HELPING TO MAKE FOOD SYSTEMS SUSTAINABLE
“Food systems are clearly central to human wellbeing, but they’re also at the centre of so many of our critical sustainability challenges, whether it’s climate change, competition for land and water, or biodiversity loss.
I believe this requires a three pronged research approach. One—focused on issues of sustainable scale; second—what are those key opportunities to improve resource efficiencies and to reduce emissions?; and, finally, we need to take a careful look at distributive issues to ensure that our food systems are, collectively, really supporting the objectives that we have with respect to food security and distributive justice.”
Assistant Professor, Biology
Egg Industry Chair in Sustainability
EXPLORING THE MICROBIOLOGY OF WINE
“When I’m looking at a glass of wine, I’m thinking about the microbes, which is a whole other facet of winemaking because the microbes are what make wine.
As a microbial ecologist, it’s really important to help winemakers understand what’s actually going on in their fermentations, and what yeast and bacteria are actually producing the wines that they’re making because different yeasts can have different effects on the sensory profiles. They can actually change the way that a wine tastes and smells.
PhD Student, Biology
DETERMINING HOW TO PROTECT SPECIES AT RISK
The world is losing many of the world’s species at an alarming rate. Associate professor Karen Hodges and her research team are exploring mechanisms to best protect species at risk in Canada.
“We looked at all of the species at risk listed under the Species at Risk Act to see if the legal provisions were being followed for these animals and plants in Canada. What we found, rather shockingly, is more than 60% of species that are listed have not had the legal protections put in place that they should have had under the law…If we want to protect species, we need to use tools like the Species at Risk Act to the fullest extent possible.”
LEVERAGING THE FRUIT FLY TO TACKLE NEURODEGENERATIVE DISEASES
“In my lab we leverage fruit fly discoveries to inform us about what happens during neurodegenerative disease in the human.
We’re interested in the very earliest stages of neurodegenerative disease. That’s when cell-to-cell contacts that allow neurons to communicate are destroyed. What controls that destruction? How is it initiated? And how can we intervene to block it? Those are the key questions that my group is interested in solving.
Vice Principal Research
CENTRES, INSTITUTES AND LABS
Our labs and centres form the foundation of our research efforts, where our faculty members work with a number of community and industry partners to advance knowledge in the biological sciences, and provide hands-on research and learning opportunities for students.
The Barker lab studies cellular decisions that regulate life and death decisions in the normal and damaged nervous system. We combine genetics with cell and molecular biology to study and decipher conserved intracellular pathways in model systems ranging from flies to rodents.
Lavenders are a diverse group of species in the mint family with over 40 different species and many more cultivars within these species. We are interested in the molecular, cellular, biochemical and environmental factors that regulate the quality and quantity of aromas and essential oils produced by lavendar, and to improve crop plants through biotechnology.
Our researchers are interested in invasive species ecology and biocontrol; the origins of diversity patterns among freshwater diatoms; the influence of regional/historical processes on community assembly; and historical/biogeographical perspectives on associations between plants and mycorrhizal fungi.
Our objective is to develop solutions to difficult and unsolved environmental issues. Our achievements are the result of collaborations between faculty and students with backgrounds in the disciplines of chemical, civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering, as well as chemistry and biology.
Human modification of the environment, including large-scale habitat conversion and soaring greenhouse gas emissions, pose major threats to global biological diversity. Maintaining species’ ability to persist in changing environments ultimately means preserving genetic variation underlying ecologically important traits. Work in our lab is at the interface of ecology and evolution, investigating the genetics of adaptation, life history variation, speciation, population history and phylogeography.
The Facility for Environmental and Biological Imaging provides state-of-the-art confocal microscopy services to members of the UBC community and external researchers.
Services include training and advice on imaging needs, as well as the use of the facility’s instruments, including the Olympus FluoView FV10i, Olympus FluoView FV1000, and Zeiss Axioimager.
Modern food systems connect us, biophysically and socially. They are also key contributors to many of our most pressing sustainability issues, from local through global scales. The Food Systems Priority Research for Integrated Sustainability Management (PRISM) Lab is a hub for cross-cutting research at the intersection of food system sustainability measurement and management.
The Okanagan Institute for Biodiversity, Resilience, and Ecosystem Services (BRAES) is a group of over 30 faculty members and their graduate students working in ecology, biodiversity and conservation, and environmental sustainability on UBC’s Okanagan campus. BRAES’ special strength is its multidisciplinary focus, with members from departments of biology, mathematics and statistics, literary and cultural studies, earth and environmental sciences, physical geography, economics and creative arts.
