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WHAT HAPPENS WHEN AN ACCIDENTAL ACADEMIC AND A PROLIFIC INVENTOR JOIN FORCES: MEET DR. NAUMAN FAROOQI OF CHEMGREEN

Part of the "Under the Microscope" Series admin March 9, 2015

Taking in the view of the Charles River and Harvard University from the 15th floor window of the Cambridge Innovation centre, Naumann Farooqi, Professor of Business at Mount Alison University and President & CEO of ChemGreen Innovation Inc., described what it has been like participating in the Canadian Technology Accelerator (CTA).

The CTAs provide Canadian high-growth market-ready companies support to access global markets and entrepreneurship services within the Information and Communication Technologies, (ICT), Life Sciences, and Sustainable Technologies industries.

With 700 other startups housed in the same building, Farooqi describes the environment as one that fosters a “cross-pollination” of ideas. “You’re able to share your passion and pick up energy,” he says. He’s also appreciated the exposure to expert mentors that have provided advice and access to potential clients and collaborators. “Rather than spending a whole bunch of time trying to figure out how the whole system works over here,” he says, “they have been able to provide us with the lay of the land and allow us to hit the ground running which is a really significantly added value.”

ChemGreen has developed a unique polymer production process that is both environmentally friendly and cost-comparative. Their technology will allow their partners in the plastics industry to remove the dangerous by-products from their plastics production and recycle much of the waste back into the reaction. In addition, the polymer products that ChemGreen has developed include conductive, magnetic, and antibacterial polymers that function more effectively than those currently on the market. They have made connections with multinational companies in the pulp/paper, cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and biomedical device industries.

ChemGreen began as a collaboration between Farooqi, a self-described “accidental academic,” and his colleague, the innovative researcher and Professor of Chemistry Dr. Khashayar Ghandi. In his research lab at Mount Alison University, Ghandi developed a unique chemical process for producing polymers. In 2009, some of Farooqi’s business students pitched a business plan for ChemGreen at the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation Breakthru Challenge and won the top prize. Farooqi then joined forces with Ghandi to provide him with the business expertise that he needed to launch the startup. In 2010 ChemGreen obtained their first patent for the chemical process and their work began in earnest. Today ChemGreen holds and is processing 10 patents for a variety of polymer products and processes. It is these patents and the creative problem solving of Dr. Ghandi that give ChemGreen their unique advantage in what is a very competitive, global materials industry. Currently Farooqi is seeking collaborative partners who share a strategic interest in developing new products and processes to expand their intellectual property assets.

Farooqi attributes much of ChemGreen’s early success to the support they have received from organizations such as BioNB, theNB Department of Economic Development, and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. “Many companies would never even get to this stage if they had to rely on their own resources,” Farooqi said.

As his residency at the Canadian Technology Accelerator is winding down, Farooqi is pleased to be returning to New Brunswick. He and Dr. Ghandi enjoy their quality of life in New Brunswick and are eager to contribute to the local economy, providing employment opportunities to highly skilled professionals here at home. He sees employment opportunities with a startup company as being especially relevant for recent graduates. “I think they get a lot more experience,” he said. “They have a huge opportunity of really leveraging their investment of time, and the experience they get is a really valuable skillset that is transferable to a number of different places.”

For more information on ChemGreen, check out http://www.chemgreen.ca/.

The Canadian Trade Commissioners Service is seeking applications for their next CTA@Boston. Click here to learn more.

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Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?

From March 2015 National Geographic admin February 23, 2015

National Geographic published this excellent and thorough article on the current state of science communication and literacy. A timely piece, they ask the question “why do many reasonable people doubt science?” when some of us are beginning to feel like more of our peers and colleagues are denying proof in place of anecdotes and emotionally-charged arguments. Is it because they don’t understand the science? As it turns out, science literacy doesn’t necessarily yield consensus. Read below or visit NationalGeographic.com.


Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?

We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge—from climate change to vaccinations—faces furious opposition. Some even have doubts about the moon landing.

By Joel Achenbach

There’s a scene in Stanley Kubrick’s comic masterpiece Dr. Strangelove in which Jack D. Ripper, an American general who’s gone rogue and ordered a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, unspools his paranoid worldview—and the explanation for why he drinks “only distilled water, or rainwater, and only pure grain alcohol”—to Lionel Mandrake, a dizzy-with-anxiety group captain in the Royal Air Force.

Ripper: Have you ever heard of a thing called fluoridation? Fluoridation of water?

Mandrake: Ah, yes, I have heard of that, Jack. Yes, yes.

Ripper: Well, do you know what it is?

Mandrake: No. No, I don’t know what it is. No.

Ripper: Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face?

The movie came out in 1964, by which time the health benefits of fluoridation had been thoroughly established, and antifluoridation conspiracy theories could be the stuff of comedy. So you might be surprised to learn that, half a century later, fluoridation continues to incite fear and paranoia. In 2013 citizens in Portland, Oregon, one of only a few major American cities that don’t fluoridate their water, blocked a plan by local officials to do so. Opponents didn’t like the idea of the government adding “chemicals” to their water. They claimed that fluoride could be harmful to human health.

Actually fluoride is a natural mineral that, in the weak concentrations used in public drinking water systems, hardens tooth enamel and prevents tooth decay—a cheap and safe way to improve dental health for everyone, rich or poor, conscientious brusher or not. That’s the scientific and medical consensus.

To which some people in Portland, echoing antifluoridation activists around the world, reply: We don’t believe you.

We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge—from the safety of fluoride and vaccines to the reality of climate change—faces organized and often furious opposition. Empowered by their own sources of information and their own interpretations of research, doubters have declared war on the consensus of experts. There are so many of these controversies these days, you’d think a diabolical agency had put something in the water to make people argumentative. And there’s so much talk about the trend these days—in books, articles, and academic conferences—that science doubt itself has become a pop-culture meme. In the recent movie Interstellar, set in a futuristic, downtrodden America where NASA has been forced into hiding, school textbooks say the Apollo moon landings were faked.

