Nathan Skolski

Email: nathanskolski@okmain.cms.ok.ubc.ca


 

UBC Okanagan researchers Sadaf Shabanian (left) and Kevin Golovin (right) test water-repellent fabric treatment.

UBC Okanagan researchers Sadaf Shabanian (left) and Kevin Golovin (right) test water-repellent fabric treatment.

New research creates sustainable and non-toxic replacement for traditional water-repellent chemistry

A sustainable, non-toxic and high-performance water-repellent fabric has long been the holy grail of outdoor enthusiasts and clothing companies alike. New research from UBC Okanagan and outdoor apparel giant Arc’teryx is making that goal one step closer to reality with one of the world’s first non-toxic oil and water-repellent performance textile finishes.

The research was published this week in the journal Nature Sustainability.

Outdoor fabrics are typically treated with perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) to repel oil and water. But according to Sadaf Shabanian, doctoral student at UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering and study lead author, PFCs come with a number of problems.

“PFCs have long been the standard for stain repellents, from clothing to non-stick frying pans, but we know these chemicals have a detrimental impact on human health and the environment,” explains Shabanian. “They pose a persistent, long-term risk to health and the environment because they take hundreds of years to breakdown and linger both in the environment and our bodies.”

According to Mary Glasper, materials developer at Arc’teryx and collaborator on the project, these lasting impacts are one of the major motivations for clothing companies to seek out new methods to achieve the same or better repellent properties in their products.

To solve the problem, Shabanian and the research team added a nanoscopic layer of silicone to each fibre in a woven fabric, creating an oil-repellent jacket fabric that repels water, sweat and oils.

By understanding how the textile weave and fibre roughness affect the liquid interactions, Shabanian says she was able to design a fabric finish that did not use any PFCs.

“The best part of the new design is that the fabric finish can be made from biodegradable materials and can be recyclable,” she says. “It addresses many of the issues related to PFC-based repellent products and remains highly suitable for the kind of technical apparel consumers and manufacturers are looking for.”

Arc’teryx is excited about the potential of this solution.

“An oil- and water-repellent finish that doesn’t rely on PFCs is enormously important in the world of textiles and is something the whole outdoor apparel industry has been working on for years,” says Glasper. “Now that we have a proof-of-concept, we’ll look to expand its application to other DWR-treated textiles used in our products and to improve the durability of the treatment.”

“Working to lessen material impacts on the environment is crucial for Arc’teryx to meet our goal of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 65 per cent in intensity by 2030,” she adds.

Kevin Golovin, principal investigator of the Okanagan Polymer Engineering Research & Applications Lab where the research was done, says the new research is important because it opens up a new area of green textile manufacturing.

He explains that while the new technology has immense potential, there are still several more years of development and testing needed before people will see fabrics with this treatment in stores.

“Demonstrating oil repellency without the use of PFCs is a critical first step towards a truly sustainable fabric finish,” says Golovin. “And it’s something previously thought impossible.”

The research is funded through a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), with support from Arc’teryx Equipment Inc.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

About Arc’teryx

Arc’teryx is a Canadian company based in the Coast Mountains. Our design process is connected to the real world, focused on delivering durable, unrivaled performance. Our products are distributed through more than 3,000 retail locations worldwide, including over 80 branded stores. We are problem solvers, always evolving and searching for a better way to deliver resolved, minimalist designs. Good design that matters makes lives better.

To find out more, visit: www.arcteryx.com

UBCO associate professor Nelly Oelke is one of the researchers receiving funding from the interior university research coalition for her work in mental health resilience in rural communities

Interior university research coalition funds research to improve the lives of those living outside large urban centres

The challenges facing rural and remote communities do not always make front-page news, but this lack of attention does not make them less important, especially for those who live there.

Supported by the Interior University Research Coalition’s (IURC) Regional/Rural/Remote Communities (R3C) Collaborative Research Grant, three Interior university research teams will address the complex problems faced by British Columbians who live outside large metropolitan areas. The funded projects grapple with disparate topics such as aging, water treatment and mental-health resiliency in the face of climate change.

“Rural and remote communities in non-metropolitan areas are experiencing economic, social and environmental changes that are profound and complex,” says Janice Larsen, IURC director.

“It is vital to understand and support the healthy and stable development of our society, our economy and our environment,” she adds.

