The Skope

Welcome to the Skope! The blog dedicated to the human microbiota, the collection of microorganisms that reside with and on the human body. Described as the “forgotten organ”, the human microbiota launches at birth. Soon trillions of microbes colonize the human host enabling our survival. These microbes digest dietary starches, aid immune system development, and synthesize essential vitamins. Even our mood and behavior may be linked to microbial communities. Most Skope entries cover the gut microbiota, the microbes that inhabit the intestinal tract, click Gutsy Topics. But I will also include articles on the oral microbiota, skin microbiota, ocean microbiota, soil microbiota, and many more microbial habitats. Articles in An American (US!) in Vancouver describe my graduate/international experiences, while Biologs features brief histories of microbiology and also reviews/summaries of interesting microbial articles and books. Happy exploring!


Are Noncommunicable Diseases Communicable?

(Or…The Latest Finlay Video Upload)

Last week Science published a perspective article authored by my boss B. Brett Finlay and members of the CIFAR (Canadian Institute for Advanced Research) Humans and the Microbiome Program (HMB). CIFAR-HMB explores how the microbiome influences human evolution, anthropology, and health (particularly at the “bookends” of life: perinatal development and ageing).

I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to attend CIFAR-HMB meetings as a program reporter–covering various HMB sessions and outreach initiatives. During a 2019 Toronto meeting, discussions emerged regarding disease/mortality trends. Overall rates of communicable (infectious) diseases have decreased in the past century. In contrast, the prevalence of “noncommunicable” diseases (e.g. dementia, cardiovascular disease) has risen.

Ongoing research suggests that gut microbes may contribute to the aetiology and pathology of certain “noncommunicable” conditions. If so, spreading impaired microbial communities may increase the risk of transmitting microbiota-associated disease conditions. Of course, this article addresses a largely hypothetical perspective. Don’t worry–you won’t catch heart disease from bugs within a sneeze!! However, the microbial-transmission model raises some interesting questions…

Are noncommunicable diseases truly noncommunicable? How might researchers prove that microbial transmission contributes to the direct transmission of certain “noncommunicable” disorders? And how could we prevent the spread of disease-associated microbiome communities? Check out the article and promo video!

Happy exploring,




Meet the Finlay Lab Part II

(…Or A Year in “Review”)

In this post, I’ll share some 2019 highlights from the Finlay lab.

The past year included conferences, collaboration, documentaries, disturbing reports, and (of course) science!

In April 2019, the Michael Smith Laboratories held a special screening of Dr. Brett Finlay’s Let Them Eat Dirt Documentary. The documentary, based on the eponymous book authored by Dr. Marie-Claire Arrieta (former Finlay post-doc, now at the University of Calgary Arrieta Lab) and Dr. Finlay, explores links between gut microbes and health.

Written for parents and educators, the book and documentary discuss how over-sanitization impairs the establishment of a diverse gut microbiota. Reduced diversity has been linked to the rise of non-infectious disease (e.g. asthma, allergy). *To learn more about Finlay asthma research, check out “BREATHE” in the Skope’s Gutsy section.* The documentary highlights lifestyle practices that shape the microbiota and practical solutions to bolster a healthy microbiome (taking a pill labelled “probiotic wonder” does not act as a panacea for gut, metabolic, or brain disorders!).

2019 screenings occurred in Vancouver, Victoria, and Toronto…stay tuned for a wider release in 2020. Until then, check out the trailer below.


The year ended with a special report from the Council of Canadian Academies: When Antibiotics Fail. Brett Finlay chaired an expert panel that addressed antimicrobial drug resistance (AMR). Disquieting, yet critical, the report details the medical, financial, and ecological impacts of antibiotics and AMR. The panel estimates that by 2020 nearly 40% of pathogenic microbes will be resistant against first-line antimicrobials (think penicillin, ampicillin). In a fight where bad bugs outwit drugs, what are promising solutions to prevent infectious diseases in our future?

In positive news, Finlayite and Microbiology and Immunology PhD Candidate, Sarah Woodward, was awarded the UBC Science Excellence in Service Award. Sarah is a key leader in the UBC branch of Let’s Talk Science, a Canadian initiative promoting STEM programs, education, and outreach initiatives. You can learn more about Sarah’s work in our #3facts5scientists interview!