In a sense all this is not surprising. Our lives are permeated by science and technology as never before. For many of us this new world is wondrous, comfortable, and rich in rewards—but also more complicated and sometimes unnerving. We now face risks we can’t easily analyze.

We’re asked to accept, for example, that it’s safe to eat food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) because, the experts point out, there’s no evidence that it isn’t and no reason to believe that altering genes precisely in a lab is more dangerous than altering them wholesale through traditional breeding. But to some people the very idea of transferring genes between species conjures up mad scientists running amok—and so, two centuries after Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, they talk about Frankenfood.

The world crackles with real and imaginary hazards, and distinguishing the former from the latter isn’t easy. Should we be afraid that the Ebola virus, which is spread only by direct contact with bodily fluids, will mutate into an airborne superplague? The scientific consensus says that’s extremely unlikely: No virus has ever been observed to completely change its mode of transmission in humans, and there’s zero evidence that the latest strain of Ebola is any different. But type “airborne Ebola” into an Internet search engine, and you’ll enter a dystopia where this virus has almost supernatural powers, including the power to kill us all.

In this bewildering world we have to decide what to believe and how to act on that. In principle that’s what science is for. “Science is not a body of facts,” says geophysicist Marcia McNutt, who once headed the U.S. Geological Survey and is now editor of Science, the prestigious journal. “Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.” But that method doesn’t come naturally to most of us. And so we run into trouble, again and again.

The trouble goes way back, of course. The scientific method leads us to truths that are less than self-evident, often mind-blowing, and sometimes hard to swallow. In the early 17th century, when Galileo claimed that the Earth spins on its axis and orbits the sun, he wasn’t just rejecting church doctrine. He was asking people to believe something that defied common sense—because it sure looks like the sun’s going around the Earth, and you can’t feel the Earth spinning. Galileo was put on trial and forced to recant. Two centuries later Charles Darwin escaped that fate. But his idea that all life on Earth evolved from a primordial ancestor and that we humans are distant cousins of apes, whales, and even deep-sea mollusks is still a big ask for a lot of people. So is another 19th-century notion: that carbon dioxide, an invisible gas that we all exhale all the time and that makes up less than a tenth of one percent of the atmosphere, could be affecting Earth’s climate.

Even when we intellectually accept these precepts of science, we subconsciously cling to our intuitions—what researchers call our naive beliefs. A recent study by Andrew Shtulman of Occidental College showed that even students with an advanced science education had a hitch in their mental gait when asked to affirm or deny that humans are descended from sea animals or that Earth goes around the sun. Both truths are counterintuitive. The students, even those who correctly marked “true,” were slower to answer those questions than questions about whether humans are descended from tree-dwelling creatures (also true but easier to grasp) or whether the moon goes around the Earth (also true but intuitive). Shtulman’s research indicates that as we become scientifically literate, we repress our naive beliefs but never eliminate them entirely. They lurk in our brains, chirping at us as we try to make sense of the world.

Most of us do that by relying on personal experience and anecdotes, on stories rather than statistics. We might get a prostate-specific antigen test, even though it’s no longer generally recommended, because it caught a close friend’s cancer—and we pay less attention to statistical evidence, painstakingly compiled through multiple studies, showing that the test rarely saves lives but triggers many unnecessary surgeries. Or we hear about a cluster of cancer cases in a town with a hazardous waste dump, and we assume pollution caused the cancers. Yet just because two things happened together doesn’t mean one caused the other, and just because events are clustered doesn’t mean they’re not still random.

We have trouble digesting randomness; our brains crave pattern and meaning. Science warns us, however, that we can deceive ourselves. To be confident there’s a causal connection between the dump and the cancers, you need statistical analysis showing that there are many more cancers than would be expected randomly, evidence that the victims were exposed to chemicals from the dump, and evidence that the chemicals really can cause cancer.

Even for scientists, the scientific method is a hard discipline. Like the rest of us, they’re vulnerable to what they call confirmation bias—the tendency to look for and see only evidence that confirms what they already believe. But unlike the rest of us, they submit their ideas to formal peer review before publishing them. Once their results are published, if they’re important enough, other scientists will try to reproduce them—and, being congenitally skeptical and competitive, will be very happy to announce that they don’t hold up. Scientific results are always provisional, susceptible to being overturned by some future experiment or observation. Scientists rarely proclaim an absolute truth or absolute certainty. Uncertainty is inevitable at the frontiers of knowledge.

Sometimes scientists fall short of the ideals of the scientific method. Especially in biomedical research, there’s a disturbing trend toward results that can’t be reproduced outside the lab that found them, a trend that has prompted a push for greater transparency about how experiments are conducted. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, worries about the “secret sauce”—specialized procedures, customized software, quirky ingredients—that researchers don’t share with their colleagues. But he still has faith in the larger enterprise.

“Science will find the truth,” Collins says. “It may get it wrong the first time and maybe the second time, but ultimately it will find the truth.” That provisional quality of science is another thing a lot of people have trouble with. To some climate change skeptics, for example, the fact that a few scientists in the 1970s were worried (quite reasonably, it seemed at the time) about the possibility of a coming ice age is enough to discredit the concern about global warming now.

Last fall the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which consists of hundreds of scientists operating under the auspices of the United Nations, released its fifth report in the past 25 years. This one repeated louder and clearer than ever the consensus of the world’s scientists: The planet’s surface temperature has risen by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 130 years, and human actions, including the burning of fossil fuels, are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the warming since the mid-20th century. Many people in the United States—a far greater percentage than in other countries—retain doubts about that consensus or believe that climate activists are using the threat of global warming to attack the free market and industrial society generally. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, one of the most powerful Republican voices on environmental matters, has long declared global warming a hoax.

The idea that hundreds of scientists from all over the world would collaborate on such a vast hoax is laughable—scientists love to debunk one another. It’s very clear, however, that organizations funded in part by the fossil fuel industry have deliberately tried to undermine the public’s understanding of the scientific consensus by promoting a few skeptics.

