The past year has been exciting and very challenging for the society. Serving as a VP (Technical) and as a Program Leader/Chair for Biological & Biomedical Engineering unit at the University of Guelph for almost 3 years, I have seen both sides of the coin. For this 2015 to 2016 period, working closely with the CSBE Local Arrangements Committee and also looking at other operations, I must have spent at-least over 200 hours in the past several months on this volunteer position for the society.
In addition to serving as the Associate Editor for the Canadian Biosystems Engineering journal, the duties of the VP (Technical) involves preparations, arrangements and development of the technical program towards hosting the annual meeting. I served as a member of the Local Arrangements Committee of CSBE Halifax 2016 as an ex-officio.
Briefly, my activities over this past 12 months can be summarized as below for this past year.
The CSBE AGM 2016 will kick start on Sunday July 3, 2016 with a FREE workshop on 'Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Commercialization' offered by Paul Richards and Kevin Dunn of Dalhousie University. A total of 94 papers has been accepted for presentation from 115 submissions for this upcoming CSBE AGM 2016. Out of which, 66 papers will be presented as oral presentations and the remaining will be presented towards posters.
We have received a total of $8,000 in cash as sponsorship; thanks to a number of organizations including Wild Blueberry Producers association, Doug Bragg Industries, InnovaCorp, Dalhousie - Faculty of Engineering, Agriculture and the Department of Process Engineering and Applied Science, Consumaj, and the School of Sustainable Design Engineering of UPEI along with the in-kind contributions from Elsevier.
As a voluntary organization with only a handful of local technical activities, committees and programs, CSBE is providing professional and technical as well as administrative services to all members at large. The quality of the technical program and activities are the direct product of contributions by the participating members and act as a thread that connects and binds the membership-at-large.
Similar to our sister societies, our CSBE society is facing several challenges including shrinking membership, lack of active participation at the local level and other related issues. These are tough times for the society, considering sustainable development. It is high time for us to prioritize and revamp the society activities, for sustainable functioning.
I extend my sincere thanks to all the LAC members of CSBE 2016, for their unwavering contributions and efforts in putting together this upcoming conference. As the society seeks new face for this VP (Technical) position, I would like to thank the chairs and members of the involved committees, technical as well as sponsorship teams for their hard work, dedicated support and their help in running this technical section of the CSBE.
Suresh Neethirajan, PhD., P.Eng
Soy has essential amino acids, protein and is a good source of fiber and calcium. But, it turns out; soy also has the ability to naturally protect people from food-borne illnesses like listeria.
A new study from the University of Guelph has found soy can limit the growth of some bacteria, such as listeria and pseudomonas, and it does it better than chemical-based agents.
"Current synthetic-based, chemical-based anti-microbial agents kill bacteria indiscriminately, whether they are pathogenic or beneficial," researcher Suresh Neethirajan said. The body – and in particular, the intestines – need good bacteria to properly process the food we eat.The compounds in soybeans, however, do not kill off all bacteria, just the bad ones, Neethirajan said.
Soybean derivatives are already used in a variety of products including canned foods, cooking oils, meat alternatives, cheeses, ice cream and baked goods. Suresh Neethirajan, an engineering professor and director of the BioNano Laboratory at the university, said those with soy allergies need not worry about soy being used to prevent bacteria growth. He said their method isolates the active component of the soybean from the protein that causes allergic reactions. The soy isoflavones that are chemically similar to estrogen are also weeded out.
What is left is a compound that naturally stops the bad bacteria. Neethirajan said the problem with the synthetic additives that are currently used is that they can cause health problems.
"You do need good bacteria, beneficial bacteria, in our intestines to be able to properly process the food we eat, so that's why a lot of antibiotic food preservatives, which are made of synthetic chemicals, have ... side effects such as stomach cramps, diarrhea, bloating, gas," he said.
"Because of the selective specificity [by soy] towards inhibiting the pathogenic bacteria compared to beneficial bacteria, it will eliminate some of the health issues associated with the current synthetic-based food preservatives."
The research isn't just good news for those concerned about the additives to their food – it may also be a boon for soybean producers. Neethirajan is now working to identify which varieties of soybeans are best at preventing bacteria from growing.
"That way we could help the producers of soybeans to choose which varieties they want to grow towards specific end applications," he said. He is also working on a method to extract the specific components that involves "using water at very high pressure to be able to separate these … specific components, so it's very environmentally friendly from the manufacturing perspective."
