets for those types of things or coverage for health insurance. When people are trying to make the tough decisions about what to spend money on, Randomized Controlled Trial evidence is the highest quality. And that's when you know, decision makers, even in Manitoba Health or around the world, people who write guidelines that direct or guide care for conditions, they're looking for Randomized Controlled Trials. So if you want to change how people are treated or if you want to change how a condition is treated you really need the Randomized Controlled Trial evidence. And that's one of the issues is getting that quality evidence in nutrition is challenging, as you mentioned, getting to that level where clinicians that are treating diseases will pay attention to the evidence and trust it when they can see from the pharmaceutical side, we know that this one's better. We see the number needed to treat or the reduction in mortality or the change in outcomes very closely. We know it's because of this drug versus another in nutrition. It is challenging to do that. It's where it means there's lots of things for me to work on for the rest of my career.

Chantal Bassett:

In terms of... you kind of touched into the economics of it before. We need the Randomized Control Trials or the clinical trials to inform future decisions. Do your... the trials, that you're involved in look at an economic analysis or is it something that you might look into the future so that because I could see that that would be important information for policy makers or program developers.

Dylan MacKay:

Yeah, so the trial we're looking at now with the grocery delivery for metabolic acidosis has health economic modelling components. That's really important because to translate it, when we were putting in these grants, a lot of the review comes back... no one's gonna cover that. It's gonna be too expensive giving people free fruits and vegetables. And it's such a shift where we have to convince the reviewers to think about it. Because as I mentioned before, we cover all kinds of very expensive things. You know, as a person with type one diabetes, I pay thousands of dollars a year in different medical supplies and things. And many of that is covered through the provincial government because it saves money in terms of outcomes. But making people think of that from a food stand point, we just think of it differently. "We can't give people free food" or maybe it's even political. I think we can, we could, and I think there are many places where we should and still save money. And it's interesting this idea that maybe there is an idea where we should give people free food. We should give people free housing. We should give people free money. All these things because we can develop evidence that it saves us money and it improves everyone's outcome in society. And I guess I'm convincing people that the food provision is something they should think about. And that showing it, not just showing the evidence that it improves, but showing that it's cost effective is really important in the translation of the research that I do. So we do work with health economists to do the modelling of this type of stuff and then thinking about how you can develop the infrastructure and the logistics to have these systems where you could deliver foods through the healthcare system or related to healthcare system for some of these trials, I work with grocery stores because they have logistics and delivery set-up. So we have a trial right now that's looking at potassium in fruits and vegetables in chronic kidney disease. And we're working with food fair, the local grocery store in Winnipeg. And they're delivering the foods to the people in Winnipeg on a weekly basis for our larger trial. We work with Save on Foods and they're delivering the foods in Winnipeg not in Halifax. Save On isn't in the east coast. We don't have a grocery partner there. So it's harder. We have a colleague who has to do the packet together. But it's gonna be the same types of things. It's gonna be like bags of apples, carrots, not fancy fruits and vegetables. These are just staple fruits and vegetables that we're delivering to the people because they have high bicarbonate and we think that'll be as effective or better than the medication they're taking. The health economics is critical for the translation because if we go back to say the province of Manitoba afterwards and say, "listen, this is what you should do for metabolic acidosis and chronic kidney disease". It improves all the outcomes. They're gonna say, how much does it cost? And we have to show them that it's cost effective or better than what they're currently paying for or cheaper. More affordable at the same level and that's something we think about in, in the long term . I , I don't really want to do research and interventions where it'll never worked because I have had experience doing previously throughout my career doing some research that I think never had a chance to translate. Sometimes in nutrition and in trials we end up with research that's more advertising than real health translation. And there's reasons why. But you know, you'll have food industry groups or food companies that fund research and it's highlighting their products. But I don't see that translation these days. I really want to pick the ones where we can, hopefully show the cost effectiveness and then work to see that if it's shown to be effective, it makes it into the lives of the people who have those conditions and hopefully improves those lives.

Chantal Bassett:

And I can imagine, eating is often a social activity, so benefiting one often can benefit others. So in terms of what do you think of the role of nutrition? How do we get a consumer, an individual to shift what they're consuming and how could that benefit not only themselves?

Dylan MacKay:

Well, in one of our trials... in those two trials that we have fruit and vegetable deliveries, the group in Texas that did the first one of the interventions to show what might work when they were just giving enough food for the one person in the household to eat, it wasn't working. And so they were sending fruits and vegetables , but just enough for the dose that that person needed for the day , and it wasn't working. And so they did some interviews and of course the people were sharing it, so they were diluting their dose and so they upped it so that everybody in a household could get as much as they wanted, that one person to get. And that's when it started working. So when those interventions were delivering foods to like a household and will deliver 4 times as much if there's 4 people in the household, to avoid that dilution, I think that it may seem like it's more expensive, but if it doesn't work until you do that... it's important. And then that potential benefit to improve the entire household through the intervention is interesting. We haven't thought about how to measure that, but how the idea of providing fruits and vegetables to an entire family because someone in the family has a chronic disease and then the trickle down effect that grandchildren or the children get more fruits and vegetables. It's really fascinating to me. And then exposing members of that family to more fruits and vegetables and different ways of preparing it, the lifelong effects of that is fascinating too. So how do we change the behavior as well? I don't think it's an advertising or a knowledge thing, sincerely. I think in nutrition there's probably lots of misinformation, but I think the biggest thing is a shift in how much do people have the ability to personally change their diets and their circumstances. As I mentioned before, I used to do nutri genetics and this idea that like personalized nutrition and the biggest change throughout my career is kind of a zooming away from that. Like DNA single cell , like changes in individual responses. I've kind of abandoned a lot of that. Because I don't think it matters as much as like, if you want someone to change their diet, you can't tell them to change their diet. You have to work together to change the entire environment, the entire family's food environment, the entire neighborhood's food environment by doing things like, either delivering that or having more health education and nutrition education earlier in schools, school lunch programs that provide meals and expose children to a variety of foods that are healthy earlier. That's how, 'cause you develop your taste. We may not like the foods, we like the taste of, we actually like the taste of the foods that we have is one of the ideas that may be driving why preferences exist and stuff. So that's what I think that we need to, you need to think of ways that we can intervene on large populations of individuals because personalizing I think sometimes is a distraction from the fact that we do know that larger interventions are more costly as a whole, but telling someone to do things personally, they often don't have the ability to. Does that make sense?

Chantal Bassett:

And in terms of timeliness , Manitoba is set to introduce and I actually don't know the full scope of it.

Dylan MacKay:

No, I dunno the full scope of it either.

Chantal Bassett:

Okay, new school food programming. Just kind of how would that relate back? Hypothesizing here, we don't know what goes on behind the scenes of how a program changed and this is a major program change. How could research have influenced that?

Dylan MacKay:

Well, I'm hoping that they're talking to people who are from this faculty in this process. And I have a friend of mine who is in the new government. And I was fascinated by that promise for the school lunch program, because that just checks a lot of the policy things that I think would be great. Like efficiency to scale, time cost for doing lunches, equity and access to foods. Just fascinated by it. But with every promise, it's all about the implementation, right? You can have a great idea and if you implement it horribly, it's a terrible idea, and I'm waiting to see the details. The funding amount seems a little low for universal, but now they're talking about universal access and I would love to be involved. I don't know who's on those committees and how they're there . I really hope they have some of the fantastic researchers have looked at those kind of food provisions and food security and food access to inform it. Because I think that those are things that could be incredible economic drivers. I know our premier likes to talk about like the economy pulling the cart for the health and stuff like that. I think providing universal lunch and breakfast programs are an economic benefit to it. If I think, every day I get up and I spend time packing my kids' lunch and they don't have the selection, there's the potential for so much waste. Then there's also the potential for so much inequity, what I can put into my kid's lunch versus others. And then if you think about that... that's hours for every single parent all across the province that could be centralized and done better and more efficiently. And with economies of scale and healthier, we are overseen by diet dieticians, highlight crops that are grown in Manitoba that are healthy. The potential for it to be done properly is incredible. But I want to see if under deliver , then it never gets continued. It is my biggest question mark. I'm excited to see how that'll come out. One of the research areas that actually touches on that is some of the feedback we got about our delivery interventions was, can people with disability have the capacity to change their diets? Or how much work is this putting on their caregivers? It's really important things that I like to think about in this intervention that creates food. How much food work is that saving homes? We don't have good tools to measure food work. And so a colleague of mine at Dalhousie University , Dr. Leah Cahill, who's from the University of Manitoba originally, she and I and others have been working on a questionnaire that measures food work. And the idea is that, if we don't measure it well, we can't value it. Well, the amount of work that goes into planning, obtaining ingredients, putting those ingredients together and then cleaning up after food is often undervalued. And then if you think about the EDI , the gendered, those are often gendered gendered roles around food work. And then we think about what we value, who does those, and whether we value that in something like a food lunch program, making sure that we put that in the equation, that it's freeing up those individuals hours and that their time freed up is evaluated, is a fascinating concept for these kinds of things. And so we're gonna publish in the next couple of months, the manuscript that's been developing that questionnaire. And then I want to use that questionnaire in all our trials and then in cohorts. To see, because household work is real work and food work is real work, and we pay people to do it outside the house. But we, we sometimes forget that that work is real value inside the house. And if we create policies that lessen that burden for everyone in a province, what does that turn into from an economic benefit?

Chantal Bassett:

Fascinating work, Dylan . In terms of... obviously I'm reflecting on my own home and the amount of time and the investment that I choose to make for my own family in terms of their nutrition, because there are so many faster options that are available... readily available. I could be offering fast food or other junk, but there are true barriers to having a healthy lifestyle, a good nutritional balance. And so I could see how it's all about removing the barriers. It's not just about a message.

Dylan MacKay:

Yeah. So that's the idea . That's why that promise in the election really like made me pay attention to politics at the provincial level this year. Because I thought that's one of those things where if every kid is in school, we hope every kid's in school, and that's the place where we could intervene and remove all those barriers for healthy food. So breakfast and not just universal access, but universal breakfast and lunch programs have that potential, in my mind. In my view, the way nutritional interventions could impact health at least for a period of time of the year. They're in school for more than the time that they're out of school. But then the trickle down effects of that exposing to other foods. Maybe you integrate in some schools the making of those foods into the classroom. Like home economics and those skills... how to grocery shop and how to grocery shop for the food that you're gonna get. The importance of preparation and storage. And as you mentioned with ultra processed foods or junk foods and things like that. There's maybe food work and time savings, potentially. There's also health consequences of those and the balance of those. That's another aspect of my research where the food work around... is it complete ? It's a completely... it's like a side project, but I'm super excited about it. Then how could it be used to evaluate policies like that. That's the big one I want to know. How are they evaluating this new program? Who's doing it? What researchers are they in our faculty? What are they gonna do? And how are they gonna do it? Because I would love to be involved in that. That's just a fascinating last stage. Or like, you know, when it has the impact that to impact my kids, to impact my life, to impact all of the children in Manitoba. That's a really cool opportunity.

Chantal Bassett:

Well, Dylan , I feel like I could talk to you all day. I feel we should wrap it up. You know what we... you've given us, you've given us some nuggets in terms of who you are, what you're passionate about, and a bit about your origin story. But why don't you tell us something about that's outside of your professional life. What, what is something we might be surprised to hear from you?

Dylan MacKay:

Okay. I guess we hit on a lot of those things. You might've noticed that I'm really interested in politics and policies, but that kind of links to my work as well. Or maybe I've made my work linked to that. And food is a big part of my life. Type one diabetes. I'm obsessed with food. I think about food all the time. People would say maybe I'm a food snob. I really like very nice food. I love all kinds of food. I like food from all over the world. I have a potluck coming up for my research group. And because there's so many people from all around the world that are gonna be making food from that they grew up with. I can't wait for that. But if I haven't hit on it yet, I love sports. I grew up playing hockey and soccer and I still try. I wish I could still play it all the time. But, family and life and all those other things run into times for that. And I guess I did mention that , I'm German, a German citizen. My mother's German and she never gave up her citizenship. And so I've gone to Germany almost every year, and learned German and half my family is there. And I think that exposure to different... it's very similar, but a different food culture has informed a lot of my work again. I'm trying to think . Maybe I worked too much or maybe I've designed my work to highlight all the things that I like to do anyway. Yeah. It's a little bit like that taste preference, right? Maybe I do the work that I do because of my life rather than the reverse. Yeah, it's a lot of food. That's the focus. And outside of work, I have my family and that's really, I will say the overall balances. And, maybe the... my bosses might not, I work to live, not live to work, despite the way it sounds. I just think there's a lot of blend between the two in my life.

Chantal Bassett:

So, Dylan , from my understanding, you're cross appointed. So 50% with the faculty of agricultural and food sciences and 50% with the Department of Internal Medicine in the Rady Faculty of Health.

Dylan MacKay:

So my position is in food and human nutritional sciences, but it's also 50% in internal medicine. So in the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, the way it happened is was I was in community health sciences in my previous position and I had been successful with some recent national grants. And I was looking for a tenure track position and I was shortlisted at some other universities. The way, unfortunately, the academic system is that, sometimes institutions don't value who they have as much as the other ones want to steal from them . And so I had 2 job opportunities on either coast of Canada and I went to my associate Dean and just asked about the potential to stay. I really like my research and I love living in Winnipeg. I love the research environment here. The people I work with, my kids are here, my friends, everything. I've been here for a long time. I considered myself at Winnipeg. And I said, you know, is there a chance you can make a position for me here that's tenure track? Because I wanted that job security. The associate dean said, you know, we'd love to, and you've been doing great research, but it's just not in the cards to create a new position, so I responded to the email and I said, well, you know, that's too bad. Just be aware the Rady faculty is gonna lose 2 faculty 'cause my wife's gonna go move with me. She's an instructor in nursing. And then the next day the associate dean called me on my cell phone, I've never spoken to them in person before. And they're like, can we make something work out? And I think that's important to think about. Research is great, but creating the nurses and the clinicians that run the faculty, that's really important part of this university. And so in a roundabout way, I guess they talked to nursing and nursing and said , under no circumstances could we lose instructors right now . You need to create a position for her husband. They went around and they asked, you know, faculty, agriculture and food science, "do you guys have the ability to make a position?" And they said no, maybe half. But the way it worked out is now I have 1/2 from Rady , 1/2 from faculty agriculture and food science. I couldn't be happier. I really love the blend there because all of my research colleagues that are clinicians are pretty much in internal medicine. The rheumatologists, the endocrinologists, the nephrologists, all the people who treat the chronic disease conditions. And then they come to me when they want to do nutrition trials. And that's just fascinating. I love to do that. So it's a job that was made for me because my wife was really valuable to the university.

Chantal Bassett:

That's awesome. So this has been Dr. Chantal Bassett, joined by Dr. Dylan MacKay, assistant professor in the departments of Food and Human Nutritional Sciences and internal Medicine at the University of Manitoba. And that's it for today's episode of ChangeMAKErs, the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences Research and Innovation podcast. Join me in future episodes to hear about other fascinating research being led by agricultural and AgriFood innovators at the University of Manitoba.

ChangeMAKErs - Dr Cristina Rosell

Dr. Cristina Rosell, Professor and Head, deparment of Food and Human Nutritional Sciences

Welcome to ChangeMAKErs, a new MAKEManitoba podcast series highlighting research and innovation powered by members of the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences.

In this episode, host and FAFS research facilitator Dr. Chantal Bassett chats with Dr. Cristina Rosell  Professor and Head, Department of Food and Human Nutritional Sciences. Learn about her work in cereal science and food quality, and her collaborations with researchers around the world on the bread-making process.

 

 

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Transcript

Intro:

The way we grow and produce food is ever-changing, shaped by consumers and the climate in which we live and farm. Research at all points of our food system is essential for continuously improving food's journey from farm to table. The Manitoba Agriculture and Food Knowledge Exchange explores timely research innovations and applications that make our food system better than ever. Join us for today's podcast.

Chantal Bassett:

Hello and welcome. This is ChangeMAKErs, a Manitoba Agriculture and Food Knowledge Exchange, otherwise known as MAKE podcast series with me Chantal Bassett. In each episode, we'll chat with an academic member of the faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the University of Manitoba to find out about the research and innovation they're working on and how this is shaping agriculture and food production in Manitoba and around the world. Now, as the research facilitator for the faculty, I get to work with all our incredible innovators, and I think it's high time for you to also get to discover their research as well as get to know the person behind these discoveries. Today I am joined by Dr. Cristina Rosell, professor and department head in the Department of Food and Human Nutritional Sciences. Thanks for joining me, Christina .

Cristina Rosell:

It's a pleasure. Thanks for the invitation.

Chantal Bassett:

Before we get into the details about what you study , Cristina, can you share how you got to where you are today?

Cristina Rosell:

It has not been a straight way , so I think it's a wonderful question because it makes me think. I did so many different things and let me start from the beginning. I just studied pharmacy. It's a very different thing than the one I am doing just today. Then just by chance, I started in research doing my PhD. And the PhD was in the institutes of catalysis a nd petro chemistry in Spain. And the t hesis was related to the use of enzymes, particularly penicillin sates. So it was for making o r producing antibiotics. And then during that time, I did different state internships in Italy. And then during my postdoc, I moved to the use of enzymes in process engineering, helping the catalysis of lower water content systems. So that was a move from my previous research. And then during that time , I did a second postdoc, but back in Spain. It was my first toot with food. So at that time it was meat. So I worked with dry cured meat . So the ham that is very popular in Spain. We understood the role of enzymes, but in this case it was not an exogenous enzymes, but more the enzyme that was in the muscle and the role of the enzymes in dry curing. And then , that was in the Institute of Photochemistry and Food Technology in Spain that belongs to the Spanish Research Council. I got my tenure position, and it was in cereals and grains. So that was 25 years ago and that was when I started with cereals and grains. As you can see, many different experience and I am always trying to be very positive. So I think all of those experience have shaped me, the knowledge and the expertise that I have. 25 years ago I started with cereals and grains, and I had to train myself in a different topic. At the beginning I tried to learn as much as possible about cereals because it was a different commodity. So starting with wheat, trying to understand wheat from the physical chemical point of view, learning all the classical methodologies about radiology , also about chemistry; applying advanced technologies like HPLC, GC and Electro Capillary Electrophoresis. Maybe now those are not advanced techniques, but I'm talking about 25 years ago. And also microstructure using Micro Topography. So I learn many different things, and I tried to, at the same time, apply all of them in the bread-making process. Helping industry and also trying to give responses to some challenge that there I had at that moment, like one example was at the very beginning. It was one pest that was very common in Spain that was attacking wheat a nd decreasing wheat quality. I tried to understand first what was happening. And it was related to the enzymes. So that was great because I love working with enzymes and I'm using them as much as possible. I learned all of that. And that insect was weakening or diluting quality. After understanding that I tried to find the different alternatives or tools that could recover at least partially recover the quality of the wheat using different enzymes or modify the bread-making process. I think that was really useful because it allows me understand how to work with very poor quality gluten. That was the beginning of my research line into gluten free . That was wonderful.

