Molecular biologist Caren Helbing wins BC Ignite Award

Caren Helbing is one of two University of Victoria researchers to receive a BC Ignite Award this year for her work with Hemmera Envirochem and Maxxam Analytics. 

The molecular biologist received a $185,000 Ignite grant for her work on refining a method of detecting the presence of aquatic animal species through environmental DNA (eDNA). The method will allow ecologists to determine the geographical range of threatened and endangered species by identifying the specific eDNA that every animal leaves behind in the waters and soil of its habitat.

Determining whether a species is at risk currently comes down to human observation, a costly and often destructive method of verifying a species’ presence. Helbing’s eDNA technology allows researchers to simply analyze a scoop of water or soil to determine whether a species is present in a particular habitat.   

Funding from BC Ignite to refine eDNA methodology will allow for systematic, reliable and standardized testing methods, and the creation of the first commercially available eDNA test in BC.

BC Ignite grants are awarded twice a year and are intended to cover a third of project costs. Successful recipients are then required to secure remaining funds from industry or other government sources.