Neethirajan's study will appear in the July edition of the journal Biochemistry and Biophysics Reports.
Dr. Suresh Neethirajan, Director of the BioNano Lab and an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering was an invited speaker at the prestigious Royal Canadian Institute (RCI) for the Advancement of Science on February 4, 2016 at the Noel Ryan Auditorium, Mississauga. RCI is Canada’s oldest continuously functioning scientific society founded by Sir Sandford Fleming in 1849. The goal of RCI is to reach out to foster science literacy and science culture in Canada. Almost one in every 50 citizens of Toronto is a member of the Royal Canadian Institute. Dr. Neethirajan’s talk was titled “Good Things Come in Small Packages: Rapid Detection of Avian Flu”.
Webcast of Lecture: http://bit.ly/1VVLK6m
A University of Guelph bioengineering student has won the prestigious 2016 Sunnybrook Research Prize worth $10,000.
Robert Hunter beat out nine other finalists from across Canada. He presented his research on using biosensors for diagnosis, management and tracking of diabetes to a judging panel on Jan. 8, 2016 at the Sunnybrook Hospital of Toronto.
“My initial reaction was one of complete shock; there were a lot of great presentations from students from all over the country,” Hunter said.
“I didn’t think about it as a competition, more as a chance to share my work and ideas. This is the mindset I had going into it, so I felt very relaxed.”
The annual competition is intended to recognize excellence in undergraduate research and promote careers in biomedical research.
Hunter works in the University of Guelph’s BioNano Lab led by engineering professor Suresh Neethirajan. He plans to pursue graduate studies in bioengineering.
“Winning this prestigious and highly competitive Sunnybrook Research Prize is a remarkable achievement, and raises Guelph’s research profile at the national level,” Neethirajan said.
“This award will help Robert to continue to excel in academics and research. Enabling our students to get the best research experience at Guelph is truly rewarding.”
Hunter used microscopic materials to develop an inexpensive hand-held biosensor that rapidly detects diabetes in a user-friendly home test. It can distinguish between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes from the same droplet of blood.
It’s the second year in a row that a Guelph student was named a finalist. Last year, Guelph student Evan Wright, who also works in Neethirajan’s lab, made the final round.
Up until recently, dairy farmers have been hindered in quickly detecting possible reasons for a reduction in milk production among their herd. One such reason is sub-clinical ketosis (SCK) when an affected cow appears to be well but only becomes observably under stress when SCK becomes full ketosis affecting major organs, or it could be other metabolic diseases. The only true method of detecting these abnormalities was by taking vials of the affected cow’s blood and sending samples to a lab for diagnosis. However, Bionanolab of the School of Engineering has advanced this procedure by putting the ability to diagnose a cow’s health in the hands of farmers themselves, thereby saving crucial time in detecting certain bovine metabolic irregularities, and thereby providing earlier treatment.
By detecting certain enzymes in blood, the newly developed device can pick out these biomarkers present in miniscule amounts and help identify diseases. A combination of the device’s unique composition of electrodes, a plant enzyme, and the correct amount of electric current were discovered by the Bionano research team to be the winning formula used collectively in the device known as a “Gryphsens”.
A New Tool on the Farm
Through the implementation of a hand held sensor, a dairy farmer can rapidly detect whether a cow has sub-clinical ketosis or other metabolic diseases through a small amount of blood being taken and having the sample analyzed in real-time through interfacing with the Internet by a smart phone. Such technology not only allows a dairy farmer to rapidly determine a cause for a reduction in milk production, but it also allows early detection of metabolic diseases that can then be treated, facilitating a cow to return to its normal milk volume levels in a shorter period of time. The cost saving of such early detection is substantial for small and larger dairy herds.
In the case of larger dairy herds, this Canadian invention that uses a unique electrochemical measurement of samples can be engineered for use with in-line robotic milking machines to monitor a herd individually, yet collectively, to avoid the repetitive and time-consuming method of testing each cow separately. The sensor, developed at Guelph’s Bionano laboratory of the School of Engineering by a team headed by Dr. Suresh Neethirajan is able to detect minute electrochemical activity in biological fluids that indicate biomarkers for certain irregularities and diseases. These markers flag slightly elevated levels of non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA), and a ketone prevalent in cows, β-hydroxybutyrate (BHBA), that at higher levels can both signal the early onset of ketosis and other metabolic diseases.