Chantal Bassett:

And you know, we have to tell our listeners that not only are we thrilled to have you at the University of Manitoba, but because you are the world world's most prolific and most highly cited author in gluten development. This is according to VAL, an internationally recognized research metrics database. And you have an H index of 69 indicating that more than 69 of your publications have been cited at least 69 times now. That's impressive.

Cristina Rosell:

Thank you so much for pointing out that. That makes me feel old <laugh> . Yes, it seems like I never have the feeling that I have done so many things. And only when I have the opportunity to sit down to talk to somebody, is when I am really thinking about all the research that I have done. Sometimes I cannot believe that those were the programs that I participated in or the research that I have done, or their contributions. I like the things that I am doing. I love research, I am always really enthusiastic and passionate about the research. Starting new things, learning new techniques. Yeah, I think it's a wonderful profession.

Chantal Bassett:

In terms of starting new things, you know, moving to Canada, to Winnipeg across, you know, the prairies, obviously wheat , as well as other cereal grains are of great importance here. Was that part of the draw, or at least it was a great benefit to lead a cereal based research program in the heart of the prairies?

Cristina Rosell:

Yeah, I think that was the driving force for me to come here. I was looking for a new challenge, and Manitoba have been one of my reference points when I was working with cereals. Because Manitoba is the highest quality wheat in the world . For me it was a reference call, and also because very big names were working here. They have been my reference when I started to work with cereals, it was like a dream to have this opportunity. I've been starting with wheat, I've also been working with many different commodities: cereals , legumes, and many other types of commodities. I like to say that we can work with any material or any source. We can obtain flour or powder and we can use it for making food. I used all those commodities and implemented them for obtaining bakery products, like bread. But then when , I came here I thought that it was the opportunity to return to wheat. Also because I have always been resilient. I can adapt to any, I think, research program in the Department of Food and Human Nutritional Science. There are wonderful people that are working with cereals, legumes, or proteins in nutrition, in chemistry and in non-food application. So I look for the gap in which I can focus my research program based on my expertise and knowledge. And just now I was not too much in research about wheat , so I thought, okay, being one of the most important places in wheat , considering production and also processing, so why not? So I started to explore what was interesting for the industry and also for consumers. I try to define a research program that is connecting wheat grains , the quality of the wheat grains from the very beginning till the end. Developing healthy breads, particularly for those people with diabetes, pre-diabetes, or for all consumers that are looking for low glycemic index bread . I try to connect all of those. It was wonderful because the bridge between the kernels and the bread have been in the all families. That is one of the most important enzymes in the wheat quality. As I mentioned before. I like to work with enzymes and this is one of the most useful one. In good quality in bread-making, and also in starch digestibility that is related to diabetes.

Chantal Bassett:

So can you help our listeners understand a bit more about the enzymatic process within grains? Like is the enzyme present within the grain itself, or is it added during the processing?

Cristina Rosell:

Okay, so a wonderful question. So it could be both ways. The imilates and specifically the alphimilates is in the wheat kernals. You need the right amount of imilates to have very good quality in bread-making. But if you have an excess of imilates, you have low quality flour and the breads are going to be poor, even the dough is going to be very , very sticky. You are not going to get good bread . You have sometimes you have high amyloids activity, and that occurs when you have germinated with or there are some pathology called lay maturity imilates that are related to a genetic pathology. So in those cases, you have high imilate activity. And considering the import , the climate change that we are having now, we cannot predict how the wheat crop is going to be. How it's going to be or the quality, because sometimes you have rains before harvest, so you can have very high imilate activity that is going to downgrade the wheat . It's very important to identify those at the very early stage, and also to have the right tools to add value to those wheats because just now they could be blended with some wheat or if the imilate activity is really, really high, they have to be used for different purposes and not bread-making. We want to even to develop rapid techniques for detecting those goods, but also develop different applications for bread-making to define tools that allows us to use that type of wheat. And the second part of this picture is from the bread-making to consumers, which is very important. Starch digestibility and the imilates is the main player in starch digestibility. We have it in the wheat . We are using that enzyme in bread-making. So sometimes if you don't have enough amount of imilates, you can add it. So it can be used as an additive for the bread-making process. But then the enzyme that is going to determine the degree of hydrolysis of the starch. We need it for the bread-making because it's using the sugars. We want very aereated breads with high volume when we have the bread. The state of the starch in the bread is also very important because when we are eating the bread the hydrolysis of the starch is the one that is going to determine the glucose level in our blood. And that is related to the diabetes. It's a very nice project because we can work from breeders to consumers. So we are going to see the impact of wheat quality on the health of consumers.

Chantal Bassett:

Oh , wow. So yeah, in terms of, I could see how the enzymes, like what you were explaining are so critical, not only for some of the functionality making, if the bread is going to be super dense or very sticky and therefore not bread. But really, and to the point where that enzyme is critical. You can't just not have it because it helps break down the starch so that the yeasts have some sugar, but also, you know, there needs to be some natural sugars in breads. But to a certain extent, we want to control that, especially for people with diabetes. And so that's great that you're, you know, trying to develop some novel approaches and some tools to develop, you know, innovative bakery products that could be useful for all, because we're not all consuming the same types of breads. Can you tell me a bit more about... so w e talked about enzymes, but I think that you're working on others, using some co-products. Are you incorporating some healthy ingredients a nd breads? And I know that you can't just boost up, you know, entirely all the fibre because then nobody's wants t o eat it. So what are you doing to make breads healthier?

Cristina Rosell:

That is also a very good question, we are working with wheat, also there is a lot of interesting proteins and we have plenty of commodities in which we are extracting the proteins, but we also have co-products after protein extraction. The main co-products core products are starch and fibre. I've been working with both from the start, I have had a long research because , starch is very important for gluten-free products. So that is one of the research problems that I started many years ago. And the other part is the fibre, but as you mentioned, people doesn't like to eat fibre. Also from the technological point of view, they are really not very desirable materials to make bread because the quality of the bread is decreasing and the functionality and technological properties of the dough , we have been working trying to modify fibre even from rice . We have been working in bran from rice , but also in some other commodities, not when we have , when we are talking about fibre, it is not like... it's like a big pool, but there are plenty of different compounds, polymers that are fitting within the concept of fibre. And not all of them have the same functionality. So we have insoluble fibre and we have soluble fibre, and the functionality is completely different. The insoluble fibre is from the technological point of view, we are trying to get rid of that, or at least decrease But from the healthy point of view the one that have intestinal functionality and is required for a healthy purpose. But also the soluble fibre is very important because it's the one that can help lower cholesterol levels. So that is very important from the health point of view. But from the technological point of view, also is very important because it has a high water absorption. It helps us in making the bread properties of the dough. The extensibility in the case of gluten-free bread is even more important because it contributes a lot to the viscosity and the elasticity of the dough. So we can work with that, making extensible dough and extensible bakery products. We are working, we don't always have the right amount of insoluble and soluble fibre. So we are working with physical treatments and also with enzymatic treatments in , regarding , physical treatments. We have been working , trying to modulate the particle size distribution with very intense milling. Also, we have been applying high pressure... high hydrostatic pressure. Those are one of the techniques that we have been using apart from thermal treatments on enzymes. I've been working with plenty of those with carbohydrates, with cellulose. So there are many, many different enzymes that can hydrolyze fibre. But it is very important to know which fibre we have, because otherwise we can use it in science , but not the proper ones. We need to understand, what do we have in our hands, and then we can apply the tools that we know could work trying to modify that balance that we can work and we can integrate that fibre. In the case of breads, obtaining bread with high fibre content, but also that they are appealing. Because otherwise we can have high fibre breads nobody wants to eat.

Chantal Bassett:

It's a challenge. Yeah, I don't know if you knew, but I consume gluten-free products. I do not digest gluten. And so, I get that there are some products that I've learned, purchased, and currently stay away from. But also just kind of like anybody who's even eating regular bread, there's the people that want to seek out hardy breads, a denser bread, a lighter bread. So there's a need for some variety. And so I am assuming that, you know, that those are some of the things that you're working on. But in terms of... I want to know more about kind of your work with industry and perhaps because it's not just creating one recipe because you said that climate change is having an impact on the world itself, so it's not just creating an ultimate blend or an ultimate recipe. It's always continuously adapting.

Cristina Rosell:

Yes. And I think I choose the right food for working because there are thousands of different types of breads, because around the world we have plenty of specialties. And also, as you mentioned, consumers... not all consumers are looking for the same type of bread, Apart from all those consumers that because of pathologies or any other decision, they are eating gluten free . We have a food that can make many different things . One of them is more focus about industry because they are demanding to improve processes to use different commodities that have been to integrate in the production that they have. And we are seeing that now they are incorporating, apart from wheat, we have other cereals: oats, rice , corn and also pseudo cereals, quinoa , amarants. So that is giving us plenty of possibilities of obtaining different types of bread. But that doesn't mean that the industry can just blend it and put it into the process and obtain the same quality of bread. Its material needs have their own requirements. So you have to optimize the process for when you are making even a very small change in the recipe or in the process. And then the other part of this picture is consumers. And consumers are changing, they liketo be probably surprised with new products. Thinking about some consumers, thy are looking for healthy products, some others like new tastes or flavours or new appearance or different type of breads . We are working with flatbreads, we are working with fermented bread with sourdough breads, and those are giving completely different texture flavours and taste. We have the tools, we have the experience. So industry and consumers, those are our big targets. We can have the knowledge, but we need to give response to one and the other. And that is , I always think that it's very important for researchers that we look around, we have to know the reality. And now the driving forces in research is sustainability, also health concept. And with one and the other we have to work trying to solve the challenge for the industry and also for consumers within those pillars in research. Because of that, in our research program is not only based on scientific concepts, always we have to be to know the state of the art, but also knowing the market. In our research, we are always incorporating how is the market at any moment. So before starting any research program or any research project, we are checking the grocery stores. We are checking small shops, and not only in the place where we are, because we are working in a global world , so we are checking groceries on their websites all over the world. So we can have a very good idea about what is going on, what is needed, where the gaps are, and then we define the research that can fill those gaps.

Chantal Bassett:

So Christina , you touched on sustainability, and you also touched on how manufacturers or processors are really looking to researchers such as yourself to help improve their processes and help improve their end products. But can you relate to how you talked about co-product utilization? I'm assuming like these co-products, normally grain is, or anything, even a protein plant protein is being extracted. I'm assuming that that's the co-products that you're referring to and they'd otherwise go to waste. So we're trying to find a way to incorporate them into new products.

Cristina Rosell:

Yes, they could be waste. But also they could used for feeding or for other applications.

Chantal Bassett:

So a lower value?

Cristina Rosell:

Yes. So low value products are cheaper or not as profitable for the industry as high added value product. So we are using... trying to use what are under utilized. We are trying to find new applications for fibre co- products. And also for the starch , which has now many applications for making products. And it has plenty of applications, even in the pharmaceutical companies and cosmetics and so on. But we want to develop completely different... not completely different, but some other applications. So we have been working... I think we started 10 years ago starting from different sources because not all... when we talk about starch... not all the starch from different sources is the same. They have completely different functionality and technological properties. So we have been working with starches from rice, corn, potato, beans and other different tubors. And treating those starches with different enzymes. We got the poorer starches, and the name is explaining what they are. Those are starch granules with plenty of poorer ones, and you can use that type of starch as absorbents for food applications, but also for pharmaceutical ones and cosmetic, because you can absorb in those granules different materials. We have used... one example that we have developed is to use probiotics. So we absorb one lactobacillus in the starch. We tested that in rice starch and also corn starch, and we increase the stability of the microbe when we absorb it in the startch granules. So that was one of the applications that we develop. And also this type of treatment, enzymatic treatment of the starch. We saw that we develop poorer starch when we treat starch with enzymes. Granular starch. We also saw that after gelatinization of those poorer starchs, we can net worths and completely different properties. We can modulate the properties of the gels, also working with enzymatic, pre-treatments. That was one of the examples that we have used in the case of starch. And in the case of fibre, we are going to explore much more now. We have plenty of different physical treatments. We can work not only in my lab, but also in other labs in the department. So we can work with extrusion, we can work with cold plasma , with Dr . Cocell with Dr. Bandara... many other applications. We are going to start also to work with solid state fermentation and it is a different way to modify the properties of this material. So yeah, it's a very exciting future.

Chantal Bassett:

Continuously innovating. I'm interested to see what products. It's almost too bad that though a company will go ahead and cite your work as a consumer. You don't get to see your name on a package <laugh>.

Cristina Rosell:

Yeah, we tried , we started with gluten free , and also we developed a lot of calorie blends. So at that moment, one of them was patented. We started to explore the possibility to translate the knowledge and also to see that product in the market. But it was really difficult to put the product in the market . The main difficulty was to convince a company to develop the product and put the product in the market. So those innovations have not been directly to the market, but we are really pleased that those have been the starting point for the companies, and they have been implementing those in a different ways. But those have been translated to the industry.

Chantal Bassett:

We have evidence that many of our researchers, including yourself, have companies citing your work in their patent applications, but it doesn't mean... yet you said that it can serve as a basis, and it's hard to see because foods or even bread products are very complex. You know, organisms in terms of... it's really hard to see where a certain research program would've influenced an end product. But you're right, all of this information is of value to industry, to consumers, so that we have options.

Cristina Rosell:

Yes, and we are really happy that we are... at least , I am really happy that we are putting our seed in improving things for the industries and also for the consumers offering different type of products.

Chantal Bassett:

So Cristina, you recently secured some new infrastructure through the Canada Foundation for Innovation. And so tell me a bit more about what this equipment does and what you're hoping to do in the next years.

Cristina Rosell:

Okay. That is going to help us a lot. And , not only in my research program, but also the research in the Department of Food and Human Nutritional Science. It is going to complement the facilities that we already have in the department. It is going to extend our capacities in radiology . Having this equipment is going to allow us better understand starch and also protein materials. It is going to allow us also to work with fibre. So the focus is for them is co-products. That was the focus in this grant and is going to give us facilities that allows us to work close to the industry, because some of them is a portable device and some others are for increasing our capacities in radiology.

Chantal Bassett:

So Cristina, you've told told me a lot about your research program, but, and also how others are using this research, but you're not working in silo, you're working with researchers from around the world. In terms of, and you're working on cereal grains that are not necessarily grown in Manitoba. How is the internationalization of research important to all?

Cristina Rosell:

I think it's really, really important. It's crucial. I think teamwork is very important. And because we are living in a global world , we have to join efforts if we want to move forward faster. I realized this concept of collaboration at the very beginning when I started in research. I thought that I could not really go further in research if I was working alone. I started collaborating with researchers from India, China, South America, Africa, US and also from Europe, of course. So I started with some of those continents and countries. I started to work with them because they have plenty of different commodities, plenty of different materials that we don't have it in our place. It was the way to innovate with new and different materials. I base it in my collaborations, internships. I always push or motivate my students to do internships in different places because it's a way to connect with some other groups and also to learn different things apart from the experience that they can have and grow at a personal level. But also I have to be an example for them because every 3, 4 years I have been doing internships in different places. I have been invited to research in different groups. I think that part also allowed me to have a great network. I think have I met wonderful people and I'm still working and collaborating with them. I think we can make good research complementing each other. So that is the way that I try to base my research with wonderful collaborations around the world .

Chantal Bassett:

And I can see how that relates to sustainability. Not one single researcher is ever going to solve the many challenges of climate change.

Cristina Rosell:

Yeah, and also in some countries it's very important... sustainability, because we know that wheat is the basis for bakery products, but in some countries, they have to import wheat because they don't have the cereal. So I try to work with them , looking around for the commodities that they have. In some places it could be other cereals like rice, in some others it is pseudo cereals. So I've been working with them trying to understand those commodities, integrating those, replacing with , so it could be... their bread-making process could be more sustainable for the country, providing food to all consumers, whatever their level or their economical level is.

Chantal Bassett:

So, Cristina, I know that you work very long hours. We appreciate it in terms of... and you're continuously innovating , uh, here in Manitoba and around the world. But why don't you let us know a bit more about what you do during your off hours. What makes you tick?

Cristina Rosell:

Probably, that is the most difficult question that you have made <laugh> in this interview. So I have long hours working, but when I am not working, I like to enjoy with my family and with friends. So we like to have people at home enjoy with them. So that is the most relaxing time. And of course, we like... I like to go with my family traveling, so we... we like to explore new things, new places. So that is how I fill my free time.

Chantal Bassett:

In terms of travel, what's on the wish list for the next few years?

Cristina Rosell:

We would like to know Canada better. The north part of Canada, because , we have been east, a little bit to the west , to Vancouver and Banff. But we don't know anything about the northern part. So we would like to explore and enjoy nature . So we would like to know this is big, big country to us. It's like we have plenty of options now. So we... it is just the way that we have to plan that because we would like to go with the whole family. And it's difficult to organize. Because they are not kids anymore. So it is very difficult to organize and to plan those kind of trips.

Chantal Bassett:

Well, I hope that you get to go and carve out the times to go on some adventures, because it's important. And Canada as well. It's certainly worth exploring.

Cristina Rosell:

Yes, for sure. And we are still waiting for some friends from Spain are coming to visit us. We are expecting that in the next few years, we are going to have plenty of visitors. So that is the other thing that we are looking forward to.

