Research Spotlights

Helen Mary Booker

Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) Wheat Breeder, Associate Professor, Plant Agriculture
Helen's email, Helen's faculty page

Head shot of Helen Booker.

What is your area of research?

I am a plant breeder and currently lead the wheat program, which focuses on improvement of winter wheat for production in Ontario. The program has a large field component that includes field-scale experiments at the Elora Research Station (ERS). These experiments include thousand of breeding lines. To generate variation, initial crosses are performed indoors on vernalized lines (winter wheat requires a cold period to initiate flowering), and then the segregating (differing) populations are planted in the fall and selections are made the following summer. After six generations, the lines are ‘fixed’ and then tested in unreplicated yield plots initially at ERS and subsequently in replicated yield plots at multiple locations across Ontario. Elite breeding lines are entered into registration trials for either pastry or bread end-use market classes for at least two years at multiple locations in Ontario and Québec. Candidate winter wheat lines that exhibit consistent and superior agronomic traits, such as yield and disease resistance, and that meet the required quality parameters are brought forward to the recommending committee for cereals (OCCC) for registration. This year, the University of Guelph wheat program had two candidate lines (OAC19SRW-01 and OAC19SRW-03) supported for registration in Ontario.

What current or upcoming research project are you most excited about?

When I joined the Plant Agriculture faculty in September 2020, I assumed responsibility for the research project on the development of winter wheat for Ontario as part of the Canadian Wheat Research Coalition (CRWC), initiated by my predecessor—the late Dr. Alireza Navabi. 

I am committed to wheat genomics research focusing on fusarium head blight as the most serious disease of wheat in Canada (this research is currently being done under an Ontario Genomics project led by Liz Lee). I am a co-applicant on a newly GFO/OMAFRA-supported research project led by Dr. Eric Lyons to evaluate winter wheat cultivars for low temperature and ice encasement in Ontario. Identifying mechanisms associated with adaptation will inform breeding for winter hardiness in Ontario.

What inspired you to pursue research?

After completing my bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Guelph, I lived outside of Canada for several years including a decade in Trinidad and Tobago. I taught at the University of the West Indies where I pursued a graduate degree in plant sciences with a focus on plant breeding and pathology. To study the inheritance of disease resistance in a tropical legume, I made crosses of disease resistant and susceptible genotypes and scored the variation in the progeny of those crosses; it was exciting to see the variation generated. Crop diseases are a serious problem in tropical agriculture, and I was able to develop a variety with multiple disease resistance, thus establishing my passion for plant breeding. 

Which one of your publications is your favourite/one you are most proud of? 

We have a publication on a novel resistance response in winter wheat to yellow rust disease that is in press and coming out in a special issue of the Canadian Journal of Plant Pathology later this year. We are also nearing the final stages of preparation of a manuscript on the discovery of a novel fusarium seedling blight (FSB) resistance mechanism in wheat. This work was initiated by my predecessor—the late Dr. Alireza Navabi—and Drs. Peter Pauls and Liz Lee have been instrumental in moving the research forward to publication.  

What are some creative ways you are staying connected/supporting your students while working remotely? 

I delivered the first synchronous virtual offering of Grain Crops in Winter 2021. I created the classroom in Zoom on CourseLink, with weekly Zoom meetings with students. OMAFRA crop specialists and I delivered lectures via Zoom. My capable teaching assistant attended as co-host, monitoring the chat and breakout sessions. Students logged in from across the globe, including a very engaged student residing in St. Lucia for the winter! 

My first graduate student at the University of Guelph will start this fall. I keep in touch with him via email, and he is invited to our program ‘teams’ research update meetings. Virtual meeting platforms allow us to interact face-to-face, share documents, etc., wherever we may be, so there have been many advantages to working remotely.  

Jackie Goordial

Assistant Professor, School of Environmental Sciences
Jackie's email, Jackie's Twitter, Jackie's website

Head Shot of Jackie Goordial

What is your area of research?

