Meet Ken Jeffries, 2020 Rh Award Winner in the Natural Sciences category
Ken Jeffries is an assistant professor of biological sciences in the Faculty of Science who seeks to leverage the use of high-resolution genomics approaches to obtain new insights that will facilitate the rational management of key organisms in aquatic ecosystems.
Jeffries is the 2020 recipient of the Terry G. Falconer Memorial Rh Institute Foundation Emerging Researcher Award in the Natural Sciences category, in recognition of his research excellence. UM Today caught up with him recently to learn more about him and the research he is undertaking.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your research
I grew up in Alberta and I became obsessed with fish and fishing as a child. This obsession stuck with me as I became an adult and I wanted to see if I could turn my passion for fish into a career. I was particularly interested in how the health of fish can indicate the health of waterbodies. Therefore, I started my research career during my Honours and then Masters degrees at the University of Calgary examining the effects of endocrine disrupting compounds in rivers in Southern Alberta that can lead to the feminization of male fish. Then during my PhD, I studied the effects of high water temperatures on Pacific salmon migrations and how that can dramatically impact populations. For my postdoctoral research, I moved to California to study the effects of climate change and pollution on threatened and endangered fish in the San Francisco Bay area at the University of California, Davis. I started my position at UM in 2016 and I have been very fortunate to be able to continue studying the effects of pollution and climate change-related stressors on a variety of fish species and also Arctic clams. The research in my lab uses different molecular and physiological approaches to characterize the responses to stressors in a variety of important aquatic species in Canada that include walleye, lake sturgeon, brook trout, sea lamprey and soft-shell clams.
Why is this research important?
This research is important because commercial and recreational fisheries are a multi-billion dollar industry in Canada. Therefore, understanding whether populations are healthy can inform whether these fisheries will be sustainable in the future. Further, as climate change is already impacting Canadian freshwater systems, understanding the physiological responses to these changes will help us determine which fish will be able to cope with the changing conditions in the future. Lastly, as fresh water is one of our most precious resources, identifying the health of aquatic animals will allow us to understand the quality of our freshwater systems.
What does the Rh Award mean to you?
I’m very proud of this award as to me it recognizes the appreciation Manitobans have for our aquatic resources and consequently research in this area. I’m so glad that I can share this recognition with the talented people that I have been lucky to have come through my lab and hopefully this helps current and future lab members recognize the importance of our research beyond our specific discipline.
What do you hope to achieve in the future?
I hope to help generate the scientific tools needed to inform resource managers to help protect aquatic systems so that future generations can benefit from the abundant aquatic resources that we have in Canada.
What about you would people find surprising?
I had a bit of a late start to my scientific training because I played Junior A hockey for 3 seasons for the Calgary Royals after high school.