Chantal Bassett:

So Cristina, you've talked about, your collaborators, but a lot of your day-to-day collaborations is within your own research group. Can you tell me a bit more about who works with you?

Cristina Rosell:

Yeah, of course. I think they are the most important people in the research program because just now I have 1 lab in Spain and the lab here in Manitoba, in Winnipeg. So... and I have wonderful people. I have a postdoc that is Dr . Garon , that is managing the lab in Spain. And I have students there, but he's my right hand. And here I have my team with Dr . Haspari that is my postdoctoral fellow. And he's managing... I can say that he's my left hand . And I have in both labs, wonderful students and PhD master students . So they are the real players in this picture.

Chantal Bassett:

Thank you very much for chatting with me. So this has been Dr. Chantal Bassett, joined by Dr. Cristina Rosell , professor in the Department of Food and Human Nutritional Sciences at the University of Manitoba. And that's it for today's episode of ChangeMAKErs, the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences Research and Innovation podcast. Join me in future episodes to hear about other fascinating research being led by agricultural and AgriFood innovators at the University of Manitoba.

ChangeMAKErs - Dr Inoka Amarakoon

Inoka Amarakoon, Assistant Professor, Department of Soil Science.

Welcome to ChangeMAKErs, a new MAKEManitoba podcast series highlighting research and innovation powered by members of the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences.

In this episode, host and FAFS research facilitator Dr. Chantal Bassett chats with Dr. Inoka Amarakoon  Assistant Professor in the department of Soil Science. Learn about her journey to the University of Manitoba and her work in sustainable agriculture, especially in the area of manure management and soil health.

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Transcript

Intro:

The way we grow and produce food is ever-changing, shaped by consumers and the climate in which we live and farm. Research at all points of our food system is essential for continuously improving food's journey from farm to table . The Manitoba Agriculture and Food Knowledge Exchange explores timely research innovations and applications that make our food system better than ever. Join us for today's podcast.

Chantal Bassett:

Hello and welcome. This is Changemakers, a Manitoba Agriculture and Food Knowledge Exchange, otherwise known as MAKE podcast series with me, Chantal Bassett. In each episode, we'll chat with an academic member of the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the University of Manitoba to find out about the research and innovation they're working on and how this is shaping agriculture and food production in Manitoba and around the world. Now, as the faculty's research facilitator, I get to work with all our incredible innovators and I think it's high time for you to also get to discover their research as well as get to know the person behind these discoveries. Today I'm joined by Dr. Inoka Amarakoon, assistant professor in the Department of Soil Science. Thanks for joining me Inoka.

Inoka Amarakoon:

Thank you for inviting me.

Chantal Bassett:

So Inoka, before we get into the details about what you study, can you please let us know, you know, how you became a professor, how you got interested in your field of research?

Inoka Amarakoon:

So I was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in a farm, looking at the agriculture every day, crop production, animal production, without me knowing about it, I had a passion and interest for agriculture. More like cropping systems, livestock included, and that eventually led me to an undergraduate in agriculture and then continued to Master's and PhD in soil science.

Chantal Bassett:

So what is it about soil science that drew you out of all of the sciences , related to agriculture,

Inoka Amarakoon:

Something that attracts to me to soil science and in agriculture is feeding the global population. Global population is currently around 8 billion people and it's continuing to increase. The arable land that can be productive is also decreasing at the same time. So we need to produce more food from less land each and every day, and majority of the food that we consume comes from the land.

Chantal Bassett:

So what did you study as a grad student?

Inoka Amarakoon:

As a grad student for my Master's here at University of Manitoba, I looked at the dynamics of phosphorus and cadmium in different crops, the crops being a flax canola and wheat.

Chantal Bassett:

And what drew you to Manitoba?

Inoka Amarakoon:

I wanted to do a graduate studies and I wanted to do a PhD and I was applying and I didn't know lots of places. And then that led me to Manitoba. I have an interest or a passion towards soil science to keep the world population fed.

Chantal Bassett:

So kind of... by having healthy soil, that's how we can grow healthy food .

Inoka Amarakoon:

Yeah. So then the way to do that is to have a healthy soil and that's key to sustainable agriculture and keep producing the food for the generations to come .

Chantal Bassett:

And so Inoka, can you tell me a bit more about the focus of your research now that you're an independent researcher?

Inoka Amarakoon:

So I will focus on my current work that I'm doing right now that's focused largely on manure management. Manure is a great resource, it has lots of nutrients and that's a way to recycle nutrients into agricultural soils. And manure is a good source of carbon. And when you recycle manure, the carbon gets back into the soil and carbon is helpful to increase the soil health . And also it can be a way of carbon sequestration in the soil, if not properly managed. The manure can be a source of contaminants too. Excess nitrogen and phosphorous can get into runoff and can be a source for the Lake Winnipeg eutrofication and also minerals can have other organic compounds such as antibiotics and steroidal hormones and metals. So my whole idea is have to do sustainable manure management for the farm economics and for the environment and also for the sustainable food production.

Chantal Bassett:

So for our listeners who might be more city dwellers like myself, can you explain, you know, kind of how a farmer does apply manure, where they access it, they distribute it on their lands. Is there any processing that needs to happen and and how does it benefit or how does it get mixed in with the soil on the land?

Inoka Amarakoon:

So manure management varies with the livestock operation. It can vary from swine production to poultry to cattle production In Manitoba, what usually happens is manure is applied in the fall and it could either be surface applied or it will be incorporated into the soil and then stays there over the winter and then it will be a fertilizer for the crop that's going to the ground in spring.

Chantal Bassett:

Inoka you mentioned kind of how manure mismanagement and how that can lead to some detrimental effects. Can you elaborate a bit more about that?

Inoka Amarakoon:

I would focus more on the ways that we can make it a very useful resource. So what we can do is that we apply the manure base on the nutrient requirement of the growing crop. And then deal with excess nutrients building up in the soil or left over excess in the soil that can be susceptible to transport with water. And also the placement can be important too, so that it'll be in the root zone of the plant, not on the surface that is also susceptible to transport.

Chantal Bassett:

So Inoka , um, can you let me know, who are members of your lab and what are they working on these days?

Inoka Amarakoon:

In order to understand the phosphorus dynamic, I have a couple of projects going on on looking at the phosphorus dynamics in prairie agriculture. 1 Master's student is looking at the phosphorus and nitrogen and metal mobilization in agricultural soils. And he's also comparing the mobilization potential between the surface applied manure and manure incorporated into the agricultural soil. Another Master's student started in September and she's working on phosphorous speciation in the soil and the dynamics among different soil phosphorous pools. Whether they are susceptible to transport, whether they are more stable in the ground. And another student is also looking at manure management and she is more focusing on contaminant transport. And another student Master's student is working on the interaction between contaminants and the organic metal fraction and the clay colloidal fraction of the soil. And I'm focusing on carbon sequestration in long-term manure agricultural soil with a new PhD student that started in September. And in that study, we want to explore the carbon sequestration potential in the soil, especially in agricultural soil. And what are the mechanisms that can lead to carbon sequestration or making carbon stable in the soil without going back to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. And that way we can promote management practices that is conducive to the mechanisms that are making carbon stable in the soil.

Chantal Bassett:

So the stability of the carbon in the soil actually relates to climate change, how?

Inoka Amarakoon:

The largest carbon stock is in the ocean and second largest carbon stock is in the soil. So soil is central to carbon sequestration or removal of carbon from the atmosphere. And that's what we want to mitigate climate change, reduce the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. The more we can put carbon back into the soil, the more we can reduce the climate change.

Chantal Bassett:

So, but you were saying that you can get some carbon from manure but adding too much manure, there's some detriment to that, right?

Inoka Amarakoon:

Yes. That's where the management is needed and that's where the research is needed to find that sweet spot or the GOldy Locks Zone.

Chantal Bassett:

So in terms of where are you conducting this research? Is it on farmer's fields or is it at some of the university's research stations?

Inoka Amarakoon:

The research is happening at laboratory scale where we are looking at the interactions between carbon nutrients and soil colloidal fraction where soil organic matter and clay minerals are. And some of the research are taking place in agricultural fields in Manitoba and some research are taking place at University of Manitoba's GlenLea Research Station, especially the long-term manure plots.

Chantal Bassett:

Can you tell me how some of the laboratory work that you're doing is driving some discoveries that farmers can get insights from and how would they access your research?

Inoka Amarakoon:

So what we do in laboratory is trying to understand the mechanisms that we can't do it in the field because there are so many factors playing in , in the field. And then what we do is we test the fundamental mechanisms in the lab and then do a field trial to understand it with all the other environmental variables together. And in terms of knowledge transfer, we do present at scientific conferences and we do present at regional conferences such as Manitoba Soil Science annual meetings where lots of stakeholders meet every year annually. And then we do peer reviewed scientific publications and go to the extension events.

Chantal Bassett:

So Inoka, who are you collaborating with these days?

Inoka Amarakoon:

So my main research focus on these days is the manure management and for that work sustainable manure management for sustainable agriculture and also for the climate change mitigation. And for that I have great group of collaborations at University of Manitoba, University of Winnipeg, and also few other universities in Eastern Canada. And also I have a great support from the industry as well.

Chantal Bassett:

So Inoka, I gather, you know, you've talked about the importance of soil science research. So how do we get more students engaged in soil science research?

Inoka Amarakoon:

The value of soil as a research is increasing day by day . It has a value towards the global food production. It has a value towards climate change mitigation, and it's time now for us to understand this resource and get the benefit of the resource and save it for the future generations.

Chantal Bassett:

So you've touched a lot about sustainable agriculture. And I know for myself, like I was really glad to see that some of our national funding bodies just had a recent call related to sustainable agriculture. So what is the importance of really driving more research into sustainable agriculture?

Inoka Amarakoon:

I think now we have come to the realization that there is no other way we need to have sustainable agriculture to feed the global population continuously and also to have an impact on the climate change mitigation and also for the health and wellbeing of the people. I think soil has a larger role in climate change and it is increased, getting increasingly important as well. Soil alone will not fix the climate change, but it's a big part of the puzzle. Lots of carbon, that are now in atmosphere, were initially in the soils or in the ocean, and have escaped to the atmosphere. One potential solution among many others is to put that carbon dioxide back into the soil to reduce the atmospheric levels, sustainable agriculture, sustainable soil management, and healthy soils can serve as one of the strategy to do that. So it's the CO21 Paris Climate Change, French government proposed an annual carbon increase of 0.4% in the top soil to keep the temperature climate change below 2 degrees Celsius.

Chantal Bassett:

So a 0.4% increase, that seems fairly reasonable, but I gather there's probably some scientific challenges to that.

Inoka Amarakoon:

The reason why I do research in this area and many others is even though it seems little and simple, it's not that easy. The reason being stabilizing carbon is challenging in the soil because soil is a very dynamic system and it exchanges carbon dioxide with the atmosphere constantly. So if you wanna have a net stabilization in the soil, it's challenging. And that's why we do the research we do to understand this mechanism of carbon stabilization.

Chantal Bassett:

So Inoka, how about finishing off by telling us one thing about yourself that's unrelated to your research?

Inoka Amarakoon:

Something not related to research is, I guess I like dancing and I trained as a during my childhood too, and I enjoy all forms of styles of dancing. All forms.

Chantal Bassett:

Okay. Is there one in particular

Inoka Amarakoon:

I can't pick because , when I see another one, I think yeah, that's , it keeps changing.

Chantal Bassett:

That's a good healthy habit. Glad to see that it brings you joy. Thank you very much for chatting with me. This has been Dr. Chantell Bassett, joined by Dr. Inoka Amarakoon , assistant professor in the Department of Soil Science at the University of Manitoba. And that's it for today's episode of ChangeMAKErs, the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences Research and Innovation podcast. Join me in future episodes to hear about other fascinating research being led by agricultural and AgriFood innovators at the University of Manitoba.

ChangeMAKErs - Dr Anna Rogiewicz

Dr. Anna Rogiewicz

Welcome to ChangeMAKErs, a new MAKEManitoba podcast series highlighting research and innovation powered by members of the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences.

In this episode, host and FAFS research facilitator Dr. Chantal Bassett chats with Dr. Anna Rogiewicz, Assistant Professor in the department of Animal Science. Learn about her journey to the University of Manitoba and her studies in poultry nutrition, including the use of feed additives to improve health, productivity and environmental impact.

Download the MP3

Transcript

Intro:

The way we grow and produce food is ever-changing, shaped by consumers and the climate in which we live and farm. Research at all points of our food system is essential for continuously improving foods journey from farm to table . The Manitoba Agriculture and Food Knowledge Exchange explores timely research, innovations and applications that make our food system better than ever. Join us for today's podcast.

Chantal Bassett:

Hello and welcome. This is ChangeMAKErs, a Manitoba Agriculture and Food Knowledge Exchange, otherwise known as MAKE podcast series with me, Dr. Chantal Bassett. In each episode, we'll chat with an academic member of the faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the University of Manitoba to find out about the research and innovation they're working on and how this is shaping agriculture and food production in Manitoba and around the world. As the research facilitator for the faculty, I get to work with all our incredible innovators, and I think it's high time for you to also get to know and discover their research as well as get to know the person behind these discoveries. Today I'm joined by Dr. Anna Rogiewicz, assistant professor in the Department of Animal Science. Thanks for joining me, Anna.

Anna Rogiewicz:

Thanks for inviting me for this podcast.

Chantal Bassett:

Anna, before we get into the details about what you study, can you share how you got to where you are today?

Anna Rogiewicz:

It is rather interesting path. I'm actually glad that I went through it, because I graduate from the university in Poland, both my Master and PhD programs, and I studied the peak production and peak nutrition. I was really working with fabulous people, great mentors, and I was really into the science. However, I took a little bit of break, was working for the local municipality government. That was the time when Poland joined the... was about to join the European Union. Therefore, they needed people to write the prep project to deal with this transition. And I liked it. But then I realized that maybe science would be my path to follow. I find out that the English or the lack of the proper English is a limitation for me. Therefore, I moved to England to work and learn and get the break from science with the vision of going back to it at some point. It was fabulous time and it enjoyed so much, I learned a lot. And then, I may say it was a pure coincidence, I got the hint that a professor in Winnipeg at University of Manitoba, was seeking a postdoctoral fellow . So I applied. I'm talking about Dr. Slowinski who invited me to be his associate, and I've been working with him for several years. Then I learned a lot because working with this great mentor is what we really look for and enjoy the benefits. And then Dr. Slowinski retired and I sort of took over the research carried on the existing projects. I started to develop my own projects, my own paths . So here I am. I got the assistant professor appointment and that's what I'm doing.

Chantal Bassett:

Well, we're glad to have you here. So have you always been interested in animal nutrition or when did that spark start?

Anna Rogiewicz:

I grew up in a farm in Poland. My father was actually a nutritionist, animal nutritionist. He was a manager in the feed mill . And so I was exposed to this, to the rhythm of the farm work since, since I remember. It's too bad, but my father passed away when I was too young to ask the professional questions. I believe right now we would have plenty of things to discuss. My mom also was involved in farm management. So I grew up surrounded by dairy cows , horse, sheep , geese , pigs. That was my playground. So it was sort of the way to go. On the other hand, we spent the summer holidays in my grandma's place. So she was also running a very small farm. I had a horse, 2 cows, couple of pigs and some birds. I was usually in charge of those birds, since a very early age, I was really into agriculture, and I always admired the people who are working. As a lot of people says it doesn't really matter if there's a wedding or funeral in a farmer's family, work has to be done. So the strong work ethic related to agriculture and farming always impressed me. I've got a huge appreciation for these people involved in food producing. That was my playground. That was my life when I was a child, and it seems like that was the way to go.

Chantal Bassett:

So can you tell me a bit more about what the focus of your research now in terms of your own independent program?

Anna Rogiewicz:

I am still following the research approach, which I've developed and I feel very comfortable with. It's really focussed on the nutritional biochemistry, with specific attention to the carbohydrates and the feed enzyme technology. So I've gained expertise in conducting very comprehensive evaluation of the chemical and nutritive properties of the both traditional and alternative feed ingredients and which are intended for monogastric animals. My particular focus is on poultry since I like this animal model and I develop the passion for poultry over the time. Research I'm involved in now is focussed on enhancing the nutritive value of several feed ingredients for poultry and I am working on formulating some nutritional strategies. How to maximize the effectiveness in an annual diet.

Chantal Bassett:

Why would we want to explore this as an additive?

Anna Rogiewicz:

I should say that we've got quite a variety of the feed ingredients and they will have different properties, depending on different applications, depending on the type of animals. It's age for example. They will have a different function if we're talking about the feeding young, growing broiler chickens versus the mature egg laying hens. This is a very flexible and very complex study and research. Over the past few years, I was involved in a very extensive research on the utilization of canola meal, which is a byproduct of the oil industry. I was working with the utilization of this byproduct for poultry and swine. The point is, canola meal is produced in very large volumes and it's not directly used for human consumption. Therefore it's considered to be an alternative feed ingredients for animals. So in our research we focus on establishing correlation between quality of this byproduct with the processing conditions. Could it be adjusted and the quality enhanced? We also in our research, demonstrated that canola meal has a really good quality and it's a very viable source of protein for poultry and swine. We demonstrated that it actually actually can be used in a larger amount, a larger increased inclusion than was traditionally proposed. And so I may say that we achieved 3 major goals in this project. First of all, the byproduct of the oil industry could be effectively recycled by poultry and swine. Then secondly, protein present in canola meal could be converted to edible protein for human conception. The , third benefit would be that the nutritionist may use canola meal in animal diets, with much better confidence based on the scientific evidence that it's a really, truly viable ingredient. Lately I also was involved in... I utilized my expertise in the determination of the glucose folates in canola meal so that the specific compounds are present in the canola. I utilized this expertise into the development of new infrared prediction model for the measurements of these compounds in canola meal. The models were developed for seeds, not really for canola meal. So it'll serve us a very rapid, efficient tool to quickly assess the quality of canola meal by the industrial feed processors. I am glad that this project is very successful.

