Patty Wellborn



UBCO researchers have determined wolves living in high densities of human-created linear features need far less space to survive than wolves in the wilderness.

Wolves are intelligent predators. Like people, they use trails, seismic lines and roads to efficiently move through landscapes.

But new research from UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science has found that wolves living in areas with high densities of human-created linear features need far less space to survive than in less disturbed areas.

One of the most predominant forms of habitat alteration, particularly in Western Canada, are linear features such as roads, seismic lines or pipelines, explains Melanie Dickie, a doctoral student who works with UBCO biologist Dr. Adam T. Ford

“Smaller home ranges mean that, all else being equal, more wolves can fit into a given space. Our study is important for understanding how food and movement combine to influence home range size. Wolves can have profound impacts on their prey, and even plant communities. If humans are driving changes to those links in the food web, we need to understand how and then find a way to manage our part of the equation.”

Dickie’s team used data from 142 wolves outfitted with GPS devices to analyze the impacts of ecosystem productivity—a metric of food availability for ungulates and their predators. They also examined linear features as a measure of how easy it is for wolves to access food in their home ranges. The ranges covered more than 500,000 square kilometres of boreal forest spanning three Western Canadian provinces.

Linear features enable the movement of predators like wolves and this increases their encounter rates with prey and, consequently, their kill rates, says Dr. Ford. Increased wolf kill rates have important consequences for woodland caribou, which are in decline across much of their range as a result of increased predation.

“Millions of dollars are being spent on seismic line restoration in Canada’s forests with the hope of slowing down wolves and reducing predation on caribou,” he says. “This study is a valuable tool in helping to identify where the most effective areas for restoration will be.”

By restoring linear features, Dickie says areas of low ecosystem productivity may see a decrease in regional wolf abundance as a result of making it more difficult for them to hunt.

In contrast, in high-productivity areas, restoration may reduce wolves’ hunting efficiency, but likely will not affect regional density.

“This research is a great example of how ecological theory can support wildlife management,” says Dr. Rob Serrouya, study co-author and Director of the Caribou Monitoring Unit at Alberta’s Biodiversity Monitoring Institute. “Pushing our understanding of how movement and habitat use influences the distribution and abundance of species, will directly link to how we manage those species.”

Dr. Ford says it’s important for researchers to continue monitoring human activity when looking at species’ survival rates in Canada.

“In the 1960s, ecologists determined that rapid growth at the bottom of the food web—plants—was affecting the rest of the food chain,” he says “This study adds human activity to the equation with the goal to help save caribou within a rapidly-changing environment.”

This study was recently published in the journal Ecology and received funding from the Regional Industry Caribou Collaboration.

What: Fourth annual Life Raft Debate
Who: UBC professors debate to win a seat in a time machine and change history
When: Wednesday, January 26, beginning at 7 pm
Venue: Online, virtual event

Once again, UBC Okanagan professors are being called upon to share their expertise and help save the world. But this year, it involves going back in time to right the wrongs of humanity.

The annual Life Raft Debate is a fun way to showcase the talents of professors by using an “end-of-the-world” premise, explains Lyndsey Chesham, Society of Scholars Program Assistant and a fourth-year microbiology student. The professors must do their best to sway the audience to earn the last seat on the life raft. However, this year it’s a seat in a time machine.

“For this year’s debate, humans have made an irrevocable mistake leading to our demise,” Chesham says. “Our only option is an experimental time machine capable of sending someone on a one-way trip to the first known human civilization.”

The catch? There is only one seat in the time machine. Not only must the time traveller win the debate, they must—without any modern technology—be able to influence society to not make the same mistakes. It’s up to them to prevent the downfall of the human race.

“Our traveller must assert the importance of their discipline in order to lead the ancient society, fix the mistakes of the past, and lead us to a brighter, more promising future,” adds Chesham. “But we must also question if it is even worth sending anyone back at all. It’s up to our audience to decide who we send, or if we even bother.”

Competing for the chance to time travel include chemistry’s Dr. Tamara Freeman, creative writing’s Michael V. Smith, engineering’s Dr. Vicki Komisar, psychology’s Dr. Liane Gabora and management’s Tamara Ebl. Associate Dean of Research Dr. Dean Greg Garrard will play the role of devil’s advocate, suggesting no one deserves to go back in time.

