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Women in Science – podcast with Dr. Ruojing Wang

June 2019

When you have lots of challenges, you have lots of opportunities to rise above those challenges.

Dr. Ruojing Wang - Head of the National Seed Herbarium, Saskatoon Laboratory

From a very young age, Ruojing has always been fascinated by plants, and now works at the Saskatoon Laboratory to detect and identify their seeds to prevent the spread of unwanted plants in Canada.

Dr. Ruojing Wang – Audio Transcript

Today we are speaking with Ruojing Wang, the head of the National Seed Herbarium at the CFIA Saskatoon Laboratory in Saskatchewan.

Ruojing, thank you for joining us today to talk about your role at the CFIA, and to tell us more about your passion for science.

Okay.

Can you tell us more about your role at the CFIA?

Okay, so, I'm Ruojing. I've worked at the CFIA for over 10 years. My role at the CFIA is the head of National Seed Herbarium. My role, specifically, is to first initiate and lead some research activities related to lab testing, and to also validate those methods for the laboratory private sector, which also does diagnostic testing using standard methods. The other part of my role is to develop some training materials for the national collection for safe specimens that are accessed by private labs, either for training or for diagnostic testing. The third role is to represent the CFIA at the National Seed Testing Association or International Seed Testing Association or on any other technical committees to develop either protocols or methods or to standardize some methods.

Obviously you have a lot of responsibilities, specifically with regards to seed testing. Can you tell us something about how your work with seeds helps Canadians?

We actually use the seed – any seed that comes to the lab – to do identity verification oridentification. CFIA regulations include the Seeds Act and the Plant Protection Act. Those acts try to prevent weed seed spreading, so that is the first purpose of identifying seeds. If any commodity comes to the lab either as a seed or as a grain…sometimes we get seed or other agricultural materials. If they contain seeds, we need to identify them to determine whether it is a weed seed first. Second, we have to identify whether they are regulated weed seeds. If they are regulated weed seeds, then the CFIA can take some kind of action depending on what kind of weed seed they are. Sometimes, we also detect weed seeds from imports, whether they are new species to the Canadian environment or whether they are new to that commodity. This information can be used for CFIA plant health, policies, and regulation reference.

What would be an example of a weed seed?

We have, for example, jointed goatgrass. These weeds are very, what we call, noxious or invasive. It can be a big problem when we plant a crop kind, if it contains jointed goatgrass. Yearly, this weed seed has a similar size and appearance to wheat. When wheat is sold that contains the weed – as seeds or grain – when it goes through the cleaning or harvesting process, the weeds cannot be totally removed from the wheat because they have a similar size. Sometimes they end up in a commodity. So, in the lab, we have to find whether this lot or this commodity contains jointed goatgrass. If it does, under regulations, it should be rejected for planting or even transport.

We know what weeds are but it's not always clear for the layperson, such as myself, what a weed seed might be.

Yes, I think, for the public, they generally see weeds in a field. We are the first line to detect the weed seed's potential for spreading to a field. We detect them at an early stage, as early as a seed.

What field of science did you study? Was it always the same field?

Biology has always been my passion, and very early on I did some…I like studying life, especially plants. I see plants as so diverse and so interesting. As a kid, you see the bees always flying around the plants, the birds around plants. My studies were always around plants. My initial field of study was horticulture. I did vegetable crop breeding and also did some seed protection – those kind of studies. Eventually, I decided to do further study. I went to the University of Saskatchewan. I did my PhD in plant ecology. I feel that plant ecology studies really broadened my knowledge and gave me a better understanding of plants, how they interact with each other and also interact with their surroundings. My studies have always centred on plants.

I know that you've done a great deal of studies. You've published a great deal, but I also know that you studied elsewhere, not just in Saskatchewan. What do you love about science from all of your experience? What would you say that you love about science?

It has a very big impact on human life. I think science has made our life better and made us understand our environment better. Also, it's not biased, in general. Science always provides some factual evidence when we make our decisions. At the CFIA, we say we are a science-based regulatory agency. We use science to inform us, to make better decisions.

I think that that's why science is so powerful and makes human beings powerful. Without science, we couldn't go into space. Without science, we couldn't have today's interaction, like long distance. I remember when I first went overseas from China to Japan; at that time I could probably only make one phone call a month or a week because it was expensive. But nowadays, in just minutes, seconds, you can send pictures. You can talk. You can live-stream all your activities to your home using digital technology.

You brought up a lot of really good points about the opportunities that science brings us, and, again, you've had an opportunity to study different areas of science. What would you say is the coolest scientific fact that you know?

I just feel science is cool in so many ways. But what springs to mind…just watching the news yesterday, I saw that Amazon has opened a new store without cashiers, without checkout lines. You can get whatever, then you just take it away and a computer will record everything. I think digital technology and computer science are fascinating. They've really changed our life, like how people interact, how information is shared and how, for example, we will be self-driving. We may be a few years from having self-driving cars. This kind of recent science fact is based on digital technology. I think it's just fascinating how it has changed every aspect of our lives.

You talk about your passion for science and how it affects human life and has a positive impact on human life. Again, you speak to your studies in biology and your passion for plants and, of course, horticulture. You also refer to the opportunity brought to us because of computer science. What or who is a scientist or science that inspires you, and why?

When I was very young, I read a story about Marie Curie. She was a female scientist who discovered radium, and she died from the long-term effects of working with radiation. But I was inspired by her because, first of all, that was in the 1920s – very early. Women could do such outstanding scientific work at a time when most women were not on an equal social footing with men, and she did the same outstanding work as men. She received the Nobel Prize twice. Also, her dedication was inspirational. She dedicated her whole life to science. Despite having some life challenges, she kept doing what she was passionate about. Her bravery, her persistence, and her dedication to science are real inspirations to many young girls.

Science is happening every day and, as you say, Marie Curie, obviously, she was very successful and she's very famous. What would you tell young girls and young women to encourage them to choose science, as you have?

I would say, you should follow your passion and your interests. If something interests you, it doesn't matter; you shouldn't be limiting yourself because you're a woman or you have different challenges or you think "that is too big for me." When you have lots of challenges, that means you have lots of opportunities for you to rise above those challenges.

We're moving really quickly with science, and we're seeing a lot more women, such as yourself, participating in science. In fact, 54% of scientists here at the CFIA are women. What scientific breakthrough do you hope for in the next five years?

I really hope, in the next five years, that artificial intelligence and digital technology in general will make our seed testing faster and more accurate. We can take our training and our resource accessibility much further using digital technology. Also, digital technology can help with remote diagnosis, so I hope this technology can be used. We not only can improve our laboratory testing, but we can also use the technology to safeguard our borders, help our inspectors, and help our private testing labs provide more timely live diagnosis using digital technology.

I would like to thank you very much for joining me today to talk about your experience and your passion for science.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to talk about science.

Thanks.

[End of Recording]

Women in science - Dr. Ruojing Wang

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