Chantal Bassett:

So Anna, what additives are you exploring these days?

Anna Rogiewicz:

Like I'm many scientist in the field of animal science, my research is dedicated to exploring natural alternatives to antibiotics in poultry and swine nutrition. I'm driven more by a forward thinking mission to identify bioactive ingredients that could actively support health and overall wellbeing of animals. So that's the thing I investigate and I focus on the investigation to release the bioactive compounds from various natural fibre components. I plan to continue working with fibre from feed stuffs such as barley, canola meal byproducts, soybeans and other grains... all seeds. And I also recognize the potential of bioactive ingredients to be sourced from protein as well. So going forward I'm looking forward to exploring this area further. And then in my research, the exogenous enzyme technology and the further processing to release those bioactive ingredients from feed stuffs. This would not only enhance the nutrition value, but also may lead to production of the novel feed ingredients or feed additives. That's why I hope to contribute to animal nutrition, advanceme animal nutrition. The exogenous enzyme may seem kind of strange, but they're commonly utilizing our everyday lives and activities, basically not produced within the body, but instead are added externally to perform their specific functions. I may say they're present in the laundry detergent, they're used in the biofuel production used in the wastewater treatment enzymes are also utilized in food processing like baking, cheese production, clarifying juices, brewing , et cetera . But also enzyme exogenous enzyme are extensively used in the animal production as feed additives.

Chantal Bassett:

You talked about enzymes. So you're adding enzymes to what effect?

Anna Rogiewicz:

The improved digestibility of the nutrients. I may say the improved digestibility of the phosphorus. They're improved digestibility of protein and of carbohydrates, and that would include the dietary fibre. Over the past few years, I have had the great privilege of working with Dr. Ominski on the development and evaluation of the novel compounds, which are derived from yeast cell walls and also derived from canola meal fibre. The objective was to gain a deeper understanding of how and why yeast or canola based ingredients could improve the gut function in poultry when they are incorporated into the diet. So the work was essential into the development of multi carbohydrates preparations and enzyme pretreated yeast products and also modified canola meal products for poultry. It was done in partnership with industry collaborator, this CBS Bio platforms, which formerly is known as Canadian Biosystems. They play a critical role as an industry partner and they really drive the direction of the research forward. I continue the collaboration with this partner, and I may say, that this collaboration leads to both fundamental science and research. It's very applicable and very practical for the industry and animal nutrition overall. I must say, the fibre is a very complex structure, but it serves the critical role for plants. So it needs to be robust. It needs to be resistant to protect the plants , and provide structural support. First of all, protecting the genetic material in seeds. Consequently, it is relatively challenging for both animals and humans to digest it when it's consumed. Additionally, fibre always wraps around the other nutrients making them less available for digestion and absorption in the digestive system. Breaking down the fibre is a challenge and a tough task. However, as I mentioned earlier, using feed enzymes can help to cut the fibre into smaller pieces. Through this enzymatic action, the substantial portion of the dietary fibre could be broken down into smaller polysaccharides, and therefore their active bioactivity will be enhanced. They serve a very specific physiological role in the gut. They act as a prebiotic in animals. They will improve their overall animal health Particularly the gut health and the dynamics which are going on in the digestive tract . In our research, we demonstrated that developed yeast based and canola meal fibre based proactive , have got this probiotic effect in poultry. Prebiotics are, in essence, the compounds which cannot be digested in our system, but they may be useful for the microorganism that they live in. They have to function in our gastrointestinal track and they will support the growth of beneficial bacteria. The same way they will control the pathogenic organism, which are not really welcomed in a gut. Probiotics may make the birds healthier in 2 ways. First, they will provide the important nutrients for the beneficial bacterias. They will also fight pathogens by making the pH a little bit lower, which pathogenic organisms may not really like, and also they will kind of fill out the binding sites in a gut. So pathogenic bacterias will have no room to really attach and grow in the digestive track, therefore they will be removed. So this is a very interesting part of this bioactivity they exert. Therefore my goal is to find the right combination of enzyme to extract the most useful probiotic components from the fibre, from the various feed ingredients. Recently conducted studies with turkeys and with laying hens as well. The research demonstrated the effectiveness of the bioactives and they positively affected the gut physiology and function in layers and turkeys . We tested 3 different types of yeast bioactives, 1 type of the canola meal bioactive components. They were interesting. They acted in a different way and that was the reason for examining it. One way was to actively remove the bacteria resulting in the decrease of the similar pathogenic bacterias. The second time was to reduce the proliferation of those bacteria, the growth by its action. And the third one was promoting the growth of beneficial bacterias, therefore kind of taking up room from those pathogens and make them not really welcomed in the gut. So those bioactives attempted, through the enzymatic hydrolysis of canola and the yeast cell wall , really provided very interesting results. In one of my current research projects, I evaluate the pre and probiotic properties of organism called symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. And it is produced from various biomass material. This is very interesting project. I'm very, very excited about this. It's conducted together with my fellow scientists from University of Calgary, from chemical and petroleum engineering departments. They will explore the conditions and methods of growing and processing this symbiotic organism. And I will then investigate its nutritive value and I will check the ability to include it in a diet for layers . One rather unusual component of this research includes a collaboration with young artists who will then link the science and the art. I'm really looking forward to, to the effect of this collaboration. She's planning to have the exhibition and film to create the film and also some kind of stimulation for the discussion on this cultural level discussion, connecting science and ecology and art . I hope that will be a unique and a surprising perspective.

Chantal Bassett:

It does sound like a unique perspective. It's not often that you see an interplay between the social, the natural sciences and the arts.

Anna Rogiewicz:

So we'll see how it goes. I am actually exercising my collaboration skills in a sense and learning new things. As I mentioned, I'm very excited about this project, but I'm mostly excited about the collaboration with other researchers. I am always hungry for inspiration. I'm always hungry for other perspectives, learning something new. I'm looking forward to working with some individuals who've got the various expertise and may compliment my research expertise. Also benefit from something which I can bring on to the table. I'm really looking forward to it. Over the years I may say I developed quite a network of friends, colleagues and collaborators. We call them colleagues in crimes. So I'm really aiming for the collaborative projects that I'm in . I'm talking about colleagues from Canadian universities, this institution, but also from other places, like the United States. I've got close collaborators in Poland and Denmark, and I'm developing some collaboration with scientists from Spain. But of course I'm thinking local too. I will be I'm more than happy taking the opportunity of collaborating with my colleagues, with in my department and within the faculty and maybe beyond. So that's me. I'm not a lone wolf. I really would like to share and collaborate. Also for me, it's the way of making the research more applicable and more interesting as well. And I may say that the research is never done by 1 person. It's never just me. I'm very privileged working with great associates and great graduate students. I always enjoy having undergrad students and get them more into the science and the hands-on work. So it's been very nice journey. I work with very nice, professional people.

Chantal Bassett:

Who's in your team?

Anna Rogiewicz:

I am feel a little bit empty nested now because my 3 grad students just defended this season. Though I will keep one as a technician. I work with a really good colleague of mine, Stella , she just defended her PhD. She was very much involved in this canola project. Very professional. I enjoyed working with her. She has great knowledge and I've got another research associate, and I will hire more students as the projects are progressing. I like teaching, I like to be with students. I like having hands on . That was my previous life as well. I spent lot of time in the lab, so I really know how science works and I kind of miss it a little bit. So I should be more in the lab.

Chantal Bassett:

Too much time in front of the computer or in meetings?

Anna Rogiewicz:

Oh yeah. I have to ask, "maybe there's some cleanup needs to be done". Yeah, so this is a great stimulating environment in the lab. Other technicians, other students from other researchers groups are a really great addition to our research and I admire them . I wish them all the best. I believe they will all succeed after they graduate.

Chantal Bassett:

So in terms of your lab space, you must have a main laboratory, but then do you rely on faculty resources? Where do you conduct the actual animal trials?

Anna Rogiewicz:

I am a director of the small animal research facility. We've got the 2 rooms in our department basement. There, I may also run very simple or quite comprehensive annual studies with broiler chickens. We may conduct studies to determine digestibility of nutrients and the availability of energy. We may check the efficacy of the enzyme preparations for the growth performance of birds. I've got the biochemistry lab well furnished and well established already in the department of animal science. I may have the expertise in, as I mentioned earlier, in the evaluation of the chemical composition with some quite unique expertise. The determination of non-starch polysaccharides, which is a large part of the dietary fibre. I may say it's a quite unique and I process it . It leads me also to collaborations with other scientists because I may offer this expertise. I also collaborate with other professors within our departments if we're doing some swine projects. Dr. Nyachoti or Dr . Rod Gonzalez will be the person to work with. I do also some studies with Dr. Chengbo Yang, and I'm planning to Dr. Derakhshani more involved in the studies I'm planning. So I'm really looking forward to more busy time.

Chantal Bassett:

So our listeners may have heard that the University of Manitoba partnered with Manitoba Egg Farmers and received funding from the province of Manitoba through Manitoba Agriculture for a new , uh, Manitoba Egg Farmers learning and Research complex. Do you envision utilizing that space for your research?

Anna Rogiewicz:

I've been waiting for this facility to be open for some time. It is great place. It is great place not only for the public, for students to be trained, for kids to learn where the eggs are coming from, but also it's a good place to run the research. So I already got a few projects that I'm planning to run there and I will definitely look forward for more though it. It is absolutely fantastic. Layers are a great animal model. It's so nice to work with them. I've got a soft spot for this. Okay, ladies? Sometimes the only problem is the studies with laying hens may be in for long time. So grad students who've got, usually limited time, two years, it may be a little issue. But, but still, that just what we have to live with. It's an absolutely great facility and I hope it'll be so busy that we'll fight over the room to run the research there .

Chantal Bassett:

And Anna , some of our listeners and I actually only learned this in the last couple of years, for myself, working with the faculty, you mentioned broilers, you mentioned layers. Like there's different types of chicken?

Anna Rogiewicz:

Yes, there is . Because the chickens, those are the one which we grow for basically to produce the meat. So they're fast growing , they don't really reach the maturity. What we call layers , which we also usually call chickens. Those are the mature ladies who are laying the eggs. And we keep them for over the year. And they will eat and lay eggs , that's the thing. There are also breeders. Those are the flocks which are designed to really lay the eggs , which then will be hatched. And produce the growing animals which are future layers.

Chantal Bassett:

A producer would be probably feeding different feeds to different animal groups. And so that's the need for a nutritional biochemist such as yourself.

Anna Rogiewicz:

Exactly. It is to really evaluate the end goal. That's exactly how it is because the digestive tract of the young animals will be different than mature ones, age, production stage that the young layers , which we call poulettes, which are still growing and not laying eggs yet will be fed differently from those which are already laying. Calcium for example, they will need much more calcium to deposit in the eggshell. It is well established , the needs , the nutrient requirement, it is all well established. We just have to make sure that those nutrients are actually properly released from the feed ingredients. And animals will get whatever they really need.

Chantal Bassett:

In terms of the animal nutrition field, you're saying that we've had some longstanding research on the actual nutritional requirements of some of the animals. It continues to be explored, but where the real true research and innovation is in ensuring that we're bioengineering these diets so that they're releasing the nutrients when we need them, and that perhaps feed needs to be modified throughout a lifespan.

Anna Rogiewicz:

The science is really needed to provide the evidence. We cannot declare that this works. Something works because it works. We have to provide the evidence to build the trust. The feed industry have to be very confident of using certain approaches of providing some changes. And the animal producer, they have to trust the nutritionist that... okay, we not really putting anything at risk. Most likely we not putting the animal wellbeing and the health at risk. So the scientific evidence is critical here and this is what we are equipped to provide. Plus we also have to address certain aspects related to environment, to make sure that we feed our animals the best possible way. And we also need to understand how it may affect the environment for them moving forward. Because we have to be really, really confident that we are minimizing the footprint of the animal production without compromising animal health and wellbeing. Also we still ensure producers provide enough good quality food for people.

Chantal Bassett:

What I'm hearing is that producers are not, I mean, they obviously care about production and growth, but that there are ways to incorporate different elements to enhance their feed and therefore enhance the animals that they're producing. But then you also talked about, that there's other, that we could be using more byproducts from other sectors of the agricultural community. How can research enhance this is in different animal feed diets?

Anna Rogiewicz:

The problem with byproducts is that they may be produced in a large volume and usually they've got some aspect which makes them a less viable . That may be less protein content, less energy content or excessive fibre as an example. That's why we have to come up with ideas how to utilize it and how to mitigate those limitations. There are still products with huge potential to be animal feed . It's not like we're feeding animal waste, right ? Otherwise animals will not eat. But this is really balancing the agriculture and animal production. This plays a very critical role in the recycling of some of byproducts, giving the extra value to to them and also providing available ingredients for their diets. Of course, the diets are composed of various ingredients, and that's also another part of the art to balance them, to make them so that animals are happy to take them and they are healthy. There's not really much room to provide huge improvements in the production. That's a success for the animal breeders. That's a huge credit that goes to the producers themselves for their management skills and everything. But we have to make sure that animals are really having a life worth living. They're in general healthy and they comfortable where they are are, and they provide their sources of protein.

Chantal Bassett:

Have you ever seen any evidence of diet impacting the wellbeing, the health, in the behaviour of animals?

Anna Rogiewicz:

That's not an easy measurement. It may be seem simple. If they don't like it, they will not eat it. If they have no other choice and they will eat it, they will not produce. There is some evidence of let's say , swine for example, diarrhea or some kind of anti-nutritive effects. We have spent the time. We know that nutritionists know, scientists know , how to avoid it. Most of the anti-nutritive factors, which could be present in the feed ingredients are very well known. But definitely it is all about balancing how much of the certain feeds to use in a diet, not to overuse it. I call it the "art of diet formulation" because it's quite an art. And I still have to also give huge credit to all the nutritionists in the industry. Those are really real professional people. They know their craft. So we, scientists, we're not necessarily discovering something new, but we're trying to identify the mechanism and improve certain knowledge. As I mentioned earlier, to give the map going forward with some confidence.

Chantal Bassett:

That's great to hear. So you're discussing with industry members on a fairly regular basis, hearing what their challenges are, hearing what they have, what they're working on in terms of improving the diets for their variety of clients that they are supporting. But then you having the opportunity to go and explore and continue to work on some innovations. So what kind of messages are you hearing and how is that impacting the research decisions you might be doing in the next few years?

Anna Rogiewicz:

It very much impacts , because I cannot just do research for the sake of doing research. It has to have the meaning and it comes from basically addressing the industry need . The poultry industry in Canada is really nice to work with because it is supply managed and we may have a close collaboration or at least discussion about the priorities with the board members of this organizations related to poultry production. Therefore the representative voice of the producers and concerns the industry faced. The sort of other issues related to avian influenza related to some improvement of the air quality in the barn and so on. This research is also needed, but still every farmer, every producers has to have the vision and Plan B , what if, how to utilize feed ingredients. If there will be shortage of, let's say wheat or soybean. These main ingredients could be distributed more for human consumption as an example. So this , there are always questions that need to be answered and addressed. And the processor in industries which really are dealing with the byproducts. They have to have a plan, what to do with them. So if let's say canola production is planned to expand, there will be likely more canola meal or other byproducts generated. We have to deal with this and address the quality of these products and so on. Our research is not only directed towards the health of animals and their production, the entire prebiotics research and bioactives also leads to the food safety because if we are producing the pathogenic bacterias in the gut, we're ultimately producing more safe food for human human consumption. So it does not really end at the animal level. It goes way, way beyond .

Chantal Bassett:

So Anna, are you making a prebiotic or are you adding one?

Anna Rogiewicz:

I'm actually making the prebiotic throughout the processing of the feeding ingredients of fibre, like from the yeast cell wall or canola, it is further processed with the collaboration of our industry partner, which I mentioned, and therefore it could be added to the diet as a novel product.

Chantal Bassett:

Is there a difference between prebiotic and probiotic?

Anna Rogiewicz:

Prebiotics will be basically the feed for the probiotics, which should be present in the gut.

Chantal Bassett:

Additive such as that, would it be added regularly or would a producer choose to have kind of a baseline diet and they could make modifications on a case by case ? Or if they're seeing things evolve within their facilities?

Anna Rogiewicz:

Oh yeah, very good question. It could be added as a feed additive along with other feed additives, which are enhancing the production, but also depends on the needs of the producers. They may be used also as an intervention when some issue, and could be added. Some of those prebiotics may be water soluble, so therefore the application also interesting. It could be added in the water. So there's a great potential, this is under research and yes, it could be used on a regular basis. It could also be used as an intervention.

Chantal Bassett:

So as an alternative to antibiotics?

Anna Rogiewicz:

That's the general idea, because antibiotics, they worked , they controlled the pathogenic bacterias not only to support animal health, but also to provide more safe food at the end. So by controlling the pathogenic bacterias with the prebiotics and probiotics which are beneficial bacterias, we just make it better for animals and humans.

Chantal Bassett:

So when gut health is impacted due to antibiotic use, let's say the diets that you're formulating can enhance the gut health of animals?

Anna Rogiewicz:

Definitely. That is the ultimate goal. If there is some microbiota in a gut enhancing the microbiota in the poultry gut, make it more functional and benefit the health, that's what the prebiotics could help to achieve.

Chantal Bassett:

So Anna, you mentioned that you work with many collaborators across Canada and around the world, and also some industry partners, but you have one main industry partner. Tell me about this partnership.

Anna Rogiewicz:

Yes, I'm collaborating with a company called CBS Bio Platforms, formerly known as Canadian Biosystems. This collaboration started years ago and was fostered by Dr. Solminski. I'm happy to continue this collaboration with them. CBS Bio Platform provides the enzymes, other additives for the diet for poultry, swine and cattle. Very driven, innovative company. They're very keen on supporting not only research, but also education of the highly qualified personnel . Many graduate students were supported by them and are now working in the industry or creating prolific scientific careers. So a very supportive company.

Chantal Bassett:

Tell me about one of the projects that you're working on together.