We are concerned with the metabolism of isoprenoids in plants, more specifically, the molecular, cellular, biochemical, and environmental factors that regulate the quality and quantity of aromas and essential oils produced by herbal and medicinal plants. Current work focuses on identification, cloning, and characterization of structural and regulatory genes that are involved in the biosynthesis, inter- and intracellular trafficking, secretion and storage of monoterpenes in plants cells specialized for secondary metabolite production.
The PALEO LAB specialises in the use of midge fossils for the reconstruction of past environmental changes, particularly glacial and postglacial climates, and recent human impacts on lake ecosystems. We collaborate extensively with researchers at universities across Canada, as well as Parks Canada and the Royal British Columbia Museum.
PlantSMART investigates the chemicals produced by plants and how plant chemicals affect human health. Research themes include: chemistry of cannabis and other medicinal plants; plant chemistry for food security; chemistry of natural non-protein amino acids; chemical regulation of plant signalling behaviour; chemistry of plant responses to light.
Across the Earth, human modification of the environment has never been so widespread as it is today. The Wildlife Restoration Ecology Lab (WiRE Lab) is addressing the impact of human activity on the interactions among large predators (wolves, bears, cougars), their prey (deer, elk), and plants, in human-modified landscapes. We use a combination of field experiments, GPS tracking, computer models, and satellite imagery to bring together the ecology of individuals, populations, and communities.
Can we reduce the environmental impact of agriculture by making smarter choices about how we grow food, by finding natural ways to control pests, and by supporting the natural microorganisms that support plants?
How do things like habitat connectivity and land disturbance affect wildlife. We study animals, including local songbirds, cougars, and bears, as well as more exotic species like Galapagos tortoises.
Microbiome, diet, & health
How does the interaction of nutrition, microbiome, and our immune system affect diabetes, heart disease, and inflammatory bowel disease?
How do the cells of the nervous system maintain and repair themselves, and how do errors in these processes lead to Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, and other conditions?
How can we use the revolution in DNA sequencing to better understand how cells, organisms, and ecosystems function?
Wine, Cannabis, Lavender
How do local yeasts affect wine fermentation? How do plants like cannabis and lavender make flavours and medicines?
How do insects respond to the signals plants make? How can we better manage pests of fruit trees?
How do bacterial and fungal communities impact lakes, soil, and human health?
How can we monitor and support biodiversity, and protect it from invasive species and human impacts?
Opportunities for Undergraduate Students
The Department of Biology offers many opportunities for undergraduate students to gain valuable research experience. You can participate in research either as a volunteer research assistant, or through Directed Studies and/or Honours opportunities. Explore your options and apply below.
The opportunity: Get experience helping faculty members, graduate students, or a mixture of the two, with their research projects. Students can participate in lab-based or field research, at study sites in diverse forests, grasslands, lakes and rivers, and agroecosystems. This is a non-paid, non-credit based opportunity that will give you the chance to participate in various elements of conducting research. The duties and length of the opportunity is determined by the supervising faculty member.
Prerequisites: Typically, no experience is required, but some research labs may require students to have previous research experience. Some opportunities may also require the completion of certain courses prior to volunteering. Consult your program advisor or a faculty member for more information.
The opportunity: Carry out your own research project under the supervision of a faculty member in biology, biochemistry and molecular biology, ecology and evolutionary biology, or microbiology. You can earn three or six credits, depending upon the project.
Prerequisites: Third-year standing and permission of a faculty member to supervise the project. Some majors require additional approvals. Limit of 9 credits per acamedic year. Consult your program advisor or a faculty member for more information.
The opportunity: Investigate a research problem under the supervision of a faculty member. You will be involved in all aspects of the research process, such as research design, data collection, and data analysis. Presenting findings is another key component of research, and this option requires completion of a written report and a public presentation of your research findings.
Completion of the undergraduate honours thesis contributes six credits towards your degree, but does not guarantee an honours distinction. To receive the honours distinction, you will also need to satisfy all of the graduation requirements including, but not limited to, a minimum average of 75% in all courses, and a minimum grade of 75% on your honours thesis.
Prerequisites: These vary by major, but all require fourth-year standing, a minimum average of 75% in all courses taken, and a research supervisor. Consult your program advisor or a faculty member for more information.
Awards for Undergraduate Students
The Department of Biology and the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences offer a number of awards to support exceptional research experiences for students at UBC’s Okanagan campus.
The Undergraduate Research Awards (URA), NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRA), and the Rogers Family Charity Trust Award in Biology all provide opportunities for undergraduate students to pursue innovative and original research as part of their learning experience.
Our Partners and Donors
Together, we are making a difference, locally and around the world. Our partners and donors allow us to carry out our mission of helping the community, making advancements in biological research, and providing quality education in the in the biological sciences.
If you are interested in becoming a partner or donor, we would love to hear from you.