(Or, My Latest Book Recommendation)

Last Autumn I wrote an article entitled “Amaze-On Microbiota” (https://theskope.com/2015/09/07/amaze-on-microbiota/). Amaze-On discussed the hygiene hypothesis theory, which posits that the obsession with over-sanitation may actually harm our health. Humans don’t exist as a solo entity. Instead, as I hope you’ve realized, we are meta-organisms that thrive alongside (and due to) our trillions of microorganisms.  The human gut microbiota is one of the most diverse microbial populations found in nature. Altering this vibrant community impacts our digestive, immune, and neural health. How do antibiotics, putative probiotics, diet, and lifestyle impact the human microbiota? How can we maintain a healthy microbiota, but also eradicate microbial pathogens?

How clean is too clean?

Dr. B. Brett Finlay (my mentor) and Dr. Marie-Claire Arrieta (a new assistant professor at University of Calgary) wrote a phenomenal book, Let Them Eat Dirt, that explores these questions and provides practical steps to protect your family’s health. If you want to learn more about gut microbes and the crucial impact of the human microbiota in development, read LTED!

For more information see: http://letthemeatdirt.com 



Alaskan Adventures

(Or More Posts to Come after the Holiday Hiatus)

Hello everyone! I hope that you are enjoying a beautiful July. I wanted to share an update on my graduate school progress: classes are finished, a new teaching assistantship starts this September, and research continues!

I’ve recently returned from a very rejuvenating (and nearly internet-free) family vacation. My family went somewhere we always wanted to go–ALASKA! We enjoyed glaciers near Juneau, berry-picking in Sitka, kayaking in Ketchikan, and, on our way back, I visited Vancouver Island for the first time. More microbiome stories to follow this upcoming week. Stay tuned! How’s your summer?



(Or Reflections from Washington, Washington)

Last weekend I spent a day in Seattle, Washington. This marked the first time I’ve visited downtown Seattle since I arrived in Vancouver (yikes! I thought I would visit the US more). Our group travelled south to watch a baseball game as an early farewell celebration for an amazing labmate (come back and visit O!). Somewhat sadly, the home team lost to the Texas Rangers, but it was still an entertaining, sunshine-filled afternoon. After the game, we meandered through the Pike Place Market and I enjoyed a summer smoothie and gyro (not typical Seattle fare, although we did play count-the-Starbucks on the way back).


In many ways, it was the quintessential American Sunday afternoon—baseball game, players in blue and white, and a rendition of “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch. We even listened to a podcast on American history and politics as we travelled to the stadium.

Recently, a historical microbiome moment occurred in Washington DC. In case you haven’t heard, President Barack Obama unveiled the National Microbiome Initiative (NMI). Check out the White House Announcement here (https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/documents/OSTP%20National%20Microbiome%20Initiative%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf). The NMI follows a nationwide call to action for microbiome research issued earlier this year. In 2016/7, US Federal agencies will invest $121 million dollars in interdisciplinary, multi-ecosystem microbiome studies. Moreover, the NMI announcement also included some serious microbiome funding from academia, industry, and private sectors, including…

(1) $12 million for the Center for Microbiome Innovation (UC San Diego)

(2) A public microbiome data bank from One Codex

(3) $100 million from the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation

While hundreds of millions of governmental dollars have already been invested in microbiome research (think the 2007 Human Microbiome Project, NIH-funded and NSF-funded research), the NMI highlights both the continued importance and interest of microbiome research. Proposed projects range from examining oceanic microbes to the study of extraterrestrial microbes in the solar system, human microbiome research and examination of plant-microbe interactions, development of computational tools and fostering of public knowledge. The future is bright with research possibilities. Let’s explore!

PS: Thanks A for transport and E for planning!


