About this Blog

The Ag-West Bio Blog features editorials by scientists, academic and business experts from Saskatchewan’s bioscience community, and represent their personal views. We are truly thankful to them for taking the time to contribute. We encourage you add your thoughts and opinions - get the conversation going.

The authors:

Dr. Wilf Keller, president and CEO of Ag-West Bio, was born in Melville, Saskatchewan. He attended the University of Saskatchewan, receiving a doctoral degree with specialization in Crop Science in 1972, and then studied as a postdoctoral scientist in the Max-Planck Institut für Biologie, in Tubingen, Germany.


Wilf was employed as a Research Scientist with the Research Branch of Agriculture Canada in Ottawa from 1973-89. During this period he pursued research on cell genetics of selected Canadian crops and contributed to the establishment of a plant biotechnology research program, which he chaired from 1980-89. In 1990, he accepted a position with the Plant Biotechnology Institute (PBI) of the National Research Council of Canada in Saskatoon and served as Group Leader for canola biotechnology research and Head of the Transgenic Plant Centre until 1999 when he assumed the position of Research Director. In July 2007, Wilf assumed the role of Acting Director General, PBI for a period of one year. Wilf also served as President and CEO of Genome Prairie from 2008 to 2012.


Wilf has been actively involved in the development and application of biotechnologies for the genetic modification of crops, particularly canola. He has collaborated with numerous government, university and industry groups and has provided training for researchers in plant biotechnology. He has led major research initiatives on the application of genomics in canola improvement, the development of industrial bioproducts from vegetable oils, and production of bioactive natural products in plants for enhanced human health and quality of life. He has given many presentations and lectures on biotechnology including public awareness and public education aspects of this emerging field. In June, 2010, Wilf was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award by The Society for In Vitro Biology.


Dr. David Gauthier, Business Investment and Technology Commercialization Consulting. David was educated at Queen’s University where he obtained a BSCH (Biology), PhD (Biology) and MBA degrees. He previously served as Director of Business Development with Performance Plants Inc. and as Vice-President with Foragen Technologies Management Inc., which managed a national venture capital fund specialized in advanced agricultural technology investments.

David moved to Saskatoon in May 2005 when he joined the National Research Council Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program as Regional Director. He has gained an appreciation for the entrepreneurial spirit in the Province and the business atmosphere was a primary factor in his decision to move to Saskatchewan with his wife and two children.

From 2008 until 2011, David was Chief Executive Officer of the Entrepreneurial Foundation of Saskatchewan. David has contributed to numerous committees over his career and has served on a number of boards for both profit and not-for-profit organizations, including Ag-West Bio.  He is also a board member of Genome Prairie, where he served as Acting President and CEO from 2012 to 2013.


Dan Prefontaine, president of the Sask Food Centre, joined the University of Saskatchewan in 1990 to develop “The Saskatchewan Food Product Innovation Program” as a food development specialist. Over a 10-year period the program developed over 600 new products for a wide variety of companies looking to expand their capabilities and markets and eventually led to the development of the Food Centre in 1998.


In 2000, Dan took over the presidency of the Food Centre. He was instrumental in the establishment of a federal food processing facility to assist the industry in accessing new markets and technologies. Over the years he has been a strong advocate for the expansion of value added food processing in Saskatchewan. Dan provides business advice, marketing information and technical services to the industry on a regular basis and has been an integral part of the food processing community over the last two decades.
Sask Food Centre website 


Dr. Peter W.B. Phillips, an international political economist, is Professor of Public Policy in the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan. He undertakes research on governing transformative innovation, including regulation and policy, innovation systems, intellectual property, supply chain management and trade policy. He is co-lead and PI of a $5.4 million Genome Canada project entitled Value Addition through Genomics and GE3LS (VALGEN) which runs 2009-13.
His latest book—Governing Transformative Technological Innovation: Who’s in charge?—was published by Edward Elgar in 2007.
VALGEN website


Dr. Cami Ryan is a Professional Research Associate with the Departments of Plant Sciences and Bioresource Policy, Business and Economics at the U of S and is working as a social scientist on the Total Utilization of Flax Genomics (TUFGEN).


Prior to returning to the U of S to complete graduate studies, Cami Ryan worked for both a small plant biotech firm and in administration with AgrEvo (now Bayer) and was part of the latter firm’s efforts to bring Liberty Link (GM) canola to the market in the mid 90’s.


