A year in research

 2011 saw a number of exciting stories of research at the University of Prince Edward Island. Here’s a review of the year as it unfolded on the UPEI Research Blog.

We began the year with a story about Dr. Carla Di Giorgio, associate professor of education at UPEI, as she prepared to host the first Research on Tap of the season. Dr. Di Giorgio’s discussion was entitled, Should gifted students receive extra attention?

“There’s a common attitude that gifted children don’t need extra help in school,” said Dr. Carla Di Giorgio. “But gifted students get bored easily if their intelligence isn’t being stimulated. Gifted kids may even drop out or turn off of true learning if their needs aren’t met by school.”

Read the whole story here.

Dr. Mark Fast, Novartis Research Chair in Fish Health at UPEI’s Atlantic Veterinary College, delivered a talk at the UPEI Research Breakfast about how the aquaculture industry has lost one of its most powerful tools in the fight against sea lice. Watch his presentation, Trying to stop sea lice from partying like it’s 1999, here.

Dr. Khym Goslin, assistant professor of education, gave a talk at the same Research Breakfast entitled Taking kids off the assembly line. Watch it here.

In late January, we profiled the work of Dr. Pedro Quijon, associate professor of biology. Dr. Quijon is studying the invasive green crab as it slowly invades the waters around Prince Edward Island. Dr. Quijon discussed the important role that students play in his research.

“It’s a great opportunity for them and a rewarding experience for us as faculty,” he explained. “When I was a student, getting involved in research meant long summers away in the field. These students can do their research at any point on the Island, and still be able to sleep at home in their comfortable beds. It’s a real advantage.”

Read the whole story here.

Dr. Charles Adeyanju is an assistant professor of sociology whose research centres around the use of Tasers, or stun guns, by Canadian police, and how the media portrays that use. Read a profile of him, A stun gun incident becomes a stun gun problem, here.

In February, as the Island learned it would be a honeymoon destination for the Prince William and Kate Middleton, the UPEI Research Blog spoke with professor of history Dr. Ed MacDonald about the long history of royal visits to PEI. Read that conversation here.

Fresh water springs bubble up in location all over eastern PEI, and if you’rea biologist studying the unique ecosystems within those springs, the best time to find them is in the wintertime. This profile of masters student Kyle Knish explains why.

Jessy Livingston-Thomas is a PhD student at the Atlantic Veterinary College. She’s passionate about getting kids excited about studying science and is the UPEI leader of a group called Let’s Talk Science. Read about her work here.

In April, we welcomed Dr. Ian Gardner, UPEI’s new Canada Excellence Research Chair in Aquatic Epidemiology. Read about his arrival here.

Dr. Chris Lacroix, dean of science at UPEI, became the editor of the journal Botany. Read about this exciting new challenge for Dr. Lacroix here.

Dr. Rob Hurta is an associate professor of biology at UPEI. His research looks at the different compounds within berries to see if there are possible anti-cancer agents.

"This research certainly supports the concept of including cranberries in a cancer-prevention or cancer-protection diet," said Dr. Hurta. Read the whole profile, Eating berries to slow cancer, here.

Dr. Katherine Innes-Parker has edited a new translation of meditation passion prayers from the 13th century, originally intended for anchoresses, women who had dedicated their entire lives to living in tiny, austere cells within Catholic churches.

“A passion meditation prayer is one directed to Christ or Mary, and based on the Passion of Christ,” said Dr. Innes-Parker. “That refers to the events surrounding the sufferings and death of Christ. These prayers refer to a romantic, even erotic meditation based on the Song of Songs. They are deeply rooted in the image of Christ as the bridegroom of the soul.”

Read the whole story here.

Dr. William Whelan, UPEI’s Canada Research Chair in Biomedical Optics, has promising new research that shows that cancer cells give off a unique “sound” when reflecting high-frequency light. It’s research that could change the way we find and treat certain kinds of cancer. Read the story here.

At the spring edition of the Research Breakfast, Dr. Jo-Ann Macdonald, assistant professor of nursing, gave a talk on her research in educating teens about sexually transmitted infections. Watch Raising Youth Voices here.

A mysterious disease first detected in England is killing song birds in the Maritimes. Whitney Kelly-Clark, a masters level student at the AVC, is trying to find out why. Read the story, A mysterious song-bird killer, here.
Speaking of mysteries, undergraduate history student Curtis Doyle investigated a mysterious group of people called the Tafurs who history accuses of horrific things during the First Crusade. Read the story, A tale that grew more gruesome with time, here.

