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Women in Science: Podcast with Katie Eloranta and Dr. Catherine Carrillo

March 2020

"The really exciting part about science is the first time you don't fail. That moment when something that you thought would never work finally pays off, and something comes together, and you make something new and different than what's been there before."

Dr. Catherine Carrillo, Research Scientist, Research and Development, Ottawa Laboratory (Carling)

"The term career in science is so broad. People have visions of scientists in lab coats, but the question is, what are they really doing? The reality is, the sky's the limit. That's really exciting, because you can let your imagination go, and the career will find you."

Katie Eloranta, Section Head, Microbiology and Virology, Burnaby Laboratory

In this podcast, two of our inspiring women scientists talk about their backgrounds and passion for science–and their advice to women and girls considering careers in STEM. Spoiler alert: "The sky's the limit!"

Women in Science: Podcast with Katie Eloranta and Dr. Catherine Carrillo – Audio transcript

You're tuned in to Chronicle 360 – the podcast that brings you closer to CFIA experts: exploring what we do and how we do it.

Host (Krystine Farago): As a science-based agency, CFIA supports the recruitment of women and girls who want to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Welcome to this special Women in Science Podcast. My name is Krystine Farago, and I will be your host interviewing two of CFIAs very own women in science, Dr. Catherine Carrillo, a research scientist from our Carling laboratory here in Ottawa, and Katie Eloranta, a section head from our Burnaby laboratory in British Columbia.

Both are passionate about keeping our food safe, and you may be surprised at how much they actually have in common.

Hello, and welcome to you both.

Catherine Carrillo: Great to be here today. Thanks for having me.

Katie Eloranta: Thank you for having us.

Host: I would like to learn a bit more about you, and what you do here at CFIA, and in particular how your work helps Canadians. Catherine, can we start with you?

Catherine: Sure. Well, I work in the research and development section, and our role at CFIA is to develop new methods that help us in analyzing foods in better, more reliable ways, and a lot of the work I've been doing lately has been around whole genome sequencing of bacteria and food, we get this fingerprint of the bacteria, and that helps us to understand how it got in the food in the first place, how dangerous it is, and make a difference in the future.

Host: Katie, do you want to talk a bit about your role?

Katie: What Cathy and I do really plays off one another. I'm the manager of the diagnostic microbiology lab in Burnaby, British Columbia, part of the Metro Vancouver. My team and I are responsible for diagnostic testing of food, looking for pathogens, and we implement some of the tools that Cathy's team has developed to help us detect and learn as much about the bacteria that we identify as possible.

Our team starts at the beginning, where we have the food item, and it's our job to tease that pathogen out of the food so that we can do the characterization that Cathy's team has developed. Our roles are really connected. The samples start with my team, and then, they move to the work that Cathy has done.

Host: How did you know that you wanted to work in science, and how did you choose your field of study?

Katie: I knew at a very young age that I was interested in the world around me. I was an inquisitive child, I suppose, particularly in the natural world. As an elementary school student, you don't necessarily know that there's a job titled called food microbiologist, and it wasn't until I was in university that I really started to narrow in what my field of interest might be. I knew I liked science in high school, and I studied chemistry and biology. Then, in university I got a chance to try and fully explore which of the disciplines suited me best.

Catherine: I think I had a bit of a similar situation. I knew from very early on that I was interested in something in science. I was really fortunate. In high school I was given the opportunity to do a lab job in 1987 at the National Research Council Canada, and I actually worked in a DNA lab back then. Things were quite different back then, of course.

Then, when I got to – and I had to decide what I wanted to do in university, I was sort of torn between computer science, some sort of DNA work, or microbiology, and so I went into microbiology and genetics back then. Now, it's actually worked out that I'm also using computer science in the work that we're doing to analyse the sequence data. It's all kind of come together over the last 30 years.

Host: Very nice. It's so neat to hear about both of your backgrounds. On a more general level, is there a scientific breakthrough that you hope for in the next five years?

Katie: Well, I'm really excited about the work that researchers at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, like Cathy, our research scientists are actively pursuing technologies and means to get the most information out of a sample in as short of time as possible. Right now, there's sometimes a myth in food microbiology. They call it the CSI effect. I think there's a general misconception that a sample goes into a black box, and out comes all the possible information that one might need to know about that sample.