Cami continues to network with the broader science community working on projects with Canadian organisations such as the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP), the International Institute for Sustainable Development, Alberta Advanced Education and Technology and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) to name but a few. Most recently, she is connected to the Institute of Agriculture at the University of Western Australia working on a project evaluating public private partnerships in pulse breeding and research in Canada and Australia and will be heading ‘down under’, again, in 2012 to work with the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) in Australia.


Cami has presented at conferences around the world on the topics including: collaborations in plant genetic resources; access and benefits sharing, intellectual property and strategic and issues management in agriculture.  She is the author of the book “Evaluating Performance of Research Networks: a socioeconomic framework for assessing funded research projects” a reference and resource for policy makers and project managers.

Cami also hosts her own blog. You can also follow her on Twitter.


Dr. Steven F. Fabijanski
is President and CEO of Agrisoma Biosciences, a position he has held since 2007. Prior to his appointment with Agrisoma, Steven held various positions in agribusiness, including roles in research and development, management and corporate development, domestically and internationally.


In his role with Agrisoma Biosciences, he has led the company to become one of Canada’s leading ag-biotechnology companies, focused on commercializing industrial crops for the dedicated production of renewable oils for the manufacture of renewable diesel and aviation fuels. In addition to his current role at Agrisoma, Steven is Chair of the Ag-Nutrition Advisory Board (ANAB) of Biotech Canada and participates in many industry initiatives. He is a member of the Board of Directors for Ag-West Bio, and sits on the NSERC Energy Committee and NRC Advisory Committee.


Steven holds a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Southern California, and a Bachelor Degree in Biology from the University of Miami.
Agrisoma website 


Dr. Mary M. Buhr is Dean of the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan.


After completing her PhD in Reproductive Biology from the University of Waterloo in 1982,  she worked as a visiting scientist with Agriculture Canada in Brandon, Manitoba before taking a position in 1983 in the Dept. of Animal Science at the University of Manitoba. In 1988, she moved to the Dept. of Animal and Poultry Science in the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) at the University of Guelph, receiving Full Professor status in 2000. Buhr served as Associate Dean (Academic) and then Interim Dean before moving to Saskatchewan in 2009 to begin her current position.


Buhr’s research interest centres on all aspects of sperm physiology and its relationship to fertility and artificial insemination. Her investigations focus primarily on sperm from bulls and boars but she is, or has been, working with sperm from elephants, horses, roosters, mice, elk, humans, honeybees, frogs and dogs. The goal is to improve fertility of sperm for use in artificial insemination and couples practical, industry level trials with investigation of fundamental mechanisms of sperm signalling and fertilization.


As Dean of the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the U of S, she focuses the majority of her energy on ensuring the College has the resources, profile and opportunities to help the province and country address the many issues the world will face in the coming decades. The U of S celebrates agriculture as one of its premiere signature areas, and both the University and the province understand that the many faces of agriculture are essential sources of solutions to responsible management of our precious world’s limited resources. Food, renewable products, resource management, policies and business approaches all must adapt and thrive to produce the intelligent informed graduates who will generate the sustainable and competitive bioeconomy that the world and its inhabitants need.
College of AgBio website


Susan Milburn is a long time resident of Saskatoon and a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan, earning Bachelor of Commerce and Master of Business Administration degrees. She has been employed in the investment industry since graduation, and currently serves as Vice President and Branch Manager for Raymond James Ltd.


Susan has served on many boards, both in the for-profit sector and in the charitable sector. She has experience at the board table with provincial crown corporations, a university, a municipal multi-purpose facility and several not-for-profit organizations, as well as experience gained as a pension plan trustee. In addition, she volunteers as a mentor with leadership candidates in a Saskatoon based program, and served as a member of an Advisory Council to Raymond James in the U.S. Susan has been included in Saskatchewan Business Magazines’ annual list of 10 Most Influential Women, and recently received the Alumni Service Award from the U of S Alumni Association.
Raymond James website


