Most microbes found in nature cannot be cultivated in the lab, and hence require different approaches to study them. DNA is extracted and cloned into a host organism, typically E. coli, in which it can be expressed and studied using standard biological techniques. By automating and decreasing the volumes of many lab processes involved in these methods, we can decrease costs and increase throughput. My work primarily involves the identification and characterization of enzymes valuable to both the academic and the industrial communities, focusing in particular on glycoside hydrolases, useful for the production of ethanol from plant matter.
What do you hope to accomplish with your research?
Applying these approaches to environments ranging from the deep ocean, to coal bed methane samples, to forest soils, I hope to identify valuable enzymes and pathways used by these bacteria that are useful in a range of fields, from environmental ecology to biofuel research.
What has winning a major award meant to you?
Winning an award from NSERC gave me confidence in my scientific insight and contributions and that the work I'm doing is of value to society. I'm hoping this award will help to drive me to new heights, and allow me to make new scientific breakthroughs and open up deeper views and further questions into the behavior of microbial environments.
What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?
Vancouver, and B.C. in general, offers amazing areas for outdoor recreation in all seasons. I love skiing, hiking, and mountain biking, and the ability to work and live so close to some of the best places in the world for these activities was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
UBC has many researchers that are leaders in their field. The Genome Science and Technology program gave me the opportunity to work in three very different labs and choose the one that suited me the best. I was fortunate to be able to work with Dr. Carl Hansen, a pioneer in the hugely promising field of microfluidics, Dr. Sam Aparicio, a world leader in breast oncology at the B.C. Cancer Agency, and Dr. Steven Hallam, a leading researcher in genomic studies.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
Take advantage of everything Vancouver has to offer! Vancouver offers a unique blend of arts, culture and recreation, so when you need a break from your research, head into town and see a show or relax at the beach. And during the bleak winter months when the rain seems endless, remember that means it's snowing on the mountains!