Anna Rogiewicz:

Right. There are several projects. We are working together towards the development of those bioactives from yeast cell walls and from canola meal. And I'm looking forward to further collaboration with CBS Bio Platforms in order to develop different types of bioactives ingredients for annuals . The goal is really to gain a deeper understanding of how or why those ingredients would improve the gut health of poultry when they are incorporated into the diets.

Chantal Bassett:

Anna, who are the true users of your research?

Anna Rogiewicz:

Our research really benefits the animal producers, poultry and swine. Because they will get more scientific evidence related to using the products. They definitely will have advanced knowledge in what enzymes can do in the gut when they add it. So this goes really beyond just improving digestibility of nutrients. So the enzyme technology is not the really novel technology that has been used in the animal nutrition industry for years, but they're constantly improving. There are new enzyme activities and there are new organism producing enzymes. This is very developing branch of the industry.

Chantal Bassett:

So, Anna , about how about finishing off by telling us one thing about yourself that's unrelated to your research?

Anna Rogiewicz:

One thing is not enough, no. I've got my life, I may say a part of the research, my life is my family - my husband, my son. I love them. And I like the dynamic in our house. We, me and my husband is really into the music. So we've got quite a crazy collection of vinyls albums and our conversation always goes around the music rather than the science. My son is getting into this as well. I've been thinking about this lately that sometimes we plan to teach our kids or learn how to play music, but quite often we forget how to listen and analyze. Some kind of very unique way of paying attention to the details, to the sounds , to the tunes, to the arrangements. So quite often I'm not focus about the certain artists. I focus about the achievement of the music producers. Those are the people we follow. I enjoy it very much. I wish I could have more time reading, reading book for reading books and novels. I belong to the book club. I may be fired for not really fulfilling the wine in depth . I have always been interested in the arts and music. I've got a small collection of posters, that's my favorite art type. My house is rather artistic, rather than scientific.

Chantal Bassett:

So that's beautiful to hear. Idon't know, sometimes we think scientists and like blank, you know , walls very cold.

Anna Rogiewicz:

And sometimes we are, but those other people are keeping u s grounded, right? Yes. On the ground and in real life.

Chantal Bassett:

So Anna, thanks so much for chatting with me. This has been Dr. Chantal Bassett, joined by Dr. Anna Rogiewicz, assistant professor in animal science at the University of Manitoba. And that's it for today's episode of ChangeMAKErs, the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences Research and Innovation podcast. Join me in future episodes to hear about other fascinating research being led by agricultural and AgriFood innovators at the University of Manitoba.

ChangeMAKErs - Dr Marcos Cordeiro

Dr. Marcos Cordeiro

Welcome to ChangeMAKErs, a new MAKEManitoba podcast series highlighting research and innovation powered by members of the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences.

In this episode, host and FAFS research facilitator Dr. Chantal Bassett chats with Dr. Marcos Cordeiro, Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal Science, about his journey to the faculty and his approach to research on grasslands.

Download the MP3

Transcript

Intro:

The way we grow and produce food is ever-changing, shaped by consumers and the climate in which we live and farm. Research at all points of our food system is essential for continuously improving foods journey from farm to table . The Manitoba Agriculture and Food Knowledge Exchange explores timely research, innovations and applications that make our food system better than ever. Join us for today's podcast.

Chantal Bassett:

Hello and welcome. This is ChangeMAKErs, a Manitoba Agriculture and Food Knowledge Exchange, otherwise known as MAKE podcast series with me, Chantal Bassett. In each episode, we'll chat with an academic member of the faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the University of Manitoba to find out about the research innovation they're working on and how this is shaping agriculture and food production in Manitoba and around the world. Now, as the research facilitator for the faculty, I get to work with all our incredible innovators, and I think it's high time that you get to know and uncover their research and the person behind their discoveries. Today I'm joined by Dr. Marcos Cordeiro from the Department of Animal Science. Thanks for joining me, Marcus.

Marcos Cordeiro:

Thanks Chantal, glad to be here.

Chantal Bassett:

So, Marcus , before we get into the details about what you study, can you share, how you got here today?

Marcos Cordeiro:

Okay, so that's a very broad question, it can be answered in many different ways. I think it's a combination of good advice and educated guesses. You know , when I was at high school, trying to define which path to take, I know where I didn't wanna go, but I was not sure specifically the path I like to follow. And I was talking to my dad about this, and he's had a good career in law. And I know I didn't wanna do law, but, he is passionate about agriculture and food production. So he just, he didn't tell me to go there, but he kind of prompt me along that, "how about food"? You know, "we can do without gadgets and electronics, but he cannot do without food. So how about that"? I was thinking about this, and I also did my research on agriculture. I came across the Blue Revolution, which is Aquaculture, right? Production of fish, shellfish, this kind of thing. I said , that's interesting. They had a very interesting prospect. Moving forward, I wanna play safe as well, be in a field that's also going to expand. So I look into that and I kind of like it because it's not conventional agriculture, you know , like animal production or crops. And then that piqued my interest, and I followed that. I went for fisheries engineering, which, you know, does a bunch of different fields. But one that I concentrated on was Aquaculture , shrimp farming specifically, and interestingly enough, the industry was booming in Brazil when I was going through my undergrad. This was in late, the late 19 hundreds. I won't age myself here, but, you know, late 19 hundreds. And , uh, yeah, the industry was booming there and I was seeing this growth and when I graduated I took a job in a different state, and I found the company I was working for, they were building a new, a new facility from the ground up. So I saw from the first shovel on the ground all the way to building the product. So I saw that this was over the course of a couple of months, and I said, I can do this. You know, I think I tried it myself because industry was so promising that I want to try it. So I went, I had the technical background to do this, and I went back to my state and tried it. What, I didn't have an appreciation about the environmental side and permits. So I gauged myself very... this is one of the wrong guesses I had. I felt it would be very quick. It took me 2 years to get that permit. So that was an eye-opening experience. So I start to , I was awakened to the environmental side of agriculture, which I didn't have a good appreciation. I waited for that permit and I , in the meanwhile, I was doing a post graduate specialization on environmental managing and planning. That's why I started to be exposed to all the intricacies of that side of agriculture. By the time the permit came out , I was building the facility, then the industry changed drastically . We... it flips like we had a problem with a disease. The currency exchange rate was not good with the dollar and most of the market was for export in Brazil. You know , the US had an anti-dumping action. Bunch of different things combined. Long story short, I decide to stop, put it on hold, and I decide to look at what to do. And then I looked at furthering my studies. I then looked at that experience and changed my goal from annual production to more sustainable... sustainability and environment. And that's where I start to look. When I got this scholarship to come to Canada, I was a Canadian bureau for CBI, Canadian Bureau for International Education. I decided not to go for Aquaculture, which had been either course . And then I start to looking into environment. And then biosystems engineering had a good program here, dealing with that. And then I came, I did my master's here was on nutrient migration from feed lots. My PhD was another move into crops, which was irrigation advantage in the soy and water engineering. And then in this few years of grad school, I start dealing more of modelling. But modelling was never the main focus of my research. My research was heavily based on field research. So I didn't like to be called a modeler, you know, I just like... okay, models are something I use , but it's not my main thing. But then when I graduated, I start , you know, my first postdoc was with modelling work with a large group out of Saskatchewan. And then I moved to AFC in Leftbridge, where I did modelling for animal systems. And this is where everything came home, right? So the modelling side, the environmental side, the animal production, this all different fields. I had to work separately, came together in those years I spent in Alberta. And then that was what helped me to come to the department where I'm today with animal science, which is a little bit different than my background because I come from biosystems engineering. Now I do most of my modelling research related to animal systems, which interestingly enough is heavily related with crops, right? When I... so my modelling has a heavy component of crop modelling as well, because all the feed that goes into animal production comes from crops, right? So feed production. So I had a good coverage of all the different areas that I work with today through my journey. I don't claim that I could see that back then. You know, sometimes I felt a little bit lost, like I'm jumping too much from area to area, but now I could see how this multidisciplinary experience that I had came together, the position I have today.

Chantal Bassett:

So in terms of, yeah, very multidisciplinary approach. And you're integrating that all into your research program today. What more can you tell us about what your group is working on.

Marcos Cordeiro:

Based on that? Like, as you can see, my... the modelling starts to become more and more prominent in my career... my academic career. So I start doing much more modelling than I did in the past. So I was expanding on that area as well in terms of different modells for different tools, for different goals. If you have a toolbox, you don't use a hammer for everything. If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So I start to learn that I need different tools to use in my research program. And my research program start to diversify based on that. From the modelling component, I start looking into, okay , my models can only run if I have data. So I start looking into data collection. So some of my research or my projects have to do with field monitoring, going to the field , collecting the data. Some of my research and projects have to do with improving the tools I have. Sharpening those tools for example, some of the models I used , they were developed 34 years ago. So they're not meant to run on fast computers that you have today. So we have to improve those tools. How do I make this run faster? Because I'm working on a project right now with a postdoc , he just run over a 1,000,000 runs of 1 model. And you have 2 models in this project. So we have to make those things run faster, otherwise just sit for weeks on end waiting for the result . One part of my research is trying to make those models run faster. And one way to do this is just having better computers. If you wanna go fast, buy a Ferrari kind of thing. We try to invest in some of the infrastructure that you have is to get better infrastructure, better computers to run those models. But then you have to make those models up to date in terms of running the infrastructure. So it's more in the computer science kind of thing. And the other component that my research is also starting to go is on the consumer side of things, because agriculture is more influenced. I don't do socialized types of research, but I see myself collaborating more of people who do this kind of work. So this helps to inform what I do with my model. And the last thing is, which is more or less in line with the tools and computers, is trying to do the data analytics. Because now we have a much larger volume of data that you had before. So to make sense of this data you need new techniques, it's like finding sometimes the need in the... so it's not as simple depending how you approach it. And there's different statistical and methodological approach that you can use for that. And my research is also expanding that direction rather than breaking away from classical models or statistical models into more, you know cutting edge type of deep learning kind of, which everyone is moving that direction. And also appreciate the challenge with those techniques. For example, if you... everyone talks about deep learning, but those models are black box models. So we don't know . They will give you... they might give you the right answer, but you don't know why, it's too complex to look inside. So we like to know the reasons behind the results. So sometimes have to couple those techniques and look back and just slow down and look at different techniques. So expanding on the data analytics is also one part of my program that I've been investing in.

Chantal Bassett:

Okay. And then, you were talking a bit about field research. What kind of data points are you gathering from farmers' fields or from research , trials, organized within the university, and what is the outcome? How are you going from a certain data point? How are you combining it? What conclusion are you drawing from those data points?

Marcos Cordeiro:

So 1 problem that I think I'm losing my hair over is the problem of scale, right? You mentioned data points. Sometimes one data point is not enough for us, right? What you have to do is, for example, if I measure a hydraulic conductive view of soil in one point, how does it translate across a field, right? Across whole farm, across a larger landscape? This is one of the challenges of scale that you have. And models have a lot of these , this type of data that has scales are a little bit different, thankfully. And this is, as I said before, one of the areas of the research I've been doing which is developing those data sets . So today, different than maybe one or two decades ago, when digital data sets were not available. So today we have land cover , land used , we have soil data sets , we have all sorts of data sets that are ready to download and be used. But some of them are not, don't have the quality that you need. So we need to go back to the field and get a more refined type of data. One for example, that I work a lot with is productivity. We can guess that, but to be able to develop those models, we have to have very accurate regions of productivity for grasslands, for example crops. So there's no other way to do this except going to the field and measuring. So this is the hard work that we have to do. Some of the data sets are not there. For example, soil fertility, what is the biochemistry of the soil? You have to take samples and measure that. There's no way around it. We may have general values from literature or from previous research. Sometimes to get the scale we have to go there and collect some of the data.

Chantal Bassett:

So you told us a bit of all the digital tools that you need. Some of them physical. And I understand that you secured a Canada Foundation for Innovation grant to get advanced research computing dedicated to your research program in agricultural studies. Can you tell me a bit more about what this advanced research computing is?

Marcos Cordeiro:

Sure. So as I told you before, my models need computer power to run and I need a large infrastructure to run my models, especially for multiple runs. So I started the conversation of just calling people, right? Just calling people at computer accounts and say, "hey, how does it work to get some of these in the infrastructure". And of course, they pointed me to the traditional route, which is a competition to ask for the resource available, get some allocation out of that. And then I start looking at the numbers in agriculture. And I saw their users, who they are, and agriculture is only 3% of their resources, right? They only have 3% of their resources, it is used by agriculture researchers, researchers in agriculture. So I said, no, I was trying to just think why, because we have the application. The problem is we lack know how and you don't wanna make that jump . So I make that the case. So I needed the resource, but I was thinking beyond my program. I think there are many people that could use the resource. They know how . The idea behind the CFI was, and this is the case I made in the proposal, was agriculture has a huge application that needs those resources. But we need preferential access because we need to build that know-how, we need to be able to develop the application. So we need time, we need resource allocatation for that. If I am going to apply and compete for people who are used to this kind of competition, I have no chance. So I need that kind of edge to be able to develop my program and other programs around. And actually, that was very well received by CFI. We got funded, and those resources are in place. We had a few challenges in terms of where to place those resources and everything. So technical questions, but we got through most of them. And now this infrastructures finally is being implemented, and the idea now is to start to ramp up the programs and also to advertise this at the faculty level so that people know the resource available. I know people here in our faculty who need those resources and they can benefit from the know-how. So the idea for us, and I have reflected a little bit on my research team , because my research team has the expertise, people who are not from computer science, but they're from engineering, they have this background, they are from environmental science, they have this background and this build , this know-how that you need here. Hopefully my program will be able to be a little bit of a nest for HQP and graduate students who come and learn a little bit of that and g o d evelop their skills elsewhere. The way I see this is that those resources are becoming increasingly important in any research field that u ses large data s ets.

Chantal Bassett:

Okay . And you talked about your research focuses on enhancing the productivity and also just looking at the environmental sustainability across different agro ecosystems. And you talked about how you're relying on some existing data sets, you're having to rely on collecting some data yourself, or relying on field trial researchers to collect some of the research in trials. Are you gathering only from the soil, or is it, perhaps, are you capturing broader - the weather, weather stations and are you capturing anything in the sky?

Marcos Cordeiro:

Yes. Well, that is an interesting question. I do work with other data sets . For example, I try not to reinvent the wheel. So if the data's there, I try not to go there, it is already doing this, right? For example, weather data is a good example. The province has a good network of weather stations, Environment Canada has a good network. Sometimes not at the right location that you want, but for the most part, for recent years, it's all there. But one particular type of equipment that we also got into was the acquisition of high-end data, drawn with very advanced hyperspectral sensors. So that came about. Again, it's one of those moments that brings you together. Because I was thinking about going research with drones. People talk about drones, I was in a demonstration this week with farmers and they saw the drones, you line up the drones that you have, those are nice toys. People see drones as toys, right? For us its as tools. But the thing is, I try to see, do I really need one just because everyone is using a drone and do I really need one? Again, I took that approach of looking what's not there and where things are going. There is... most of the drones you see flying today, they are, they have a specific type of sensor. I was talking to Paul Bullock from soil science . He retired recently, but we were just brainstorming this. I said, Paul, let's do something that nobody has access to because we need more information that those drones are not giving us. And so the multi-spectral sensor is not giving you need as much spectral resolution, so let's go with something higher. So we start to look into what type of sensors. It's funny because I talk to Paul , how much does it cost? He says, ah , I dunno , $20,000.00. Well, when you find the sensor, everything was said and done. Well, it was more than 10 times that, right? So that was a little bit of a surprise to us, but we knew this, we need to go that direction. And that discussion was timely because at that time, there was a large proposal being discussed at the faculty level, and we were able to make that ask in that proposal, and people see the relevancy of that particular drone. Long story short, we had the drone here. This drone is the third one in Canada. It is the first one used for agricultural research. So the researchers of Manitoba has access to equipment that nobody else has in terms of the capability. We are now ramping up this equipment. We just went through training, it's very complex to use. It's not very simple. So that's why we are being a little bit slower. But we are able to approve some projects. And this is, the beauty of this is very much disciplinary. For example, the one project I have with the first project I have is this drone is funded by IFT policy from Canada. The particular branch I'm working with is for the conservation branch that use it with birds. I know nothing about birds, right? But we have a common interest, which is grasslands. They approach grasslands from the bird's perspective. I approach grassland from the productivities of soil from beef industry perspective. So have a common interest in grasslands. So this is where they see the applicability of this technology to what they want to do andvthey came on board and they funded the project. So the beauty of this is that these new technologies and new tools that you use are bringing together new partners that before were not natural partners. So we'll be able to identify and find those players. But going back to your question, the sensor is up and running, we begin to start our data collection this fall, and this is good , just going to generate lot of new information that you didn't have access to before. For example, if you take your camera... your cell phone camera, it takes 3 bands of information, right? Red, blue, and green. It's 3 different bands that you turn into one. This sensor takes 490 pictures at once, right? So it's a lot of information there. So the idea is to use, hopefully, some of these bands or some of these pictures to relate to something you wanna know about grassland distribution, about grassland groth or grass species of grasslands in this stand . And if you know that and you continue to monitor that, then we have a much better handle on the management of that vegetation. Not only for productivity, for the beef grazing, for example, but also from a conservation perspective. How do you manage this vegetation for ecosystem services? You know , like carbon sequestration or the burlots, for example. This is all, you know, coming together if you can monitor that different players or stakeholders have a invested interest. So you can have a conversation that benefits more than one group.

Chantal Bassett:

Then in terms, like you talked about different scales. You mentioned landscape scale and probably down to the farm scale and perhaps other scales. And you talked about, obviously you're using some past data. So can you give me a kind of a scope of how historical information might and current information might be informing or helping farmers predict and why would we wanna predict? Aren't we growing the same things every year? Or on the news we're hearing a lot about climate change. How is that really complicating matters? Is that why we need a modelling approach?