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Finally, to begin the 2020 take a look at our Year in “Review”!

Happy exploring!


Additional sources below:

Finlay lab website

Let Them Eat Dirt website.


Meet the Finlay Lab: PART I

(Or 2020–Time for a PhD Update)

In Merry Christmas from the Finlay Lab I noted that 2020 would feature new blogs (and vlogs!) exploring gut-brain interactions, microbiome research, and graduate life. Here, I share some of my 2019 highlights to kickstart the new year.


This year I presented at Neuro-Immune Axis a Cell Symposium in Long Beach, CA (selected poster promo talk/poster). While the packed schedule kept me scribbling notes, visiting poster sessions, and/or networking…I took off during my lunch break to visit the Pacific Ocean. On my way to Alamitos Beach I passed by incredible mural art including this piece by Dina Saadi. Saadi–an artist based in Dubai–is known for her vibrant works featuring women. An abandoned cop car and e-scooter stood watch during my visit.


I also discussed ongoing challenges and potential of gut-brain research in a multidisciplinary review co-authored with Dr. Finlay and Dr. Tobias Rees, an anthropologist/philosopher interested in how gut microbes shape concepts of humanity TR research. This work was part of a special Bioessays review featuring voices from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) Humans and the Microbiome Program. You can watch our video preview here.


This year also featured various outreach projects. I’m a TEDx presenter! In March 2019 I shared 3 lessons I gained from examining gut microbiota-brain interactions.  The day was particularly memorable as my mom and sister joined the audience.

(1) Expand Perspective (2) Value Voices (3) Acknowledge Interdependency



In October I spent several weeks in Lleida, Spain in the lab of Dr. Victoria Ayala VA Research. Dr. Ayala belongs to the Institut de Recerca Biomèdica de Lleida. In addition to practicing Catalan, learning lipidomic techniques (assessing lipid profiles in tissue samples), and presenting at lab meetings, I had the opportunity to visit some incredible Spanish cities including Barcelona (left) and Peñíscola (right). Peñíscola, a medieval walled city, has been featured in the movie El Cid and Game of Thrones episodes. The stone castle was originally built by Templar Knights before turning into the base of Papa Luna (Father Moon), also known as Pope Benedict XIII.

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I’ll share more about my autumn abroad in an upcoming post.

Collaborations also expanded into the art realm! This year I had the opportunity to participate in a piece featured in the Curiosity Collider’s Collisions Festival in Vancouver. Earlier this year, Linda Horianopoulos (UBC PhD Candidate) and members of the Finlay Lab discussed gut-brain research with the incredible Dzee Louise. Dzee took our coffee conversation and created a wondrous puzzle painting entitled Crossing. To learn more about the work, check out Dzee’s blog post.

Here are grad students and the artist (Dzee far right) during the festival.

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Research-Outreach-Collaboration: What a year! Here’s to new adventures in 2020. Happy exploring friends!

**Stay tuned for PART II where you’ll actually “Meet the Finlayites” and learn more about  projects from researchers and graduate students in the Finlay lab.


Merry Christmas from the Finlay Lab

(Or…MADNESS (?), MERRIMENT (!), and MARIO (^^))

A bit of Christmastime cheer from the friendly Finlay team. Stay tuned for more posts and video blogs in 2020. Until then, wishing you all a most wonderful time of the year. To those far from home–sending lots of love! And to all the industrious scientists–may your experiments and data analyses bring good news this season!

“Festive bay walls
Busy lab halls
Dressed in holiday style
In the air
There’s a feeling
Of Christmas…”

A story of challenge, community, and collaboration…a research tale for Christmas!

Happy exploring–peace & goodwill,

KC Skope





Summertime has arrived (stay cool west coast)! And with it, conference season…at least in my corner of the world. For this blog post, I’ll focus on a decidedly, non-microbial subject—conference fashion*! More specifically, what should (female) researchers pack for a conference**? I don’t think there is one right answer, although there are a lot of ill-advised ones (no, please don’t pack your prom dress)! The following suggestions are based on my own experiences attending STEM-focused conferences. What are your thoughts?

Choosing what to wear…

Season and location: Is an umbrella necessary? Should you pack an extra layer or swimsuit—for me, the answer is usually yes to both! Will talks be hosted in a college amphitheater or an upscale hotel ballroom?