Each of these three research teams receives $40,000 to complete their projects.

TRU associate professor Wendy Hulko, joined by UBCO’s Kathy Rush and UNBC’s Sarah De Leeuw, leads a project investigating the results of the Interior Health’s repositioning of health-care services for seniors. The intent of repositioning services was to enable older adults to live at home longer, reduce hospital admissions and delay residential care.

One of the outcomes of Interior Health’s service restructure was the creation of health and wellness centres in Kamloops and Kelowna. The centres provide primary health care for older adults and were designed to create better access to health services for vulnerable populations. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will certainly play a role in the study, says Hulko.

“One of the goals of these wellness centres was to get people connected to care, but we will have to find out how those services have been impacted by the pandemic and how the pandemic is impacting the ability of older adults to age in place,” she explains.

UNBC Environmental Engineering professor Jianbing Li leads research to develop an effective, low-cost, portable water-treatment system for remote and rural communities. Due to a lack of resources, rural communities have long faced challenges in accessing potable water, and consumption of untreated water poses health risks. Joined by Rehan Sadiq and Kasun Hewage, professors in UBCO’s School of Engineering, the research team aims to develop a household water-treatment system that would remove common contaminants from rural water sources. By the project’s end, a prototype of the water treatment system would be demonstrated in the community.

“Having reliable access to a safe drinking water supply is essential for the healthy development of rural, regional and remote communities,” says Li. “Our interdisciplinary research team is working toward discovering a water treatment solution, training graduate students and developing meaningful partnerships with relevant communities in British Columbia.”

UBCO associate professor Nelly Oelke leads a project that aims to foster resilience in rural and remote communities by developing a greater understanding of the mental-health impacts of climate-change events.

“Climate-change events can result in extreme physical and psychological trauma for vulnerable populations living in rural and remote communities,” says Oelke. “PTSD, depression, anxiety, increased substance use and suicidality are all found to increase during and after problematic flooding, wildfires and drought, which are becoming more and more common in BC and around the world.”

She adds that many of the approaches used to address mental health relating to natural disasters are also used in pandemics and the evidence-based solutions they develop will provide increased support to Indigenous peoples, people living in poverty, children and first responders.

The research takes place in the Similkameen region of BC’s Southern Interior, including Keremeos, Hedley and Princeton, in addition to Ashcroft in the Thompson-Okanagan region and Burns Lake in Northern BC. Collaborators on this project include Sue Pollock (interim chief medical health officer at Interior Health), UNBC’s Davina Banner, TRU’s Bonnie Fournier and UBCO’s Lauren Airth and Carolyn Szostak. One outcome of this project is the development of community-based action plans for mental-health support, as research shows rural communities are disproportionately impacted by climate change.

“This is a very exciting project and allows me to build upon the relationships I have already developed in Ashcroft, while also allowing me to work alongside two really fantastic researchers,” says Fournier. “The R3C program is innovative and unique, and I haven’t seen anything like it across Canada.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Funds will bring Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action into the classroom

As Canada seeks responses to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, university researchers and local partners have come together to seek respectful ways for educators to align their teaching practices toward reconciliation.

UBC Okanagan is receiving a $1 million Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant to establish a partnership research initiative for the next five years.

The project—Co-Curricular-Making: Honoring Indigenous Connections to Land, Culture and the Relational Self—is led by Margaret Macintyre Latta, director of UBC Okanagan’s School of Education. Community partners include the Okanagan Nation Alliance, Central Okanagan Public Schools, IndigenEYEZ, Kelowna Art Gallery, Kelowna Museums Society and the universities of Alberta and Ottawa.

“As partners committed to education’s importance within reconciliation, we will be working together to map out needed understandings, and enactment, to enhance collective efforts towards truth, reconciliation and healing in classrooms to realize the transforming potential of education,” says Macintyre Latta. “We are so appreciative of the community support and investment in this project.”

The partnership will bring local Elders and Knowledge Keepers together with participating educators and the extended community. By the end of the five-year project, teachers and their students will have gained deeper understandings of Syilx culture with teachings that connect land, culture and understandings of self in the world.

“We’ll be building an understanding of how to help educators create safe spaces for challenging discussions across diversity and inequality. We’ll be in the schools with them as they support students to make meaning out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission content, see other points of view, and learn from our shared history in order to bring change that makes us all stronger together,” says Kelly Terbasket, program director and co-founder of IndigenEYEZ.

