2011 Finalist: Outstanding Leadership In Alberta Science
Plant Scientist Tackles Some Of The World’s Toughest Biotechnological Challenges
Dr. Randall Weselake’s career has been focused on research targets of practical importance.
“I like basic research that translates into an application,” he says modestly. The professor and Tier I Canada Research Chair in Agricultural Lipid Biotechnology in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science at the University of Alberta has an international reputation as one of Canada’s leading lipid scientists.
While best known for his research toward increasing seed oil content in canola, Dr. Weselake has made important contributions to lipid biochemistry in both plants and animals. He continues to demonstrate creativity and innovation in tackling some of the field’s toughest biotechnological challenges.
The Cash Crop
Canada is a world leader in the production and export of oilseeds, and canola is a major driver of our economy. The seed oil is in demand globally as both an edible and industrial oil. Dr. Weselake’s work in this area is of strategic importance to the entire oilseed industry.
“Increasing global population, rising incomes, and the demand for renewable liquid fuels have intensified pressure on the world vegetable oil market,” says Dr. Weselake. “Understanding the mechanisms of lipid formation in plants has the potential to increase seed oil content in crops relevant to Alberta and Canada and may also lead to alternative strategies for meeting the food and energy demands of our growing population. If we could increase the oil content of the seed by only 1 per cent, we could generate $90 million for the extracting industry in Canada,” he says passionately.
His research as Leader of the Bioactive Oils Program (funded by AVAC Ltd.) and Scientific Director of the Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions Phytola Ingenuity Centre (Phytola) has also generated promising results in the development of a potential oilseed-based aquafeed ingredient. This could help address the critical shortage of fish oil required to support the accumulation of healthy omega-3 fatty acids in farmed fish. Developing a sustainable alternative to fish oil for aquafeed has been one of the most important and challenging goals of plant biotechnology over the past decade.
Above all, Dr. Weselake is an exceptional leader, respected around the world as a team-builder who brings together multidisciplinary expertise in large-scale initiatives focused on solving industry-relevant problems.
He is one of 25 members of a global consortium known as ICON (Industrial Crops Producing Value added Oils for Novel Chemicals), collaborating toward the production of biolubricants and other industrial oils in plants. He is also a guest researcher with the Plant Biotechnology Institute and is routinely invited to speak at various international research institutes and conferences.
This internationally celebrated scientist considers among his greatest contributions his role as a teacher and mentor. He has supervised well over 100 undergraduate students, in addition to many graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. He takes a personal interest in their progress and professional success well after they’ve left his classroom.