There are similarities between artists and scientists. They are curious and creative. They hone their skills with years of practice. And they want to make a difference in the world.
Nuit Blanche is an art festival in downtown Saskatoon held at the end of September each year. After sunset, in the streets and tucked away in indoor venues, a wide variety of artwork is on display – from paintings to performance – for the thousands of attendees to experience. The streets are aglow, and the energy is high.
In Saskatchewan, an exciting collaboration between Nuit Blanche and Global Biotech Week brings the two worlds together. This year’s event took place at the Alt hotel, downtown Saskatoon. Lab-coat clad ‘scientists’ directed groups to the second floor of the hotel, to the Indigo room, where colourful images danced on large screens around the room.
This is Beautiful Science. The scientific research images are so incredible they deserve to be on display. Two dozen images were provided by Canadian Light Source. Others were provided by Dr. Fran Leggett and Bryan Lee (both retired from Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada); and Dr. Zach Belak, co-founder of Proxima R&D, a Saskatoon biotech startup company. Dr. Belak attended the event and spent hours talking with attendees about imaging techniques and the science behind the pieces.
Saskatchewan Polytechnic contributed a display of paintings on petri-dishes, made from a medium of genetically engineered E. coli bacteria, which glows with vibrant colours under ultraviolet light. Sask Polytech students participated all evening, explaining the science to the audience.
Partnerships are the secret for success
Biotechnology is much more than genetic engineering (although that is an important tool). Any process that uses living organisms (yeast, bacteria, fungi, enzymes, etc.) to create beneficial products is considered biotechnology. Bread, beer, wine, and cheese are examples that go back thousands of years. Fuels, enzyme-based cleaners, crop development, biologicals, bioremediation, vaccines and medicines are other products of biotechnology that benefit modern society.
Saskatchewan is a hot bed of agricultural biotechnology, and well known for producing some of the highest quality agricultural crops in the world. Saskatoon is also home to the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO), Canada’s Centre for Pandemic Research. This province is one of the country’s most active during Global Biotech Week (GBW). What’s the key ingredient? Community spirit and collaboration!
Ag-West Bio takes the lead in the province, pulling together a local organizing committee and coordinating activities. The committee is an enthusiastic, highly engaged group of people who develop the program and share the workload for logistics, promotions and fundraising.
Some members have been a part of GBW for a decade or more. This year, along with Ag-West Bio staff, committee members represent Saskatchewan Polytechnic, Innovation Saskatchewan, Genome Prairie, University of Saskatchewan (USask), Agriculture in the Classroom Sask, Farm and Food Care Sask, as well as an independent scientist, and a USask student.
The event list in 2023 was as wide-ranging as ever.
Saskatchewan’s week officially began with Taste of Innovation – a kick-off luncheon at Boffins – to celebrate food and ingredient innovation. The menu featured genetically engineered ingredients such as AquAdvantage™ salmon, and of course, canola oil and many other innovative, Saskatchewan made products.
A partnership with Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Center (Food Centre) led to the development of a Canadian Food Focus webinar called The Science of Breadmaking, with Sara Lui, a food scientist at the Food Centre, explaining how yeast and gluten work in bread.
Food and biotechnology were also the focus for a hybrid webinar hosted by USask’s College of Agriculture and Bioresources called Advancements in Ag Research, featuring Dr. Michael Nickerson, Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food Research Chair.
Another exciting collaboration, with the Saskatoon Public Schools Division Foundation and Agriculture in the Classroom, led to the Science Zone at All in for Literacy, a street fair event, where students from K-8 participated in hands-on science activities (DNA extraction and a soil science activity). Scientist Dawn Pratt, an Indigenous STEM educational expert, was on hand in the afternoon to talk to the students about a career in science.
Being one of the oldest products of biotechnology, beer is typically featured in a couple of Saskatchewan GBW events each year!
At Innovation Place in Saskatoon, Boffins was the hot spot for Biotech & Beer, co-hosted by Ag-West Bio and Innovation Saskatchewan. A fun and fiercely competitive Biotech Trivia game was a highlight of the evening, with the winners earning great prizes (and of course, bragging rights).
A partnership with Dr. Julia Boughner and Café Scientifique Saskatoon has been ongoing since 2014. This year, the guest speaker was Dr. Chris Eskiw, a researcher in the Food and Bioproduct Sciences department at USask, who is an expert in yeast genomics. Dr. Eskiw engaged the audience with fun facts about how yeast affects beer flavour, while they sampled a flight by 21st Street Brewing at Winston’s Pub.
We were very happy to renew an old partnership, with the Saskatchewan Science Centre in Regina. They included biotech programming throughout the week, including a gel electrophoresis demonstration. They also hosted an evening with University of Regina scientists called Research in Our Own Back Yard; with Drs. Andrew Cameron (animal pathogen research), Josef Buttigieg (MS drug development), and Arun Damodaran (bioherbicide development).
Rounding out the activities
The 2023 Biotech Week Edition of Innovation Saskatchewan’s Startupville podcast, features an interview with Proxima R&D co-founder Iain Wallace, discussing what it’s like to build a science startup in a small city.
For the younger set, a poster making kit was developed by Agriculture in the Classroom, filled with tricks and tips on how to communicate science. The 179 posters submitted (from 12 schools) were then entered into a competition called Upcycled Art.
Public tours were hosted by the Canadian Light Source, Canada’s only synchrotron facility, as well as the Food Centre’s new Fermentation Facility.
Saskatchewan’s Global Biotech Week program also included social media activities: scientists were invited to post snapshots to capture a moment in their day and celebrate science by flooding the internet with fun and inspiring pics for #ScientistSelfies; and our wily mascot Felix the Helix played hide and seek on social with #FindFelix.
Visit www.globalbiotechweeksask.ca for more photos, videos and webinars from the week.
Top photo by Zach Belak, co-founder of Proxima Research & Development