After all the words are spoken, the audience—using Zoom technology—will decide if someone does go back and restart society. And who it will be.

“The Society of Scholars brought this student-led event to UBCO to give students a chance to get to know their professors through the scope of a light-hearted and fun event,” adds Chesham. “Our debaters get very passionate and it is wonderful to see the professors speak about their life’s work so enthusiastically.”

New this year will be opening remarks from UBC President Santa Ono and closing remarks from UBCO’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal Lesley Cormack.

The Life Raft Debate takes place Wednesday, January 26 at 7 pm. It is a free, virtual presentation and follows with a question and answer session. To register or find out more, visit:

a photo of the rocky shoreline of Koko Head, Oahu, Hawaii

Young volcanic rocks, made of fragmental ash deposits, are pounded by the sea along Oahu’s coastline. Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

Everyone knows research takes time. Scientific discoveries generally don’t happen overnight.

UBC Okanagan’s Dr. John Greenough, professor of earth, environmental and geographic sciences in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, is testament to that. Dr. Greenough has spent his career studying the Earth’s mantle—that mysterious layer of solid to semi-molten rock that spans below the crust to the liquid outer core.

Almost 85 per cent of the Earth’s volume is made up of its mantle. Understanding the evolution and functionality of the mantle is key to understanding other important processes, like crust development and plate tectonics.

Yet, very little is known of the mantle’s history and chemical composition.

Dr. Greenough has made it his lifelong mission to dig into this mystery. Despite numerous setbacks, he has found some answers. Those results, recently published in Communications, Earth and Environment, provide new insight into the mantle’s mysterious past.

Can you explain your area of research?

My research focuses on the Earth’s mantle, its composition and evolution. More specifically, I study the chemical variation seen in volcanic rocks and use it to determine how the rocks formed by melting in the mantle.

You have been working on this research paper for 20 years. —How did this project begin, and how did it progress over the years?

I’ve actually been pursuing this line of research since receiving my doctorate in 1984. A major problem is that we have minimal information about when variations in the composition of the mantle were formed, so we know little about how the mantle evolved.

In 2000, a colleague and I wanted to change that and decided to try and find answers by collecting samples of the mantle and dating them using zircon. Zircon is a common mineral in the Earth’s crust but it is rarely found in mantle rocks.

Zircons contain small amounts of uranium, which is radioactive as it decays it turns into lead. By measuring the amount of lead produced, we can determine an age.

But you faced setbacks. Did you find zircon in the samples collected?

Unfortunately, not at first. We tested our samples, which were chunks of rock brought up by an explosive lava flow from Earth’s mantle beneath Hawaii. But we couldn’t find any zircon in slices through the samples.

However, we knew if they were in there, they were rare. The zircons would be only slightly larger than dust fragments, so we knew our chances of slicing through a rock and intersecting them were low.

What changed?

We knew we needed to grind the rock into tiny pieces to concentrate the zircon—like panning for gold. But we also had to minimize the possibility of contaminant zircon from other sources, because it is a fine dust particle and there are traces of zircons everywhere. There was technology that existed, but we couldn’t access it, so the project stalled.

In 2014, I learned a colleague at another institution had access to this technology and I contacted him. Luckily, he volunteered to essentially blow up our samples, making it more likely to find zircons if they existed.

And eureka! You found the zircon

Finally, yes. We found zircon grains in two of seven samples. They had complicated growth histories and the outer part was 14 million years old—much older than the island of Oahu where the samples came from. Parts inside our zircon grains were 40 to 100 million years old, while age modelling indicated the zircons first formed one to two billion years ago.

What did you learn from these samples?

Our discovery created another mystery for us.

What is so fascinating, is that the ages for the zircons suggested the crystals had come from below the continents. But once zircon is exposed to 1,000 degrees Celsius, it becomes an open chemical system that cannot be dated.

This means, for our zircon grains to have preserved their dates, they must have been at temperatures below 1,000 degrees for all these years. Considering the temperature of the lava flow that brought them up was about 1,300 degrees, and the part of the mantle that convects is also about 1,300 degrees—how could this be possible?

We propose the zircons may have been preserved in a cool part of the mantle called the sub-continental lithospheric mantle. More recently, thick sections of this sub-continental mantle were removed by mantle convection from below a continent.