University and community partners will design and deliver learning opportunities that will help teachers in confronting and challenging the colonizing practices that have influenced education. These experiences will study the education conditions that challenge participation in reconciling conversations, grapple with personal narratives, and grow understandings of the histories of colonized and colonizers.

"Central Okanagan Public Schools have just signed an Equity in Action Agreement with our Indigenous communities. The document reflects the district's intention to create equity in academic results, self-determination and cultural pride and awareness for our Indigenous students. This grant will help staff have the necessary curricula and academic supports and resources to make this aspiration a reality. We are excited to be learning together," says Kevin Kaardal, superintendent of schools and CEO of Central Okanagan Public Schools.

Deputy Superintendent of Schools Terry-Lee Beaudry has been the district's lead collaborator in working closely with the Okanagan School of Education and Indigenous community partners to support the development of the SSHRC grant proposal.

"The announcement of this grant will enable greater community and post-secondary collaborations,” says Beaudry. “This will help foster equitable practices for each learner in our district to attain a deeper understanding of human rights, responsibilities and their part in reconciliation."

Macintyre Latta says the partnership will further curricular pathways in kindergarten to grade 12 education, productively contributing towards reconciliation across Canada.

And Pauline Terbasket, executive director of the Okanagan Nation Alliance, says this is an important step forward.

“This is a project that pursues and is open to new teachings, new practices, new possibilities, new transformed societies that build upon a civil society and builds-up people and how we relate to one another, our environment and our planet. All critical to all our survival,” says Terbasket. “Indigenous education is about knowing where you are and where you come from—our connection to land and each other.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Team will seek input from hundreds of citizens in an online deliberation series

UBC researchers are looking to bring the public’s voice to the next phase of COVID-19 public policy through an online deliberation series and ask for the public’s help by volunteering to share their thoughts.

“As governments begin easing restrictions on social distancing and business closures imposed as a result of the global pandemic, it’s critical that decision-makers understand public perception of COVID-19 policies. That’s why we launched our online deliberation Public Input into Pandemic Planning,” says Kim McGrail, professor of population and public health and director of research at UBC Health.

McGrail stresses that the results of their research will be openly available to decision-makers and the public in BC and across Canada and she hopes it can help shape COVID-19 policy going forward.

The first topic up for discussion, she says, is the potential benefits and drawbacks of contact tracing apps.

“Deliberation is foundational to our democratic process and public input into BC’s evolving COVID-19 response is essential,” says McGrail. “If governments are to make sound policy decisions that garner broad public support, they need public input. In this unprecedented era of global pandemic, public engagement in policymaking is more important than ever.”

The multi-disciplinary, internationally-renowned deliberation team is led by McGrail in collaboration with Michael Burgess from UBC’s Okanagan campus, Stuart Peacock from Simon Fraser University and Kieran O’Doherty from the University of Guelph.

Over the past 15 years, they have conducted 25 public deliberations on crucial policy issues like cancer drug funding, biobanks and data protection. Their work is widely published and has informed policies and laws, changed professional practices, and transformed how research and clinical activities are governed.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team has shifted their unique model of deliberative engagement online, embracing the necessity of video conferencing technology despite many challenges, says Burgess, professor of ethics and Associate Provost, Strategy at UBC Okanagan.

“We knew it was important to get public input on the next phase of the pandemic response in BC because it will have a profound impact on people’s lives, and we knew we needed to do it quickly,” explains Burgess. “But we also had to follow the physical distancing protocol recommended by the Public Health Officer. That meant rapidly adapting our deliberative method and moving online.”

He adds that incorporating technology into the deliberative process can bring challenges of accessibility and diversity.

“Some people might lack technical skill or comfort with expressing their view online or publicly; others might not have a device or an internet connection, which could exclude people based on age, income or ability,” says Burgess.

According to McGrail, the team has addressed those issues by reaching out to community groups and encouraging them to host their own deliberations, or assist their community members to participate.

“We carefully designed this deliberation so we can use it over and over again in different places and with different questions. We hope this will be the first of many deliberative public engagements that provide input to pandemic policy.”

