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Summer 2010 • Vol. 2, No.1

R E S E A R C H

H I G H L I G H T S

Faculty connects with industry at Dairy Day Despite some heavy rain, more than 120 dairy producers donned their rubber boots on June 9 to attend Dairy Day 2010 at the Dairy Research & Technology Centre. Participants experienced a guided facility tour, demonstrations of ultrasonography monitoring and a rumen palpation using fistulated cows. They also heard updates on the research being conducted in nutritional management, lactation physiology, and more. The DRTC is a partnership between Alberta Milk, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, and the University of Alberta. The event is an opportunity to disseminate results of the DRTC’s research with producer and industry partners.

Tom McFadden, academic leader of U of A’s dairy group

Stephen Moore

ALES research leadership recognized, expanding The quality of the research leadership demonstrated by several Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences researchers was made quite evident lately. While one faculty member was named the director of a new network, the network headed by another faculty member was renewed and a research program was given additional funding. Agricultural economist Peter Boxall is the director of the Linking Environment and Agricultural Research Network (LEARN), a new network that seeks to develop policy that will “improve agricultural practices that ensure economic and environmental performance.” The Consumer and Market Demand Network – under the leadership of Ellen Goddard – was renewed. The network investigates changing consumer preferences for food attributes such as food safety, biotechnology, environmental friendliness and health. It will also address how these changes in demand affect producers, processors, and retailers. Thanks to funding from Alberta Innovates – Bio Solutions and the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency, Livestock Gentec (formerly the Alberta Bovine Genomics Program) will be expanding its research capacity to include all livestock. The centre, headed by Steve Moore, was a major participant in the first-ever sequencing of a bovine genome. They were also the first in Canada to sequence the genome of a beef bull and a dairy bull and have already identified more than 125 genetic markers to improve cattle.


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Designing regeneration tools for an ever-changing climate University of Alberta professor Andreas Hamann is working with a network of colleagues and students to develop practical recommendations on forest management for a future affected by climate change. Hamann said that trees are already being forced to adapt to changing conditions, but it’s generally not essential to know what the climate will be like in 50 or 80 years, when deciduous and coniferous trees planted today will mature. While long-term adaption is desirable, it’s critical to ensure new forest stands will survive their first 15 or 20 years. If they flourish during this period, they will likely do well over their whole lifetime.

This means today’s foresters and regulators need tools to help them make decisions around what species, and what genotypes or strains, to plant for the best chance of success in an uncertain future. One of the tools developed by Hamann and his team is a model that classifies areas of the western provinces according to their bioclimatic envelopes, or areas where regeneration of a species is likely to be successful. The system is currently out for peer review and fine-tuning, but there are areas where species will run out of habitat due to climate change, likely requiring updates to current legislation, Hamann said.

Andreas Hamann

Frog habitats more diverse than previously known Wetlands are not the only habitats of frogs, according to a Faculty of ALES researcher. In fact, frog distribution can extend far into the uplands, which has land use implications for forestry. Lee Foote and his colleagues Connie Browne and Cindy Paszkowski examined the habitats of the Canadian toad, the boreal chorus frog, and the wood frog and found that each species had different habitat preferences in Alberta. Researchers typically consider a one-kilometre circle around wetlands as the protected area for frogs but found that the wood frogs, in particular, have a much larger distribution, venturing up to five kilometres away from wetlands after the breeding season. Foote said

that the current land use practices of logging and farming within these pond-side buffer zones have major implications for the survival of frogs that venture into uplands. In addition, the researchers found that all three of the frog species preferred shallow, warm ponds, which are often the first to be lost to development because they seem inconsequential; in truth, they are vital contributors to frog populations. Examining frogs is important in understanding the implications of climate change. Because of their thin skin and mixed terrestrial and aquatic lifestyles, Foote said that frogs can serve as a “barometer” for measuring change.

Beef producers should consider alternate grading system: U of A researcher A University of Alberta researcher is studying an Australian beef grading system that, if adopted in Canada, could make it easier for producers to provide quality assurances on their meat. Sven Anders is examining the Meat Standards Australia grading system, which uses a variety of parameters to measure quality throughout each stage of production – from farm to fork. Based on these different criteria and measurements, the meat is graded on a scale of three to five stars and labelled. Anders says the current Canadian carcass

grading system, which focuses on the quality of the overall carcass rather than individual cuts of beef, cannot provide the same quality assurance as the more extensive MSA system. The Australian system takes measurements not only of a specific animal, but of a specific cut of beef. This way, a cut of beef is labelled with specific quality attributes and consumers are more consisSven Anders tently satisfied.

The MSA in Australia is a voluntary system that adds additional costs for producers and professors, but research suggests they gain an advantage over others who are not using the system. Anders hopes to “jumpstart” a discussion with Canadian producers about this system, as he believes it is something that would benefit the entire industry and increase consumer satisfaction. discoveries

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Faculty expands northern partnership

Clothing solution for chilly operating room environment A group of human ecology professors and students have developed a new garment for operating room staff that could help improve their comfort on the job. Hospital ORs are traditionally kept chilly for the comfort of surgeons sweating under the warm lights needed for their work, but that leaves others on the surgical team literally out in the cold. Third-year students Annette Aslund and Alex Pedden as well as master’s student Yin Xu, under the supervision of Human Ecology professors Megan Strickfaden and Rachel McQueen, designed a warm-up jacket that members of surgical teams can wear in the operating room

Annette Aslund, Yin Xu and Alex Pedden

and keep warm and comfortable. To design the jacket, the students conducted field research at the U of A hospital by monitoring room temperature and humidity in the surgical suites, observing medical teams at work and collecting textile samples from existing operating room garb. OR staff desired garments that were sterile, professional-looking, thermally functional, washable, that fit well and would be approved for use by Alberta Health Services. Using their data, the students drew up the prototype jacket which will be the subject of a pilot study. Securing grants to continue the research is next, Strickfaden said.

