Kovalchuk wins ASTech Award for agricultural contributions

University of Lethbridge epigenetic researcher Dr. Igor Kovalchuk was honoured with the Innovation in Agricultural Science Award at the 2013 ASTech Awards held in Calgary Oct. 25.

The Innovation in Agricultural Science Award recognizes an individual, team, or company that has demonstrated exceptional innovation or has developed a technology of significance to Alberta's agriculture industries. Because of Kovalchuk’s groundbreaking epigenetic work (the study of how genes are expressed or “turned on” by environmental factors) fields of medicinal poppies may soon grow in the Canadian Prairies and biomonitoring plants will detect pollution in the air, water and earth.

Dr. Igor Kovalchuk and his epigenetic work have sparked new crop industries in Alberta's agriculture sector.

Vice-President (Research) Dr. Dan Weeks says Kovalchuk’s drive sets him apart, and that support of epigenetic research has the potential to build new industries in Alberta, as well as create opportunities for southern Alberta farmers to grow higher value crops.

“Dr. Igor Kovalchuk has a personality to lead and succeed,” says Weeks. “Dr. Kovalchuk’s focus on bringing novel crops, hardier crops, and better yielding crops to southern Alberta is impressive.  His efforts, achievements and drive exemplify the growing research culture at our university.”

Kovalchuk is currently working with a Canadian biotech company that plans to develop a market for the high thebaine poppy industry in Canada. Kovalchuk’s lab is the scientific arm of this endeavour into the development of a poppy industry.

His own company, Plantbiosis, is currently developing new varieties of transgenic plants that will have unique properties – to sense the presence of environmental pollution. Building on his previous success with plant biomonitors, he has developed a completely novel idea of plant biomonitoring that would allow the ability to sense the presence of a pollutant and also to detect and visualize it through laser-based aerial imaging.

Of the 24 honourees, three (including Kovalchuk) had significant U of L connections.  U of L researcher Dr. David Naylor was nominated for his international leadership in building instrumentation that provides the tools to better understand our universe. Naylor co-developed the Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) with scientists from eight countries. SPIRE was used on the Herschel Space Telescope to pick up heat signals not visible by optical telescopes.

Also, the Southern Alberta Technology Council (SATC) was nominated for its work in hosting the Canada-Wide Science Fair (CWSF) 2013, an event supported and held at the University of Lethbridge. The CWSF is considered the championship round of the national science fair program, where finalists selected from regional science fairs across the country compete for national honours.

The Alberta Science and Technology Leadership (ASTech) Foundation is a not-for-profit organization founded through an industry initiative in 1989. The ASTech Foundation was created to showcase the substantial achievements in science & technology in Alberta and to promote the importance of these activities to social and economic benefit.