June 10, 2021

Class of 2021: Grad advocates for inclusive, fair and just use of emerging genomic technologies

Kristy Myles' research examines threats to forest health from climate change and more
Graduating with an MA in Geography, Kristy Myles enjoys a walk in Fish Creek Park with her dog, Whiskey.
Graduating with an MA in geography, Kristy Myles enjoys a walk in the park with her dog, Whiskey

Technology is rooted in ideas. The way it grows, bears fruit and repopulates is fed by a community of researchers, scientists, policy-makers, agents of commerce and other decision-makers.

Kristy Myles aims to ensure voices in the broader community that may otherwise be lost in the process of determining how biotechnologies are developed and deployed are heard.

“Connection is important in all things and I really try to bring that into my research,” says Myles, a Class of 2021 graduate with an MA in geography at the University of Calgary in the Faculty of Arts. “My work with Editing Nature really stresses the importance of local community engagement when it comes to decisions about genetic engineering in shared environments.”

Work as a transdisciplinary research lead embraces community

Editing Nature advocates for inclusive processes to steer the responsible use of genetic technologies. Myles is a transdisciplinary research lead at Editing Nature, examining governance and ethics related to these technologies.

“The idea here is that communities have invaluable knowledge that should really be taken into consideration as we develop, asses and potentially apply these technologies,” says Myles.

Though her work encompasses a global vision, she has done research specifically focused on environmental issues in Canada and Alberta.

“Kristy has been an incredibly important member of our team,” says Editing Nature founder and director Dr. Natalie Kofler, PhD, who lectures at the Centre for Biomedical Ethics at Harvard Medical School. “Her insight and guidance has been invaluable to our organization and the communities we serve.”

Myles’ master’s research on the Genome Canada Resilient Forests project focused on broadening out the inputs of social impact assessments and providing transparency to the development process.

Genomic selection technologies exciting but disruptive

Resilient Forests, which included Genome Alberta and the Alberta government among various partners and institutions, aims to develop genomic models for long-lived trees to counter threats to forest health from climate change and climate-induced outbreaks of insects.

“Researchers have suggested genomic selection technologies can address climate change challenges that are currently facing Alberta’s forests by improving the accuracy of tree trait selection and truncating otherwise long breeding cycles,” says Myles.

“This is exciting, but it’s important to keep in mind that new technologies like genomic selection are disruptive and they can have both benefits and harms. My focus is on the broader social implications of promising biotechnologies.”

She considers the ways in which social ideas and ideals inform the development and application of emerging genomic technologies, so that outcomes are inclusive, fair, and just.

During her master’s, Myles won Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) funding for the Genome Editing for Food Security and Environmental Security and Environmental Sustainability CREATE Program. She has worked on contracts for the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada and the Office of the Chief Science Advisor of Canada, among others.

UCalgary network and opportunities for research a big draw

Myles chose UCalgary for her undergrad (BSc in Natural Sciences) and master’s degrees for several reasons, chief among them the opportunity to work with Dr. Gwendolyn Blue, PhD, an associate professor in geography, as her supervisor.

“She is my supervisor, who does incredible research, and she is an amazing mentor,” says Myles. “On top of UCalgary being a great research institution, there is a real sense of community here, especially within the geography department.”

“The department is incredibly productive and generative,” she says, and her cohort in human geography set the example for who she wants to be as an academic. “UCalgary has an incredible network of people who, despite working on really diverse topics, are always available to provide support, discuss ideas and collaborate.”

Myles has a young family which will always be her top priority and she was touched by how accepting the department and her colleagues have been in acknowledging her duties at home.

“I am really blown away by how accommodating and understanding everyone has been,” says Myles.

UCalgary has provided fertile opportunities for Myles to grow, including learning how to write and produce her own podcast through the Environmental Media Lab, as well as talks hosted by the Genomics and Bioinformatics Research Group.

This summer, Myles wants to take a breather and spend time with her partner and kids at their family cabin. The technology that she will continue to monitor shows no signs of slowing its growth.

“It’s been a hectic and disruptive year,” she says. “I just want to take some time to sit outside and stare at the mountains with them, walk barefoot and dip our toes in the water.”

UCalgary convocation

Congratulations, Class of 2021!

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