discoveries R e s e a r c h
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Summer 2012 • Vol. 5, No.2
R E S E A R C H
H I G H L I G H T S
ALES signs MOU with Seoul National University
Faculty of ALES researchers awarded investments to further agricultural studies
Dean John Kennelly, Provost Carl Amrhein and Dean Hak-Lae Lee.
The Faculty of ALES has signed a memorandum of understanding with Seoul National University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, paving the way for increased collaboration between the two. The MOU calls for the development of a major joint research project, an increase in the exchange of faculty members and graduate students and the co-supervision of graduate students. . . . continued on page 2
Phytola gets new lab, consolidates research A new $1.5 million state-of-the-art lab is opening up a world of possibilities for the Alberta Innovates – Phytola Centre. The new facility, located in the Agriculture/ Forestry Centre, provides researchers with high quality technology and equipment in an environment far more conducive to collaboration. “The new space will facilitate more effective interactions among Phytola researchers,” said scientific director Randall Weselake on the occasion of the lab’s opening last January. “It will also allow research to expand as the research and development activities of new industrial
partners come into play.” The new facility was built with funding from the University of Alberta, which invested more than $300,000. The Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Alberta Science and Research Investment Program each contributed roughly half of the remaining $1.2 million. Weselake’s team focuses on numerous aspects of bioactive oils, including the creation of a high-value, omega-3 enriched nutritional supplement for poultry Randall Weselake and aquafeed.
ALES researchers Scott Chang from the Department of Renewable Resources and Edward Bork with the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science are using an investment of nearly $600,000 by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to co-lead a project to study greenhouse gas mitigation in agroforestry systems. They will use the funding to measure the amount of carbon that can be stored and the amount of greenhouse gas reduced with the use of agroforestry systems, which could lead to new diversified farm income and new employment opportunities through the development of bio-based products. Meanwhile, technology developed by ALES researcher David Bressler of the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science to convert animal fats and crop seed oil into hydrocarbons, solvents and high-value chemicals received $2.4 million in funding from Western Economic Diversification Canada and the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency. The funding will go towards establishing a pilot industrial plant at the U of A’s Agri-Food Discovery Place. Once the technology is refined, it could lead to the establishment of an Alberta-based industrial plant and U of A spinoff company.
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Researcher calls for healthier food options for children at rec facilities
Marty Luckert and Philippe Marcoul discuss agricultural practices with Tanzanian colleagues.
Children may be receiving health benefits from exercising in Alberta’s recreational facilities but a recent study suggests they aren’t getting healthy food to match. ALES PhD student Dana Olstad of the
epartment of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional D Science examined the nutritional content of food and drinks in vending machines and concession stands in recreational facilities across the province and found that only six per cent of them are
Canadians willing to pay for increased traceability of meat products
following the province’s voluntary nutritional guidelines for children and youth. “Our results would suggest that the guidelines should be mandatory because of the fact that so few facilities are using them,” Olstad said, adding that otherwise, the number of recreational facilities using the guidelines is unlikely to increase. During a series of studies related to the topic, Olstad noticed several factors preventing facilities from fully adopting the guidelines. The perspective of facility managers proved to be a key component, as well as a lack of partnership between some facilities and the food industry. Olstad believes the food industry should improve the marketing of healthier food items to encourage more children to buy them, which would ultimately serve as an economic benefit for the industry.
Despite having a “reasonably high level of confidence” in the safety of food in Canada, an increasing number of Canadian consumers are asking for better traceability of meat products. In a study conducted in Canada, Japan and the United States by ALES researcher Ellen Goddard of the Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology, more than 50 per cent of people surveyed said they would be willing to pay more for a beef product if it could be traced back to its farm of origin. In Canada, traceability of food products is mostly stopped at the processing level, meaning they are only traced from the farm to the slaughter house. “I’m a little bit frustrated that there’s not very much discussion about having it traceable all the way through to the final consumer because people rely on, ‘well, everyone’s pretty confident anyway,’” said Goddard. “These are things we increasingly have to pay attention to if we want to make sure we keep our consumers happy.” Goddard is currently studying the use of animal DNA characteristics to track meat, which could potentially create a cheaper way of tracking meat as it travels through the system.
ALES signs MOU with Seoul National University continued from page 1 . . .
Three representatives from SNU – Prof. Hak-Lae Lee, dean of the college, Prof. JongKya Ha, chair of the college’s Department of Food and Biotechnology and Prof. Eun-Woo Park, the outgoing dean of the college – were at the U of A to sign the MOU with Provost
Carl Amrhein, Dean John Kennelly and AFNS Chair Erasmus Okine. During their brief two-day visit, the South Korean delegation met with key faculty personnel and visited ALES facilities on the north and south campuses. “When I saw the (livestock) genomics lab, I saw that there is much to exchange, share and
collaborate,” said Dean Lee, who added that he and his colleagues were impressed with the open lab system they saw in the Agriculture/ Forestry Centre. The MOU builds upon the original MOU signed between the University of Alberta and SNU in 2003, which was renewed last summer.
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Discovery increases amount of water recovered from tailings ponds
Vitamin D supplement benefits bone health and immune system in young pigs A vitamin D supplement known for increasing bone health in pigs also reduces the risk of disease during vulnerable stages of their life. ALES researcher Daniel Barreda, from the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, discovered that the addition of a commercial supplement of vitamin D called HyD to pigs’ diets positively contributed to their immune responses, allowing them to better defend themselves against disease during periods of weaning and gestation. “We found that vitamin D worked pretty well, but this new hydroxalated version (HyD), which is a metabolite of vitamin D, is a lot better in small pigs, which are actually the most vulnerable,” said Barreda. “The moment you wean them, they’re stressed. They just got removed from their mothers, so it’s a very vulnerable stage.” Barreda and his team also found that the improvement of immunity was selective to certain areas of the pigs’ bodies that are most relevant for fighting disease, preventing them from wasting energy that could be better spent on things like muscle growth or milk production.