The news media give abundant attention to such mavericks, naysayers, professional controversialists, and table thumpers. The media would also have you believe that science is full of shocking discoveries made by lone geniuses. Not so. The (boring) truth is that it usually advances incrementally, through the steady accretion of data and insights gathered by many people over many years. So it has been with the consensus on climate change. That’s not about to go poof with the next thermometer reading.

But industry PR, however misleading, isn’t enough to explain why only 40 percent of Americans, according to the most recent poll from the Pew Research Center, accept that human activity is the dominant cause of global warming.

The “science communication problem,” as it’s blandly called by the scientists who study it, has yielded abundant new research into how people decide what to believe—and why they so often don’t accept the scientific consensus. It’s not that they can’t grasp it, according to Dan Kahan of Yale University. In one study he asked 1,540 Americans, a representative sample, to rate the threat of climate change on a scale of zero to ten. Then he correlated that with the subjects’ science literacy. He found that higher literacy was associated with stronger views—at both ends of the spectrum. Science literacy promoted polarization on climate, not consensus. According to Kahan, that’s because people tend to use scientific knowledge to reinforce beliefs that have already been shaped by their worldview.

Americans fall into two basic camps, Kahan says. Those with a more “egalitarian” and “communitarian” mind-set are generally suspicious of industry and apt to think it’s up to something dangerous that calls for government regulation; they’re likely to see the risks of climate change. In contrast, people with a “hierarchical” and “individualistic” mind-set respect leaders of industry and don’t like government interfering in their affairs; they’re apt to reject warnings about climate change, because they know what accepting them could lead to—some kind of tax or regulation to limit emissions.

In the U.S., climate change somehow has become a litmus test that identifies you as belonging to one or the other of these two antagonistic tribes. When we argue about it, Kahan says, we’re actually arguing about who we are, what our crowd is. We’re thinking, People like us believe this. People like that do not believe this. For a hierarchical individualist, Kahan says, it’s not irrational to reject established climate science: Accepting it wouldn’t change the world, but it might get him thrown out of his tribe.

“Take a barber in a rural town in South Carolina,” Kahan has written. “Is it a good idea for him to implore his customers to sign a petition urging Congress to take action on climate change? No. If he does, he will find himself out of a job, just as his former congressman, Bob Inglis, did when he himself proposed such action.”

Science appeals to our rational brain, but our beliefs are motivated largely by emotion, and the biggest motivation is remaining tight with our peers. “We’re all in high school. We’ve never left high school,” says Marcia McNutt. “People still have a need to fit in, and that need to fit in is so strong that local values and local opinions are always trumping science. And they will continue to trump science, especially when there is no clear downside to ignoring science.”

Meanwhile the Internet makes it easier than ever for climate skeptics and doubters of all kinds to find their own information and experts. Gone are the days when a small number of powerful institutions—elite universities, encyclopedias, major news organizations, even National Geographic—served as gatekeepers of scientific information. The Internet has democratized information, which is a good thing. But along with cable TV, it has made it possible to live in a “filter bubble” that lets in only the information with which you already agree.

How to penetrate the bubble? How to convert climate skeptics? Throwing more facts at them doesn’t help. Liz Neeley, who helps train scientists to be better communicators at an organization called Compass, says that people need to hear from believers they can trust, who share their fundamental values. She has personal experience with this. Her father is a climate change skeptic and gets most of his information on the issue from conservative media. In exasperation she finally confronted him: “Do you believe them or me?” She told him she believes the scientists who research climate change and knows many of them personally. “If you think I’m wrong,” she said, “then you’re telling me that you don’t trust me.” Her father’s stance on the issue softened. But it wasn’t the facts that did it.

If you’re a rationalist, there’s something a little dispiriting about all this. In Kahan’s descriptions of how we decide what to believe, what we decide sometimes sounds almost incidental. Those of us in the science-communication business are as tribal as anyone else, he told me. We believe in scientific ideas not because we have truly evaluated all the evidence but because we feel an affinity for the scientific community. When I mentioned to Kahan that I fully accept evolution, he said, “Believing in evolution is just a description about you. It’s not an account of how you reason.”

Maybe—except that evolution actually happened. Biology is incomprehensible without it. There aren’t really two sides to all these issues. Climate change is happening. Vaccines really do save lives. Being right does matter—and the science tribe has a long track record of getting things right in the end. Modern society is built on things it got right.

Doubting science also has consequences. The people who believe vaccines cause autism—often well educated and affluent, by the way—are undermining “herd immunity” to such diseases as whooping cough and measles. The anti-vaccine movement has been going strong since the prestigious British medical journal the Lancet published a study in 1998 linking a common vaccine to autism. The journal later retracted the study, which was thoroughly discredited. But the notion of a vaccine-autism connection has been endorsed by celebrities and reinforced through the usual Internet filters. (Anti-vaccine activist and actress Jenny McCarthy famously said on the Oprah Winfrey Show, “The University of Google is where I got my degree from.”)

In the climate debate the consequences of doubt are likely global and enduring. In the U.S., climate change skeptics have achieved their fundamental goal of halting legislative action to combat global warming. They haven’t had to win the debate on the merits; they’ve merely had to fog the room enough to keep laws governing greenhouse gas emissions from being enacted.

Some environmental activists want scientists to emerge from their ivory towers and get more involved in the policy battles. Any scientist going that route needs to do so carefully, says Liz Neeley. “That line between science communication and advocacy is very hard to step back from,” she says. In the debate over climate change the central allegation of the skeptics is that the science saying it’s real and a serious threat is politically tinged, driven by environmental activism and not hard data. That’s not true, and it slanders honest scientists. But it becomes more likely to be seen as plausible if scientists go beyond their professional expertise and begin advocating specific policies.

It’s their very detachment, what you might call the cold-bloodedness of science, that makes science the killer app. It’s the way science tells us the truth rather than what we’d like the truth to be. Scientists can be as dogmatic as anyone else—but their dogma is always wilting in the hot glare of new research. In science it’s not a sin to change your mind when the evidence demands it. For some people, the tribe is more important than the truth; for the best scientists, the truth is more important than the tribe.