(Or Reflections from Washington DC)

I returned to Washington DC to spend the Memorial Day weekend with family–although my parents had no idea that I was coming home! The mastermind behind this surprise family reunion was my brilliant younger sister—Khelsea**. As Khelsea arrived later but still wanted to witness the unannounced arrival, we coordinated my entry to occur as she Skyped our parents. 2,900 miles (4667 km), 20 texts, and .5 Skype calls later, I walked through the front door and greeted my completely bewildered parents and a very excited goldendoodle.

Over the weekend, our family visited Washington DC. We walked along the Tidal Basin, stopping by the Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorials. Next, we visited flower-adorned war memorials and walked alongside the grand Reflecting Pool, which links the Lincoln and Washington Memorials. Ten thousand US flags covered the lawn adjacent to the pathway, a temporary memorial to those who died in combat over the past decade. Each flag contained the name and biography of a fallen soldier. Family members, veterans, and visitors were allowed to walk through the flags—mourning, commemorating, remembering.

While DC has been swamped in the crazed and crazy election campaign, the Memorial Day weekend provided a much-needed respite and a time to honor American heroes and reconnect with family and friends. Last Memorial Day, I was preparing to start graduate studies in the fall. In fact, one of my first Skope posts discussed Memorial Day weekend (see HOLIDAY: https://theskope.com/2015/09/09/holidaze/). Many new adventures have occurred since those early posts—grad courses completed, a review written, and mountain trips with new friends. Grad school has definitely been a challenging (but rewarding) experience. I have no idea what new adventures will happen when Grad Year 2 begins, but until then, I’ll keep exploring!

*Part II coming soon—the blog post where I’ll share some exciting microbiome news from DC!

**also a big THANK YOU to AR, RR, and JB for transport, logistics, and secret planning! You’re amazing!



(Or an invitation to dialogue)

If you are around Vancouver next week, come out to Microbiome Seminar Series and Journal Club at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health. Next Wednesday I will be presenting on my review–Microbes and the Mind: Emerging Hallmarks of the Gut Microbiota-Brain Axis.

For more information, check out the link below:


Gotta make some slides now…



(Or Our Voices Matter)

We must tell girls their voices are important.” – Malala Yousafzai

In the US, Women’s History Month is celebrated in March (and March 8 is International Women’s Day!). As March comes to the end, I thought I would share some of my recent experiences celebrating women in the sciences. On March 8 I attended the 2016 Wonder Women Networking Event at Telus World of Science. In addition to getting free pizza and watching a great IMAX presentation (Humpback Whales narrated by Ewan McGregor), I also chatted with some amazing female scientists. This event was sponsored and hosted by the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST). –PS See the latest header to check out my pic of BC Place from Science World

Later in the month, I attended a talk at UBC entitled “The Only Woman in the Room: Tales of a Female Ecologist”. Dr. Judith Myers, Professor Emerita in the UBC Zoology Department shared her career history and experiences as a female scientist.

During her talk, Dr. Myers related how she discovered her passion for ecology and conservation biology during early research positions. At one point, she planned to fulfill her dreams by marrying an ecologist and helping him in his research. However, she decided to pursue her interests though graduate work…in molecular biology. But this field wasn’t the right fir. She re-focused the research to include her ecology interests and hasn’t looked back. Throughout her career, Myers has examined tent caterpillar populations, invasive species, and biological control agents.

Similar pieces of advice from both events include:

  1. Do what you feel passionate about, but don’t worry about picking the perfect research/career fit. Just keep working!
  2. Life is full of surprises, many challenging and rewarding–enjoy the journey (Many researchers at the SCWIST event had major career changes and Myers later fulfilled her initial dream by marrying and collaborating with an ecologist!)
  3. It’s important to have a healthy work-life balance
  4. Support each other: speak up, ask for help when you need advice and be a mentor to others as well


Me, hiking this month near Lynn Canyon Suspension Park. Yay for work-life balance!

Thanks to KH, LH, SV, and SW

For more on Judith Myers see: http://www.zoology.ubc.ca/person/myers

For more on Humpback Whales see: http://humpbackwhalesfilm.com

For more on SCWIST: http://www.scwist.ca 

For more on Science World: https://www.scienceworld.ca