People can volunteer to participate in an online deliberation until Friday, May 22 at: www.chspr.ubc.ca/covid

They can also host their own Community Conversation and contribute to the policy discussion. A Community Conversation Kit, with all the materials needed to run a deliberation from home, can be found at:www.chspr.ubc.ca/covid

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Jennifer Jakobi, professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences.

Jennifer Jakobi, professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences.

UBC Okanagan research shows strength training is effective

Physical exercise may not be top of mind for older adults during the COVID-19 outbreak. But according to one UBC Okanagan researcher, strength training can be an effective way to stay healthy while at home.

A recent study from UBCO professor Jenn Jakobi shows that strength training with free-weights that progresses in intensity is effective in combating declining health often observed with adult aging.

­­“Inactivity and social isolation are key contributors to age-related frailty,” says Jakobi. “While social isolation is a complex challenge these days, there is absolutely some work we can do on enhancing exercise at home.”

She adds that physical movement and exercise, inclusive of weight training, can be readily adapted for the home but advises that anyone looking to start a new exercise program should consult with their physician first.

Jakobi, a professor in UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences, defines frailty as reduced function and health in older adults. Features include unintentional weight loss, slow walking speed, muscle weakness, fatigue and low activity levels. If left unchecked this may lead to declines in health and functional independence which might require longer-term care.

“Age isn’t necessarily always associated with being frail, and frailty isn’t reserved for just old age—it can occur at any point in adulthood,” says Jakobi. “Yet, it is dynamic and can be reversed. Maintaining and building muscle strength is key.”

Jakobi and her research team wanted to explore whether progressive-resistance exercises can be effective at altering the path to this vulnerability.

After an initial screening of 53 older adults, the lab-based study evaluated 21 pre-frail women over the age of 65, divided into two groups. One group participated in a progressively intense free weight exercise program three-times-a-week for 12 weeks. Their exercises mimicked movements of normal life, and which may become difficult for some as they age.

“For example, we asked participants to complete a series of squats, replicating sitting-down and standing up,” explains Nick Bray, former UBCO graduate student and co-author of the study. “We also asked them to perform dead-lifts, which mimic picking-up groceries.”

The other group simply maintained their normal routines.

Measurements of muscle strength and performance were compared between the groups after the 12-week session. Not only did the exercise group improve their muscle performance and become less frail, they did so without injury.

“The exercise group improved in all measures including walking speed, grip strength and sit-to-stand time,” says Jakobi. “Also, these changes were seen as early as nine weeks into the program.”

She adds that their findings dispel the myth of strength training being unsuitable for pre-frail older adults.

“Traditionally, older adults opt for low-intensity, and low-resistance exercise because they believe that heavy free-weight exercise isn’t right for them. Our findings show the opposite.”

Although the research into heavy resistance training is novel and in its early phases this style of exercise is showing great promise. None of the exercise participants opted-out of the program or reported negative events and all improved in functional movement.

To help those interested in using this new research in their home during this period of physical distancing, Jakobi and her team have created an exercise worksheet and other at-home resources that highlight beginning phases of these progressive movements.

“This type of activity is appropriate and can be enjoyable,” says Jakobi. She suggests just going for it.

“Try something new and lift progressively more. You should feel a good healthy challenge.”

This study was recently published in The Journal of Frailty and Aging and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Rebecca Tyson, associate professor of mathematical biology.

Rebecca Tyson, associate professor of mathematical biology.

Research links polarization, echo chambers to the spread of disease

Understanding how disease is passed from one individual to another has long been key to protecting populations from diseases like COVID-19. But new research from UBC’s Okanagan campus suggests that polarized opinions and apathy towards taking action can move through society like a virus and can seriously endanger efforts to contain a pandemic.

Rebecca Tyson is an associate professor of mathematical biology at UBC Okanagan and study lead author. She says that opinions and behaviours—like engaging in frequent hand washing, avoiding physical contact, or taking the threat of a pandemic seriously—can themselves spread throughout society and play an important role in how disease is transmitted during an epidemic.

“While we didn’t have COVID-19 specifically in mind when we conducted our research, we did try to imagine an epidemic that didn’t have a vaccine and that was best prevented by hand washing and other relatively simple actions,” says Tyson. “Behaviours like these can have extremes on either end of the spectrum, from denying the problem and doing nothing to completely isolating oneself.”