As Alberta faces increasing pressure to make the oil industry more sustainable, one ALES researcher is finding that microbes could be used to increase the amount of water recovered from tailings ponds. Tariq Siddique of the Department of Renewable Resources has found a natural way to speed up the settling process of tailings, which are the materials left over after oil sands have been processed, and include water, clay particles, unrecovered bitumen and residual solvents. While it can take decades to fully separate the water from this leftover material dumped in tailings ponds, Siddique has discovered that microorganisms in tailings ponds degrade hydrocarbons from residual solvents and leftover bitumen, which rids tailings of these contaminants. Since more microbial activTariq Siddique ity means more densification, Siddique has been conducting studies using a small-scale bioreactor in which he feeds organic waste to microbes to grow the population, hoping to accelerate densification. His team observed a water release of about 40 per cent when using the bioreactor. Siddique has also developed a kinetic model in order to predict how much greenhouse gas will be produced depending on the amount of hydrocarbons in tailings, which could be used to calculate the emissions of oil companies and help in developing regulations to mitigate these emissions.
Study shows friends make better non-kin caregivers than neighbours
When it comes to non-kin caregivers in Canada, a recent University of Alberta study has shown that friends tend to provide better care than neighbours. PhD student Tracey LaPierre and her supervisor, ALES researcher Norah Keating of the Department of Human Ecology, discovered that friends were more likely to provide care for longer and perform more intimate tasks for adults over the age of 65. Friends could often be counted on to perform tasks like banking and personal care, while neighbors would usually help with everyday jobs such as driving them to appointments, taking out the garbage, bringing over meals or checking up on them. “So, if you just had to rely on neighbors to provide support, would you be just fine? The short answer is not for very long,” said Keating. The study found that at least 20 per cent of non-paid caregivers in Canada are friends and neighbors, who typically assist with caregiving when family members live far away or have full time work schedules that prevent them from being present on a daily basis. About 15 per cent of the elderly in Canada have no family members to care for them, making the presence of a nearby friend caregiver all the more important. Keating hopes that in the future, more research will be done on the role of friend and neighbor caregivers in rural communities where it’s harder to get formal services.
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Sniffing out a solution to smelly clothes University of Alberta scientists are using smelly gym clothes to understand how to build a better, odour-free garment. Using state-of-the-art techniques for molecular separations in a chemistry lab to analyze a pile of sweaty T-shirts worn and washed by 18 study participants, lead researchers Rachel McQueen from the Department of Human Ecology and James Harynuk joined forces to tackle the problem of stinky workout gear. With each participant receiving two specially designed T-shirts, the stack of 36 shirts was specially sewn with two test fabrics — untreated cotton matched either with untreated polyester or with cotton treated with a silver-chloride antimicrobial, designed to fight odour-causing bacteria in sweat. Participants wore the bisymmetrical shirts when exercising, then washed them after each workout. Their research showed that, for less reek in workout gear, cotton is better than polyester. The experiment also revealed that the T-shirts treated with the antimicrobial finish were not effective in cutting body odour. “Fabric options vary for workout clothing, but for anyone concerned about body odour, cotton would be a preferable choice,” said McQueen. “Ultimately, the ideal is to find a formula for an odour-resistant textile that can be washed less frequently between workouts, resulting in a more sustainable garment,” she added.
James Harynuk, Rachel McQueen and post-doctoral fellow A. Paulina de la Mata.
Beef producers should consider alternate grading system The system that rates Canadian beef cattle could be beefed up to offer consumers a more consistent grading as well as added value to producers, according to an ALES researcher with the Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology. Economist Sven Anders examined the Meat Standards Australia (MSA) grading system, which uses 27 different parameters to measure quality throughout each stage of production – from farming to processing. Sandeep Mohapatra He says the current Canadian grading
More peat fires in our future A significant new wildland fire management threat in Alberta and Canada is rearing its ugly head. Peat fires – slow burning, sometimes imperceptible, more difficult to put out and a more significant emitter of greenhouse gases than typical forest fires – are expected to increase in the coming years, according to Mike Flannigan, a wildland fire expert with the University of Alberta and the Canadian Forest Service. “Because we expect more drought and drier fuels, we also expect more peat to burn,” he said. This is particularly relevant to Alberta and Canada as 30 to 35 per cent of terrestrial carbon resides in the boreal forest, and much of it is peat. The concern is two-fold, he added. First, peat fires add to the positive feedback loop. The warmer the temperature gets, the more fires are produced. This, in turn, releases more greenhouse gases, which make temperatures warmer. Furthermore, smoke from peat fires is a health concern as it contains elevated levels of mercury, which is a neurotoxin. The best way to prepare is to increase prevention measures, said Flannigan. “Educate the public, enforce fire bans and restrict activities during periods of extreme fire weather.”
system, in which the carcasses are visually inspected and its meat labelled, cannot provide the same quality assurance as the more extensive MSA system. He believes that Canada’s grading system is responsible for the inconsistencies between the labelling and the quality of Canadian beef. “Fortunately in Canada, the beef quality overall is very good, but sometimes you go to the store and you get a steak that melts on your tongue. The next week you go to the same store and you buy the same cut and it’s just not there. It’s hit and miss,” Anders said. He hopes to jump-start a discussion with Canadian producers about this system as he
believes it is something that would benefit them and the entire industry.