A question & answer session to get to know the 2021 GG Scholar Bethany Mostert, 1st year graduate student in the Plant Biology Program. She has joined the Xie Lab.

What aspect of genetics and/or genomics most interests you?

I am interested in plant genomics and genome editing, particularly in orphan crops; yet, I also strongly recognize the tensions present in the field of plant improvement and it is these biological and social challenges that interest me most. 

What (or Who) influenced you to go into your field of study?

When I was young, I went on a family trip to the Rocky Mountains where my aunt showed me how to identify wild flowers with a field guide. I was only four years old at the time, but since that moment I was never without a plant ID book, even on the shortest of hikes. I took sincere joy in knowing the names of the flowers I passed by. 

Now, this interest has matured into a plant biology focus that is largely driven by a passion for food sovereignty and equity in the agricultural biotechnology industry. Last winter I was introduced to food sovereignty from a Canadian Indigenous perspective after spending a week at Neyaashiinigmiing First Nation in Southern Ontario. This became a major turning point for me in determining where I wanted to go with my research. 

Who or what do you hope benefits from your research?

I sincerely hope that smaller agricultural communities can benefit from my work.

How can your research be used to inform decision makers (e.g. policy makers, resource managers, health practitioners, K12 educators, etc etc)?

I want my research to strengthen policies concerning Indigenous self-determination throughout Canada and the world. I think agriculture has many more meanings than we currently allow for at the national level and I want to encourage the kind of conversations between corporations, policy makers, and smaller agricultural communities that strengthen food systems which speak not only to health and nutrition, but also to heritage and cultural significance.

What do you think is the most pressing issue or problem in your field of study?

I think the most pressing issue in my field of study is feeding the world in ways that do not simply refrain from harming the environment, but in ways that actually sustain and improve the environment.

How do you expect the GG Scholars program to impact your work?

The GG Scholars program will give me the necessary foundation in genetics for both knowledge and techniques that I need to contribute to the field meaningfully. This program will also help me establish connections with like-minded scholars and provide me with a top-tier support system to pursue my goals both academically and professionally.

How would you describe your research interests to a 3rd grader?

Much of the food that you get from the grocery including bread, fresh fruits and vegetables, and some of your favourite snacks comes from plants grown on fields or in greenhouses. To make sure there is enough of this food and that you have lots of food choices, I want to improve the way these plants are grown. This can mean making changes to the way they look and how they behave. Scientists can make these changes from inside the plant by changing a plant’s DNA– this is the material inside a plant that tells it when to grow,  how to grow, and how to look. DNA is very very small and can not be seen with your eyes, but it is very important. Not all plants need to be changed this way and not everyone wants them to be changed from the inside, so it is important to ask people how they want their food to be grown. There are many kinds of plants and many different ways to grow them and I want to work with people from all over the world to decide how we can use science to feed people in the best possible way to make them happy.

What’s your dream job?

I have many jobs that interest me. However, I envision myself as an academic, teaching and doing research at a university or as a science policy expert or agricultural consultant. Ultimately, whatever I do, I want to have opportunities to work internationally.