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Research focus

Waste management is a priority and challenge for communities and industries worldwide. In Canada, it is estimated that nearly 25 million tons of solid wastes are generated each year. Food and municipal waste account for major residential stream wastes, while the forest industry also generates a considerable amount of waste. Some of these wastes can be converted into diverse high-value bioproducts such as enzymes, biopolymers, biofuels, that will have advanced applications in agriculture, environmental, bioremediation, nanotechnology, bioenergy and biochemicals sectors, while traditional, low-value valorization routes would only yield products such as compost and biogas. This shift in waste management would help achieve Canada’s goals for a reduced carbon footprint, circular economy, and effective stewardship of natural capital for future generations.

The biotech market is booming in Canada. Research and technology developments in biochemicals, bio-metallurgy, biopesticides, biocomposites will support Canada’s key sectors such as forestry, energy, mining, agriculture, aerospace, manufacturing, and resource management. Sustaining these sectors will stabilize many jobs, and lead to further job growth for a new generation of highly qualified personnel (HQP). It is, therefore, imperative to develop an advanced training program in applied biotechnology that focuses on the value addition of wastes leading to responsible resource management while providing trainees with design and operation skills in applied biotechnologies to support the bio-industries.

Research themes

  • Use of novel psychrophilic microorganisms to produce new biomolecules
  • New discovery approaches for novel microorganisms through big-data and machine-learning tools
  • A retrofit of the bioprocesses into the industrial, municipal and agro-industrial chains
  • Integrated biorefinery for producing different bioproducts
  • Understanding the science-sustainability interface in bioproducts development

Technical courses

Advanced Experiential Learning of Applied Biotechnology (Core course): This advanced course (36h theory and 36h hands-on pilot plant scale) on “Applied Biotechnology and Bioprocess Instrumentation,” co-taught by TABES members and industry partners will be split into 2 modules. The first Theory module will cover important concepts related to various bioproducts, -omics, industrial and environmental biotechnology, biochemical engineering, biochemistry, and bioorganic chemistry. The second Biorefinery hands-on training module will introduce HQPs to the bioprocessing of different bio-products derived from microorganisms, in association with the INRS pilot plant and state-of-the-art facilities available at collaborating institutions. HQPs will learn production and process scaling: from the laboratory bench (5 L to 15 L); to pre-pilot (150 L) and pilot (2000 L to 10,000 L) scales.

This course will equip HQP with a well-rounded knowledge of applied biotechnology in the advanced “Integrated Bioeconomy”.

Industry-tailored summer school: Annual biweekly summer school attended by each HQPs once during their degree focusing on advanced biotechnology, big data tools, life-cycle analysis, greenhouse gas calculations, and environmental policies. The summer school will be structured using collaborative, multilateral learning approaches with experts from academia, industry, government laboratories, and College Centres for the Transfer of Technologies. Half of the material will be delivered in a Flipped classroom format; trainees will work on a multidisciplinary project together with assigned mentors from academia and industry.

Data Science/Machine Learning in Bioprocesses: To understand and prospect market evolution and future trends in the 21stcentury digital economy to design and implement an effective strategy for the development of new bioproducts.

Concept development from ideas to innovation and applications: This includes the identification and screening of new microorganisms and biomolecules, the design of a biological platform for biomolecules production as well as the scaling up and different applications of these biomolecules and microorganisms. This will bridge the science-engineering interface and prepare HQP well beyond traditional University training.

Entrepreneurship in business development and bioeconomy: To initiate HQPs in the creation of biotechnology companies that can easily integrate with the Canadian bioeconomy. This component will be integrated into the existing Bergeron Entrepreneurs in Science & Technology (BEST) Program and LaunchYU at YU to ensure appropriate alignment of skill development needed in the field. HQPs will also be mentored by a team of academic professionals with Ontario industrial partners.

Intellectual property: To familiarize HQP with bioindustry standards and regulations regarding the protection of ideas, the IP rights module will be offered in coordination with collaborating organizations focused on the commercialization of new technologies derived from university research. This course will cover the recurrent challenges at the IPRs–biodiversity nexus and will help HQPs understand the distinction between genetically modified, naturally present, and derived bioproduct IPRs.

An elective webinar: In collaboration with TABES industrial partner, a webinar on ‘online monitoring tools for upstream processing in bioindustries’ will be organized for the entire TABES team. Additional online interactive courses on imaging dynamics tools, such as IR, Raman, and NMR, will be integrated to enhance technical learning.

Professional courses

The TABES program’s short-term objective is to provide trainees with well-rounded professional training experience. This will address the development of skills that are not traditionally developed in academic graduate programs, such as teamwork, decision making, information protection, and risk mitigation. Professional skills training will be integrated into seminars and activities planned for the HQPs.

An annual elective bi-weekly webinar on Interdisciplinary Professional Skills: Includes relevant components such as:

Project management: To learn to plan, execute and assess deliverables in teamwork under short deadlines (e.g., integration projects, and through existing courses at YU).

Community Outreach: To develop technical solutions that are not only cost-efficient but also carbon-neutral and health-conscious, the York Knowledge Mobilization unit will be used as a platform to perform community outreach activities for trainees.

Communications: To develop technical credibility for environmental sustainability. Each activity will have embedded written and oral communication skills building.

EDI Initiative: EDI training is vital for future HQP in the TABES program. Therefore, as part of their professional skill development objectives, all faculty members and trainees’ will attend a mandatory EDI session in their first year. The EDI training will involve 4 training modules: (a) Improving Engagement, (b) Counteracting Unconscious Bias, (c) Diversity and Inclusion at Work, and (d) Fostering an Inclusive Climate.

Environmental and Societal Stewardship: Training in the Bioeconomy would not be complete without an objective targeting the application of scientific knowledge to sound policymaking. This objective includes two core activities: 1) a STEM policy workshop (one-day workshop with science policy experts) and 2) a STEM policy team project (four-term written project) evaluating different technologies or discoveries and assessing their impact on the existing policies. Each team will have a mentor and will present their project in a written and oral report. The workshop will be offered in the second year of the program.

Industry workshop/brainstorming: A 1-day workshop will be organized with industries followed by roundtable brainstorming with them to discuss their research progress to enhance research activities and to support work progress improvement. This will help HQPs develop a more engaged and entrepreneurial mindset and provide them with innovation skills to address local and regional demands.