Scientific thinking has to be taught, and sometimes it’s not taught well, McNutt says. Students come away thinking of science as a collection of facts, not a method. Shtulman’s research has shown that even many college students don’t really understand what evidence is. The scientific method doesn’t come naturally—but if you think about it, neither does democracy. For most of human history neither existed. We went around killing each other to get on a throne, praying to a rain god, and for better and much worse, doing things pretty much as our ancestors did.

Now we have incredibly rapid change, and it’s scary sometimes. It’s not all progress. Our science has made us the dominant organisms, with all due respect to ants and blue-green algae, and we’re changing the whole planet. Of course we’re right to ask questions about some of the things science and technology allow us to do. “Everybody should be questioning,” says McNutt. “That’s a hallmark of a scientist. But then they should use the scientific method, or trust people using the scientific method, to decide which way they fall on those questions.” We need to get a lot better at finding answers, because it’s certain the questions won’t be getting any simpler.

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President of Okanagan Speciality Fruits Answers Public’s Questions on New GMO Article Apple

Arctic Apple was recently approved for sale in the US admin February 19, 2015

Neal Carter, president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., creator of the non-browning GMO Arctic Apple, participated in an open AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit.com on February 18th. The Arctic Apple is the first GMO apple and the first ever GMO with a direct consumer benefit to be approved for sale.

Click here for the full Q&A.

For your convenience, we grabbed the top questions.

Skip to question:

  1. How did you overcome the expensive regulatory hurdles?
  2. Does Okanagan Specialty Fruits plan to do any major PR to educate people on the safety of GMOs?
  3. Are you concerned that the very vocal anti-biotech crowd will hurt sales of the Arctic Apple?
  4. Do you think biotech foods are the future of ecologically conscious agriculture?
  5. What do you think is the best way to promote understanding in the body public about biotech foods and reduce chemophobia?
  6. Did creating the arctic apple pose any interesting challenges biologically? What was your approach?
  7. Some activities claim that these apples will require more pesticides. Is there evidence of this?
  8. Is there any possibility in the future of breeding this trait into current popular apple varieties?

MennoniteDan asks: How did you, and your company, overcome the [assumed] expensive regulatory hurdles that are in place; in the US? There is an assumption “out there” that only large players (read: DuPont, DOW, Monsanto, Syngenta etc.) have the capitol/resources to enter the GMO market. Could you expand some on this over-all theme?

OSF_Neal_Carter: Hah…It is expensive, but as a small company we managed to be creative and find some frugal solutions to otherwise expensive problems.

For us this meant doing most of the work in-house, taking longer in regulatory, and having our personnel wear multiple hats. Our research manager became regulatory manager over the last 5 years.

We also got a lot of free advice from both the private and public sector, and we didn’t pay ourselves much for a long time!


Sleekery asksDoes Okanagan Specialty Fruits plan to do any major PR to try to educate people on the science and safety of GMOS and dispel the pseudoscience that many believe? Would you partner with other major GMO manufacturers?

OSF_Neal_Carter: For years we have been making a significant effort to educate both the industry and consumers of the benefits of genetic engineering.

As a small company we have made a significant commitment (2 of our 7 staff members) to educating consumers about GMOs. We have had to be creative in doing this and have worked with a host of different groups to project the benefits of GM crops.

We have answered questions on GMOanswers, we have engaged with dietitians and presented at conferences around the world. We respond to consumer questions through our website daily, and we put up educational blogs on our website, etc.

In terms of partnering, it would depend on the circumstance and our role. We are members of several industry groups that work on consumer outreach. (BIO, Biotech Canada, etc.)


TerreneSpoon asks: Are you concerned that the very vocal anti-biotech crowd will hurt sales of the Arctic apple?

OSF_Neal_Carter: We think Arctic apples are amazing, and we have had the chance to play with them for the last 10 years. Now that they are deregulated, we can finally show the consumer how great these apples are, and we are confident they are going to love them.

There are a lot of really cool things you can do with Arctic apples that normal apples aren’t capable of. Yesterday we used cookie cutters to make some apple fish, stick those in some blue jello!

The anti-GMO crowd doesn’t understand the opportunities available here.


RottingLepha asks: Do you think biotech foods are the future of ecologically conscious agriculture?

OSF_Neal_Carter: Yes, absolutely. They are and will continue to be at least part of the solution. Reducing inputs and food waste.


RottingLepha asks: What do you think is the best way to promote understanding in the body public about biotech foods and reduce chemophobia?

OSF_Neal_Carter: Education and transparency is our approach. It seems to be working.


Searine: The apple genome is hilariously large and complex. Did creating the arctic apple pose any interesting challenges biologically? What was your approach?

OSF_Neal_Carter: Absolutely. The target gene, polyphenol oxidase (PPO), is a gene family. So in the end we had to turn off four genes to inhibit PPO activity.

Interestingly, there is actually 19 loci of PPO, multiple isozymes on multiple chromosomes. All sorts of challenges.

It is an agrobacterium mitigated transformation using leaf ex-plants.


mem_somervilleI’ve seen claims in the media that these apples will require more pesticides. Why are activists saying that–do they have any evidence of this?

OSF_Neal_Carter: I have no clue where they got this idea. There is no evidence to support this. Our data and experience shows that a typical apple orchard spray program is as effective with Arctic apples as with other varieties.  In our field trial, Arctic and controls are co-mingled and without reading the tags it is impossible to tell the difference (unless you cut the fruit).


ethidium-bromide: While I’m sure there are issues with intellectual property rights, is there any possibility in the future of breeding this trait into current popular apple varieties, such as Granny Smith or Honeycrisp?

OSF_Neal_CarterArctic Granny is already done! We are looking at introducing these traits into other popular varieties, and will be releasing an Arctic version of Fuji and Gala next. With respect to Honeycrisp, it’s on the list.

