Dr. Julie Brassard
Research Scientist – Food and Environmental Virology
Saint-Hyacinthe Research and Development Centre
Why did you become a scientist?
I have always been impressed by nature, biology and things that are alive but not seen. As a child, "why this and why that" came very easily to me, and my parents made me read the encyclopedia!
Meet Dr. Julie Brassard
What do you like the most about your job?
The creative aspect of the researcher's work, since we have to observe things that we don't always understand, and researchers have to find a way to explain them by adapting or creating methods and experiments. There's a lot of creativity in a researcher's work, and imagination is really an important asset!
What was the biggest challenge you have ever encountered in your career?
Like many young working parents, the challenge for me was balancing work and family life at the start of my career. Now my children are older and everything is easier, but the first 10 years were intense!
If your field of science was a "Top 20" song, what would it be called?
"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" by U2, for my career; "Toujours Vivant" by Gerry Boulet, to describe the persistence of viruses; and "Money" by Pink Floyd, because that's our main concern as researchers!
What is your favourite food?
A nice tomato sandwich: toast, mayonnaise, salt and pepper, and tomatoes from my garden—nothing else!
What is the funniest thing that has happened to you at work?
When I present at a scientific conference, I still get asked: "what are you going to do after your graduate studies?" It's flattering to be asked that at the beginning of your career, but not after 16 years as a researcher! Now I say I'm going to retire!
I'm also the official creator of the research centre's ping pong tournament trophy!
Viruses: An eye on the big picture
Dr. Julie Brassard has a passion for viruses. Viruses are tiny organisms that can make you sick in a matter of hours. She is part of a team of researchers that helps us better understand viruses. "Our immune systems are very complex, yet some viruses can effectively bypass them and make us sick so quickly", says Dr. Brassard, a food and environmental virologist based at Agriculture and Agri Food Canada’s Saint Hyacinthe Research and Development Centre. "The more I learn about them, the more fascinating I find them."
Dr. Brassard and her team use a "one health" approach that looks at the big picture of diseases and how viruses travel between humans, animals and the environment. That is because many viruses naturally circulate among animals, humans and the environment, including water. For example, hepatitis E virus (HEV) is found in pigs worldwide. The pigs are not affected by the virus, but act as a host. The virus can be transmitted to humans who eat contaminated under-cooked meat. While the risk of contracting the disease is low in Canada, its potential for harm means that finding the best measures to reduce the spread of the virus continues to be important.
Dr. Brassard’s team is working hard to discover the sources of HEV, how it spreads, and how it survives. Their research will help teach people how to control HEV — in barns, abattoirs or barbecues.
"Farmers and others in the agri food industry face many challenges as they work hard to keep our food safe", says Dr. Brassard. "I feel privileged to be able to support them by providing new knowledge, scientific advances and innovations to protect people, animals, our food industry and our economy."