Dr. Colleen Christensen is Executive Director Feeds Innovation Institute at the University of Saskatchewan. Colleen graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a BSc in 1991 and a PhD in 1998. She has extensive experience at the nexus of science and industry creating value from science.
Prior to working at the Feeds Innovation Institute, Colleen worked in business development and commercialization at the Canadian Light Source and the Saskatoon Health Region, and managed a University of Saskatchewan veterinary biotechnology spin-off company. As the Executive Director of the Feeds Innovation Institute, Colleen connects the feed industry with academia, facilitating the local benefits of the feeds innovation value chain. Feeds Innovation Institute has been the Network Administrative Lead for the Feed Opportunitites from the Biofuels Industries and the developer of the Western Canadian Feed Innovation Network.
FII website


DoerksenKari Doerksen is a Senior Project Manager at Genome Prairie. An experienced scientist and manager, she works with world-leading researchers to execute large scale international research projects. In this role she is responsible for strategic research partnerships, communication, and financial/operational management.

Kari’s research was supported by VALGEN (, a Genome Canada project managed by Genome Prairie.


Dr. Monique Haakensen is a scientist with a passion for remediation and process optimization. She is the president and principal scientist at Contango Strategies, where microbiology is applied to develop, facilitate and optimize remediation efforts or processing strategies. An industrial and environmental microbiologist, her experience is interdisciplinary and wide-ranging including subjects such as biogeochemistry, microbial ecology, genetics, and bioprocessing.

Dr. Haakensen has published over a dozen peer-reviewed scientific manuscripts, provided posters and presentations at various local and international conferences, published a book chapter, and patented intellectual property. She is also actively involved with the University of Saskatchewan serving as an Adjunct Professor in the School of Environment and Sustainability and on graduate student advisory committees in the Departments of Food & Bioproduct Sciences and Computer Sciences (Bioinformatics). Monique also contributes to the University of the Arctic and as an Academic Lead and member of their Core Course Revision Team. In 2011 Dr. Haakensen was named as a winner of Profit Magazine’s FuEL awards, recognizing Canada’s top 20 entrepreneurs under the age of 30.
Contango Strategies website


Pontarollo-150x150Dr. Reno Pontarollo is the president and CEO at Genome Prairie. His credentials include a PhD in Veterinary Microbiology from the University of Saskatchewan and a Masters of Business Administration from Athabasca University. His primary areas of research have been in genomics, molecular biology, vaccine development, and immunology. Previously, Dr. Pontarollo held research appointments at the Department of National Defense Medical Countermeasures Section and the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization – International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac).

Prior to his work at Genome Prairie, Dr. Pontarollo was Director of Research for Pyxis Genomics where he led a program on innate immunity. He also has a strong background and interest in agriculture that was acquired in the family cattle business in the Southern Alberta community of Cardston.
Genome Prairie website



Dr. Scott Napper holds a joint position at the University of Saskatchewan as an Associate Professor of Biochemistry as well as Senior Scientist and Program Manager of Emerging Diseases at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO). A protein biochemist by training, his research interests are based in the application of structure activity investigations within the context of infection and immunity. Specifically, his currently active research programs include structural modifications of host defense peptides for immunotherapeutic applications (vaccine adjuvants and antimicrobials), vaccine development for Johne’s Disease and development of a PrPSc specific vaccine for prion diseases. Dr. Napper’s work in development of a prion vaccine is centralized in the optimization of epitopes to maximize immunogenicity, while maintaining PrPSc specificity, as well as the application and optimization of various parameters of vaccine formulation and delivery. Outside of the lab Scott has a strong interest in Science Education and works actively with the Secondary Education System to help translate higher level science and mentorship to undergraduate and high school students. In the past five years, Scott has twice been awarded the University of Saskatchewan Teaching Excellence Award.


PotterDr. Andrew Potter is Director and CEO at the Vaccine & Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre. He is internationally recognized for his visionary research into how bacteria cause disease and his work at the interface of human and animal health bolstered VIDO-InterVac’s international reputation in this critical area of research. His ground-breaking projects have contributed to several “world firsts,” including the world’s first genetically engineered animal vaccine and the world’s first vaccine to protect food and water against E. coli o157:H7.

In 2011, Dr. Potter was elected a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Science (CAHS), joining a distinguished group of health and biomedical science leaders. The CAHS works in partnership with the Canadian Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society of Canada to form the Council of Canadian Academies. Comprised of Canada’s leading minds in health research and practice, it provides assessments and advice on key issues relevant to the health of Canadians.