Advice and Investigation: Has anyone else in your lab been to this conference/or a similar type of conference? What are their suggestions? Are there photos of attendees from previous years on the conference website or social media pages? Do the conference planners provide any suggestions?

Participation and Networking: Are you attending for free food? Do you plan to personally meet with an eminent researcher or potential future boss? Will you be presenting a talk/poster?

So let’s pack….

Shoes: In the lab I wear close-toed, fully-covered shoes—mostly loafers or ankle boots. I appreciate the chance to wear different footwear: colorful ballet flats, wedges, or a trusty pair of heels. I suggest not packing anything new or potentially uncomfortable. Conferences include a surprising amount of walking—traveling from the hotel to venue, networking, poster session perusal, and spontaneous photo sessions.

Clothes: I had a female professor offer the following advice. Pack what you consider appropriate, but also include an outfit/items for a more formal and a more casual look (e.g. a black blazer/heels or your favorite science-themed shirt, respectively). These items will allow you the flexibility to dress up or relax your look. I typically wear a combination of jeans+blouse+blazer at most conferences I attend. If I’m presenting a poster or talk I’ll typically swap jeans for a more formal trouser. If I do wear a dress or pencil skirt (rarely!), I’ll keep the shoes and accessories more casual. For the most part, I prefer a “polished casual” look with a splash of elegance! I like to pack athletic wear, as well. A morning jog or outdoor excursion gets blood pumping to the brain!

IMG_5407Always a great outdoor excursion with these amazing brains! Finlayians at X3/X4 Kesytone Symposia 2018

Hair: Hair grooming can definitely elevate my look. When plating bugs in the lab, my hair is usually tied into a messy bun or side braid. I spend more time styling my hair at conferences (hello hair straightener, curls, or chignon). Whether you’re rocking a shaved design, beachy waves, neon locks, elegant braids, or modern updo—present a polished version of your unique style.

Remember, more important than outward aesthetic is your inner confidence. What makes you feel elegant, capable, and confident? Whether you choose a little black dress or hiking pants, present your polished self.

Happy fashioning!

 Picture1.pnghmm…don’t take all your conference fashion advice from me 🙂

*Unfortunately, women still experience sexist ideologies (ahem…Dr. Tim Hunt) and often face more scrutiny for sartorial choices than male colleagues. Addressing and changing these toxic behaviors deserves an entirely separate post (or blog). For more on challenges and ways to address workplace equality, see:

**Note: Your field/discipline may have a different dress code and style. For example, my friends in the arts and humanities typically wear more formal attire.

Thanks to Dr. CP, KH, and SW for photo sharing 🙂



When you leave the selfie-stick purchased for SE Asia in Canada…

(Or…A Day in Angkor)

Hello from SE Asia!

My spring in Singapore has been a valuable learning experience. For the past 1.5 months, I’ve had the opportunity to attend microbiome conferences, gain new lab techniques, and work with an incredible research team at the Nanyang Technological University. Stay tuned for more Singapore updates in a future Skope post!

Of course, a perk about living in a new country is celebrating an added holiday—as you’ll recall from Holidaze! Unlike North America, Singapore observes Labour Day on May 1—the International Worker’s Day. I decided to explore Singapore’s northern neighbors during the Labour day weekend. The highlight of my whirlwind adventure was Angkor. Angkor, the ancient centre of the Khmer dynasty, lies a few miles north of Siem Reap, Cambodia. The site contains beautiful Khmer temples, notably the magnificent Angkor Wat (built by King Suryavarman II and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Angkor Thom (the stone-headed temple of King Jayavarman VII), Baphuon (featuring a 70-meter reclining Buddha), and Ta Phrom (Tomb Raider temple)! Originally built for Hindu worship, many of these sites were later transformed into Buddhist temples. The stone carvings reveal scenes from daily life and a blend of Hindu and Buddhist iconography.

A knowledgeable guide (thanks Mr. Sophea!) from the Happy Angkor Tour showed me around the park.  Our first stop was at a quiet mountain temple. I climbed 5 stories of VERY NARROW stairs to see the reclining Buddha. While erosion certainly contributed to stair loss, my guide explained that steep, narrow staircases are an important feature of Khmer temples. Narrow stairs remind visitors that the path to heaven is never easy. Wide stairs invite a certain complacency—an opportunity to tarry near the earth during your ascent to the gods.