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NB Brewing Experts Hosting “Regional Malts for A Regional Beer” Workshop

February 21st event co-hosted by the Biorefinery Technology Scale-Up Centre & Malt Broue Inc. admin February 10, 2015

With the globalisation of markets a trend is emerging in the food industry: local prodution. Is it possible in our brewing industry? From harvest to beer, discover the impact of local grain on your beer and the means available to develop this growing market.

Regional Malts for a Regional Beer” malting workshop will feature guest speakers from the region’s brewing industry including Jean-Michel Degraux, brewing engineer at Malt Broue Inc.

Click here for registration and more info.

“Regional Malts for a Regional Beer” is organised by the Biorefinery Technology Scale-Up Centre at CCNB. The BTSC is a world-class research team that is transforming New Brunswick’s brewing sector with state-of-the-art equipment and techniques. Last year we sat down with Mike Doucette, a research chemist and passionate brewing science expert. Read about brewing science and the regional impact of the Biorefinery Technology Scale-Up Centre below.


La version française suit l’anglais

Beer brewing is both an art and a science.

Mike Doucette and the team at the Biorefinery Technology Scale-Up Centre (BTSC) understand that you must embrace both sides of the process to achieve the quality, subtlety, and consistency that our favourite alcoholic beverage deserves. The BTSC has brewery and distillery lab testing services that address a real need in the microbrew industry – not only in New Brunswick but across Canada. The team can conduct hop oil analysis, grain analysis, bitterness tests, and other work to help raw material growers and brewers fine tune their processes. They have spent the last few years working with individuals and companies regionally and nationally, and are seeking new interesting projects.

Alcohol brewing dates back to the 6th millennium B.C. and has been a staple in many cultures since then. The brewing industry is now big business comprised of several multinationals and many thousand microbreweries that embrace regional flavours and techniques. New Brunswick is home to a number of microbreweries like Picaroons Traditional Ales and Pump House Brewery, and Mike and the BTSC are prepared to collaborate to help build a thriving brewing industry in the province.

The BTSC operates out of the Collège Communautaire de Nouveau-Brunswick in Grand Falls. They support New Brunswick`s biotechnology industry by giving researchers and companies the opportunity to test their product or process at near production scale, helping validate their technology before undertaking commercial production. “This isn’t nitty gritty test tube science”, says Mike. A number of the BTSC’s projects have reached commercialization including work in biogas, manufacturing, and brewing. (Pictured right: [top] hops in their raw form [bottom] processed hops)

Since its inception in 2010, the BTSC’s projects have focused on creating high value industrial bioproducts from forest, agriculture, marine biomass, and even waste streams. Of their dozen-or-so current projects a quarter of them are related to alcoholic beverages. This portion is only growing and Mike couldn’t be happier.

Mike has a background in chemistry and used to brew beer as a hobby. “Beer is about the flavour and the experience”, says Mike. “People don’t know why a beer tastes like it does, but I do!”. Mike and his fellow technicians understand what is happening at every stage of the brewing process. Minor differences in oxygen levels, temperature, and timing have big effects on the final product, and brewers come to the BTSC to correct errors, discover new flavours, and achieve product consistency.

Art vs. Science

There is an art to brewing beer that involves developing one’s own brew based on taste and experience through trial and error. But there is also sophisticated science behind every step in the process, and the BTSC is hoping to get the province’s microbreweries on board. “Understanding what is happening gives you control over the process and gives you room to experiment”, says Mike. “Understanding the science removes the fear of making mistakes”. As a self-described beer snob, Mike is happy to see New Brunswickers warming up to the idea of craft brewing. “As New Brunswick’s beer snobbery grows, the demand for our services will grow!”.

A Cultural and Economic Hole in One

Building a brewing industry in New Brunswick makes economic sense. Crop rotation for our potato farmers means half of the time they grow barley or other grains and sell them for next to nothing as animal feed. New Brunswick’s climate produces a protein rich barley that large malteries won’t accept. Mike feels this grain could be sold to micro-malters who are more equipped to take a risk on new flavour characteristics. Local barley, along with NB- grown hops and other materials, can produce unique flavours in the beer, which Mike hopes will help establish a unique terroir for New Brunswick beer. (Pictured left: different grain varieties used fro brewing)

The beer world is vast and interesting, rich with many of the subtleties and varieties of wine. Sour German beers (Berliner Weisse) are currently gaining popularity, the Belgians have their fruity lambic beers, the USA have their extreme IPAs, and New Brunswick has every reason to develop its own regional flavour and character.

The BTSC is at the centre of this growing movement and has worked with governments, other public research institutions, and private producers to take on projects that will develop innovations for the province as a whole.

Brewing 101

November of last year, the BTSC (in partnership with CCNB and BioNB) organised the College’s first ever brewing technology workshop. The event fostered entrepreneurship by educating interested parties on the technical and business requirements of operating a nano or micro-brewery in New Brunswick. Presenters included Patrice Godin of Acadie Broue, Sean Dunbar of Picaroons, and Mike Doucette himself. Attendees included people already in the small-scale food and beverage industry as well as people interested in starting new ventures. Get in touch with BioNB to access learning material from this session.

(Pictured: Mike Doucette demonstrating hands-on brewing at Brewing 101 Workshop in November 2013)

Next Steps

The BTSC is working on a number of projects that require the team to learn new skills and techniques. One project will see them learning yeast culturing. They will try to isolate a wild yeast that they hope will produce a unique regional flavour. “I came into this role with experience and knowledge but there is always more to learn”.

The BTSC has room to grow, and is seeking new projects with raw material producers and breweries. There are fees associated with their services but the team actively seeks funding for each project to lessen the burden on private clients.

Mike Doucette and the rest of the BTSC team are operating at the centre of New Brunswick’s growing biotechnology industry. They’ve collaborated on dozens of ground-breaking projects over the last four years and have established a reputation for innovative thinking and quality work. They have the practical approach to innovation this province needs, and it’s time we took notice.