The thick blocks shielded the zircons from the high temperatures in the partially molten and flowing mantle which delivered the rocks to Oahu. The rocks may have come from below Papa New Guinea where a tectonic plate is plunging back into the mantle and heading toward Hawaii.

Alternatively, they may be fragments of sub-continental lithospheric mantle stranded in the convecting mantle when the supercontinent Pangea broke up. Either way, it provides us with greater insight into the mantle’s age and its origin of chemical variability.

How do your results move this area of research forward?

We need to fully understand how the mantle’s chemical variability has evolved and our results serve as a foundation that future researchers can build on.

The atmosphere, along with our oceans, crust, mantle and core, form interacting parts of the chemical system we call Earth. An understanding of the mantle is essential for unravelling how humans can impact these large geochemical systems. This research will hopefully lead to a fuller understanding of how our planet, our home, evolved.

Doctors around the world who don’t have access to PCR tests need a way to rapidly screen patients for COVID-19. UBCO-developed CORONA-Net is a deep learning neural network that can quickly detect COVID-19 infections using X-ray images.

As COVID-19 continues to make headlines across the globe, many North Americans have gotten used to the idea of rapid testing to determine if they have been infected.

But UBC Okanagan researchers, who say rapid tests can be limited and expensive in many countries, are testing another testing method. And they believe, thanks to artificial intelligence, they have found one.

“There are two types of tests for COVID-19, namely viral and antibody tests,” explains Dr. Mohamed S. Shehata, an associate professor of computer science in UBCO’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science. “The viral test checks samples from the respiratory system for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease. This type of test can be performed in an hour or two, but in some cases, it can take up to one or two days to obtain results if the test has to be sent to a laboratory.”

The viral test only indicates if a current infection exists, but not if there was previous infection, he explains.

The alternative antibody test uses a blood sample and can detect if there was a previous infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, even if there are no current symptoms. However, the molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, common in North America, can be rare in other countries and usually costs several hundred dollars each time.

Doctors around the world need a way to rapidly test patients for COVID-19 so that they can begin immediate treatment for patients with the virus, he adds.

“The PCR method has some drawbacks, including longer detection time and lower detection rate of the virus,” says Dr. Shehata. “According to recommendations by the World Health Organization provided in October 2020, chest imaging examination is an effective method for detecting clinical symptoms of people who have been affected by and recovered from the virus.”

Dr. Shehata, along with his postdoctoral research fellow Dr. Mohamed Abdelpakey and graduate student Sherif Elbishlawi, have developed CORONA-Net, a deep learning neural network that can quickly detect COVID-19 infections using X-ray images.

“X-ray imaging has played a great role in many medical and epidemiological cases due to its wider availability, especially in countries that do not have wide PCR test deployment,” says Dr. Abdelpakey. “The use of a chest X-ray is promising for emergency cases and treatment due to its operational speed, cost and simplicity for the radiologists.”

Dr. Shehata explains that in many countries, people opt for the chest X-ray because of the cost of a PCR test or its unavailability. However, sometimes it is difficult to get the X-ray looked at by a specialist and accurately detecting the infection can take time. But by using CORONA-NET, the artificial intelligence system can flag suspicious cases to be fast-tracked and looked at quickly.

“COVID-19 typically causes pneumonia in human lungs, which can be detected in X-ray images. These datasets of X-rays—of people with pneumonia inflicted by COVID-19, of people with pneumonia inflicted by other diseases, as well as X-rays of healthy people—allow the possibility to create deep learning networks that can differentiate between images of people with COVID-19 and people who do not have the disease,” Elbishlawi adds.

Elbishlawi, who completed this work as part of his master’s in computer science thesis, says the developed CORONA-Net was able to produce results with an accuracy of more than 95 per cent in classifying COVID-19 cases from digital chest X-ray images.

The accuracy of detecting COVID-19 by CORONA-Net will continue to increase as the dataset grows. CORONA-Net, says Elbishlawi, can automatically improve itself over time and self-learn to be more accurate.

“The results on the testing set were obtained and can be seen in 100 per cent sensitivity to the COVID-19 class. There was a 95 per cent sensitivity in the classification of the pneumonia class and a 95 per cent sensitivity in the classification of the normal class,” he explains. “These results show that CORONA-Net gives a highly accurate prediction with the most sensitivity to the COVID-19 class.”