For me, the virtue of narrow stairs is to accept the challenge of the ascent. Graduate school has provided me with ample challenges—learning new lab techniques (troubleshooting said techniques), altering research directions, learning new analysis methods, writing papers, preparing for comprehensive exams, improving time management, building resilience, project planning (and re-planning). The amount of false starts and failures involved in this process occasionally feels daunting. But perhaps if getting a PhD was easy, I’d spend too long lingering and less time growing as a scientist. Vacation was awesome—but I’m ready to climb.

What’s your challenge? Accept the ascent—the reward at the top might amaze you.



This picture does not do the staircase justice. If ascending was a challenge—descending was (momentarily!) slightly terrifying. Many ledges were only wide enough to accommodate one sneaker!

PS—Tips for Visiting Ankor

If you have the opportunity to visit and learn about the complex history of Cambodia—you should definitely stop at Siem Reap/Angkor. While visiting the park…

  • Don’t withdraw or exchange Cambodia riel—it is almostimpossible to exchange the money when you leave the country. Unfortunately, high inflation rates have eroded the riel’s value. Many places accept, even prefer, US dollars.
  • If you are on a tight schedule, I would recommend booking a tour company (check out: Due to the park’s size, walking is not an option! Bike rentals and tuk-tuks are an inexpensive option—just do some homework/route planning beforehand! There are many hidden gems around the park. Whatever your mode, wear comfortable shoes, you’ll do a lot of walking and climbing at each temple site.
  • These are still active worship sites—be respectful in dress and behavior.




(Or…when your boss becomes inducted in CMHF)

Congratulations to Dr. B. Brett Finlay, a 2018 Canadian Medical Hall of Fame (CMHF) laureate. The CMHF organization celebrates past and present medical professionals and/or biomedical researchers. This year CMHF inducted six members: Dr. Philip Berger, Dr. B. Brett Finlay, Dr. Vladimir Hachinski, Dr. Balfour Mount, Dr. Cheryl Rockman-Greenberg, and Dr. Emily Stowe. To learn more about their amazing work see the CMHF website link below.

Check out the video of Finlay research–you might even spot a 1st year KCBSkope!


When applying for grad school I think it is important to find a researcher/lab that not only supports your research growth, but also fosters career and personal development. This spring I’m excited for the opportunity to work at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore as part of an international collaboration.

Stay tuned for more microbial exploring in Singapore!

Congrats Dr. Finlay!

Humans and the Microbiome Program, Singapore

For more, see:



Kylynda at UBC

(Or…just some more about my grad school experience)

Recently, the UBC Graduate School website published a “Meet Our Students” interview of my research and academic journey at UBC. See the link below to check out the full article and learn more about my research and the research of other grad students at UBC.


Pursue an abundant life. Explore opportunities to improve personal wellness and serve your community. Secondly, remember that everyone experiences failures. Failures often equip us with more knowledge, resilience, and new opportunities than momentary successes. So be kind to yourself. You will be ok.

As Jan 2018 comes to a close (time flies!!), I’m wishing you all an abundant life. Let’s try to be kinder to ourselves this year.

–Happy Exploring

IMG_4548.jpg Just my lab bench ♥





A Winter Tale

(Or, First Time Skiing in 2018!)

Today I briefly fled from the fog and rain of the lower mainland and headed north for an afternoon of skiing. The skies were bright and blue above the clouds, offering a spectacular view of a mist-veiled Vancouver.

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I am a weekend skier. I enjoy green and blue runs–fun, with a  bit of a workout. I’ll occasionally go down an “easy” black run for some added adrenaline, but I definitely prefer long runs, medium-sized challenges, and a nice view. Before leaving, I wanted to go on a trail with a sparking slope and a fun second-half. The problem was near the top–a section covered in moguls (a series of bumps that require the skier to make sharp turns). Not my favorite.

As I scanned the slope for a suitable route, I noticed a young flier take a tumble. Her guardian stopped nearby to make sure the girl was ok. The child got up quickly, but then froze as she surveyed the steepness and moguls ahead. I feel for you kid, I thought.