Marcos Cordeiro:

It is. So for example, when I was growing up, I didn't care where my food came from. I just ate today, consumers are much more concerned if this food is responsibly produced from a sustainable standpoint, you know, from a work standpoint. Not using child labour, for example, things like this. So the consumer cares about this much more than they did before. And this is so because farms are consolidating and becoming corporations, they care about this as well. And this is spilling back, going back to the farmer. So today's farmer has much more on his plate or her plate than they did 30 years ago. They have to care about sustainability, stewardship, all those things that before were not there. So in order to do this, and today, we also live in a moment in history that we are putting a lot of focus on science-based evidence to drive decisions that we make on the land, as well as policy making . Science is becoming a critical piece of this whole thing of this whole production system that's becoming more complex. So the problem of scale, each of this is before the products that you use , were not enough to manage the landscape the way you wanna manage today. Because today, it's managed , for example, farmers managed landscape in large tracks of land. Let's say, or a section, for example, if you're familiar with Canadian land survey. But today we moving into precision agriculture where I wanna manage my field by zones. So in this zone, I may apply more fertilizer in this zone, I may pull back a little bit because this zone is not as productive. So in order to manage my landscape this way, I need way more fined resolution information. One example is soil, right? Sometimes you have one soil classification that's very coarse, so it can , it might take, classify an entire corse section as one soil type. But now you, if you go to a more refined , with a more detailed soil survey, you might find that, no, this quarter actually has in fact 4 different types of soil that I now need to classify. And now my management decisions are based on those 4 different types of soils rather than the corse one that I had before. For my models to give proper answers to those questions, I need to know at this level of resolution because the ino might just be in the ballpark. But if I want to manage those landscapes very precisely from a precision agriculture perspective, I need to know this precise information. So this is one type of information that can use UTE maps. Also, another one is fertility programs, another one is variable rate application of fertilizers. Our models help to inform those decisions. We don't need to go and try all these things out in the field, which is very expensive and time consuming. I can do this inside the models, see what the models tell, and then I can say, okay, this is interesting. What about if I try this to see if the models really correct here? So I can just select some of the outputs that the model or answers that my model gave me and apply them to the fields . So all of a sudden I narrow down from maybe 10 different management decisions I had to make, to maybe the 2 most promising ones. So this is cutting costs and also it's expediting the way, because if I were to try different management decisions, I probably need 10 fields, or if I need to replicate any more , if I need much more 10 years, for example, if I only have access to one field, the models can give me this in just a matter of weeks or months, and then I can try it in next growing season. Is what the models really telling is anything I was not aware of? Is that something that the model is missing? This is a circular process where I use my models, I go back to the field to validate that if it didn't work, what was wrong? Was it an assumption I made or some data is missing? The bottom line is I can help farmers and policy makers to define management decisions much quicker with models than I was in the past with traditional monitoring that huge scale.

Chantal Bassett:

And are farmers able to access your models or other, are there any commercial models out there? Is your research informing those models? Or is it more that you can draw conclusions from the models that you are working with to inform policy? What's the end goal of what you are generating and for which users?

Marcos Cordeiro:

Sometimes practice models are more complex than the average farmer would be able to use. So what we try to do in this case there to , is to come up with decision support systems. We have the outputs, but we try to summarize them in an interface that's much easier for the farmer to access. So we run the model in the background, all the, you know, intricacies of that the model entails, but then we try to portray the results to the farm in a much simpler way, in a way that makes sense to them, right? The language you use, you don't go about parameters and , you know, technical definitions, you go more like a what's something that pharmacy would understand and help to access and try to explain that in terms of management decisions move for the most part, right? A good example of of a model like this, which is made for farmers is the whole model , uh, by Agri AgriFood Canada where the , you know, it's, they have a simpler interface that farmers can use. They have a more complex version as well. But the idea is if you can have a decision support system that, that farmers can access online and have access to this, if I tried this, what would happen to my emissions? For example, carbon emissions and things like this, right? In a way that can understand. So we, we have to simplify things along the way. Another example I could give you is in terms of, we for example, have some projects with, with dairy production, where , where , where use , um, camera technology to try to, to come up with decision , um, management decisions. Those cameras, they generate a lot of data in the day, but for us, the goal is to boil this down and to change it into one number or two that makes sense to the farmers, right? So that annual needs attention, the productive productivity of that annual is going to drop, you know , is in decline or is going to drop in a couple of days. If you don't watch this, this is the type of formation that you wanna wanna provide the farmers. Not only very complex pictures that it has to look at, it's just one number action piece of information that he can make use of.

Chantal Bassett:

Marco what is the most interesting or surprising thing that you've discovered so far?

Marcos Cordeiro:

It's an interesting question, you know Chantal I have been expanding my research, the scope of my research, I think the most interesting things have been those I didn't pay much attention to. But at the end of the day, they became critical to my work. Grasslands is one of them because I came, as I told you, from a different angle. From crop production and things move much faster in the annual production system. I just felt grasslands as being that monotonous, consistent unchanging landscape. That's part of what I did. But I never spent too much time with grasslands since I took this position. I started looking much closer at grasslands and to see how complex, dynamic and how important they are to what you do. Like those landscape, they are one of the biggest carbon storage that you have. And the role that farmers have in maintaining those landscapes. If the beef industry is not there, for example, those landscapes would be under much higher pressure to be converted to annual cropping systems. So if that we lose biodiversity, we lose carbon sequestration, we lose all the ecosystem services. So for me, it was an eye-opening experience to have a closer look at grasslands, something that at a distance didn't look as dynamic. It's very dynamic, very complex and important. So this was one a very interesting surprise I had.

Chantal Bassett:

So Marcos, what's one aspect that has influenced your research program?

Marcos Cordeiro:

Okay Chantel, one thing that I can speak to is the importance of collaboration in the work I do I've always worked with collaborative teams. My teams were all always large teams, and I was just doing one component of a larger project, and it has been very formative for me in the way I approach research. I collaborated with people from Agri Food Canada in Lethbridge. And I worked on the team with Al Callister and he managed large teams of many, many people. And one thing that I saw is the approach he used for research. I know he brings people in , he values their input to research. And once he told me that he's much more productive because of his collaborations. There's only so much you can do by yourself, but you can do so much more if you're collaborative, people and you can do different things. So this is one thing that I actually kept with me and I try to implement. And today I collaborative with people across Canada from coast to coast, literally, this has been really helpful for my research. Another example I could mention is Kim Ominski from my department as well, she's very generous with her time in terms of coaching people, especially young researchers like us. And I've seen the way she conducts herself in research. In collaborations it is very helpful for me to model my program after. So collaboration is one thing that I cannot minimize in terms of the importance for the work I do, especially because my research is , which is disciplinary, right? So I may not know as much about beef production, but then if I bring the right person in, then that complements the skill set that I need to develop some projects. So this is one example of how this multidisciplinary collaborative environment has been helpful, especially for the generation of new ideas as well. So it's much more fertile in that sense, that you talk to different people from different backgrounds to come up with new ideas or to come up with solutions for problems as opposed to working by yourself, locked in your office. It works really well for me.

Chantal Bassett:

So Marcos , can you tell us something about yourself that's unrelated to your research?

Marcos Cordeiro:

Wow... I am a simple person. You know, I don't have a very fancy lifestyle, and I feel like I keep... I'm a home person. I like to be home. And I always been something maybe because I was telling Kim Ominski the other day about... I'm an introvert person. He said, really? I cannot tell this right? But I said I had to train really hard to get myself out of my shell, but if I could choose, I would spend myself and I spend my time quietly. And I have always liked reading and music. Music is something that I got into a little later. It's such an effective activity for me to get my brain out of this working mode, this is how I get to unplug. Yeah, and not only listening, but I like to study it, maybe because I come from engineering, but I like all the math behind music so predictable in terms of intervals and things like this. But I do study music and something that... one genre I like is jazz . Not because I play it well, but because it makes you think. They say that music makes you think because your brain is constantly tuning , what's the next interval? Hey, it doesn't make sense, I expected this. But from here, I like jazz and looking at those things. And something that I got later on, after I started music was the technical stuff, all these mics I see here. And I was talking to the tech guy before we started here, oh , let me see your interface. Mics and stuff like that, you know, so I like this technical stuff. It's a bit , you know , geeky too , like, you know , technological goes back to technology. I like this stuff. This is something that is really effective in terms of helping me to unplug a little bit and remove myself from work and from research and teaching, because our line of work is very tempting in terms of, we can work forever I am always having new ideas and the brains gets used to that and always thinking, what about the next research question or the next project? How can I use this? Going back to something that takes my brain out of that helps a lot. And the funny part is that once you have that break, sometimes you have that idea for research. It comes up , hey, I never thought about this. You know, just unplugging, taking some distance. Taking some distance from your subject helps you when you come back have a fresher perspective to it. So in a short answer, yes, music does help you with that.

Chantal Bassett:

Cool.Do you have any recommendations, best artists to recommend?

Marcos Cordeiro:

Oh, Joe Pass, guitar? Yes, for sure.

Chantal Bassett:

Thanks so much for chatting with me, Marcos.

Marcos Cordeiro:

Thanks Chantal.

Chantal Bassett:

This has been Dr. Chantal Bassett, joined by Dr. Marcos Cordeiro from the Department of Animal Science at the University of Manitoba. And that's it for today's episode of ChangeMAKErs, the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences Research and Innovation podcast. Join me in future episodes to hear about other fascinating research being led by agricultural and AgriFood innovators at the University of Manitoba.

ChangeMAKErs - Dr Curt McCartney

Dr. McCartney in his lab

Welcome to ChangeMAKErs, a new MAKEManitoba podcast series highlighting research and innovation powered by members of the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences.

In this episode, host and FAFS research facilitator Dr. Chantal Bassett chats with Dr. Curt McCartney, Associate Professor in the Department of Plant Science, to chat about his research in wheat breeding, genetics and genomics, especially in the areas of winter survival, yield, and disease resistance.

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Transcript

Intro:

The way we grow and produce food is ever-changing, shaped by consumers and the climate in which we live and farm. Research at all points of our food system is essential for continuously improving food's journey from farm to table . The Manitoba Agriculture and Food Knowledge Exchange explores timely research, innovations and applications that make our food system better than ever. Join us for today's podcast.

Chantal Bassett:

Hello and welcome. This is ChangeMAKErs, a Manitoba Agriculture and Food Knowledge Exchange, otherwise known as MAKE podcast series with me Chantal Bassett. In each episode, we'll chat with an academic member of the faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the University of Manitoba to find out about the research and innovation they're working on and how this is shaping agriculture and food production in Manitoba and around the world. Now, as the research facilitator for the faculty, I get to work with all our incredible innovators, and I think it's high time for others to get to know their research as well as get to know the person behind these discoveries. Today I'm joined by Dr. Curt McCartney, our very own wheat breeding and genomics expert within the Department of Plant Science. Thanks for joining me, Curt.

Curt McCartney:

Thank you very much, Chantal.

Chantal Bassett:

So Curt, before we get into the details about what you study, can you please share how you got to where you are today?

Curt McCartney:

Okay. I grew up on a grain farm , near Portage La Prairie , Manitoba. Growing up I was reading a lot of the farm magazines that my dad had. And , I got interested in production issues that were discussed and talked about in these articles about Sclerotinia, having Blacklegs in canola, there's emerging Fusarium Head Blight is a problem and in wheat. And so I got interested from there. And then in high school I really enjoyed biology courses and in particular, genetics. I was always interested in that and that particular topic. And then during my undergraduate degree at the University of Manitoba, I took the genetics program and this led me to take a course in plant breeding and I was hooked right away. It kind of merged everything I was interested in , from farming and also genetics and kind of put it all together into something that would be quite unique and quite interesting in terms of a career. That's how I got interested in the field and why I ultimately ended up doing it.

Chantal Bassett:

So what path did you take that led you to becoming an academic within our faculty?

Curt McCartney:

Yeah. So after I completed my undergraduate degree, I spoke with the former wheat breeder here at the University of Manitoba, Dr. Anita Brûlé-Babel. I ended up doing graduate studies with her studying genetics and resistance to one of the leaf spotting diseases of spring wheat. So I started off in a Master's program, which ultimately ended up being a PhD and then I went and did a postdoctoral position with Agriculture and AgriFood Canada here in Winnipeg. And then from there I joined the University of Saskatchewan Crop Development Center as a cereal and flax pathologist with them. And then I was there for 5 years and then ultimately came back to the Ag Canada, Winnipeg program in 2010. Worked there for 10 years as a geneticist working on wheat and oates. And then ultimately I rejoined the University of Manitoba as a wheat breeder in 2020.

Chantal Bassett:

And we're great that you have brought all this wealth of experience throughout your career, and so you're relatively new to the University of Manitoba, but you are bringing such a wealth of knowledge.

Curt McCartney:

Yeah. Thank you.

Chantal Bassett:

So Curt, what's the focus of your research? What challenges are you trying to solve?

Curt McCartney:

Well, there's different sort of areas of the work. One would be in the area of genetics, to get a better understanding of the genetics of wheat. And the other one is actually breeding the crop. So in the area of genetics, I'm trying to better understand the inheritance of traits that matter to farmers, also to the wheat industry overall and ultimately to consumers. So this is going to range from disease and insect resistance, which will prevent damage to farmers' crops and ultimately reduce the need or ultimate use of pesticides in crops. So in particular, insecticides and fungicides can be reduced through the use of genetic resistance in varieties that the farmers are growing. And I guess one of the other things that we're doing with the genetics is answering some of the fundamental questions, how many genes are involved in controlling a particular trait? And can we identify DNA markers that we can use to track the inheritance of these genes in breeding programs? So then the area of wheat breeding I'm working on winter wheat with the goal of developing varieties for Western Canada. In the breeding program we're implementing what we're learning from the genetic research. In the case of winter wheat, the main thing we're trying to improve upon at this point in time, would be winter survival. It still remains an important limiting factor for production of winter wheat in the prairies. Either develop more consistent varieties that are at the best of the range of winter survival, but also shoot past the current sort of upper limit of winter survival that we currently have. In addition to that, there are all the other typical traits that wheat breeders are concerned with: grain yield, disease resistance, and grain quality. So that would be typical of the other breeding programs that working in spring wheat. And then I guess the final thing my lab does is we also test wheat and triticale breeding lines from breeders across the prairies. These would be both spring sewn and and false sewn types of these crops. And we're testing them for resistant to Fusarium Head Blight, also commonly known as FHB, FHB is the most destructive disease of wheat in Canada in many other parts of the world. So there's a lot of need for developing resistant varieties to this particular disease. So it's affecting the farmers, but it's also affecting the millers and the people breaking baking bread as well. So it has a big impact on everybody, and there are limits to the amount of the toxin that the fungus produces in the grain. So that will limit the harvested grain from a field might not sell for the top price if it has a lot of that particular toxin in it. So we ultimately collect this information on the new breeding lines that are being developed, and we send that back to the breeders that are operating in different prairie provinces, and then they use that information to throw away the really susceptible stuff. And as a result of this work, the level of resistance in the varieties is improving over time.

Chantal Bassett:

Okay. So in terms of end goal, I've heard that, you know, reducing pesticides, fungicides and also in terms of quality, in terms of the flour that we could derive for different products based on different wheat varieties. Curt, is there also any impact of climate change? Is that a reason why we're exploring different types of wheats and resistance beyond just disease and pests?

Curt McCartney:

Well, climate change is going to have a really important impact on crop production in the prairies and really anywhere in the world, farmers are very much at the mercy of the weather. So what I'm thinking with climate change, we're likely to see basically a migration of the crops in the US up to Canada. And in terms of the length of growing season's going to get longer, we're going to see some of the crops that they're growing down there, maybe a little bit more commonly up here. We're already seeing it already with a lot more soybean being produced and things like that. So in the area, so with my work on winter wheat I'm expecting though winters, well, I'm hoping, hoping we're expecting that the winter get a little bit milder and we're going to see increased winter survival and the winter hardiness of the crop is likely to become less critical over time. So I think there's going to be opportunities for winter wheat in the future. So I think that's one thing to consider with climate change. Breeding programs are, are long-term research efforts and you can't just start and stop them quickly or on a dime, essentially. There is a real need for the breeding of winter wheat that is locally adapted to the weather conditions here. But I'm expecting these weather conditions to change over time. I guess the final thing I was thinking of just breeding in general as a broader topic, it's really important to have active plant breeding programs in all crops to allow our crops that we're growing to adapt to the new environment because active breeding programs are constantly selecting for the new environment that they're facing. So the crop that they're developing is changing every year. I think that's another important thing to consider is it's really critical to have these breeding programs operating or you're effectively, if you don't have them, you're locked in time with a certain set of genetics which might not fit the future.

Chantal Bassett:

So Curt, what impact do you hope your research will have?

Curt McCartney:

So I guess I'd like to see winter wheat production increase in the prairies. I think we're going to need improved winter survival to accomplish that goal. And I think the other piece of the puzzle is increasing grain yield relative to spring wheat to make the crop a little bit more financially attractive to entice farmers into growing it more commonly or more often. I'd also like to see with the research we're doing on the Fusarium Head Blight resistance to result in and continue slow march towards a really strongly resistant set of germ plasm such that we don't have much problems with Fusarium Head Blight anymore in our fields. It's really critically important disease to get under control. And the genetics of the resistance is really complicated compared to the other diseases. The progress that we've been making has taken more time than you'd like to see, but it's really important that we get that to happen. So I'm expecting we are going to get there. And these nurseries that we're growing for testing these new breeding lines is critically important for achieving that goal because there's no other way to assess whether it's resistant or not other than these field trials. I think the final area that I'm hoping to make impact in, is in the training of graduate students in the area of plant genetics and crop breeding. We need to be training new people to take over these positions as people are retiring and to further move ahead how we're actually doing these types of research projects and, and getting new ideas into our work is really important. And then I guess finally would be in the area of teaching undergraduate students as well in the area of genetics teaching. It's quite a bit of fun.

Chantal Bassett:

So I assume that many, you know, farm kids across the prairies are relying on going to programs such as the UofM's to learn some of the basics so that they can recognize emerging diseases, recognize things before they get outta hand on a farm. Is that part of your teaching mission?