The developed CORONA-Net architecture substantially increases the sensitivity and positive predictive value (PPV) of predictions, making CORONA-Net a valuable tool when it comes to using chest X-rays to diagnose COVID-19.

“CORONA-Net can have a significant and positive impact on health-care systems as testing every person suspected of having the disease is difficult. CORONA-Net can provide accurate and promising results in terms of sensitivity, PPV and overall accuracy,” says Dr. Abdelpakey. “We hope our work can be used to more easily test for COVID-19 and help bring this pandemic to an end.”

The paper was published in the Journal of Imaging this spring and has already received several citations.

UBCO’s new bachelor of sustainability degree will equip students with the breadth and compassion to find solutions to sustainability issues such as climate change, land and water use, energy transition, and social and economic inequality.

UBC Okanagan will soon be home to Canada’s first undergraduate degree dedicated exclusively to sustainability.

The Bachelor of Sustainability (BSust) is a four-year direct-entry program dedicated to inspiring students to address complex environmental challenges by integrating knowledge from different academic subjects, with hands-on and community-based learning.

The program combines a broad, interdisciplinary approach, with focused concentrations that develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes of students who want to become good citizens of the Earth.

“This is the type of learning opportunity that prepares students to become the innovators and leaders needed to meet the environmental challenges that we face now, and in the future,” says the program’s inaugural director and associate professor of earth sciences Dr. Kevin Hanna.

“Heat waves, record-breaking wildfire seasons, drought—these are major threats to life as we know it, and though a lot of people define sustainability in ways that seem clear, obvious and needed, it can be tough to put sustainability into action. The BSust is about building the skills to go from hopeful to operational.”

Students will choose from one of four concentrations: environmental analytics, environmental conservation and management, environmental humanities or green chemistry.

Program graduates will be well-positioned to seek employment in numerous sectors including natural resources management, environmental impact assessment, project management and education, or to continue their studies in a graduate-level program.

Dr. Lesley Cormack, deputy vice-chancellor and principal of UBC Okanagan, is proud UBCO is leading the way in sustainability education.

“UBC has a long track record of innovative practices and programs, and I’m thrilled that we’re adding to this record by establishing the BSust program,” says Dr. Cormack.

“The creation of this program is a bold step towards realizing UBC’s vision of inspiring people, ideas and actions for a better world and fulfilling its commitment to advance sustainability across teaching, learning and research.”

The program also aligns with UBC’s commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

All students are required to take an Indigenous Studies course that introduces concepts of Indigenous knowledge, which will contribute to advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

The new credential will strengthen UBC Okanagan’s leadership in sustainability and promote a greener future for British Columbia and the planet.

“Sustainability education enlarges our understanding of the world we inhabit and seeks solutions to put us on a path towards a cleaner, brighter future,” says Anne Kang, BC’s Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training.

“Training students with the necessary tools to actively contribute towards initiatives like our CleanBC plan creates opportunities to reduce pollution and protect our climate for future generations.”

The new program will accept its first intake of students in September 2022.

For more information about the BSust, visit:

UBCO researchers have worked to Indigenize a set of wildlife conservation principles and policies that have guided wildlife management decisions in Canada and the United States for decades.

Most conservation experts would agree that the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (NAM) is a leading global framework to manage wildlife, but new research from UBC’s Okanagan campus is highlighting one of its major shortcomings — a lack of Indigenous histories, perspectives and knowledge systems.

“The NAM has done and continues to do a lot of good for wildlife and people,” says Mateen Hessami, a master’s biology student in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science.

Hessami, a member of the Wyandotte Nation, works alongside Dr. Adam Ford, Canada Research Chair in Wildlife Restoration Ecology.

“There’s a lot of research that critiques the model but doesn’t necessarily advance solutions to fix its flaws,” says Hessami. “Our research team, which includes an equal representation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors, saw an opportunity to contribute to the creation of a more effective and equitable framework to manage wildlife in our changing world.”