I study how microscopic life persists within extreme subsurface environments such as permafrost (permanently frozen ground) and oceanic crust/marine sediments. Because of the sheer amount of these subsurface environments on Earth, microscopic organisms in the subsurface may actually make up the most abundant lifeforms on our planet – yet because they are so difficult to study, they remain poorly understood. 

Subsurface microorganisms use diverse forms of energy and food for their survival, much more diverse than mammals or plants. These organisms cycle large amounts of nutrients that are ultimately connected to surface global processes on Earth. For example, permafrost microorganisms are poised to release large amounts of greenhouse gases with warming in the Arctic – which may have global scale effects. 

Understanding subsurface life also assists in the search for extraterrestrial life in our solar system where the subsurface may be the most habitable of our likely targets.

What current or upcoming research project are you most excited about?

One of the sites we are working at is newly discovered to have a type of permafrost called “dry permafrost”, this is frozen ground with no water content, so it looks and feels like sand without frozen water to hold the particles together. Here, and microscopic life would have to be able to survive the extreme cold, and lack of water. 

What inspired you to pursue research?

I love that intertwined with every single aspect of our own lives – there is a microbe involved. Even the human body has more microbial cells than human cells (so we are mostly microbe!). Understanding this invisible, but integral part of how the world functions is very fascinating to me. 

Which one of your publications is your favourite/one you are most proud of?

Usually it is the publication I worked on last! I have a publication soon to be out: using cutting edge single cell sorting techniques to obtain genomes form organisms that would be typically impossible to study within oceanic crust. 

What are some creative ways you are staying connected/supporting your students while working remotely? 

This has been really hard; I try to see my students in the lab whenever possible (in a safe manner with COVID precautions in place of course). We hold regular Zoom meetings, and make sure to check in about life in general too. 

The Guelph Institute for Environmental Research (GIER)

Q&A with Dr. Madhur Anand, GIER director and professor in the School of Environmental Sciences
GIER website, GIER newsletter, GIER YouTube

Head shot of Madhur.
Photo credit: Ian Willms

What is the Guelph Institute for Environmental Research (GIER)?

GIER creates new spaces for interdisciplinary collaboration across all disciplines of environmental research at the University of Guelph (U of G). It spans all seven colleges and over a hundred affiliate members. GIER provides small grants to researchers to solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental problems with new thinking and tools that tend to eschew single-disciplinary lenses. It also curates fascinating conversations between researchers across disciplines through our events programs and website, helping to improve understanding of environmental research more broadly both within academia and in society at large. 

What are the objectives of GIER?

GIER seeks to accelerate discoveries and their applications to enhance our understanding of the environment, benefit Canadians and people globally, and Improve Life. With 225 faculty members spanning all seven colleges, U of G has a critical mass of researchers studying many different aspects of the environment. GIER enables collaborations among these environmental researchers across campus to foster novel, high-impact scholarship, that is grounded in critical interdisciplinary thinking. The Institute represents a commitment to identifying new areas of research and provides institutional recognition that the significant contributions are often to be found at interdisciplinary boundaries. The overall objective is to let the world know more about the outstanding and exciting work going on by our students and faculty, and enhance U of G’s already international reputation as a university where one can study and learn about the environment from so many perspectives.

How has COVID-19 affected the work of GIER?

We’ve had to be extra creative in how we come together as a community. It has interrupted some of the research activities of our GIER Affiliates, but it has also directly fed into new research by GIER Affiliates. We added COVID-19 as a strategic area for our 2020-21 small grants program. In general, we found there were many intersections between COVID-19 and the environment and hosted a webinar on the topic. As director, I also wrote a piece, upon the invitation of the World Economic Forum, to highlight what lessons we could learn from the pandemic, as related to the environment. 

Can you provide an example of a recent project from GIER?

In addition to webinars produced on COVID-19, The Climate Emergency, and Diverse Approaches to Knowledge Translation, there are already a wonderful set of new GIER research projects started with our first small grants program. These projects span so many of our most ‘wicked’ environmental problems including the planetary boundaries of climate change, chemical pollution, land-use change, freshwater use, biodiversity loss, and nitrogen and phosphorus cycles.

