Vederas, Dr. John

2010 Winner: Outstanding Leadership In Alberta Science

Creative Researcher Advances Field Of Bio-organic And Medical Chemistry

When Dr. John Vederas started university he was unsure of whether he wanted to study art or science. He chose to major in sculpture. He soon realized he had no talent for the form and transferred to chemistry.

Throughout the more than 40 years that have lapsed since then, Dr. Vederas has proven himself to be an outstanding chemist whose research is characterized by its creativity.

“I buck a trend that people should be able predict research outcomes and do only targeted research,” says the outspoken Canada Research Chair for Bio-organic and Medicinal Chemistry. “I think it’s important to find out how things work in nature, rather than have as a goal a prescribed outcome. I’m driven by curiosity of how nature works and prefer conducting pure research, which I believe is responsible for advancing technology.”

A Creative Approach

Dr. Vederas is renowned for mixing a strong flair for innovation and new methodology with the highest standards of experimental rigour and intellectual proof. Through his creativity and dedication, he has advanced the field of bioorganic and medicinal chemistry.

He and his colleagues focus on studying the chemistry used by nature to assemble biological molecules. By using his deep chemical intuition Dr. Vederas is able to understand when a biological context of a reaction promises new insights in the underlying chemistry. This allowed him to purify and characterize non-toxic proteins that can prevent growth of harmful bacteria on food.

“This is a very important discovery,” Dr. Vederas says. “It allows us to identify beneficial bacteria that can out-compete the bad bacteria as they grow on high-protein food. Now we can better preserve food and make it safer to eat. He adds there is potential for medicinal use in the treatment of bacterial infections that are currently resistant to antibiotics. “Some of these bacterial chemicals are 1,000 to 1 million times more potent that penicillin.”


An Enriching Environment

Scientific discovery is only one facet of Dr. Vederas’  long career. The University of Alberta professor received most of his education in the United States and Europe. But he’s stayed in Edmonton because he says the environment is excellent.

“My colleagues and students are superb and the facilities are world-class, so we are able to attract the best and the brightest to the university,” says Dr. Vederas. “That makes it an exciting place to conduct research.”

Dr. Vederas also enjoys the interactions he has with his students. In his 37-year-long career he has had 52 PhD students, 8 masters students, over 60 postdoctoral fellows and 65 undergraduates complete research in his group.

“My students have gone onto successful careers in chemistry or a related field at universities and corporations around the world. It’s very satisfying for me to see.” He’s also taught more than 6000 undergraduates. “I don’t know what they might be doing now, but I feel that in some way I contributed to their understanding of the world,” he says.

“I am fortunate to pursue my career like one might pursue a hobby,” says Dr. Vederas. “I look forward to coming to work and discovering and learning something new each day.”