The reality is it isn't quite like that. It takes a lot of time sometimes to tease out that pathogen of interest, and knowing the full picture, so the microbiome of what's in the food. That's something that's still a bit of a mystery, but there are certainly researchers that are working towards developing those techniques that can tell us more about the sample in as short of time as possible. I'm excited to see what that will mean for diagnostic food microbiology in the future.

Catherine: We're always trying to get things done faster, and better, and more reliably, but I'm really interested in that whole idea of the community of bacteria in the foods that we have. I've watched the Human Genome Project come together. We thought that once we sequence the human genome, we'd know everything we needed to know about human medicine, and it turns out things were far more complicated than we thought.

One of the, I think, really, really interesting things going on right now is looking at the human gut microbiome, and all of the ways that the human gut microbiome influences our health. Of course, there's lots of bacteria in food, and some of that's good for us, some of that's not good for us. How do we influence it so that we are not getting rid of that beneficial bacteria, while still making sure people's food is safe, and are there ways that we can help people to improve their gut health so that their not as susceptible to diseases caused by infection or contamination of food?

I think we're going to see a lot of change in the very near future in those lines of work.

Host: What would you say you love most about science?

Katie: Well, the fundamental thing I like about science is that it's about solving a puzzle, and you get to use your hands while doing it. I like to get my hands dirty. That was what attracted me to biology in the first place was the hands-on work, and lab work, and bench work. It's a very practical hands-on approach to answer some more complex problems. That's really attractive to me.

Host: What about you, Catherine?

Catherine: I would have to say that being in science you learn to fail really well. I'm really good at failing, but what the really exciting part about science is, is the first time you don't fail. That moment when something that you thought would never work finally pays off, and something comes together, and you make something new and different than what's been there before.

Host: When we started the podcast, we talked about CFIA's commitment to recruiting women. From your perspective, what would you tell young girls and young women to encourage them to choose a career in science, as you both have?

Katie: The term career in science is so broad. People have visions of scientists in lab coats, but the question is what are they really doing? The reality is, is the sky is the limit. There is infinite possibilities to say you're going to pursue a career in science. I remember at one point thinking I was going to work with plants, and then, in university discovering how cool microbiology is, the science of the small. There's also scientists that do work on the grand scale, ecologists, astrophysicists. It is so broad to say a career in science, so the sky is the limit. That's really exciting, because you can let your imagination go, and the career will find you.

Catherine: I completely agree with that. I think that you don't know how broad the field of science is until you really get into it. Even now, I don't think I know all the possible jobs you could get in the field of science. There's some really interesting needs now for better communication. How do we communicate our science better, and we need some – all these new types of jobs that I think we traditionally didn't really prioritize in the way we know now is important as we try to make sure the public understands what we're trying to do, and the science-based decisions that we make.

Host: There's no shortage of opportunities. Before I let you go, could you share the coolest scientific fact that you know?

Katie: Sure. I'm really intrigued by the human microbiome. I think it's really cool to know that over half of our body is not actually human. We are outnumbered substantially by the cells of the microbes. Our genetic composition of what it is to be human, it's human genes, but a lot more of it is actually the microbe's genes. I think it's super cool that humans mean a whole ecosystem and not just our human DNA.

Catherine: As I said, I'm also very fascinated by this evolving field. We've – they've been able to treat Clostridium Difficile infections with fecal transplants, and solve these without antibiotics. You do this fecal transplant, and people that were going to die, are cured by this technique. One of the interesting things that's come out of being able to do this with people is that you see the impact on a host of other things, and I think the most interesting things – I read about this, is that people who have lost their hair with alopecia grew hair back after a microbiome transplant. It's going to lead to some amazing new things.

Host: That is so interesting. Thank you both for sharing. I'm learning a lot today. We really appreciate you taking the time to share your experience and your passion for science.

Thank you, Dr. Catherine Carrillo and Katie Eloranta, for taking the time to join us today.

Katie: Thanks for having me.

Catherine: Thanks so much.

Host: For all things Women in Science at CFIA, be sure to check out Chronicle 360. You can also visit Science.gc.ca to learn about the innovative work of other Government of Canada women scientists from coast-to-coast. For Chronicle 360, I'm Krystine Farago.

This has been a Chronicle 360 podcast. For more like this, visit inspection.gc.ca/Chronicle360.

[End of recording]

Women in Science: Podcast with Katie Eloranta and Dr. Catherine Carrillo

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