A Critical Time Line
Historically, the calving period is a stressful time for cows, described as a time of negative energy balance (NEB), when the onset of ketosis or other metabolic diseases are most prominent. Although the levels of NEFA and BHBA are miniscule at the beginning, early detection can reduce complications and a faster recuperation period, otherwise a later detection could lead to fatty liver, ketosis, displaced abomasum (twisted stomach), and inflammation of the uterus or a retained placenta. Dairy farmers are highly cognizant that charting a cow’s NEFA and BHBA levels is the litmus test for the animal’s overall health. One of the great advantages of testing for on-farm dairy cow diseases using our developed biosensor is that it not only significantly reduces the stress on the animals due to relying on a drop of blood instead of vials sent, but also provides instant test results.
The Lab Comes to the Barn
Traditionally, these levels are determined through expensive and lengthy tests performed in laboratories. Through electrochemistry and nanotechnology the University of Guelph’s Bionano team has made it possible for dairy farmers from all scales of operation to ascertain for themselves their herd’s health. Although humans have similar devices for measuring glucose levels for diabetes, the cow’s organism presents a further challenge by having 11 major blood groups versus four. The challenge was developing the sensor’s electrode that could simultaneously detect both NEFA and BHBA in variable metabolic conditions that can include a number of interfering components, which could alter the test results. Ability to detect multiple disease biomarkers from just a droplet of blood sample that could be used by untrained farmers is unique.
A Plant with the Answer
An issue the University of Guelph team had to surmount was the insulating property of GO that hindered the electrochemical function crucial for the biosensor. A particular enzyme from the soybean plant was integral in solving this problem and was incorporated into the dual electrodes. Although lipoxygenase is found in animal and plant species, using soybean lipoxygenase-1 (SLO) was itself a first for catalyzing direct electrochemical oxidation of NEFA in conjunction with graphene oxide nanomaterial. The result is a biosensor that has a dual function of detecting NEFA and BHBA in less than a minute on-site by the dairy farmer using a small sample of whole blood. Dairy cattle are an investment that must be kept in prime condition to maintain optimal production levels, and the Canadian biosensor is the latest tool for dairy farmers and large scale operations to monitor the health of their herds. The dual sensor can be an important part of routine screening used by farmers in the dairy barn.
The past 2014 to 2015 year has been very busy for CSBE due to several challenges. Significant amount of time was spent in attending meetings and overseeing and helping to co-ordinate the local arrangements committee for the CSBE Annual Meeting to be held at Edmonton - July 5 to 8, 2015.
Early in 2014, I chaired the CSBE Journal Steering Committee. We met several times through conference calls. The last meeting was held on December 16, 2014. The committee composition is made of Sri Ranjan, Mano Krishnapillai, Stefan Cenkowski, Grant Clark, and Qiang Zhang. We discussed the progress to be made on reviewing the journal paper submissions, and discussed ways to improve the timelines. The CSBE journal does make a unique Canadian contribution to science and industry, but the viability and the value of the journal was analyzed. Resources required for efficient journal management and concerns regarding the availability of peer reviewer’s pool were points of discussion of this committee. It was recognized that the editor’s role is too large, being a taskmaster, a volunteer, and doing the editorial work. We also considered hiring a manager to ensure that the journal operates in a timely fashion. Performance indicators were set to demonstrate that the CSBE Journal is moving forward in a desirable direction. Because of implementation of some of the strategies discussed from this CSBE Journal Steering committee, the timelines in processing the journal papers have considerably improved. Serving as a VP (Technical) and also as an Associate Editor (Instrumentation) for the CSBE Journal, I was able to appreciate the challenges from both the journal operations side, and also from the executive member’s perspective in serving the needs of the members at large, i.e., authors and readers of the journal. The CSBE journal has started to achieve new rapid turnaround times in processing the papers recently.
I have been working very closely with the local arrangements committee and the technical committee to develop the technical program for the annual conference. Thanks to Ike Edeogu, Murray Tenove, Rick Atkins and all the other members of the Alberta Local Arrangements Committee of CSBE 2015 Edmonton for all their hard work, dedication and sincere efforts. A total of 6 sponsorships has been received from a variety of organizations namely Lakeland college ($750), OPI Systems ($1000), City of Edmonton ($2000 cash and $500 inkind), Beaver Plastics (app $2000 cash) Alberta Beef Producers ($1000 cash) and Serecon ($750). Thanks to Jason Price of the Government of Alberta for leading on this sponsorship engagement. Few letters of invitation were also prepared and sent to some of the international delegates towards assisting their Canadian visa application processes.