Using a mathematical model for both the spread of opinion—or opinion dynamics—and the spread of disease, she and her team were interested in how the presence, distribution and transmission of extreme behaviours can influence the epidemiology of a pandemic. They were particularly interested in how quickly a pandemic can take hold, the infection peak, the final number of those infected and the risk of a second peak.

“Our results show that opinion dynamics have a profound effect on the progression of disease in a population,” says Tyson. “In particular, the state of public opinion at the onset of a pandemic can have enormous influence—either dramatically reducing the fraction of the population that will be infected and the peak epidemic size, or making the epidemic worse than it would be otherwise.”

Tyson points to Hong Kong as an illustrative case of a population that was quick to adopt physical distance rules and were highly compliant with government regulations to eliminate spread, noting that COVID-19 is largely under control there. She adds that other countries, where compliance with government regulations was lower or slower, are having a much harder time.

While she’s quick to point out that her research is focused on mathematical models, she adds that the current COVID-19 outbreak is already showing some of the same outcomes she predicted in her models.

“Our models show that when faith in opinion influencers, like public health officials, is high, extreme preventative behaviours like quarantine and social distancing spread quickly through the population and the pandemic slows,” says Tyson. “This is exactly what we’re seeing in places like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea.”

On the other hand, Tyson says that populations that are politically polarized can see the disease spread much more quickly. Extreme behaviours, like disbelief in the problem, are amplified through influencer ‘echo chambers,’ which include mainstream or social media, creating pockets where the disease can spread more quickly.

“I believe this is part of the issue in the United States, where faith in government and public health officials is perhaps weaker than it is elsewhere and where there has been mixed messaging from different levels of government,” Tyson adds.

Looking to the future, she says her model shows that sustained and extreme physical distancing and hygiene behaviours are necessary to keep a highly-infectious disease at bay.

While the research provides a useful model for explaining the evolution of a pandemic, Tyson says that there are limitations.

“We assume things like a well-mixed population and we’re simplifying very complex human behaviour,” she says. “But there are definitely lessons in how opinion can shape the course of a pandemic and how we can leverage media and influencers to help keep public opinion from making a difficult problem worse.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

New role will create clean technologies for municipal wastewater treatment

UBC Okanagan announced today that Engineering Professor Cigdem Eskicioglu has been named the Senior Industrial Research Chair (IRC) in advanced resource recovery from wastewater.

The IRC role, awarded in partnership with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Metro Vancouver, will focus on developing the next generation wastewater sludge treatment technologies that recover energy and resources from what we pour down the drain.

“Dr. Eskicioglu is an internationally-recognized researcher in the area of waste reduction and resource recovery. Her use of innovative bioreactor technologies has advanced the field considerably,” says Phil Barker, vice-principal and associate vice-president, research and innovation at UBC Okanagan. “Her research is making wastewater treatment cheaper, safer, cleaner and more sustainable and is likely to have a significant impact for cities across the globe.”

Eskicioglu leads the Bioreactor Technology Group on UBC’s Okanagan campus where she develops treatment systems that produce cleaner wastewater byproducts and that repurpose those byproducts for sustainable uses, such as the production of bioenergy. Her group also develops technologies that minimize human-produced toxic chemicals, like pharmaceuticals, personal care products and pesticides, to reduce risks of treated wastewater sludge use in agriculture.

“NSERC’s research partnerships support collaborations that allow new scientific evidence to be created which economically, socially or environmentally benefits Canada and Canadians,” says Marc Fortin, NSERC vice-president, research partnerships. “This chair in collaboration with Metro Vancouver will have a significant impact on adopting new technologies by municipalities across the country, and will potentially create a strong ecosystem of innovation in wastewater treatment in Canada."

Metro Vancouver began collaborating with Eskicioglu in 2013 after a Canada-wide search to identify top researchers studying more efficient ways to remove excess ammonia from treated wastewater. The success of the initial partnership led to additional research collaboration that has already resulted in a provisional patent on an advanced bioreactor concept to boost renewable natural gas production.

“Dr. Eskicioglu is a leader in bioreactor technologies and has a strong record of successfully completing research projects for Metro Vancouver. We are thrilled that this Industrial Research Chair expands into thermal-chemical reactors that promise even greater resource recovery opportunities,” explains Paul Kadota, Metro Vancouver’s program manager of collaborative innovations.