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Luminultra CEO Encourages Young People to Apply for BDC Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award

Pat Whalen was a finalist in last year's competition admin February 6, 2015

The Business Development Bank of Canada is looking to name another Young Entrepreneur of the Year! The annual award is a great chance to get your business the exposure it needs to get to the next level, as well as a chance at $100,000 (1st place, $25,000 for 2nd place). The award winner will be decided primarily on the basis of open, public voting through the BDC YEA Website.

Click here for contest info, eligibility criteria, and frequently asked questions.

BioNB Communications Intern Matt Grimshaw sat down with Pat Whalen, CEO of LuminUltra Technologies in Fredericton and finalist in last year’s competition at age 33.

“For anyone who is doing cutting edge stuff in New Brunswick, this competition can get you exposure across the country,” says Whalen.  “High profile places like Ontario and Alberta are often viewed as the leaders of the Canadian economy, but creative world class technologies can come from anywhere in the country, no matter how big the province is.”

Click here to learn about all of the 2014 finalists and click here to learn about Pat Whalen’s “Clear Waters” project.

Why did you apply for the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award?

LuminUltra does not have as large of a customer base across Canada as we would like to. We have been more successful across the United States and we export worldwide. We’re looking to increase our exposure across Canada.”

Why should we encourage young entrepreneurs to apply for BDC’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award?

Not only is there the prospect of a cash prize for finishing in 1st or 2nd place, there is the opportunity to gain exposure for your products or services across the entire country.  Furthermore, taking the time to recognize and showcase your achievements is something that needs to be done for peace of mind and to recognize what you need to do in order to continue to improve.

Did your participation in the 2014 competition increase your profile?

It elevated the profile of both myself and the company. We had inquiries and new customers as a result of the exposure during last year’s competition. And obviously for myself, it doesn’t not look bad on a resume. The exposure helped people better understand what we do, how long we’ve been at it, and how successful we’ve been.

Did the business ecosystem in New Brunswick support you in any way?

We received great support from all levels of the ecosystem: within the Province of New Brunswick, BioNB, and partners like the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, ACOA, and more. People from New Brunswick, and more specifically the people of Fredericton, rallied the support, rallied the troops, and spread the word during the actual contest. It was fantastic.

As a Young Entrepreneur have you faced any struggles as a leader?

Oh certainly. I’ve faced many struggles and have had to learn on the job. I’ve run companies since I was 28 years old, and at that age you only have a certain level of experience and wisdom you can apply. You have to make up for it with an awful lot of hard work. That is not unfamiliar to every young entrepreneur. You have to work hard to learn your competitive edge and new ways to do things that others may have not tried before. I’ve learned a lot over the years that has made me who I am today. I haven’t necessarily done everything right the first time, in fact I’ve probably made a mistake more often than I’ve done something perfectly. But that’s part of learning and improving, and on the other side lies opportunity to learn and apply new techniques that people haven’t thought of before.

You mentioned that young entrepreneurs have to put in hard work. What are your work hours like?

I start the day early and generally finish somewhere between 7 or 8PM. Weekends are more of a normal work day when I have the opportunity to work uninterrupted on specific tasks. Generally, I’m putting in around 80 hours a week. I’ve been doing it for around 10 years at this point. It’s not for the faint of heart!

I spend my time trying to run a business and educate the market, but we’re getting very close to a point where it’s not about me anymore. We’re in the process of better handing the ball off to our employees and extended network. At that point I can be more creative and demonstrate more leadership. I can direct traffic and help people understand where we need to go next.

What does LuminUltra currently have on the go?

We’re launching a new product line this spring; software that allows for smart interpretation of the data that our products render. This is actually the same project that we submitted for consideration in last year’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. We didn’t let the fact that we didn’t win the grand prize dissuade us from forging ahead. We expect to launch our new product line in a few months to coincide with a new marketing launch and rebranding.

Fredericton-based LuminUltra Technologies is a global leader in microbiological testing for water-related industries, offering solutions that are fast, versatile, complete, and portable. They export to 75 countries worldwide “on every continent except Antarctica” and are constantly innovating. Click here to visit their website.

Recent milestones for Pat and LuminUltra:

  • Pat has been awarded the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce Business Person of the Year (2014)
  • LuminUltra named one of Progress Magazine’s Atlantic Canada’s Top 101 Companies (2nd year in a row)
  • LuminUltra named one of Progress Magazine’s Fastest Growing Companies in Atlantic Canada (6th year in a row)

Click here to learn how to apply for the 2015 BDC Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

 

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Two NB Companies Have Great Experiences with CTA @Boston, Urge Companies to Apply for 2015 Program

Canadian Technology Accelerator Application Deadline January 22nd, 2015 admin January 14, 2015

The Canadian Technology Accelerator in Boston (CTA @ Boston) is a 4-month immersion program that connects your business to the unique resources and contacts in New England to help accelerate your growth. Click here to learn more.

Leading up to the January 22nd application deadline for CTA @ Boston 2015, BioNB has featured ChemGreen and IPSNP in “Under the Microscope”. Both companies had excellent experiences in last year’s CTA @ Boston accelerator and feel like many companies would benefit from the experience.

“The chance to get away to connect with people who want to know your story is hugely transformational,” said Chris Baker, CEO of IPSNP. Baker is a co-founder of the bioinformatics company with an innovative search engine with applications across many industries including pharmaceuticals. At the time of interview Baker was participating in the Canadian Technology Accelerator in Boston, a hub for many pharmaceutical giants. Click here to learn more about Baker’s experience in Boston and how he’s building IPSNPs.

Nauman Farooqi, Mount Allison University professor and CEO of ChemGreen, also participated in the Boston Accelerator.He described the environment as one that fosters a “cross-polination” of ideas. He appreciated the exposure to mentors that granted him access to clients and collaborators. “Rather than spending a whole bunch of time trying to figure out how the whole system works over here,” he says, “they have been able to provide us with the lay of the land nad allow us to hit the ground running which is a really significant value”. ChemGreen has developed a unique polymer production process that will allow partners to remove dangerous by-products from their production and recycle much of thr waste back into the process.Click here to learn more about Dr. Farooqi’s experience in Boston and ChemGreen’s next steps.