The NAM is a set of wildlife conservation principles and policies that have long-guided wildlife management decisions in the United States and Canada. It emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries but was formally transcribed in 2001. It focuses on four conservation values: safeguarding wildlife for future generations, prioritizing the best available knowledge or evidence to conserve wildlife populations, international collaboration, and democracy of hunting and wildlife conservation.

“In our research, we identified a lot of common ground among the values that support both the NAM and many Indigenous-led or shared models of wildlife conservation in Canada. Those shared values are what guided us through the process of creating the revised model,” Hessami explains.

In addition to modernizing these core, shared values, the team worked to remove colonial language and wove in Indigenous worldviews and knowledge systems regarding wildlife conservation in Canada. They label this new document: The Indigenizing North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (I-NAM).

“The I-NAM is a starting point, it emphasizes a process of continuous learning, listening and respecting views of Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives. We need to better recognize how much common ground we actually share — the health of wildlife populations depends on it,” explains Dr. Ford. “Successful wildlife conservation relies on bringing together diverse communities, perspectives and knowledge systems.”

Though the model is intended for use by any jurisdiction looking to modernize its wildlife conservation strategy, Hessami points out that the I-NAM isn’t meant to replace Indigenous-led conservation.

“Indigenous-led conservation is an effective conservation strategy but is not the dominant approach in many parts of Canada or North America,” he says. “We are hopeful conservation experts will see the I-NAM as a way to improve wildlife management in areas where Indigenous-led conservation is less influential.”

“As Canadians, our connections to nature and wildlife are important, they’re emblematic of who we are,” says Hessami. “There are still a lot of Canadians who depend on wildlife for their livelihoods and food security. It’s our duty to preserve these resources in an equitable manner for generations to come.”

The paper was published this week in FACETS.

Canadian poet and spoken word artist Shane Koyczan will address the UBCO graduating class of 2021.

Virtual ceremony recognizes more than 1,800 graduating students

UBC Okanagan is marking its second virtual convocation next week.

More than 1,850 graduates — including 1,600 undergraduates as well as more than 100 masters’ and doctoral students — will tune in to celebrate the success of their educational journey.

“This has been a remarkable year for our students and our faculty,” says Lesley Cormack, deputy vice-chancellor and principal of UBC’s Okanagan campus. “While the ceremony will be virtual, the remarkable achievements of our students are very real and worthy of recognition. I invite everyone to join me in celebrating the Class of 2021.”

There are also some new faces in the procession of dignitaries that will congratulate the graduates this year. UBC’s 19th Chancellor, the Honourable Steven Point (xwĕ lī qwĕl tĕl), will preside over the ceremony, his first since taking on the role of chancellor last year. And this will be Cormack’s first convocation since joining the university in July 2020.

“Coming to UBC Okanagan during a time when our students are learning remotely has indeed been interesting,” Cormack adds. “Through it all, our students have shown remarkable fortitude while learning and conducting research online. I commend them all for their accomplishments.”

Once the ceremony has begun, UBC President and Vice-Chancellor Santa J. Ono will address the Class of 2021 live, dressed in full academic regalia and graduates will have an opportunity to take a virtual selfie with President Ono. Along with a congratulatory message from Cormack, graduates will also hear inspiring words from student speakers Ali Poostizadeh, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, and Blessing Adeagbo, who has earned a Bachelor of Human Kinetics.

Another highlight of the 50-minute ceremony will be a keynote address from Shane Koyczan. The Canadian poet and spoken word artist will honour the perseverance and resilience of the 2021 graduating class. His message, written from the heart, will inspire all viewers, Cormack adds.

UBC Okanagan’s graduating class will celebrate their accomplishments virtually on June 2, starting at 2:30 p.m. Students and their family members can watch the ceremony on YouTube, Facebook or Panopto, a platform that is accessible from many countries.

To find out more about the virtual convocation ceremony, visit:

This year’s medal recipients

Governor General's Gold Medal: Sandra Fox

Lieutenant Governor's Medal Program for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation: Aidan O'Callahan

UBC Medal in Fine Arts: Jade Zitko

UBC Medal in Arts: Michelle Tucsok

UBC Medal in Science: Jakob Thoms

UBC Medal in Education: Patricia Perkins

UBC Medal in Nursing: Alex Halonen

UBC Medal in Management: Breanne Ruskowsky

UBC Medal in Human Kinetics: Marika Harris

UBC Medal in Engineering: Rohan Ikebuchi

UBC Medal in Media Studies Sydney Bezenar

UBC hosts virtual wine tasting on National Rosé Day.