The IRC funding will lead to laboratory testing and pilot programs to help evaluate emerging wastewater sludge conversion processes. These research findings will be considered by Metro Vancouver as they invest billions in capital infrastructure over the next decade to upgrade the region’s wastewater treatment facilities.

“I’m thrilled to step into this new role and further the potential of wastewater treatment and resource recovery technologies,” says Eskicioglu. “My research will help inform and improve Metro Vancouver’s treatment plant upgrades and provide valuable lessons to municipalities with similar challenges across Canada and around the world.”

UBC Okanagan Engineering Professor Cigdem Eskicioglu has been named the Senior Industrial Research Chair (IRC) in advanced resource recovery from wastewater.

UBC Okanagan Engineering Professor Cigdem Eskicioglu has been named the Senior Industrial Research Chair (IRC) in advanced resource recovery from wastewater.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBC Okanagan researcher argues against relying only on charismatic species the like grizzly bear for gauging habitat health.

UBC Okanagan researcher argues against relying only on charismatic species the like grizzly bear for gauging habitat health.

Menagerie of several species to monitor habitat health offers better conservation outcomes

With habitat loss threatening the extinction of an ever-growing number of species around the world, many wildlife advocates and conservation professionals rely on the proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine’—monitoring and protecting a single representative species—to maintain healthy wildlife biodiversity.

But new research from UBC’s Okanagan campus suggests that habitats are better served if conservation efforts focus on a collection of species rather than a single ‘canary.’

“Efforts around the world are going into countering a decline in biodiversity,” says Adam Ford, study author and Canada Research Chair in Wildlife Restoration Ecology at UBC Okanagan. “While we would love to be able to protect all habitats for all species, organizations tend to focus their efforts on a few species and not everyone shares the same priorities.”

That, he says, is where the idea of surrogate species—or the canary in the coal mine—comes into play. But it’s not without its drawbacks.

“The problem with surrogate species is that people rarely agree on which species that should be,” says Ford. “And there is a tendency to favour charismatic species like grizzly bears and wolves, over lesser-known but equally-important species. These preferences are deeply rooted in cultural norms.”

To address that imbalance in selecting surrogate species, Ford and his team began looking at how to group species together to present a more objective and representative sample of the habitats that need protecting.

By combing through a public dataset of over 1,000 species and 64 habitats in British Columbia, they were able to compare the surrogacy value of each species—a numerical score based on the association of two species through their use of shared habitats.

They found that a mixture of five to 10 game and non-game species offered the best value as surrogates for biodiversity conservation.

“We discovered what we called an ‘all-star’ team of species for each of the province’s nine wildlife management units, as well as an all-star team for the province as a whole,” says Sarah Falconer, graduate student at Laurentian University and study co-author. “Our findings suggest that if we commit to preserving these collections of species rather than just the charismatic megafauna, we’re likely to achieve much better conservation outcomes.”

Ford is quick to point out that the mixture of game and non-game species in their all-star teams mean that seemingly disparate groups, ranging from hunters to bird-watchers to hikers, have a vested interest in working together to protect each of their species for the benefit of all.

“Perhaps we should not be focusing on figuring out which species is the best conservation surrogate, but which groups of species bring the most people together to protect the most biodiversity,” he says.

The study was published recently in the Canadian Journal of Zoology with funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Canada Research Chairs program.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Photo of Okanagan vineyard surrounded by forest fire smoke

When wine grapes absorb compounds from smoke, the grapes react by coating the compounds in sugar using their enzymes.

A common agricultural spray may be the key to preventing smoky flavour

It’s a problem plaguing grape-growers worldwide—in an ever-changing climate, how can they protect their crops from the undesirable effects of wildfire smoke exposure.

A recent study by a team of UBC Okanagan researchers has led to the development of a preventative strategy for protecting grapes from volatile phenols—flavoured compounds present in smoke that may be absorbed into ripening grapes and subsequently impact wine flavour.

“It’s definitely one of, if not the, biggest concern wine-making communities are facing today,” says Wesley Zandberg, assistant professor in chemistry at UBC Okanagan and study author.

“When you look at the catastrophic wildfire seasons California and British Columbia have experienced in recent years, and the season Australia is experiencing now, I don’t think a solution can come quickly enough,” he says. “Winemakers are under a lot of pressure to find a way to protect their crops.”