Click here to learn more about CTA @ Boston.

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How Innovation is at the Root of Investment Attraction (via InvestNB)

by Meaghan Seagrave, BioNB admin January 12, 2015

View article at InvestNB.ca.

In our current global-based economic environment – it is what sets us apart and makes us attractive to the outside world. Innovation is a global game and we need to ensure we are ready to play at the highest level.

The attraction of foreign direct investment or (FDI) and the development of export opportunities are necessary components of economic growth, especially for a province like New Brunswick. We are all agents of economic development and as such we need to clearly understand what sets us apart in order to effectively attract FDI and develop and exploit our export potential.

First, let’s explore what sets us apart.

  • New Brunswick is home to a dozen research institutions (yes a dozen) that are either working with entrepreneurs on new innovative biotechnologies or developing innovative biotechnologies themselves. Couple that with our four universities, seven colleges and over 150 year history in agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture and forestry and it becomes clear that our little province is unmatched in terms brain-power per capita and expertise in traditional sectors.
  • Together with a provincial focus on innovation, clear economic development priorities rooted in the promotion of technology transfer, investment in domestic entrepreneurs and an ecosystem set-up to support opportunities ranging from clean tech to bio tech, we have what it takes to play on the global stage.
  • With our traditional sectors forced to innovate in order to survive, abundant biomass resources, a supportive entrepreneurial-focused ecosystem with sector expertise to support innovation and commercialization that spans medical technology to green energy, New Brunswick has the recipe to seed and support high-growth bio-opportunities. We are seeing new technologies that capitalize on our abundant natural resources, whether it be actual fibre from our crops and trees or extracting bio-actives from fisheries waste streams for high value cosmetics or pharmaceutical ingredients.

Global Market Opportunities

Bio innovations address global markets and issues such as securing the food supply, preserving the environment, and alternative energy, not to mention the invention of new materials and products that will improve healthcare. Investors know that bio is a strategic investment with a history of high returns and good performance. Bio serves an array of markets from health care to food and agriculture, animal health, energy, manufacturing – creating a diverse set of opportunities from our natural resources.

In short, the opportunity we have here is huge. It is a matter of understanding how New Brunswick’s bio resources and R&D capacity can be leveraged to propel us forward.

Not only is bioscience a sector waiting to explode provincially, but given our overabundance of natural resources and significant research and development capacity, New Brunswick is a prime destination for established companies looking to do product development related to human health, fish health, value-added food, biopesticides, bioenergy and biochemicals.  Couple that with the fact that we have a province covered in trees and managed by 40,000 independent woodlot owners (read independent entrepreneurs), significant agricultural assets and the most diversified fisheries in the country, these assets make us a clear mark for foreign investment looking for R&D support and talent to leverage.

Innovation → FDI → Export Potential

We are primed for innovation growth in our traditional sectors and this growth will be directly tied to what sets up apart and how we leverage our: R&D capacity, provincial focus and abundant natural resources.  As we build upon our value proposition, investment attraction follows closely behind as do startup companies and our overall provincial export potential. New Brunswick’s bio community, led by BioNB’s commercialization support team, is working towards demonstrating our true value proposition and contributing to the province’s economic prosperity.

Want to learn more about doing business in New Brunswick and how you can grow your business? Click here.

About Meaghan Seagrave:

Meaghan Seagrave is the Executive Director of BioNB, the lead agency for the development of the biosciences in New Brunswick. Meaghan has over a decade of experience working with small and start-up technology enterprises across the country in a variety of roles. With a graduate degree in agricultural sciences and several certificates and diplomas in technical communications and management development, she is well equipped to act as intermediary in a challenging and technical sector like biotechnology.

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R & D Can Drive Significant Return on Investment in the Atlantic Region

CIMTAN is just one of over a dozen research groups in NB driving economic growth admin January 8, 2015

CIMTAN (The Canadian Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture Network) just released the latest version of CIMTAN Snippets, their regular newsletter that details their latest research activities in the lab, on the water, and across borders. It’s become increasingly clear that CIMTAN is a powerhouse of world-class innovation, collaborating and educating all over the globe and drawing significant investment and attention to the Atlantic Region.

CIMTAN is a prime example of how universities are a driver of regional economic development. Scientific Director Thierry Chopin calculated that over 25 years he has been instrumental in bringing a total of CAD $26,191,096.00 in research grant funding to the region leveraging more than $2 million in salary contributions from UNB, representing a twelve fold return on investment.

These numbers mean student training, jobs, tax revenue, and money going to New Brunswick businesses for equipment, transportation, and other research related expenses.

It`s often forgotten just how integral research and development is to our province`s prosperity. There are over a dozen research institutions in New Brunswick and another 8 academic institutions that continue to drive innovation and economic growth, and attract businesses to set up shop in our province.

Click here to learn a bit about bioscience in New Brunswick (infographic), and click here to read about another world-class research group right here in your backyard.

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Stakeholder Day at the Potato Research Centre

AAFC Potato Research Centre Opened its Doors for Stakeholder Day on November 26th, 2014 admin December 13, 2014

On November 26th the Potato Research Centre (PRC) in Fredericton opened its doors for Stakeholder Day, an exclusive industry event that showcased its facilities and research and development  capacity for the first time in 8 years. The PRC is a federal research institute with world-class talent and capacity residing right here in New Brunswick. The goals of Stakeholder Day were to raise the profile of the PRC and open the doors to engaging with industry as well as to showcase the talent and capacity resident one of this country`s oldest federal assets. Stakeholder Day is hopefully the first of many events that BioNB will support to  draw attention to the research capacity and world class infrastructure assets that New Brunswick has.

Potato is a leading world food crop and an increasingly important food source for developing regions. Cultivated potatoes are prone to pests and pathogens so it’s important to understand the potato for better crop management. New Brunswick alone exports over $1 billion in potatoes every year, a successful industry that is supported by cutting-edge research at the PRC.

DNA SEQUENCER, FLYING DRONES, PURPLE POTATOES, BUGS, AND A DEEP FRYER

Touring a high tech research lab is just as interesting as you’d think. Guests at Stakeholder Day were treated to laboratory tours of the Potato Research Centre where a number of scientists hosted discussions on their current research. Members of industry were actively engaged, spurring important conversations about current issues in the field, potential solutions, and the possibility of new industry-research partnerships.

The PRC houses 20 labs supporting expertise in molecular biology, genomics, plant breeding, soil nutrition, water quality, and more. 16 professional scientists and 40 technical staff collaborate  internationally on industry-driven projects. It was clear from the presentations at Stakeholder Day that the staff is very passionate about their work, and the caliber of their research is truly world-class. BioNB had the opportunity to interview three of the PRC’s top researchers. Read about the current research of Dr. Claudia Goyer, Dr. David De Koeyer, and Dr. Helen Tai.

labtourcollage.jpg

[Photo: (top left) potato cook laboratory at the PRC (top right) agriculture drone technology in development with Resson Aerospace and McCain Foods (bottom left) Dr. Helen Tai talking about how her team is using potato samples and DNA sequencers to develop diagnostics tools for breeders and farmers (bottom right) raw, peeled AAFC potato variety with striking purple flesh]

THE NEW BRUNSWICK PERSPECTIVE

Between tours, Stakeholder Day featured presentations on the agriculture industry in Atlantic Canada, current research projects at the PRC, and funding options for industry lead projects. The end of the day was nicely wrapped up with “Opportunities Rooted in Innovation,” a panel discussion around New Brunswick’s research assets, and how industry can better take advantage of the capacity available in  the Potato Research Centre.

“We have a lot of talent and expertise within this federal asset, and we should help them wave their flag,” said BioNB Executive Director and panel moderator Meaghan Seagrave. The conversation shifted to how bioscience is the best tool for New Brunswick to leverage its strong traditional sectors. “No matter where you live in New Brunswick we are a resource-based province,” said Joey Volpe, Industry Liaison Officer at CCNB. “We are strong where we are strong. Let’s work on that.” Bernadette Fernandes of NB Economic Development pushed for collaboration between the research and entrepreneurship communities, while Ken Forrest of Ignite Fredericton urged better promotion of bioscience success stories to illustrate our true strengths in this region.

THE ART AND SCIENCE OF THE POTATO

With all of the technical talk around potatoes, it’s easy to forget that potatoes are enjoyed at the dinner table. Stakeholder Day aimed to cover all aspects of the crucial crop, so the organisers recruited the talented Chef Leanne Wiens of LJW Catering to prepare a truly unique potato-rich lunch. Chef Wiens met with Research Scientist Agnes Murphy to select six different potato varieties from the AAFC inventory. Chef Wiens learned about the science of the potato to guide how she prepared each variety. “I wanted to highlight the potato, to truly represent its texture, taste, and smell,” said Chef Wiens. “The best way to accomplish this is with a ‘less is more’ approach”. Click here to access the menu, recipes, and information about each variety.

[Photo: (top) Chef Leanne Wiens of LJW Catering and Dino Kubik of AAFC (bottom left) putting the finishing touches on potato nests in three homemade varieties (bottom right) research scientist Agnes Murphy talking potatoes with Chef Wiens]

TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS

Although Stakeholder Day was packed with activities, the goal of the event was to demonstrate the research and development capacity available at our disposal and to help facilitate networking and partnerships with regional industry. When asked about their experience at Stakeholder Day, many guests from industry revealed they had discovered new synergies with researchers at the Potato Research Centre.

Stakeholder Day was well-received by all, and is a great model for other research institutions to follow to increase their profile and engage with industry. Contact BioNB for inquiries on Stakeholder Day or possible partnerships on future events.

 

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UNLOCKING THE POTATO’S POTENTIAL – MEET DR. HELEN TAI OF THE POTATO RESEARCH CENTRE

Part of the "Under the Microscope" Series admin December 12, 2014

Dr. Helen Tai points across the front lawn at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Fredericton. “That was my sliding hill over there,” she says, recalling when her father, Dr. George Tai, started working as a potato breeding research scientist at AAFC when she was only five years old. Now, Dr. Tai is making her own waves in the potato world as a potato genomics research scientist at AAFC. She is working with partners at the Potato Research Centre and across the world to develop solutions that will allow the industry to more quickly react to market changes and environmental challenges.

Dr. Tai is unlocking the secrets of the potato to take some of the guess work out of crop management. She and her team are developing prediction and monitoring tools for better crop management. Her team is delving deep into the potato genome to understand what a plant is experiencing, and hoping to use that information to help growers optimize fertilizer application and storage conditions. “By using the plant’s own natural responses to stress through changing its gene expression,” says Tai, “we are hoping to capture those specific genes and use them as indicators to tell you when to add fertilizer, where to add fertilizer, and when to change your storage management.”

Tai is also working with potato breeders to develop tools that will greatly accelerate the breeding process, allowing them to better respond to the needs of the industry. Plant breeding is currently done by selecting plants with desirable traits through visual inspections and disease testing, then planting and replanting; a process that takes 10-15 years. Tai and her team are hoping to develop a DNA sequence test to identify early on if a plant has a genetic background that will produce a good potato. “If we can get a DNA based test, then we can actually test for a whole bunch of traits just by collecting the DNA”.

When asked about the future of potatoes, Dr. Tai sees climate change producing unique challenges that will require the industry to be proactive. She also sees a demand for potato starch in industrial applications like bioplastics and biomaterials. She’s hoping the tools being developed by her research teams will help industry stay ahead of the game.

Dr. Tai and her colleagues at the Potato Research Centre are always looking for new collaborations and projects.  “We want to enhance our participation in the research community”, she says. “We want to let the stakeholders know where we are in our research, and where they may be able to find something useful”.

Read about other Potato Research Centre scientists Dr. David De Koeyer and Dr. Claudia Goyer.

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