How are students involved with GIER? 

Students are involved at the undergraduate and graduate level with GIER through the diversity of research programs that our GIER Affiliates carry out, as well as our grants, events, engagement, and outreach activities. In addition, in 2020, we started a new Early Career Affiliate network, and many graduates students from all across campus have joined because they are passionate about interdisciplinary environmental research and improving life!

David Huyben

Assistant Professor of Aquaculture, Department of Animal Biosciences
David's email, David's faculty page, David's Twitter, David's LinkedIn

Head shot of David.

What is your area of research?

My research program focuses on the effects of feeding omega-3 fatty acids, single-cell proteins and probiotics on the growth, immune response and gut microbiome of salmonid fishes, especially rainbow trout and Atlantic salmon. We are learning more and more how the bacteria in our gut affects our health and behaviour. My research group aims to find out how gut bacteria improve the growth and health of fish, specifically looking at what nutrients they produce and how they interact with the immune system.

What current or upcoming research project are you most excited about?

I have several projects with fish feed companies that want to test their products and understand the mechanisms behind their effects, including improving growth and health of farmed fish. I also collaborate with universities in Scotland (Stirling) and Sweden (Uppsala), as well as faculty in my department and several others including Pathobiology and Molecular/Cellular Biology. I am excited to work with both academic and industry partners as they have different perspectives and expertise that help to address important basic and applied scientific questions.

What inspired you to pursue research?

I grew up on a poultry and cash-crop farm outside of Forest, Ontario (a couple hours west of Guelph) and I wanted to be a veterinarian for the longest time. I enrolled into the Animal Biology undergrad program at UoG and I was looking for a summer job after 3rd year. I was late and the only university summer job left was in a fish nutrition lab with Prof. Dom Bureau. I got it and instantly fell in love with the aquaculture research and this dynamic industry. I immediately identified with fish farmers around Manitoulin island and I was always curious about science and animal production starting from my childhood on the farm. I was inspired by effects of technologies and feed on fish heath and nutrition that led me to complete an MSc with Prof. Rich Moccia. After that, I completed a PhD at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and postdoctoral research at the Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling in Scotland. I am delighted to come home and continue my research and teaching at the Department of Animal Biosciences.

Which one of your publications is your favourite/one you are most proud of?

My favourite and most influential publication, in my opinion, is the Huyben et al. (2018) publication in the Journal of Applied Microbiology on “Dietary live yeast and increased water temperature influence the gut microbiota of rainbow trout”. It combined several techniques of making fish feed, feeding probiotics, measuring fish stress, 16S DNA sequencing, bioinformatics and statistics. The goal was to feed fish a yeast probiotic so they could cope with the stress of warmer water. We did see higher diversity of gut bacteria, so it did show potential. This strategy is very relevant due to the increasing effects of climate change and we successfully used cutting-edge sequencing technology to identify thousands of gut bacteria in rainbow trout. Fun stuff!

What are some creative ways you are staying connected/supporting your students while working remotely? 

I have an MSc student that will start in January and I have been in contact with them via Skype and email. I try to check in at least once per month to see how they are doing in these trying times and check on their research progress. Although I miss the face-to-face interaction, online platforms are an easy way to check in on students from the comfort of your own home. I try to not put added pressure on my students given the stress of the pandemic and I am mindful of mine and their mental health.

How could someone connect with you and learn more about your research? 

If someone is interesting in doing an MSc, PhD or postdoc in my research group, please send me an email at or find me on twitter. The same goes for other academic, government and industry members interesting in collaborating on projects involving fish health, feed and the microbiome. You can find a list of my publications on my U of G webpage, ResearchGate, LinkedIn and Google Scholar.

Kim Schneider

Assistant Professor, Department of Plant Agriculture
Kim's email, Kim's faculty page, Kim's Twitter

Head shot of Kim.

What is your area of research?

My research intersects agricultural and environmental issues. Of course, we want agricultural ecosystems to be productive, but in addition, we also need to be thinking about long-term sustainability. I work in the broad area of forage and service (cover) crops and am passionate about exploring how these crops can be managed to enhance ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, improving nutrient use efficiencies, water quality, and soil health.

What current or upcoming research project are you most excited about?

Although it’s a bit of a new venture for me, I am excited to work with animal scientists and explore the role of pasture and grazing management in carbon sequestration.  I think this is a really timely research topic and will hopefully help the beef industry to show that depending on management, they can contribute to climate change mitigation through increasing soil carbon stocks.

What inspired you to pursue research?

I think one of the biggest draws to a research orientated career is the ability to keep learning new things.  It’s challenging and hardly ever boring. Being a faculty member also gives you the academic freedom to pursue new areas and change with the times. The sky is the limit really!

Which one of your publications is your favourite/one you are most proud of?

This one came out last year:

Schneider, K.D.,  J.Thiessen Martens, F. Zvomuya, D.K. Reid, T.  Fraser, D.H Lynch, I. O’Halloran, and H. Wilson. (2019). Options for improved phosphorus cycling and use in agriculture at the field and regional scales. Journal of Environmental Quality. doi:10.2134/jeq2019.02.0070.

I have worked a lot in the area of phosphorus fertility management over the years (MSc, PhD, post-doctorate), and this review paper was a nice way to bring things together in a paper that will be read by a wider audience. Hopefully, it will continue to help the field evolve so we can manage phosphorus budgets more tightly in agriculture.

What are some creative ways you are staying connected/supporting your students while working remotely? 

Because I am new, I don’t have a large team.  We stay connected through the usual ways (zoom, email, phone), but it has been nice to do some field work at Elora this summer, where we can meet in person (physically distanced of course).  

The Guelph Turfgrass Institute (GTI) 

Q&A with Cam Shaw, GTI Communications and Outreach Coordinator
GTI website, GTI Twitter, GTI Instagram, GTI Facebook

Conceptual image for the new GTI.
Conceptual image for the new GTI.

What is the Guelph Turfgrass Institute (GTI)?

The GTI is both a conceptual and physical institution. In the conceptual sense, the GTI actually represents a formal three-way partnership between the University of Guelph, the Ontario turfgrass industry (lawn care, landscaping, golf course maintenance, sod production, sports field management, municipal parks management, and other recreational facilities dealing with turf) and the Ontario government (OMAFRA). This triumvirate of a partnership is now over 30 years old and has acted as a successful model for how academia, industry and legislators can, and should, work together to achieve mutually beneficial and supportive goals.  Since its founding in 1987, The GTI has acted as a world leader in turfgrass research and education, and continues to be a hub for professional networking, diagnostic testing and extension services to the Ontario and Canadian turfgrass industry.

In the physical, bricks and mortar capacity, the GTI is headquarters to several provincial and national professional turfgrass associations (Ontario Golf Superintendents Association and Sports Turf Canada) as well as the Ontario Turfgrass Research Foundation (OTRF); a charity whose primary goal is to raise funds to invest in turfgrass research.  The GTI has classroom space where it hosts various U of G turf diploma classes and workshops in addition to the annual Turfgrass Managers Short Course, a 30-day turf management certificate program.  Perhaps most importantly of all, the GTI provides the lab facilities, office space and research plots in a centralized location for primary investigators, lab groups, and grad students to more effectively conduct their work. 

What are the objectives of the GTI?

The GTI has 3 primary mandates: several mandates or missions:

  1. RESEARCH: The GTI aspires to influence, inspire, and initiate collaboration within the U of G faculty and research program.  The primary goal is to help create best management practices (BMPs) for turfgrass managers. Historically, the GTI has been a world leader is developing sustainable and low-risk strategies for managing pests (referred to as Integrated pest management or IPM). Past fields of study have included exploring the fate of pesticides, researching alternative controls for turfgrass pests as well as exploring cultural management techniques that promote stronger healthier grass in order to help create well-conditioned and safe areas for recreation and sport. 
  2. SERVICE: The GTI serves the industry in a variety of manors. Through the diagnostic clinic, the GTI offers reliable, third-party diagnostic services to the Canadian turfgrass industry. This service helps the industry to accurately identify pests and reduces the chances of unnecessary or unethical applications that may affect non-target organisms.  The GTI also offers educational services to various stakeholders in need of specific types of education through workshops, seminars and educational materials production.
  3. OUTREACH: In order to ensure growth and interest in the turf industry, the GTI participates in a number of outreach programs throughout the year. Working closely with the OAC Liaison team, the GTI has participated in on and off-campus activities promoting careers and education in the field of turfgrass management.  More recently, the GTI has also begun engaging with public stakeholders through various events and programs.  It is our hope to continue spreading “the good word of turf” through engagement and discussion in order to re-define the often-negative perception that surrounds turf in our society.

Can you provide an example of some recent research from the GTI?

It is hard to discuss only one so I would like to share two of my recent favourites:

  • For the past few years, Dr. Katerina Jordan and her lab group have been exploring a turfgrass pathogen, known as take-all patch. This pathogen is quite common in Canada, and especially in Ontario due to the nature of the soils in this province. Prior to the research project, Dr. Jordan observed this pathogen was occurring in many places and times of year that were contradictory to published data on this pest. Operating under the hypothesis that there could be a new, unidentified pathogen causing this phenomenon, Dr. Jordan and her lab group have been painstakingly exploring the potential for a discovery of a new pathogen. In the turf industry, this is not only potentially ground-breaking research but also very exciting to be a part of. This research project continues today and has also included aspects of developing reliable field inoculation techniques which will help others to study this pathogen in the future.
  • Dr. Eric Lyons is currently working with the Canadian Nursery and Landscape Association to develop a carbon calculator for turfgrass. This involves a literature review and collection of existing published data in order to create a complex algorithm which will calculate the potential for carbon sequestration by turfgrass in the urban and rural landscape. As the public and governments become increasingly sensitive to carbon footprints and ecological impacts, this research project may help to justify turfgrass as a carbon solution while also continuing to be a surface that can be walked and played on.  

How do students utilize the GTI? 

Students of the Turf Manager’s Short Course (TMSC) attend classes in the GTI during the month of February.  This 30-day certificate is now in its 52 year and has graduated thousands of turf managers – many of whom have gone on to become leaders of industry. Outside of the TMSC, U of G turf diploma students often have workshops, labs and classes held periodically throughout the school year. They are free to come on site, and meet with grad students, observe active research and engage with faculty if the opportunity presents itself. Turf Club is also known to host special events and speakers at the GTI from time to time.  Because the GTI also in headquarters to a variety of professional industry associations, it creates a valuable space for students to interact with the industry and develop their professional networks.

What GTI time sensitive or critical research continued throughout the summer?

A number of turf trials continued through the summer including our National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) trial for turf type tall fescue, as well as a Turfgrass Water Conservation Alliance (TWCA) trial. The TWCA trial is an interesting one as it is exploring the varying degrees of drought tolerance amongst a varieity of different Kentucky bluegrass cultivars.  There are also a series of ongoing fungicide efficacy trials that take place annually on our pathology research greens.  

Do you have any fun facts about turfgrass or the GTI you can share?

Construction of the new GTI.

The GTI is in the process of moving to a new home. Located on campus within the Arboretum, the new location boasts 14 cutting edge research plots and all new classroom, office space, research and lab facilities. The new site is also neighbouring Cutten Fields which will create the potential for convenient and valuable field-based research capacity. Being on campus, the new location will also be more accessible for students.

Silvia Sarapura

Assistant Professor, School of Environmental Design and Rural Development
Silvia's email, Silvia's faculty page, Silvia's website, Silvia's Twitter, Silvia's LinkedIn

Head shot of Silvia.

What is your area of research?