Curt McCartney:

Yeah, I think it's very hard to predict what's going to be the new thing or the new problem. I think we do our best we can with that. But it's often we don't really know what's going to happen ultimately with a lot of these diseases. So yeah, I think we do want to be training people in the fundamentals of say, plant pathology or entomology and a whole wide variety of different disciplines that matter. So they have the tools that they can adapt to whatever the future throws at them. I don't think anyone would've guessed that Fusarium Head Blight, I guess maybe 20 or 30 years ago, now would've been a problem, say in the 1970s. No one was thinking, oh , if Fusarium Head Blight was on nobody's radar that it going to be a problem for wheat. We are concerned with some evolving rust races that have developed in other parts of the world, and we do some preemptive work with sending breeding lines to areas where these new races are to see if we can identify resistance to them in our own breeding material. So that's some something we can do. But then there's other diseases like Wheat Blast, which is found now in South America. I think it's now also into the southern United States. It's caused by a plant pathogen that we've never really experienced here in Canada. So it's something to keep on the radar screen, but it's hard to justify spending a lot of time and effort on something when we have a whole suite of problems we're currently facing. And there's the imminent threat right now is the current one. So that's, I would say that's kind of, we have to triage these things a little bit and figure out what and where our priorities have to be. But yeah.

Chantal Bassett:

How do you decide which trial to run in an upcoming year and how far in advance do you plan the research studies that you undertake?

Curt McCartney:

Well, the studies themselves, you just think about, I guess in terms of as a breeder, what is currently my limitation or something that I would like to be able to do better. And that can lead to a whole suite of genetic studies you could conduct to learn about the trait better and develop tools that would help you select for a particular improvement in the trait. So that's be one thing, and those things take time. Often a genetic study might take 4 or 5 years to complete from the stage of conception to you've completed the project. But at the same time, like our breeding program, we're often planning the trials in the period of about 2 weeks where you harvest one crop early August, and then we're seeding in September, so we don't have a lot of time to plan the next set of material we're putting out into the field. So it's a bit of a rush at that time of the year. It just depends exactly at what level you're considering this at. We have a general plan for the breeding program, and that's a long-term plan, so that part doesn't change. And the actual material that we're testing every year is just kind of, it follows a typical path. I would say. The genetic research is something that is a little bit more variable, have to figure out what the priority we think is so something that's holding us back currently that we'd want to have better knowledge of so we can do it better in the future.

Chantal Bassett:

Yeah. So in terms of the studies and the who you're training, like you talked about, you're training the next generation of plant breeders, but what other careers might be relevant to that? And maybe help me understand how a plant breeder, is it mostly time in a laboratory or is it mostly time in the field?

Curt McCartney:

Well, It's a bit of both. We do a lot of work in greenhouses in the summertime or in the field primarily. And then the wintertime we have a lot of work where we're working in the lab either processing seed and getting it ready for seeding or in the case of our Fusarium testing, we're basically getting our seed ready and prepared for sending off to another lab that will test the Fusarium damage kernels and the levels of toxin in the grain. So that would be one thing. Then I guess we also, in the winter time , we spend more time working on DNA markers extracting DNA testing DNA markers so that we can have a better idea of what our breeding lines are from that perspective. And of course, in the winter time , the wheat is just sitting in a field as a tiny little cold shivering seedling, so that it's not doing a whole lot of that point in time. But , we are still busy year round .

Chantal Bassett:

And does a wheat breeder collaborate with other types of researchers?

Curt McCartney:

Oh, yeah. There's a lot of collaboration, even like in amongst the wheat breeders themselves, there's a whole lot of exchanging of different tests across the prairies that wheat breeders are doing. We work with a whole bunch of plant pathologists who specialize in different diseases of the crop . Different diseases are more prevalent in different parts of prairie, so the best person to study, say Stripe Rest, is located in Lethbridge, Alberta because that's where that disease is common. And in Manitoba we have more problems with Leaf and Stem Rust and Fusarium Head Blight. So this is where those diseases are tested. So we have a lot of collaboration on it with plant pathologists . We have collaborations with entomology , entomologists working on Wheat Midge . There's also some people working on Weed Stem Soft Fly. So that'd be another areas of collaboration. And then finally there's a whole bunch of people working in grain quality. So we work with them in terms of trying to ensure the new bring lines that we're developing have meet the expectations our customers have, but also we can also work together on genetic studies to have a better understanding of what makes good grain quality.

Chantal Bassett:

So Curt, what's the most interesting or surprising thing that you've discovered so far?

Curt McCartney:

I think something that's come up repeatedly over the course of the research I've been doing is how interrelated different traits are. One of the big things that occurred, I would say is definitely not my opinion, but it's the Green Revolution. The introduction of semi-dwarfing genes into wheat for reducing plant height was really important globally and also in Western Canada for reducing the height of the crop and reducing crop lodging. Crop lodging is a really important problem. So that's when the crop is basically fallen over in the field as the grain is filling in the heads. And that causes all sorts of problems for harvest. It also causes problems with sprouting of the grain as it's ripened in the field. The introducing of these dwarfing genes, semi-dwarfing genes, has prevented a lot of the lodging problems that we used to experience. It's also meant that farmers can now straight cut , combine their fields and they don't have to swath. And I don't think really any swathing of weeds has done really anymore. So there's been a whole lot of incentive to do this, but there has been maybe some problems with the introduction of these semi-dwarfing genes. It's come up repeatedly in the genetic studies that've conducted. So one of the thing that's really widely known is that the shorter plant height is also associated with shorter uptals. So as the crop or the seeds are germinating, the uptal is what gets the chute tissue above the soil surface. So this means that varieties that have these semi-dwarfing genes cannot be sewn as deep in the soil. So that can cause emergence problems if a farmer is trying to seed deeper to get access to moisture, to get the seed to germinate. So that's one issue. The work, I've done in genetic research on FHB resistance, and this is not just me, but many people around the world have found that semi-dwarfing genes are associated with susceptibility Fusarium Head Blight. And that includes, there's 3 major genes that have been used. They're called RHD 1, 2, and 8. And these genes, all of them have been associated with increased susceptibility to Fusarium Head Blight, but there are additional semi-dwarfing genes that have identified that haven't been used commercially in wheat breeding. There's a lot of interest around the world, and I'm quite interested in this as well, looking at these new dwarfing genes to see if we can swap out the old ones and put in these new ones and to see if we can overcome some of these problems. There are dwarfing genes that we do know have no effect on colloidal length, so they clearly are different than the current ones. If we can find ones that also don't have any effect on or association with susceptibility Head Blight, that could solve some of the bigger problems we're experiencing with Fusarium Head Blight, because I think if you took out some of these dwarfing genes out of the current varieties and had a taller version of those varieties, they'd be a lot more resistant to Fusarium Head Blight. So that's something I'm quite interested in. And so this kind of theme of these interrelationships between these traits has come up all the time. So I wasn't necessarily expecting this when I first started off in my career as a scientist. And it's been quite interesting to learn about how all these things fit together and how these things , these interrelationships are the reality that breeders have to work with. And it's interesting work, and that would be the thing that's been the most surprising to me.

Chantal Bassett:

That's awesome. So, thanks for all the research that you are doing in terms of, you know, I know that it is impacting, you know, active problems that our, you know, farmers are facing and then all the way to different customers and the end products that we're having. So I'm really grateful that you know that you are taking the time to lead these research initiatives that are helping with winter wheat across Canada. So before we finish off, Curt, can you tell us something about yourself that is unrelated to your research?

Curt McCartney:

Well, maybe from the result of the pandemic, I think all of us has spent a whole lot of time indoors and I'm pretty guilty of being , becoming a TV addict, so I'm, I'm watching way too much TV and still trying to get outside more. But we've accumulated as a family, a whole bunch of streaming subscriptions and, and I really like murder mystery shows and I can recommend Only Murders in the Building. Yes, that's an awesome one . So people may wanna check that one out.

Chantal Bassett:

Awesome. Currently watching it as well at home, this has been Dr. Chantal Bassett, joined by Dr. Curt McCartney, associate professor in the Department of Plant Science at the University of Manitoba. And that's it for today's episode of Change Makers , the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences Research and Innovation podcast. Join me in future episodes to hear about other fascinating research being led by agricultural and AgriFood innovators at the University of Manitoba.

ChangeMAKErs - Dr. Nandika Bandara

Welcome to ChangeMAKErs, a new MAKEManitoba podcast series highlighting research and innovation powered by members of the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences.

In our first episode, host and FAFS research facilitator Dr. Chantal Bassett chats with Dr. Nandika Bandara, Canada Research Chair in Food Proteins and Bioproducts, to explore his work on value-added applications in the protein industry.

 

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Transcript

Intro:

The way we grow and produce food is ever-changing, shaped by consumers and the climate in which we live in. Farm research at all points of our food system is essential for continuously improving food's journey from farm to table. The Manitoba Agriculture and Food Knowledge Exchange explores timely research innovations and applications that make our food system better than ever. Join us for today's podcast.

Chantal Bassett:

Hello and welcome. This is ChangeMAKErs, a Manitoba Agriculture and Food Knowledge Exchange, otherwise known as MAKE, podcast series with me, Chantal Bassett. In each episode we'll chat with an academic member of the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences at the University of Manitoba to find out about the research and innovation they're working on and how this is shaping agriculture and food production in Manitoba and around the world. Now as the research facilitator for the faculty, I get to work with all our incredible innovators and I think it's high time for you to also get to discover their research as well as get to know the person behind these discoveries. Today I'm joined by Dr. Nandika Bandara, our very own Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Food Proteins and Bioproducts and professor in the Department of Food and Human Nutritional Sciences. Thanks for joining me Nandika.

Nandika Bandara:

Thank you Chantal, thank you for having me.

Chantal Bassett:

So Nandika, before we get into the details about what you study, please share how you got to where you are today.

Nandika Bandara:

Thank you Chantal. So I was born in a country called Sri Lanka, which is a beautiful tropical island in Indian Ocean. The system that we have for the high education, we have to go through 2 competitive exams before we get into the university. In the first examination, which is equivalent to junior high type of exam, we have to select a specific field to study in the high school after that examination. So at the time I had 2 of my , uh, I would say long distance cousins , all the guys who were staying with us who studied at the faculty of Agriculture University of Peradeniya, they decided to take me to one of the exhibition they had to commemorate the 50th anniversary of faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya. And when I visit that faculty I was amazed by all the agricultural innovations, all the big cattle, sheep and all the other things that they were doing. And that gave me the idea to study agriculture. So for my high school , uh, I basically select the agriculture as field of study. So after completing my high school study, which we have to go through a competitive examination, again, I was selected to the same faculty that I went as a kid to see that agricultural exhibition. So I joined with the Faculty of Agriculture University of Peradeniya and completed my undergraduate degree in agriculture specializing in food science. After that I actually took a little bit different path. So before graduating , uh, if I remember correctly , 1 month before my graduation I joined an agrochemical company to work in a marketing division as a brand executive. After that one, after working for that agrochemical company for 2 years, I joined with a completely different sector again and I joined banking. I worked as a bank manager for almost 2 years and then decided to come back to studies and do a graduate school in University of Alberta, Canada. So my wife was doing studies at the time, so she basically convinced me to come and start studies. So I came to University of Alberta, started my master's degree in food science and then complete my PhD in food science at the same institute. And during this time I was really interested in working with the protein as my main research area and working on the innovations that we can bring in from the other disciplines, especially in the areas like material science, nanotechnology, chemistry. What can we get towards like improving the food industry or the food science. So that's how I get into the research that I'm doing right now. After my PhD graduation, I got the postdoctoral fellowship in the postdoctoral fellowship and I went to the University of Guelph, food science department to continue my postdoctoral studies. However, I got a faculty position at Dalhousie University at the same time. So I only stayed in Guelph for I believe 5 months and then moved to Dalhousie University to start my independent academic position. So I was hired as an assistant professor in food bioscience. I was there for almost, closer to 2 years and then there was an advertisement, there was advertisement related to the Canada Research in Food Protein and Bioproducts at the University of Manitoba. So I decided to apply for that one because that's where primarily my research was happening at the time. So that's how I ended up in University of Manitoba.

Chantal Bassett:

And Nandika, we sure are glad to have you. Can you tell us a bit more about the focus of your research, the fact that it is interdisciplinary and what challenges you're trying to solve?

Nandika Bandara:

Thank you. That's a really good question. Unlike most of the traditional food science field, as I indicated earlier as well, I'm trying to work with different disciplines and bringing the knowledge from those disciplines to advance the field of protein innovation. So in terms of my main research, I have 3 main research themes that's currently working, like we are working in our research group. Overall objective of all the research happening in our research group, our food protein and bioproducts lab is related to improving or advancing the protein innovations, trying to find value added applications to the protein industries , especially in Canada. As you may know, we do produce some of the pulses and other oil seeds. We are leading producer or like second largest producer in the world. But unfortunately we don't really process them. We basically send them to the other countries as a bulk commodity for processing in different places and sometimes we even import them back as ingredient. So some of the advances, some of the innovation, so some of the research that we are doing right now will be trying to tackle those issues. Can we process those materials? Can we process those pulses, oil seed within Canada and use it for value added application? That would be the primary objective or the overall area that we are working right now. In terms of specific themes, as I mentioned, we do have 3 primary research themes in our group. The first one is about the sustainable ingredient processing area. So under the sustainable processing area, we worked on protein extraction, both wet and dry fractionation technologies, special, with a special focus on sustainability. Most of the protein processing, especially wet processing technologies, right now we have in the commercial scale, focused on using high amount of water or using large amount of chemicals or working with extreme conditions in order to get the plant proteins out of the plant matrix. All of them are working commercially fine, but at the same time with all the advancement or the interest in sustainability, we need to find innovations that are more sustainable using less resources and some of them can be recycled. So we are working on 1 specific technology called Deep Eutectic Solvent. Even though it's new to protein industry, this is something that used in other industries in the past. So we work with this technology, we work with different oil seed and pulses and manage to develop this Deep Eutectic Solvent base extraction into a certain level that it can actually compete with commercial extraction method in terms of the protein quality, purity and the extraction yields and in terms of the function and it's sometime even better compared to the other extraction methods. So that's just one area of under that protein ingredient processing theme. The second area we work under that theme is about using new technologies, especially non-thermal technologies on modifying these protein. Dry fractionation is a great technology in terms of making protein ingredients, but the challenge is with dry fractionation there is a certain limit that you can go in terms of protein purity, maybe 55 to 60%, best case scenario 65%. Can we get the same protein functionality by modifying it with some non-thermal technologies? That's what we are trying to do with technologies like atmospheric cold plasma or pulse electric field processing. So the basic idea is we are not going to heat the protein, we are not going to do any thermal treatment, but instead we are working with room temperature, especially something, a technology called cold plasma and trying to optimize the functionality of the protein ingredients that we are extracting. So that's the second main area that we are working in that protein ingredient processing theme . So our second big theme under that food protein and bioproducts lab is about using protein for health. So don't get me wrong when I say protein for health, this is not about the nutritional quality . So for something like that, I usually collaborate with some of the colleagues we have in the department, but we are trying to use protein as ingredient or component in nano delivery of some of the bioactive molecules or drug molecules. So that's a little bit different from consuming protein as a food ingredient towards our nutrition. There are like 100 different ways . So technologies develop over the past few years in terms of using protein for nano delivery applications. But the difference of what we do is we are trying to use protein , combine it with lipids, which is not easy as it sounds. You basically cannot like combine 2 things that don't like each other, but we are working on conjugating or combining that lipid and protein together and then using that one to encapsulate bioactive molecules and drug molecules which have different chemical properties. For example, if you take something with that can be easily soluble in water and another chemical or a drug molecule that will be soluble in lipid, you can't put them in the same encapsulation wall material if we work with one material. So that's where our research comes in. We try to conjugate that lipid and protein together and encapsulate the materials that are completely different in chemical nature in the same matrix, just as a long-term vision, if we can basically encapsulate cannabis extract, which is used for the cancer patient as a pain management medicine, that's something that would be example of how we can use this kind of uh , difference differently soluble compounds in the same encapsulation platform. So it will be a universal platform where you can basically incorporate any kind of material into that. Third theme that we are working in the research group is all the value added application of waste material that no one else want. If you think about the protein processing, what are you going to do about all the hulls , pea hulls and all the lignin cellulose material, wheat husk or something like canola meal , which is very good in terms of the protein content, but at the same time there is not really value added application except for certain animal feeding, especially with the limited applications in animal feeding . So we try to get all these byproducts and waste materials and then process them what we call downstream processing into value added components. One of the example is we work with the canola meal , which is industrially used for the canola oil production and at the end of the canola oil extraction they ended up with canola meal . The challenge with that is once they go through that oil extraction process, all the protein remaining in the canola meal is completely indentured and you can't really use it for the food application. So with that we try to use those kind of a protein and even other lignin and cellulose part towards developing something like packaging materials or using poultry feather as a byproduct to make wound healing materials. At the same time, all the lignin and cellulose that we cannot really even feed to animal, we basically break it down, make them into something called nanomaterials. For example, cellulose can be broken down, broken down into really small particles called nanocellulose and then we can modify those cellulose particles and use it in those packaging material that we are developing in the lab. So we did work on some of the uh , nanocellulose based packaging materials very recently and that's some of the example in terms of our third research theme that we are working on.

Chantal Bassett:

Wow, Nandika. So it looks like you have no one set end goal, you're looking at the whole spectrum. So you're looking at let me get this right processing to make sure that it is sustainable and looking for new value added opportunities. You're looking into micro encapsulation so we can get these bioactive particles right to where they're needed for nutritional health. And you're also looking at opportunities for waste management so that we utilize Canadian crops to the best that we could. Beyond that, what impact do you hope your research will have?