Zandberg and his team tested multiple substances and found that applying an agricultural spray composed of phospholipids—typically used to prevent cracking in cherries—to wine grapes one week before exposing them to simulated forest fire smoke significantly reduced the levels of volatile phenols measured in smoke-exposed grapes at commercial maturity.

“The results are encouraging,” says Zandberg. “This strategy has shown potential in its ability to protect crops.”

According to Zandberg, when wine grapes absorb compounds from smoke, the grapes react by coating the compounds in sugar using their enzymes. This sugar coating masks the smoky odour and taste of volatile phenols until it’s released again by yeast during the fermentation process.

“Many grape-growers don’t have the means to pay to test their crops, so since smoke-taint can’t be reliably detected until grapes are fermented, producers have to wait weeks to know whether their plants are suitable or not,” explains Zandberg. “Meanwhile, costs and risks mount as their crops sit on the vine.”

Zandberg adds that smoke-tainted crops can have a more devastating effect for some wine producers than others.

“A lot of wineries in the Okanagan Valley only use local grapes, so they don’t have the option of purchasing grapes from Washington or Oregon, as they wouldn’t be considered local,” explains Zandberg. “When your whole business model is fermenting what you produce, you’re in big trouble if your grapes are tainted.”

For Zandberg, it’s the people and their livelihoods that keep him determined to find a solution.

“In 2003, the wildfires in Australia cost their wine industry $300 million dollars in lost revenue, and I imagine they’ll experience a similar loss this year, if not more,” he says.

“Our team has developed a strategy that’s proven to be successful, but there’s still a long way to go,” admits Zandberg. “Now, we need to work on replicating and refining these results to alleviate crop losses experienced globally by the wine industry.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBCO researcher Jonathan Little suggests ketone supplement drink may help control blood sugar.

UBCO researcher Jonathan Little suggests ketone supplement drink may help control blood sugar.

Ketone supplement may control glucose by mimicking some aspects of a ketogenic diet

With more people with diabetes and pre-diabetes looking for novel strategies to help control blood sugar, new research from UBC’s Okanagan campus suggests that ketone monoester drinks—a popular new food supplement—may help do exactly that.

“There has been a lot of excitement and interest in ketone drinks and supplements, which have really only been on the market and available to consumers for the last couple of years,” says Jonathan Little, associate professor at UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences and study lead author. “Because they’re so new, there’s very little research on how they can influence metabolism and we’re among the first to look at their use in non-athletes.”

Little says that Type 2 diabetes is a disease whereby the body is unable to control the level of sugar in the blood because defects in the functioning of a hormone called insulin.

“It’s a disease that’s becoming alarmingly common in Canada and approaching what many would consider epidemic levels,” he says. “While Type 2 diabetes can be controlled with medications or injectable insulin, many people are looking to options that don’t require taking pills every day or that are less invasive.”

Ketone supplements are proving fertile ground for research into Type 2 diabetes because, according to Little, ketones are the natural fuel source of the body when it’s in ketosis—the metabolic byproduct of consuming a low carbohydrate, ketogenic diet.

“There is mounting evidence that a low carbohydrate ketogenic diet is very effective in controlling blood sugar and even reversing Type 2 diabetes,” says Little. “We wanted to know what would happen if artificial ketones were given to those with obesity and at risk for Type 2 diabetes but who haven’t been dieting.”

To test the idea, Little and his team asked 15 people to consume a ketone drink after fasting overnight. After 30 minutes, they were then asked to drink a fluid containing 75 grams of sugar while blood samples were taken.

“It turns out that the ketone drink seemed to launch participants into a sort of pseudo-ketogenic state where they were better able to control their blood sugar levels with no changes to their insulin,” explains Little. “It demonstrates that these supplements may have real potential as a valuable tool for those with Type 2 diabetes.”

Little is quick to point out that ketone supplements are not a magic bullet in managing the disease.

“There are a number of problems that we still have to work out, including the fact that we still don’t know what the long-term effects of consuming ketones are,” he says. “And not to mention that the drink itself tastes absolutely terrible.”

“But for those that aren’t able to follow a strict and challenging ketogenic diet or for those that are looking for a new way to control blood sugars, this may be another strategy in helping to manage Type 2 diabetes.”

The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition with funding from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca