Me, plant genomics, and North China.


Well, I’m off to north China next week, although unlike Nigeria, it sounds like I’ll be wired in and still able to contribute to the blog. Specifically, I’m heading to the Northeast Forestry University in Harbin to give a few talks on molecular genomics, particularly in terms of how it can be used as a tool in plant studies. This is actually quite timely in the blog fashion in that Ben recently took note of an article published by the Post on rural farming in China.

I have a couple colleagues at the Michael Smith Labs who are using such methodologies to see what type of plant defenses are activated under certain threats – with the big threat round here concerning the forestry sector and the Pine Beetle crisis. This major environmental problem (primarily a result of both forestry practices and global warming) has been projected to potentially wipe out as much as 80% of British Columbia’s Pine forests by 2015 or so, and in a frightening twist appears to be attempting to make a leap to affect Spruce trees as well.

I’m curious to see what type of research this university is currently capable of (which by initial counts searching PUBMED) seems to place it in the arena where molecular techniques are being courted, although there doesn’t appear to be any high through put capabilities at this point in time (as in large scale sequencing projects, proteomic analyses, or global gene expression capabilities – biggish words which primarily imply a large-scale-somwhat-automated-get-crap-loads-of-data approaches).

Anyway, as well, being someone who is arguably quite in tune with the societal effects of these technologies, most of my talks will delve significantly into the social and ethical context. There’s a number of issues at stake here including the relative merit of such methodologies versus conventional sustainable agricultural practices. Also, the lure of GM technologies (which folks around my neck of the woods tend to avoid – they use these tools as markers, for instance) is something that will undoubtedly come up. Then, of course, there are the many facets of the current biofuel wave. In any event, I’m hoping this element of my visit will have a more lasting impression.

So stay tuned. In particular, the piece in the Post refers to a real disconnect between the intellectual and practical circles of agriculture – I’m curious to see what my impression of this will be. As well, the ironies of ironies is that I’m also behind on my telling of my Nigeria visit, so in all likelihood (assuming internet access is a breeze), I’ll be a Canadian blogging about Africa in China – hmmm… there’s a joke involving a bar in there somewhere.

(Note that this post is also presented at The World’s Fair)

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David (@ng_dave) is Faculty at the Michael Smith Labs. His writing has appeared in places such as McSweeney's, The Walrus, and He plans on using Terry as another place to highlight the mostly science-y links he appreciates. In fact, if you liked this one, you might also like his main site generally - this can be found at