Celebrate National Rosé Day with local wineries at a free wine tasting event

What: Rosés of the Okanagan, virtual wine tasting event
Who: Winemakers, winery owners, UBC alumni and wine experts
When: Saturday, June 12 starting at 4:30 p.m.
Where: Zoom webinar

UBC’s alumni association is raising a glass to toast the university’s many alumni in the winemaking industry in celebration of National Rosé Day.

Rosés of the Okanagan, a virtual wine tasting event, will feature a curated wine pack and wine-tasting tips from expert speakers. Participants can purchase the specially-selected bottles of rosé — products from four alumni-affiliated wineries in the Okanagan. The event takes place Saturday, June 12, starting at 4:30 p.m.

The virtual event is hosted by Bachelor of Arts graduate DJ Kearney, a Vancouver-based wine educator who is also a wine writer, critic, judge, presenter and classically trained cook. Kearney will lead participants in a Zoom presentation where they will sample the wines as they follow along with the program.

“The rosé is the fastest growing wine segment in the wine industry, and in Europe, rosé has become the most successful summer wine,” says Jacques-Olivier Pesme, director of the UBC Wine Research Centre. “There are various types of rosé and British Columbia offers a large palette of tastes, which will be detailed at this virtual event.”

UBC alumni Sarah and Murray Bancroft with Birch Block Vineyard, Graham Nordin from CedarCreek Estate Winery, David Scholefield from Haywire Winery, and Tony Holler from Poplar Grove Winery will explain their rosés while the virtual audience can taste along at home.

Along with the winemakers, special guests and UBC Professor Dr. Wes Zandberg and analytical scientist Sarah Lyons will explain their research on smoke taint from wildfires and how it can impact winemaking.

Participants can purchase a wine pack in advance of the tasting. For each wine pack purchased a $10 donation will be made to the UBC Blue & Gold Campaign for Students.

This free event is offered in partnership with the UBC Wine Research Centre and UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Management. To register and purchase the wine pack, or to find out more visit:

The latest research by Drs. Gibson, Ghosh and Zandberg into dietary fat suggest current health guidelines should be reevaluated.

Findings show types of fats matter when it comes to gut well-being

A team of UBC Okanagan researchers has determined that the type of fats a mother consumes while breastfeeding can have long-term implications on her infant’s gut health.

Dr. Deanna Gibson, a biochemistry researcher, along with Dr. Sanjoy Ghosh, who studies the biochemical aspects of dietary fats, teamed up with chemistry and molecular biology researcher Dr. Wesley Zandberg. The team, who conducts research in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, explored the role of feeding dietary fat to gestating rodents to determine the generational effects of fat exposure on their offspring.

“The goal was to investigate how maternal dietary habits can impact an offspring’s gut microbial communities and their associated sugar molecule patterns which can be important in immune responses to infectious disease,” says Dr. Gibson, who studies gut health and immunity as well as causes of acute or chronic diseases like inflammatory bowel disease.

Their study suggests that the type of fat consumed during breastfeeding could differentially impact an infant's intestinal microbial communities, immune development and disease risk.

The three main classes of fatty acids include saturated (SFA), found in meats and dairy products, monounsaturated fats (MUFA), found in plant-based liquid oils, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), found in some nuts, fish and shellfish. PUFAs are further characterized as either n-3 PUFAs or n-6 PUFAs, based on the number and positions of double bonds in the acyl chain.

Previous research has determined both n-3 PUFAs and n-6 PUFAs can have a negative impact on intestinal infections such as Enteropathogenic E. coli, Clostridium difficile, salmonella and gastrointestinal illnesses from eating poorly prepared or undercooked food or drinking contaminated water. In contrast, diets rich in MUFAs and SFAs have been shown to be largely protective against these infections.

Dr. Gibson’s latest research states the beneficial properties of milk fat, or saturated fats, during the pre-and postnatal period might improve protection against infectious intestinal disease during adulthood particularly when a source of n-3 PUFAs are combined with saturated fats.

“Our findings challenge current dietary recommendations and reveal that maternal intake of fat has transgenerational impacts on their offspring’s susceptibility to intestinal infection, likely enabled through microbe-immune interactions,” says Dr. Gibson.