I am an interdisciplinary scholar who have experience in agri-food research for development in Africa, Asia and Latin America. This experience has helped me to conduct integrated research in natural or biophysical sciences and social sciences. I was a potato researcher with the International Potato Centre (CIP), CGIAR in Peru for more than 10 years. As an emerging scientist in CIP, I conducted my undergraduate thesis in plant physiology and then worked as a plant breeder before I emigrated to Canada. I researched with Andean and Indigenous farmers. In these interactions, I understood that agriculture – technically and scientifically – are influenced by social and gender relations. We cannot separate these dimensions. Breeding and technology development focused on men and did not consider the social and gender aspects that influence women’s voice, representation and participation in agricultural activities.

This is the reason, I decided to pursue the MSc in Capacity Development and extension at the University of Guelph. In this program, I built knowledge and skills to go to the Ph.D. in Rural Studies which was again to integrate agriculture and social issues. After concluding my studies, I became more familiar with different integrated agri-food systems (aquatic and forestry) WorldFish, CGIAR and the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT), Netherlands. I had the opportunity to work in different environments, with diverse groups of people and under different circumstances in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

What current or upcoming research project are you most excited about?

I am excited about research my SEDRD colleagues, students and I will be involved in the following years. I am coming back to my roots; the Andes. Through four projects with the International Potato Centre, PROLINNOVA, the Potato Park and the Bioversity International and CIAT Alliance, I will do research with Andean Indigenous communities. The initiatives are going to be implemented in the area I was born, the Peruvian Andes.

The first program is with the International Potato Centre, local and national partners in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. The program is based on three components: plants, planet, people and focuses on the linkages, relationships and overlaps between agrobiodiversity, climate action, healthy diets and livelihoods.

The other program is the Resilient Seed Systems for Climate Change Adaptation and Sustainable Livelihoods with the Bioversity - CIAT Partnership, the Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation (WCDI), the Netherlands and the Community Technology Development Trust (CTDT) of Zimbabwe. The work is proposed in six sub-regions (Middle East and North Africa (MENA), East Africa, Southern Africa, West Africa/Sahel, the Andean region and South Asia) on three interrelated themes and activities: resilient seed systems, supportive policies and laws, and national, sub-regional and global networking. It aims to increase famers’ and communities' timely availability, affordability and improved access to good-quality seed of a portfolio of crops and crop varieties. This includes crops and varieties that are better adapted to current and future climate change. Such portfolios could also include traditional, farmer-improved and modern varieties that are of interest to and address the needs of socio-economically and culturally diverse farming communities around the world. 

What inspired you to pursue research?

I am an agronomist and have learned to work with interdisciplinary teams in the highlands of Peru. I was fascinated on having the opportunity to work alongside natural or biophysical scientists, social scientists, practitioners and representatives from diverse groups of women and men.  While perspectives were diverse, there has always been a common goal, life improvement of the communities through policy influence. 

Which one of your publications is your favourite/one you are most proud of?

I have publications that report rigours research. Others are more conceptual papers and practical reports. I would say the paper on the Gender Capacity Development Approach I developed for the WorldFish, CGIAR while being a Post-Doc Fellow is my favourite paper. This is not a research paper per se, but it helps the reader to envision transformation and social change in different groups, levels and dimensions. The framework lays down the foundations to learn and unlearn about gender from a psychological and educational perspective to influence transformation of mental modes, behaviours, social norms and attitudes. We would question what it has to do with agri-food systems. I always say that if we aim for real and enduring change in agriculture, people should go through deep learning and unlearning. Gender and social aspects require people to go through these trajectories to challenge the self.

What are some creative ways you are staying connected/supporting your students while you all work remotely?

Students and I have regular meetings to discuss about their studies, research and professional interests. We use reflections, videos through Microsoft Teams and Skype, and pictures to document what we are doing and experiencing during this special time in history. Unfortunately, international research was suddenly interrupted for us and it was scary for students. Communication with our partners has been important and crucial in order to identify alternatives and options. We have been talking to partners in countries and this is motivating for students as they see alternative ways to do international research. Participating in the discussions helps them to feel confident that their knowledge and experience is valued by our partners in countries and that research can be achieved remotely or in person.