Dr. Potter completed his undergraduate studies at Carleton University and received his PhD in microbiology from the University of Otago (New Zealand) in 1981. Recruited from Health Canada in Ottawa, Dr. Potter joined VIDO in 1985 as a research scientist. He was subsequently appointed as VIDO’s Associate Director (Research) in 1994 and then became the new CEO and Director in 2007.

He currently runs a successful research program well-funded by competitive grants at the national level. Recently, he has been working on the application of genomics to the animal health field and is forging links between the animal and human infectious disease research communities to ensure that technologies common to both fields can be leveraged to their greatest benefit. He has mentored more than 30 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows who currently hold positions in industry, academia and government worldwide, and he has contributed to more than 50 patents for human and animal vaccines and therapeutics.

Dr. Potter has served on a number of public and private sector committees, and has been instrumental in transferring technology from the VIDO laboratories to the private sector. He interacts frequently with major animal health companies and serves as a consultant to numerous smaller ones.



Michael Oelck is a start-up entrepreneur with a strong interest in innovation in agriculture. His present focus is on bioproducts, biomass and new products from grain. He applies his education in crop genetics, crop protection and crop production to his interest is in technology and new agro-business solutions.

Michael has worked in the international biotechnology industry for over a decade. His team developed the first herbicide tolerant canola in Canada, the first LibertyLink canola globally. In Germany, Michael co-founded a company that produces a cancer drug from plant cytokinines. He also co-founded a Canadian company introducing Prairie Carnation as a new crop for biopharmaceutical production. He recently developed the business plan for PHENOX, producing a seed enzyme for wastewater treatment.

Michael is an enthusiastic communicator and constant analyst of  what is happening in the start-up scene and identifying new funding solutions for agriculture SMEs. His present firm, Canadian Carnation BioProducts, makes flotation biochemicals for the mining industry. It is based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.



Terry Daynard is an Ontario grain farmer. He was the Executive vice-president, Ontario Corn Producers Association and a University of Guelph crop science professor and associate dean. He is also the former CEO of Ontario BioAuto Council and former president of Canadian Renewable Fuels Association.

Visit Terry Daynard’s blog




David Gerecke is a Partner in the Saskatoon office of Miller Thomson where his practice focuses on banking and secured lending, bankruptcy and insolvency, business and corporate/commercial law, licensing of technology and intellectual property, commercial and residential real estate, municipal property tax assessment, and aboriginal law. David regularly acts for small and large businesses, banks and other creditors, trustees in bankruptcy, receivers, debtors, First Nations and municipalities.

Miller Thomson website


JohnCrossJohn V. Cross was the founding executive director in 1975 of POS Pilot Plant Corporation, which saw clientele expand from one country in its first year of operation to more than 40 today. He became a model for Saskatchewan entrepreneurs, laying the foundations that led to the development of “world firsts” of canola oil processing and deheated mustard.

In 1980 he co‐founded one of Saskatchewan’s earliest biotechnology companies, Philom Bios. The company created a new category of agricultural inputs – inoculants, which allowed farmers to increase productivity without chemicals. Products included Jumpstart, the world’s first commercial phosphate inoculant and TagTeam, the world’s first combination nitrogen and phosphate inoculant. When the company was sold to the multinational company Novozymes in 2007, JumpStart alone had increased farmers’ income in Western Canada, created hundreds of jobs and millions in royalty payments for Canadian researchers.

John has served on the board of directors of various research‐related organizations including the Saskatchewan Research Council, the National Research Council, Ag‐West Bio, Fytokem, Genome Prairie and POS Bio‐Sciences. He was also involved in Agri‐Vision, and served on the Royal University Hospital Foundation Board, the Saskatoon Regional Economic Development Authority Board, the federal government’s Pest Management Advisory Committee, the Saskatchewan Young Professional and Entrepreneurs in Saskatoon, and the Raj Manek Business Mentorship Program.

Mr. Cross is the recipient of the Ernst and Young, Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 1995 and 2004, the Abex Award, New Saskatchewan Product of the Year, the SABEX Award for Business of the Year, the Ag‐West Biotech BioScience Award for Entrepreneurial Leadership and Vision, and the Greater Saskatoon District Chamber of Commerce First Award for Agri‐Business Leadership Award. Philom Bios was twice named one of Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies. He is an honorary member of the Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists. 


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