Novel approach fights Sclerotinia stem rot A novel strategy aimed at making canola crops able to tolerate a devastating disease caused by a fungal agent may actually result in tolerance to three diseases. Plant biochemist and biotechnologist Nat Kav and his research team adopted a technique typically used to combat viral diseases – introducing an antibody gene into a plant – to see if it would help the plant combat Sclerotinia stem rot. Kav’s findings show the genetically modified canola plants can tolerate the disease to the point where the plants remain healthy enough to be harvested with their yields unaffected. Sclerotinia stem rot has the Nat Kav third highest impact on Alberta discoveries

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canola growers, according to Ward Toma, general manager of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission. The disease attacks the stem, eventually breaking it and causing the plant to die. The plants also reacted the same way towards blackleg and Alternaria black spot, two other common fungal diseases of canola. Clubroot is the most feared disease by Alberta canola producers, according to Toma. Kav is testing his plants with the antibody gene for resistance to clubroot, research that complements the work of some of his University of Alberta colleagues who are working on breeding a clubrootresistant line of canola.

Reaffirming its commitment to the North, the U of A has partnered with Yukon College to offer a bachelor of science in environmental and conservation sciences to northern residents. The degree is being offered as a “2+2” program, where students do the first two years of the program at Yukon College and the last two years while enrolled at the U of A. John Kennelly, dean of the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences, which hosts the program, explained that the partnership aligns well with the faculty’s philosophy of reaching out to the entire province of Alberta and beyond. In addition, ALES has partnered with the Faculty of Native Studies, who will provide substantial First Nations content to the program. Some innovative approaches were needed to offer the program so far away from Edmonton. In particular, the university hired a faculty member, Fiona Schmiegelow, who is located in Whitehorse, to co-ordinate the program and deliver some of the courses. Schmiegelow said that they will have U of A professors visit Yukon College to deliver full-term courses in a condensed format as well as use distance-learning technologies.

Yukon College President Terry Weninger and Faculty of ALES Dean John Kennelly


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Off-reserve Aboriginal households at greater risk

Family members in 14 per cent of Canadian Aboriginal households located off-reserve are either eating less or simply going hungry while 33 per cent of the same households have unsatisfactory access to enough food, a new University of Alberta study has found. “Off-reserve Aboriginal households

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merit special attention for income security and poverty alleviation programs to prevent food insecurity,” said Noreen Willows, an associate professor of agricultural, food and nutritional science and the lead researcher on the study. She said federal funding for off-reserve Aboriginal families who are struggling below the poverty line should be increased while provinces shouldn’t claw back other social assistance when supplemental federal funding is provided. Willows added the study revealed that Aboriginal single-parent families with three or more children, of which the majority are headed by women, were shown to be especially vulnerable. “In these types of households, mothers tend to sacrifice their own diet so that the children won’t go hungry,” said Willows. “However, given the level of poverty in some off-reserve Aboriginal households, children are surely going hungry.” Willows and fellow researchers from the U of A School of Public Health used data drawn from a national survey on nutrition and reviewed 1,528 Aboriginal and 33,579 nonAboriginal households to conduct the study, which was published in Public Health Nutrition.

Improving water quality not economically profitable Beneficial management practices (BMPs) to improve water quality are not economically profitable for agricultural producers, according to Scott Jeffrey and Jim Unterschultz of the Department of Rural Economy. Jeffrey and Unterschultz conducted research associated with BMP implementation in the Lower Little Bow watershed in southern Alberta as part of the Watershed Evaluation of Beneficial Management Practices (WEBs), a national research program sponsored by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The program examines both the biophysical and economic impacts of implementing BMPs at seven different watershed sites throughout the country. The researchers’ preliminary findings suggest that since producers don’t have a financial incentive to implement BMPs, policy-makers will have to decide how to encourage adoption. “Are we going to regulate so that ­producers

WEBs research in the Lower Little Bow

have to (use BMPs) and they simply have to deal with lower profits, or are we going to provide positive incentives either through subsidies or other sorts of programs?” Jeffrey asked. As it stands now, the hydrological and economic research within WEBs is incomplete so the benefits of BMPs are not yet fully quantified. Jeffrey and Unterschultz will continue research in the Lower Little Bow with phase II of WEBs and will expand their research to include irrigation production systems.

Support system for seniors not a given in rural communities Rural communities may not be as tight-knit and supportive of the elderly as is commonly thought, a University of Alberta study has found. Jennifer Swindle, a U of A researcher who conducted the study for her PhD thesis under the supervision of Norah Keating, noted that rural communities vary in the services they offer seniors, and that some would benefit from adding more support for their elderly citizens. Swindle surveyed 1,312 adults aged 65 and older across rural Canada, and discovered that 15 per cent of people received no support, while up to nine per cent of seniors who received support had a few people who provided help with tasks like housework, shopping and transportation. “People can be well-connected socially in a community, but that doesn’t mean they are receiving support. On average, the social networks in the study were comprised of 10 people, but the support networks only averaged three people,” Swindle said. With government cuts in services and the closure of some rural hospitals, a lack of homegrown support is worrisome for seniors living in rural areas. “This research makes it clear that there is a place for formal services in rural Canada, because support for older adults can’t lie solely on the shoulders of families and friends,” said Swindle. discoveries

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Discoveries Newsletter Summer 2010