Team:Lethbridge HS/HP expertopinion

Expert Opinion

Dr. Wade Abbott

Dr. Abbott is currently a research scientist for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. What made our team interested in contacting him is that he did his post-doctorate in structural biology, specifically studying pectase enzymes. Due to his extensive knowledge on pectin, he was able to provide us with great feedback, along with thoughtful questions and useful resources.

When asked if he had heard of similar use of pectinases in compost systems he said that he has never seen anything exactly like our system before.

To improve the overall function of our system Dr. Abbott suggested that we fuse modules from thermophilic bacteria to thermostable proteins. As well as look for closely related enzymes from thermophilic bacteria, like from hot springs.

How we could implement our system in the real world is very important. When we went to Dr. Abbott with this question, he brought up the possibility of a secondary application of our project. This would be working with livestock. Looking at how they digest pectin, and using our enzymes to break down pectin faster thus making the cow digest faster.

In addition, he recommended various resources that we could use for various aspects of our project. This included assays to test our system. An engineering paper relating to the neofunctionalization of pectate lyase. Suggestions to try ancestral sequence reconstruction and resurrect an ancient version of the enzymes we are working with, for the purpose of attaining more thermostable enzymes from the extinct enzymes. Finally, he offered to help the team, if needed, with enzyme prediction from genomes through the website dbCAN.

Kathleen Sheppard

Kathleen Sheppard joined Environment Lethbridge as Executive Director in 2015, and is still currently with them. At Environment Lethbridge their mission is to “inspire community action through sustainability”. They focus on topics of waste reduction, nature, water, recycling and food waste. Working solely within the City of Lethbridge.

We learned that she does compost herself in addition to other things that reduce her environmental footprint. Like recycling, solar panels, green energy, washing in cold water and a garden which she uses her compost for to grow fresh food.

Her biggest tip for at home composters is to be educated. She said that they often lack the education and understanding of the science behind composting, in turn causing their compost to not be as good as they may hope. This led her to talking about how they educate people at Environment Lethbridge. Things like hosting workshops, having a website dedicated to informing and educating peoples, as well as a series of videos about food waste is in the works. She also provided us with very interesting information on patterns of food waste in our city like single family households with an interest in gardening are most likely to compost. While, least likely would be those living in apartments or condos. The big challenge she said is the question of what to do with compost if you are not interested/ have a garden.

Next, we spoke with her about our system. Although she could see someone adding our system to their backyard compost pile, she expressed that our bigger target should be commercial/municipal facilities. They would have much larger amounts of compost, that would need to be turned over quickly. She thinks that some might not be willing to pay, but businesses would most likely be interested.

Finally, when asked if she could distribute our survey, on food waste, she happily accepted. She has now shared our survey on all of the Environment Lethbridge social media platforms, which has aided us tremendously.

Dr. Christina Seidel

To learn more about the barriers to home composting in Alberta we interviewed Doctor Christina Seidel, the executive director of the Recycling Council of Alberta. Doctor Seidel has both an undergraduate degree and a pHD in mechanical engineering, as well as a masters degree in environmental science. The biggest piece of advice we received from Doctor Seidel is that speed is not the biggest barrier to home composting in Alberta. Instead she pointed to the “ick factor” surrounding home composting, as well as accessing the bin in the winter. However, she did point out that a product that increases in the speed at which composting takes place could allow people to use a smaller home composting bin, and that an industrial composting facility may have more use for our project than an individual consumer. Our next question regarded the best ways to spread information about home composting. She told us that most people go to their municipality for composting information, and that an organization such as ours giving out direct composting information was not the best use of resources. She also described a program the city of Edmonton has, called the Master Composter Recycler program, which teaches individuals both how to compost, and how to teach others to compost. This is a program we could consider advocating for in our home town of Lethbridge as it is not currently present. Following this she reminded us to turn our compost piles on a regular basis. Our biggest takeaway from this interview was her advice that an industrial composting site may have more use for our product than an individual consumer, and this is certainly something we would want to look further into as our project progresses.