Research Funding Delivers Advanced Training for Langara College Students
Lisa Yeung is learning first-hand, thanks in part to some fortunate timing and a significant research grant awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).
“I happened to be talking to a friend in the biology office about a position at Environment Canada that involved barcoding of plants’ DNA,” said Yeung. Biology instructor Mario Moniz de Sa overheard her and suggested she introduce herself to Ji Yang, an instructor who was working on something similar with hops. “I talked to him right away, and he hired me on the spot!”
Now in her second-year in chemistry at Langara, Yeung complements a full course load with work in the lab. The project she works on involves designing bioinformatics and biochemistry tools that support the craft brewing industry in BC. It’s a collaboration with local breweries, including Parallel 49 Brewing, that’s seen Langara students visit the beer-making facilities. A component of the project also involves analyzing the lineage of wild BC hops to support novel product development, a collaboration with HOOH Organic Hop Company.
“We’re essentially barcoding hops. For example, when you go to the supermarket and there’s a barcode for an item, that’s what we’re doing for species of hops,” said Yeung. “It would normally take much longer to prove that the hops species is confirmed. To get the barcode, we extract the DNA from the hops and ‘amplify’ certain areas of the hops genome. Then we sequence (decode) the amplified areas to determine their DNA pattern, similar to a barcode.”
Yeung started as a university-transfer student at Langara and considered applying for the nursing program. But after transferring to UBC and becoming interested in science, she shifted towards chemical biology. Now she’s returned to Langara, a more experienced and efficient student, with a degree in Bioinformatics on the horizon.
“I’m specifically enjoying the hands-on work, and the free time to take advantage of the resources and the equipment. The Technology building wasn’t even here when I first came to Langara. I also credit a better relationship with my instructors,” she added.
“I’m doing more of my own experiments,” said Yeung, who credits her biology instructor Yang. “Working with Ji is a lot of fun. He motivates my curiosity, and asks me to explain why things happen. He gives me the chance to do my own experiments or test my own hypotheses, or try out my own ideas.”
The project, led by biology instructors Dave Anderson and Ji Yang, and chemistry instructor Kelly Sveinson, was awarded $200,000 in funding last November.
“These funds allow us to deliver advanced training to our students, as well as provide technology and access to the skills of our faculty, to an industry that is of growing importance to the economy of our region,” said Sveinson. “It’s a pleasure to show our students how their college education can be applied to real challenges.”