Dr. Stan Blade, the Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences of the University of Alberta will serve as the plenary speaker during our conference. On Wednesday July 8th, 2015 a panel will be held on 'The Impact of Social License on Sustainable Food Production in Canada'. Sean Royer - Executive Director of ARD, Lynda Kuhn - Senior VP of Maple Leaf Foods, Representative from both Beef Producer of Alberta and Ducks Unlimited will serve as panelists. A total of 108 presentations including oral and posters has been received from our members to date to present during the upcoming annual meeting. Three technical tours (Vegreville, Camrose, and the city of Edmonton) have been organized to showcase the wild rose country of Canada. Fundamentals of Environmental Law, Prospective People Skills, Bio-Energy Dialogue Workshop and Measuring Sustainability – The Canadian Field Print Calculator are the 4 workshops tentatively arranged for as of now to be held on July 5th and July 8th.
With this annual report, I am concluding optimistically that the upcoming year will be an uphill task for CSBE focusing on a period of performance, membership engagement, and rebuilding our capacity. We are committed to an unwavering focus on technical operational improvements to enhance the mandate of our CSBE society.
As our CSBE society continues to evolve with an array of opportunities and challenges, I am presenting here my annual report as VP (Technical) for the year 2013 to 2014.
I represented CSBE at the Engineering Institute of Canada's (EIC) general meeting held on September 22, 2013 at the University of Toronto. On behalf of CSBE, I offered to provide input and help with the work of the communications committee of EIC, and provided technical solutions for revamping their website. I also had opportunities to discuss with Murat Firat, the president of the Canadian Medical and Biological Engineering Society (CMBES) to explore potential opportunities to work together, and possibly conduct conferences or workshops together.
I also am co-chairing the local organizing committee (LOC) for the 2014 ASABE-CSBE Joint International Meeting with Dr. Valerie Orsat of McGill University. We had multiple conference meetings over phone regarding organizing and making arrangements towards the ASABE meeting. A total of 350 invitation letters were prepared and sent to the conference delegates across the world in assisting towards their Canadian visa application regarding their travel to Montreal towards the ASABE-CSBE conference. The LOC also had a meeting with Sharon McKnight and ASABE conference organizers to co-ordinate the volunteers, and assisted them with their planning and preparations for the conference.
I met with Michael Toombs, Director of the Research and Innovation Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation to liaise and raise sponsorship for the 2014 ASABE-CSBE conference. Dr. Grant Clark, Dr. Philippe Savoie and I worked together as a team, in raising additional sponsorship from MacDon Industries of Winnipeg and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Quebec (MAPAQ). Thanks to OMAF based at Guelph and MacDon Industries of Winnipeg for their gold level sponsorship ($5,000 each) for the CSBE-ASABE joint meeting. Thanks also due to MAPAQ for the negotiated conference registration fee arrangement, which helped them to send additional delegates to the conference. In addition, with the help of the University of Guelph, I created awareness about the society and the joint meeting with ASABE to major food manufacturing industries such as Maple Leaf Foods, PepsiCo Canada and the Ontario Poultry Council and the Grain Farmers of Ontario.
With the help of the President-elect, I also chaired the CSBE Adhoc Journal Steering Committee to explore the opportunities to enhance the operations and possibly reduce the publication time of the journal. Thanks to Dr. Ranjan, the editor of the Canadian Biosystems Engineering journal for his efforts and commitment towards the journal activities. The Adhoc committee discussed the strategies required for improving the publication time and promoting the journal through enhanced readership and enthusiastic submissions from scientific authors.
After having fairly extensive discussions with the LOC, I negotiated with the Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO) to publish a free advertisement regarding the joint CSBE-ASABE meeting in their May/June 2014 issue of 'Engineering Dimensions' magazine. Sponsorship and ‘Advertisement’ matters. Through these initiatives, liaisons with external agencies and fund raising, I hope to help to raise the profile of CSBE. With this, I am looking forward for the upcoming year, and the exciting 2015 CSBE conference to be held at Edmonton.