A new research facility at Kwantlen Polytechnic University is using molecular genetics and metabolomics – the study of DNA and other molecules within cells – to help develop solutions for various industries in the Metro Vancouver region.
“The KPU Applied Genomics Centre is focused on using genomic and metabolomic tools to help various industry partners within the agriculture sector to improve product development and product consistency through various types of applied research and development projects. In addition, the Centre performs some human health research using genetic tools to better understand the genetic underpinnings of human disease” says Dr. Paul Adams, scientific director of the KPU Applied Genomics Centre (AGC).
“A lot of what we do is DNA sequencing, so reading the genetic code of plants and animals and humans. Also measuring the output of cells in different conditions to see how the genetics might be influencing cell performance.”
For example, the team has worked with companies in the dairy industry to help identify bacteria in cows that may lead to health issues.
“We’re using genetic tools to do this cost-effectively to make it economical for the farmers and we’re increasing the sensitivity of the test so they can detect them earlier,” adds Adams. “Early detection means better management of the disease and less of an economic impact on farmers.”
The centre is also working with several local nurseries, crop producers and breweries to develop new unique hop plant varieties for use in the production of craft beers in B.C.
Students are an integral part of the centre as they get hands-on training in research.
“Each of our research projects has at least one student working directly on the project,” says Adams.
“These students are actually doing the work – collecting samples, running experiments, getting hands-on experience on state-of-the-art genomics and metabolomics equipment doing research in the lab, and also getting to do fieldwork at industry sites. They’re getting the opportunity to learn about experimental design, data collection, data analysis and working with relevant industry partners.”
Having these opportunities to have direct involvement in applied research at KPU is a great opportunity for students like Monique Ly.
“Working in the Applied Genomics Centre has been an invaluable experience and I can't help but smile at the expansive list of learning opportunities that come with this position. I am given projects that teach me a lot about the research process, the in's and out's of the industry and various practical, hands-on skills that I never would have learned in the classroom - especially so in a virtual setting,” says Ly.
Work at the centre has been funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, BC Knowledge Development Fund, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, BC Investment Agriculture Foundation, BC Ataxia Society, in addition to the industry partners and KPU.
“We’re very fortunate to have many community partners that we do research with. Our partnerships are symbiotic, we’re both benefitting. The centre benefits by connecting with the surrounding community to be informed about relevant industry needs and our students are gaining industry-relevant hands-on experience. Our community partners benefit by receiving access to our specialized equipment and expertise,” says Adams. “We’re helping them solve some of the challenges that they’re having in their industries.”
“Another great value of the Centre is that faculty members within KPU have the opportunity to conduct their research in the Centre, which then informs their teaching," Adams adds.
This new facility is a major addition to KPU’s agriculture education and research portfolio, which includes the Faculty of Science and Horticulture, two reputed research institutes – the Institute for Sustainable Horticulture and the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems – and three farm schools.
“The creation of the facility enhances KPU’s capacity to engage in applied research and innovation that meets the needs of our communities,” says Dr. Deepak Gupta, associate vice-president of research, innovation and graduate studies at KPU.
“The addition of this centre providing genomics and metabolomics solutions to B.C.’s agriculture sector complements our existing strengths. It also furthers our ability to innovate across entire continuums, from ‘farm to fork’ and ‘grain-to-glass’.
“The centre helps accelerate research at KPU. Undergraduate students get rare exposure and training on cutting-edge genomics instrumentation and infrastructure. By delivering on industry-driven projects both inside and outside of their program curriculum, they gain and apply their knowledge and skills to ‘real-world’ innovation challenges from B.C.’s agriculture sector.”