July 10, 2014

TELUS Spark Science Center: Adults Only Night - Future of Food Production

Article by Brad van Paridon, PhD student, Gilleard lab

Have you ever wondered how parasites impact the future of food production? The HPI group does every day and they were asked to share their insights at the Telus Spark Science Centre as part of the adult night program for the month of July. Every second Thursday of the month Telus Spark hosts a themed night aimed towards the 18+ crowd where they open the science centre for an evening, provide a licensed bar and fun interactive displays to engage an older audience. As fun as Telus Spark is on a regular day, the adult nights allow visitors to go a little deeper into the topic of the month and unwind a little as they browse and converse with the presenters. For more info check out their website, http://www.sparkscience.ca/events/adults-only-nights/, or find them on twitter, #adultsonlynight.

The theme for July was “Future of Food Production” and the HPI group knew just what was needed. Part of the HPI mandate is providing solutions to global problems such as access to safe food and water as well as the improving the efficiency and sustainability of food production, meaning we have unique insights concerning the future of food production. Parasites not only impact food safety, many parasites are passed to humans by consuming contaminated food or water, they also have an enormous impact on livestock and crops, an issue that is often not recognized by the public at large. Parasites can decrease crop yields or destroy entire crops in serious cases. They cause huge losses to the livestock industry due to decreased production and the costs associated with control efforts. It is estimated the US cattle industry loses up to two billion dollars a year because of parasites. For the developing world this is both an economic issue as well as a food supply issue making it of great importance as an area of research.

The HPI group was honoured to be asked to be part of this event and to spread the word on these important issues. As part of an ongoing plan to be involved in community outreach programs HPI has been working on an interactive display involving parasite samples, microscopes to view the smaller ones, all accompanied with information cards, posters and enthusiastic researchers to answer questions. This event was the perfect opportunity to unveil the material we have been working so hard to put together and it couldn’t have gone better.

Many of the visitors to our display walked away with a greater appreciation for the often unseen impact of parasites on our food supply. They were also introduced, face to face, to some of the culprits. This usually starts with squeamish looks and ends with questions and fascination. A big thanks goes out to all the members who came out and manned the display. Without their knowledge and passion for science these types of programs cannot be successful.

We would also like to thank Telus Spark for continuing to work with us and allowing us a platform to promote science, parasitology and graduate student research and opportunities with HPI. Please follow us on twitter @HPI_UofC or check the website www.ucalgary.ca/hpi for more information on HPI and our outreach activities or to connect with us about attending your event! A final mention must go out to the organising group for this event Christina Amat and Janneke Wit, Guillerme Verocai, Jeanie Quach, Ale Aleuy, Russell Avermenko, Josh Sullivan and Brad van Paridon, with support from Teresa Emmett, James Wasmuth and John Gilleard.