“I’m scared to go further!” she called out. The guardian responded, “Well, we can’t walk back!” They skied on.

The short interaction illustrated an experience many graduates students face in research. I’m worried/scared/stressed/unsure about the next steps. How did I end up here!? While I don’t have all the answers, here are a few takeaways I’ve learned skiing/studying in Vancouver…

  1. It’s ok to be unsure. But don’t stay stuck there! The unknown forces us to be innovative, collaborative, and more intentional. Ask advice from those around you (or ask Google)–there are lots of people on the slope.
  2. Before starting a project or ski run make sure that your next steps are feasible. You shouldn’t attempt a double black diamond when you are learning how to ski. The same is true for research. Make sure your project is doable. Ask for advice when planning an experiment.* Check whether others in your lab have attempted a technique/idea. Don’t spend your entire attention and energy on something with a very high chance of failure + little return.
  3. Graduate school provides a great opportunity to tackle major challenges and you’ll definitely experience fails and falls. Failing forward** can lead to unexpected feats, constantly backtracking results in expected frustration!
  4. A major goal of graduate studies is personal development, so don’t be afraid to push yourself (go for those challenging runs!) The upcoming path may be steep and a bit scary, but you might discover some awesome views, unexplored paths, and untapped grit. You may even have a lot of fun along the way!

Happy Exploring in 2018 

*Thanks for all the advice Finlay Lab

**Hey Peter Paul–thanks for the reminder to FailFWd (




(Or…So can I have Monday off?)

Hello Skope Explorers,

Almost two years ago I started working on posts for the Skope! Below is one of the earliest blog posts on Victoria/Labor Day weekend. I hope you enjoy this “Monday Memory”: see below for the update.

Happy Memorial Day–and thank you to the men and women that serve and have served the American (and Canadian) military!  

May Holidays:


During May, I spent most weekends trawling through Craigslist, Amsrental, and Kijiji to search for housing arrangements in Vancouver. I found a lovely suite and e-mailed the owner for more information. The landlord mentioned that showings would be unavailable during the Victoria Day weekend, but invited me to stop by the next weekend. Then, I received a second e-mail asking whether I—a grad student from the US—celebrated Memorial Day and would prefer to visit during a weekday. As I was living in the US, showings were a no-go, but the landlord’s thoughtful response piqued my interest in differences between Canadian and US holidays.

For starters, the US observes 11 federal holidays. Canada: 9-12 holidays*. Interesting…** Obvious dissimilarities include different dates for Independence Day/Canada Day and Thanksgiving. But there is also a financial difference. The US is the only developed country without (legally required) paid holidays. In contrast, European Union countries are required to give workers four weeks of paid holiday, reported USA Today. Hmmpf…Both Canadian and US citizens celebrate a long weekend in May: Memorial Day and Victoria Day weekend, respectively. Memorial Day honors armed forces members who died in service. Memorial Day was first observed in the late 1800s. Originally called Decoration Day, citizens decorated tombstones with flowers to honor fallen Civil War soldiers. Memorial Day became a federal holiday in 1971 during the Nixon Administration. Today, US citizens continue to place flowers and flags around the tombs of fallen heroes. Members of the armed forces are honored in special church services, town parades, and memorials at Arlington Cemetery and Capitol Hill. And like Victoria Day, this weekend also marks the unofficial start of summer. Victoria Day was first celebrated on the 24th of May 1835—the birthday of Queen Victoria. Later the date marked the birthday celebration of all current and future British Monarchs. And, in 1953, the Canadian government declared Monday, May 24 as a federal holiday (if May 24 didn’t fall on Monday, future holidays would take place the Monday preceding the 25th of May). I guess I will find ways to celebrate both holidays next year, even if I can’t take both Mondays off!

Update: Yes, I found housing and I am definitely celebrating two May holidays this year 🙂

Sources + Additional Information

*Apparently, there are 5 statutory Canadian holidays with additional paid holidays celebrated nationwide (or in the majority of the provinces). Canadians—help me out!

**If you’re curious, Argentina is the country with the most holidays: 19! In addition, there are many state holidays, as well. I spent six months studying in Entre Rios, Argentina and I really enjoyed experiencing the holiday-heavy culture.