Dr. Peter McKenna, professor and chair of political studies, wrote a series of articles in the Charlottetown Guardian regarding his visit to the Canadian Arctic as part of a sovereignty exercise by the military. Read it here.

In the lead-up to this fall’s provincial election on PEI, we spoke with Dr. Don Desserud, UPEI’s new dean of arts, about what he calls the fallacy of fixed-date elections.

In late October, we shared with you an article originally posted at InnovationCanada.ca, which showcases stories of Canadian Innovation funded by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. Read Johne’s Happens, a profile on the research of Dr. Greg Keefe, here.

Also in October, we celebrated a licensing agreement between UPEI and Atlanta-based biomedical company Carmel Biosciences. Read about the collaboration between our own Dr. Tarek Saleh and Carmel’s Dr. Bobby Khan here.

Dr. Mary McNiven believes the only way to get more omega 3 fatty acids into our diets is by putting it into the food we’re already eating.

“We can hope that people eat two fatty fish meals per week to get their omega-3, as health professionals suggest, but the truth is, they’re not," she said. Dr. McNiven has discovered a sneaky way to get the valuable amino acids into beef. Read about it here.

Dr. Ye (George) Jia, assistant professor of economics, led the discussion at December’s Research on Tap. Read here about why he doesn’t believe government subsidy of innovation and entrepreneurs is a wise investment.

December, Dr. Fred Kibenge, professor of virology at AVC, was invited to testify before the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River. Results this fall from his lab which indicated the possible existence of ISA virus in BC salmon caused an explosion in the aquaculture world and in the media. Read about it here.

Dr. Fred Kibenge invited to testify at BC salmon inquiry

Dr. Fred Kibenge, one of the world’s leading authorities on infectious salmon anaemia (ISA), will testify this week at the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River.

Dr. Kibenge is Professor of Virology and OIE expert on ISA at the University of Prince Edward Island’s Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC). His lab at AVC is one of two ISA reference laboratories in the world designated by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

The Cohen Commission will hold three days of hearings December 15, 16 and 19 in Vancouver to hear new information about recent tests which indicate the possible presence of ISA virus (ISAv) in BC salmon.

Currently, testing for ISAv is done using RT-PCR, an internationally recognized and highly sensitive test that screens tissue samples to see if viral genetic material — or viral sequences — indicative of a particular virus is present. Each virus has a unique genetic sequence, and the test determines whether that sequence is present in a sample.

“It is important to note that the presence of ISAv sequences in tissue samples does not necessarily mean that the actual disease, ISA, is present in the subject fish or that ISA is present in the area where the fish were collected,” said Dr. Kibenge. “Viral material can be present in animals without them actually having the associated disease. In order to confirm whether an infectious viral disease is present, further testing is required.”

The OIE definition (confirmation) of ISAv infection requires that the virus be successfully grown in cell culture. Thus, the PCR test should be viewed as a highly sensitive screening test that, if positive, is only the first diagnostic step in documenting an ISAv infection, should one exist.

“There is much yet to discover and learn about ISAv, including possible effects, if any, it may have on wild fish,” said Dr. Kibenge. “The origin of ISA is not clearly known, but it is likely an existing virus that adapted to a new host. ISAv has been identified in healthy salmon and trout in the wild, with the first detection reported in 2001 in Scotland in a survey that was initiated after the first occurrence of ISA in Scotland in 1998. Other wild fish species such pollock and Atlantic cod can also carry the virus, but ISA disease outbreaks have only been seen in farmed Atlantic salmon.

“Surveillance for ISAv in wild fish is not widespread, and there are very few publications, peer-reviewed or otherwise, on this subject. Current diagnostic tests, which were developed in the context of farmed species, simply may not be conclusive of infections in wild fish. For that reason, further testing and research are necessary.”

The OIE Reference Laboratory at the Atlantic Veterinary College is proud to be at the leading edge of this work and will continue to share its expertise with other laboratories and government agencies, including the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.


The OIE Reference Laboratory for infectious salmon anaemia (ISA) at the Atlantic Veterinary College, UPEI, is an independent laboratory and a leader in the field of ISA research. The OIE Reference Laboratory for ISA was established at the Atlantic Veterinary College in 2004 and is one of only two such laboratories in the world. The laboratory is led by Dr. Fred Kibenge, Professor of Virology, who is widely acknowledged as a world-leading expert on ISA. The OIE has a global network of more than 225 Reference Laboratories and 40 Collaborating Centres specializing in different animal diseases or topics.