Dr. Claudia Goyer
Research Scientist – Molecular Bacteriologist
Why did you become a scientist?
Because I am curious! Even as a child, I was intrigued by biology—I could spend hours looking at ants building their nest and reading about dinosaurs. At university, I discovered microbiology and was absolutely fascinated by the interactions between plants and plant disease. These have both evolved over time; it is a real warfare with the plant developing new strategies to defend itself and the disease evolving to find new ways to infect the plant.
Meet Dr. Claudia Goyer
What do you like most about your work?
I like coming up with new scientific questions, designing the experiments and most of all, looking at the results. "Oh, the results are not what I expected," is something I often say. Understanding why the results are unexpected is really fun.
What is the most common question people ask you about your work?
"Are you done studying potato disease?" That is a very frequent question people ask me. The answer is, I am barely scratching the surface. Plant and disease interactions are very complex—the genetic material of a potato is bigger than the genetic material of a human. In research, when one finds the answer to a given question, it raises numerous other questions, so there is always more research to be done!
Who inspired your career or who is your idol?
My colleague, Bernie Zebarth, is a soil scientist and was my mentor when I started my career. He showed me how to be very clear and systematic in my approach to research, which is very important to being successful. He also was the one who made me expand the number of microorganisms I was studying in soil. He always joked that he drew me to the 'dark side,' of soil science. I've never regretted it.
What is your favourite food?
I love Indian food because of the flavours and because it is easy to share with family and friends.
You are what you eat – those words ring true whether you are a plant, a crop, or a person. Farmers will tell you that a good harvest begins with healthy soil. The more they know about the make-up of their soil, and the microorganisms living in their fields, the better able they are to address potential problems. One breakthrough technique is now helping farmers and researchers grow better crops.
Having a clear picture of what's happening with the soil organisms is critical to understanding and addressing plant disease, plant productivity, and soil health. The ability to rapidly gather and interpret data helps researchers and farmers to identify problem areas and develop targeted solutions to increase soil health and plant productivity. Gathering this information used to be an extremely labour-intensive and time-consuming process, but advances in sequencing technology have changed that. Next Generation Sequencing, or NGS, is a game-changing innovation that played a part in mapping the human genome. It has become more advanced and more accessible over the past decade, enabling AAFC scientists to apply it in their work, with exciting results.
Scientists, like Dr. Claudia Goyer from the Fredericton Research and Development Centre, are making use of NGS to understand how agricultural practices influence diversity within soil microbial communities. NGS allows researchers to gather large amounts of data at once, providing detailed information about the types of organisms in the soil or plant sample.
"This technology allows us to learn a lot about what's happening with the soil, and what might be affecting crop growth," Dr. Goyer explains. "It gives us in-depth information about entire microbial communities in soil, something that was not possible until the advent of NGS."
"The quality and quantity of data we can gather with NGS has created new possibilities. The more data we have to work with, the more thorough our understanding of soil microbes – how they behave with changes in soil properties or environmental conditions, and how they interact with one another. That means we're much better able to target our approach to improving soil and plant health," explains Dr. Goyer.
Using NGS, Dr. Goyer was able to demonstrate that the addition of different compost sources to soil under potato crops changed soil properties. This spectacular increase in soil organic matter and change in bacterial and fungal community diversity could still be observed a year after application. She was also able to demonstrate that many of the microbes living in the composts were still present in soils up to a year after the compost had been applied. This was an unexpected result, as it was previously thought that microbes living in compost did not survive in the soil.
Ultimately, scientists like Dr. Goyer hope to better harness the power of microbial communities to improve soil health, plant productivity, and to decrease losses from plant disease. Cultivating more beneficial microbial communities may also lead to a decrease in the amount of fertilizer and pesticides required to grow crops.
For scientists, there's no such thing as too much data. "What we're learning with NGS will help us zero in on the specific microorganisms that might be used as indicators of soil and plant health, as well organisms that could be used as biofertilizers or biopesticides," says Dr. Goyer. "It's the knowledge we need to ensure sustainable agricultural practices well into the future."