Global consumption of unsaturated fatty acids has increased significantly between 1990 and 2010, she adds, while people are consuming lower amounts of saturated fats during pregnancy because of recommendations to reduce saturated fat intake.

“Although it has been known for decades that high-fat diets can directly alter inflammatory responses, recent studies have only just begun to appreciate how fatty acid classes may have discrete effects on inflammation, and can shift host responses to an infection,” says Dr. Gibson.

Dietary fatty acids can impact inflammatory processes including defensive inflammatory responses following an intestinal infection. This can affect the severity of disease, making dietary fatty acids an important consideration in predicting disease risk, Dr. Gibson explains.

Researchers believe it’s a combination of dietary fat-host interactions with the intestinal bacteriome that can determine the severity of these infections. The intestinal bacteriome, Dr. Gibson explains, is established during infancy and plays a critical role in aiding immune system maturation and providing a barrier against colonization with potential pathogens.

And Dr. Ghosh notes this latest research suggests current health guidelines should be reevaluated.

“Currently, Canadian dietary guidelines recommend nursing mothers replace foods rich in SFA with dietary PUFAs, with an emphasis on consuming n-6 and n-3 PUFAs,” Dr. Ghosh says. “Given that PUFAs worsened disease outcomes in postnatal diet studies, in our views, these recommendations should be reconsidered.”

While breast milk protein and carbohydrate concentrations remain relatively inert, fatty acid contents vary considerably and are influenced by maternal fat intake.

“Overall, we conclude that maternal consumption of various dietary fat types alters the establishment of their child’s bacteriome and can have lasting consequences on their ability to respond to infection during adulthood,” says Dr. Gibson. “At the same time, we show that maternal diets rich in SFA, provide a host-microbe relationship in their offspring that protects against disease.”

It’s important to understand that the intestinal bacteriome is established during infancy because it plays a critical role in aiding immune system maturation which can provide a barrier to potential pathogens, explains Dr. Zandberg. He also notes a healthy bacteriome is dependent on early-life nutrition.

“Sugars decorate important proteins in the gut,” says Dr. Zandberg. “Their patterns are altered in the offspring due to the dietary choices of the mother during gestation and lactation. The change in patterns is associated with changes in the ability of the infant to fight off infectious disease in our model.”

The research, published recently in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and awarded to Drs. Gibson and Ghosh as well as other organizations including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, Dairy Farmers of Canada, and a scholarship to the study’s first author Candice Quin from the Canadian Institute 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:

CBC journalist and author Nora Young.

Virtual event explores complex role of data in everyday life

What: From Big Data to Your Data: How Data-Driven Technologies are Shaping the Future, as part of UBCO’s Distinguished Speaker Series
Who: Canadian journalist and author Nora Young
When: Tuesday, April 13 beginning at 7 p.m.
Where: Zoom webinar

In an increasingly data-driven world, data literacy plays an important role in ensuring people understand how their interactions with technology may lead to the gathering, sharing or selling of their personal information.

Though many are aware of these possibilities when choosing to visit a website or enable location services on a device—how often do they consider the effect data may be having on their interpersonal relationships, behaviours and opinions?

On Tuesday, April 13, UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science hosts CBC journalist, author and speaker Nora Young as part of its Distinguished Speaker Series. She will explore how recent advancements in technology and the explosion of data can affect relationships, behaviours and opinions.

Young is a highly-respected Canadian journalist, best known as the creator and host of Spark, CBC’s national radio show exploring technology and culture, author of The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around Us, and as the founding host of CBC Radio’s pop culture magazine, Definitely not the Opera.

In her talk, Young will cover everything from artificial intelligence and robotics, to smart cities and the internet of things.

She will take a deep dive into the top data-driven trends influencing our world, and discuss the challenges and opportunities that accompany them. She’ll also cover the impacts these shifts are having on the economy and society, and describe how they’re affecting our health, relationships and the types of jobs the next generation will be moving into.

The Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science’s Distinguished Speaker Series brings compelling speakers to the homes of Okanagan residents to share their unique perspectives on issues that affect our region, our country and our world.

This virtual event is free and open to all, but online pre-registration is required.

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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.

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