Nandika Bandara:

Thank you, Chantel . So you basically summarized everything that I said into 1 line, which is great. So in terms of the impact, I think I already mentioned about some of the industry specific impact that we are looking at. So that's one aspect. So if we can develop technologies that the industry , especially small and medium scale industries can use, that would be an advantage when it comes to improving the Canadian protein innovation ecosystem, that's 1 of the main impact that we are expecting. At the same time, if we can improve the environmental sustainability, that would be another thing, right? Like with all the hype about the environmental issues, environmental concerns, it's a good time for us to think about how we can improve or optimize the processing or the processes we have towards achieving environmental sustainability. So that would be the second thing. At the same time, one other thing that I didn't mention before is about training the people who would be required to run all these innovations in the future. So right now I have a research group consists of 14 people, which include a range of post-doctoral fellows, PhD students, masters student , and some undergraduate students as well, including some exchange students coming from different countries during their PhD time. For example, I have 1 PhD student coming from the University of Leeds in United Kingdom and another PhD student coming from Istanbul Technical University, another PhD student coming from Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico, if I'm pronouncing that name correctly. So like that I have several people coming into my group and getting the training in different aspects of research projects that I mentioned . The main idea is I can come up with all the ideas that as much as I want, but then we need people to work on those areas who will be going into the industry or into the academia or even into the policy making and then implementing those technologies or trying to change policies based on that. So that training or the training the next generation of protein scientists is one of the biggest impact that I have. If I'm allowed to brag a little bit about that, I am very happy to say like about the achievements some of my trainings are getting. For example, one of the master's student who just completed her thesis in canola protein based sustainable packaging materials won the Distinguished Masters' Thesis award within the applied science category. So the entire University of Manitoba awards 5 Master's Thesis prizes in different disciplines, and she managed to win the applied science category award. When it comes to the national and international conferences, our trainees are winning awards in multiple locations. For example, if I start with the Institute of Food Technologies for the last 2 years, we have 1 person at least winning award in graduate student research paper competition. And this year there was a protein innovation challenge group of my students competing that one and won the third place in the future Protein Innovation Challenge organized by the Institute of Food Technologies . When you talk about the Canadian Lipid and Protein Conference last year, they did have a graduate student research competition where they selected 10 people for the final competition. 4 people came from my group and we won both first, second, and third prizes during that competition. So those are some of the example. And within the University of Manitoba Institute of Materials Conference, both first place in PhD and first place in post-doctoral category and overall first place won by people in our group. So these are the training that the students get and they showcase that they can be the leaders in the innovation for the future. And when it comes to training those people, my approach is not just to train them towards the research. Yes, they're winning research awards, they're winning presentation awards, that's great, but I want them to be the leaders who can lead the innovation for the next decade or going into industry and lead that industry. I'm very happy to say that I have not just 1, but 3 people over the last 3 years at the University of Manitoba winning Emerging Leader's award at the University of Manitoba. Every year I have at least 1 person from my research group winning the Emerging Leader Award and even participating in the President Leadership program, which indicates that they get the training not just on the research, but also on the side of the professional development, which I believe personally because the experience that I had in my past would be really beneficial for them to go into the academia or to the industry and become the leader who would lead the innovations for the next 5 to 10 years or even longer.

Chantal Bassett:

So Nandika, what is the most interesting or surprising thing that your team has discovered so far?

Nandika Bandara:

In terms of the technology wise ? As I mentioned, Deep Eutectic Solvent based protein extraction is 1 of the thing that we, I would say accidentally discovered because we weren't really planning on developing that Deep Eutectic Solvent extraction as a protein extraction technology. We wanted to get the protein extracted from plant materials at neutral pH - pH 7. And there were some past studies done from North Dakota State University and 1 research group from Germany who tried to extract the protein using Deep Eutectic Solvent. To our surprise, their results are very , I would say like um, needed much more improvement in terms of the protein purity because none of those studies could develop that Deep Eutectic Solvent extraction method into a commercially feasible technology. Our goal was to get the protein at pH 7 so we can use it in the nano delivery research. So that's how we started that research. But to our surprise, when we optimized that uh , extraction technology, we ended up in getting better results than current commercially available methods. That was a pleasant surprise for me to be honest, because that was not our or our plan. So then we basically invest more time and effort on optimizing that particular extraction technology towards multiple different crops rather than trying to produce a protein ingredient. Other than that, 1 other thing, I think I already mentioned this, but I was surprised, is how good we can convince people to develop as a professional... professionals, not just in research, but also in like , uh, different areas that they need to develop. So when I work with all the students, I'm always amazed by their capabilities, capacities, and their willingness to work towards a specific goal. None of the research that I discuss would happen if it's not for my amazing research team. They're the one who always in the lab, they're the one who always do all this innovations. I'm just giving them the support that they need. That's something that I realized because one of the things before coming to academia I heard is, oh, like it's really hard to work with students. It's really hard to get things done. Maybe I'm lucky. But so far I do not have that issue. And I'm really happy to say that I have a really missing group of people who's dedicated and that's something that I find as something surprising for me compared to what I heard before coming into academia.

Chantal Bassett:

So in terms of, I'm hearing that you're not only an emerging scholar within your own field, you're training the rising stars for both industry and academia?

Nandika Bandara:

I would say yes. Some of the people who are coming from my group already holding leadership positions in international organization, for example, American Oil Chemist Society, the Student Common Interest Group president is from my research group from University of Manitoba. In the institute of food technologists there are several people in the leadership positions, in the student groups . So yes, they are not just doing the research, but they are leading not just at the national level, but at the international level as well.

Chantal Bassett:

So Nandika, can you finish us off by telling us one thing about yourself that is unrelated to your research? Do you take the time?

Nandika Bandara:

Yes, I do. So 1 of the thing that I really like to do is playing cricket, which I did from my school time . So I do play cricket, but other than that, one thing that I'm really like, which I know all the Winnipegers would hate me, is supporting hockey. Not the Winnipeg Jets, but the Edmonton Oilers. So Oilers is my team, and I always watch any Oilers game that comes in the TV channel though anywhere. So I'm a big Oilers fan. I started in Alberta, so that's where I started following hockey. So that's what 1 thing I would say that most people do not know me except the people beside my house, because every time the hockey season comes in, I have an Oilers flag waving on my house, in the middle of Winnipeg.

Chantal Bassett:

Well, Nandika, I have to assume that any Canadian would love to have the Stanley Cup back in Canada be it the Winnipeg Jets or the Edmonton Oilers.

Nandika Bandara:

Absolutely.

Chantal Bassett:

All right. So Nandika, thank you so much for chatting with me. This has been Dr. Chantal Bassett, joined by Dr. Nandika Bandara, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Food, Proteins and Bioproducts at the University of Manitoba. And that is it for today's episodes of ChangeMAKErs, the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences Research and Innovation podcast. Join me in future episodes to hear about other fascinating research being led by agricultural and AgriFood innovators at the University of Manitoba.

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Part 1

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Needle-free vaccination systems for cattle

Proven effective by research

In this producer-focused podcast, Dr. Kim Ominski talks about the use of needle-free injection systems for cattle based on her research with colleagues.

Kim Ominski is a professor at the University of Manitoba and Director of the National Centre for Livestock and the Environment. Her research focuses on strategies for improving the long term sustainability of beef cattle production systems.

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Podcasts with our community

How to add more plant-based proteins to your meals

Plant-based proteins aren't just for vegans or vegetarians, they're a tasty, healthy option for everyone to enjoy. Join us as we chat with Getty Stewart, Professional Home Economist, to learn tips and ideas for where to find plant based proteins and how to add more of them to our weekly meals.

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Canada's Verified Beef Production Plus Program

Sustainable practices validated by research at its core

The Verified Beef Production Plus Program - VBP+ for short - is a voluntary, industry-led, market driven initiative. VBP+ validates sustainable beef production practices that are based on research findings from across the country, including the University of Manitoba. In this podcast, Betty Green, Manitoba's VBP+ coordinator, describes the program and shares her own personal story as a Manitoba farmer.

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Tips for small-scale poultry farmers

To keep their flocks healthy and disease free

Not every farm has to be a big business, but every farm needs to ensure the safety of their animals. Our guest for this podcast, provincial poultry specialist Amy Johnston, discusses strategies that small and hobby farms can put into practice to promote and improve animal health and welfare.

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Antimicrobial use in Canadian livestock

Regulation changes and new alternatives emerging from research

This podcast looks at the use of antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance in livestock production. Our guest, provincial poultry specialist Amy Johnston discusses recent changes in regulations as well as some research advancements in antibiotic alternatives to ensure livestock health and food safety.

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Manitoba's Food Development Centre

Where food innovations take shape

Do you know where innovative new food products and new food ingredients get their start? Our guest is Robin Young, Chief Operating Officer of the Food Development Centre. She shares how FDC is bringing together scientists and entrepreneurs to drive innovation and fuel our economy. The FDC is a trusted source of new food products and new food ingredients, and continued food testing to ensure quality foods make their way to market.

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Other podcasts

Crops

RealAgriculture, Farming Forward: The economics and science behind the right rate of nitrogen fertilizer


The Agronomists, Ep 149: SCN and root rots of soybean with Albert Tenuta and Mario Tenuta

Soybean cyst nematode is a tiny but very destructive pest of soybean. It’s so damaging, that its presence can cause up to 25 per cent yield loss before symptoms are visible.


The Agronomists, Ep 139: The cover crop fit with Peter Johnson and Dr. Yvonne Lawley

Cover crops are not magic. It's important to first understand the goal of using a cover crop and then measuring up each species and season to see if it’s a match. Farmers from east to west are using cover crops to accomplish several things: reducing erosion, cycling nutrients, fixing nitrogen, and fighting weeds.


The Agronomists, Ep 133: Choosing enhanced efficiency N products with Dale Cowan, Ray Dowbenko, and Mario Tenuta

Once nitrogen fertilizer lands on or in soil it may be at risk of loss — through leaching, volatilization, or denitrification. Management choices can minimize losses, through split-application, deep banding, or choice of product, but adding an enhanced efficiency fertilizer product can guard against loss, too.


Ep. 80 - Verticillium stripe

University of Manitoba professor and plant disease specialist Dilantha Fernando talks verticillium stripe with host Jay Whetter. Verticillium stripe is a relatively new disease of canola on the Canadian Prairies. This podcast conversation starts with disease origins and moves on to identification and management.


Benefits of cover crops

Farmers are seeing the benefits in cover crops. That's according to a University of Manitoba survey reflecting the growing use of cover crops on the Prairies.

Callum Morrison, a graduate student at the U of M, created the survey alongside Professor Yvonne Lawley. Morrison says this practice is in the early stage of adoption on the Prairies, there’s not that much information available as to how farmers are integrating cover crops into their operations.

He'll share the details of the survey and what the roughly 200 farmers shared about their experiences in 2020.


Potato early dying and CanPEDNet update with Dr. Mario Tenuta

Potato early dying complex is aptly named, with many factors contributing to this complicated disease of potato crops.


Do cattle have a role in regenerative agriculture?

Join Dr. Martin Entz of the University of Manitoba as he discusses the goals of regenerative agriculture and the benefits of integrated crop and livestock production.

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Future-Proof Farming: Healthy soil, healthy ROI

Dr. Martin Entz of the University of Manitoba believes that Canadians were given a sacred gift: some of the best soils in the world.

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Benefits of cover crops

Farmers are seeing the benefits in cover crops. That's according to a University of Manitoba survey reflecting the growing use of cover crops on the Prairies.

Callum Morrison, a graduate student at the U of M, created the survey alongside Professor Yvonne Lawley. Morrison says this practice is in the early stage of adoption on the Prairies, there’s not that much information available as to how farmers are integrating cover crops into their operations.

He'll share the details of the survey and what the roughly 200 farmers shared about their experiences in 2020.


Flea Beetles - MCGA webinar - April 9, 2021

Manitoba Canola Growers hosted a flea beetle webinar on April 8, 2021. This podcast is from that webinar recording. Guests are Manitoba Agriculture entomologist John Gavloski, University of Manitoba flea beetle research Alejandro Costamagna, Saskatchewan agronomist Larry Durand and CCC agronomy specialists Keith Gabert and Autumn Barnes.


Seedling disease complex, Krista Anderson, Mark Belmonte and Autumn Barnes, June 3, 2020

Pythium species, Fusarium species and Rhizoctonia solani – the "three amigos" – can cause seed rots, root rots and stem decay on young canola plants. Seed treatments are generally pretty good, but Krista Anderson from Bayer CropScience, Dr. Mark Belmonte from University of Manitoba and Autumn Barnes from the CCC explain the factors that can increase risks. They also describe management options (including rotation) that can keep these pathogens of the soil microbiome from rising up.


Agronomy Geeks, Ep 13: Don Flaten

With 20 years of teaching and research achieved, Dr. Don Flaten says it’s time to retire. It’s a retirement well earned, as the soil scientist with the University of Manitoba has taught over a thousand students the ins and outs of soil, its importance, and revealed to many the complexity of nutrient interactions.


Canola Discovery Forum - 4R panel - December 11, 2020

Canola Watch podcast host Jay Whetter moderated a live panel on 4R nutrient management at Canola Discovery Forum on December 2, 2020. This podcast is based on the recording of that panel discussion. Guests are Lyle Cowell with Nutrien in Saskatchewan, Dr. Mario Tenuta with the University of Manitoba, Dean Nelson, who farms in Alberta, and Adam Gurr, who farms in Manitoba.


The Agronomists, Ep 24: Deb Campbell and Don Flaten on 4R nutrient strategy

The right source, right rate, right time, right place for nutrients adds up to more efficient use of fertilizer dollars, and keeps nutrients in the fields and out of our water and air.

Livestock

Are Dairy Farmers Happy? Ft. Dr. Meagan King

The Holstein

Dr. Meagan King from the University of Manitoba joins us to discuss mental health. She is leading a research project about mental health in farming, and all Canadian farmers are invited to participate. We also discuss some more lighthearted topics related to other research projects that Dr. Meagan has done.


Enhancing Productivity and Environmental Sustainability with Marcos Cordeiro

Fod and Forage Roundup

Marcos Cordeiro is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal Science at the University of Manitoba. He holds a PhD in Biosystems Engineering and is registered as a Professional Engineer in Manitoba. He has extensive expertise in agro-environmental modelling, statistical analysis of large datasets (i.e., big data), spatial analyses using geographical information systems (GIS) and remote sensing (RS), and dataset development.

 


Precision Technology to Monitor and Predict Animal Health

Rumination

Cow lameness can have a negative impact on your herd milk production. See how monitoring animal health can help as Dr. Meagan King joins Chris in this week’s episode.


Talking Ticks & Bovine Anaplasmosis with Dr. Kateryn Rochon

Beef & Forage Roundup

In this episode, we discuss all things ticks. Kateryn is currently working on a project that is assessing the relationship between tick abundance on pastures and cattle, and the risk ticks represent to cattle and livestock workers.


Do cattle have a role in regenerative agriculture?

Join Dr. Martin Entz of the University of Manitoba as he discusses the goals of regenerative agriculture and the benefits of integrated crop and livestock production.

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Are cows wasting human food or eating food waste?

Join Dr. Kim Ominski as she discusses types of food wastes, opportunities and challenges for using food wastes as livestock feed, and the overlap between human food and cattle feed.

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Food and nutrition

Connecting nutritional strategies with chronic disease prevention with Dr. Dylan MacKay

Nutrition Conversations by The Canadian Nutrition Society

Chronic conditions such as diabetes and chronic kidney disease are major public health concerns and on the rise worldwide. Dietary interventions that include foods such as fruit and vegetables may help improve health outcomes, but what about adherence? Could providing foods directly to people as part of health services be a solution?


Eggs: Let’s Get Cracking with Dr. Jim House

Nutrition Conversations by The Canadian Nutrition Society

In this episode, Dr. House discusses the nutritional profile of eggs, their role on our health, and the new facilities for egg research at the University of Manitoba.


Episode 6 – Interview with Dr. Dylan MacKay

This episode features Dr. Dylan MacKay, a researcher and assistant professor at the University of Manitoba in the department of food and human nutrition. In this episode, Dr. MacKay discusses his research involving nutrition interventions in chronic kidney disease and diabetes.


Nutrigenetics- What Science Says About Genetically-Based Diet Plans (Interview with Dr. Dylan MacKay, Assistant Professor at the University of Manitoba)

Welcome to SciSection! Joining us in today's interview is our special guest Dr. Dylan MacKay, an assistant professor and researcher within the University of Manitoba's Department of Food and Human Nutritional Sciences 🍎🥼! We'll be learning about his research concerning the role of lifestyle in the treatment of chronic diseases, how the new scientific trend of nutrigenomics may not be the key to the perfect diet, combating scientific misinformation with transparency and trust, and so much more👀!


Ep. 77 - Canola oil fatty acids

What is canola oil? Michael Eskin, University of Manitoba distinguished professor, talks to host Jay Whetter about the fatty acids, including the kinky ones, that make up canola oil. After listening to this podcast, watch Eskin's rap – yes, rap – about fatty acids.


Episode 1: Salary and Career Trends, Food Science Raps, and the Impact of Race - ift.org

Find fresh data on salary and career trends in food science from top editors. Hear a lively (and musical) conversation with University of Manitoba biochemist and 2022 IFT Lifetime Achievement Award winner Michael Eskin. Listen to the timely insights of IFT Fellow Larry Keener on diversity, equity and inclusion principles and the impact of race in the scientific community.


Food: Security and Insecurity with Dr. Natalie Riediger

From working in a four generations family owned and operated grocery store in the inner city of Winnipeg to receiving 2020 Terry G. Falconer memorial Rh Institute Foundation Emerging Research Award, Dr. Natalie Riediger has been either working in or researching about food security. Natalie walks us through the Four Pillars that describe food security: availability, access, utilization, and stability.

General

Feeding the world without costing the earth with Dr. Nazim Cicek

In this episode, Michael Benarroch speaks to Dr. Nazim Cicek whose big ideas are proving that it doesn't have to cost the earth to feed the world. He's a professor in the Department of Biosystems Engineering and Associate Dean Research in the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Science. Michael and Nazim explore how research is advancing sustainable agriculture to address food shortages and the climate crisis.


U Talk S2E4: Preventing Tickborne Illness

Camping, hiking, and nature exploration continue as people enjoy the latter half of summer before the Canadian fall kicks in and the dreaded winter. Spending as much outdoor time as possible, people may not be thinking about ticks as the height of summer passes. However, according to Associate Professor - Veterinary Entomology at the University of Manitoba, Dr. Kateryn Rochon, it's essential to keep close attention until there is snow on the ground.

Dr. Kateryn walks us through the various ticks we can find here in Canada, how to identify them, and the best practices to protect yourself from tick-borne diseases.