media release

Bee researcher overcomes brain tumour

June 13, 2011

Marianne Meadahl, PAMR, 778.782.3210;

Jason Peterson
Photo on Flickr

Simon Fraser University biology student Jason Peterson had no problem pulling off straight A’s during his graduate studies, while also spending 20 hours a week volunteering with Let’s Talk Science, a national science education program for kids.

So he was shocked to learn, after a grand mal seizure four years ago, that he had been living most of his life with a slow-growing brain tumour that had become the size of his fist.

The discovery led to experimental brain surgery using the NeuroArm, a surgical robot designed specifically for neurosurgery, to remove a plum-sized piece of Peterson’s tumour.

The young scientist spent a semester recovering before carrying on with his behavioural ecology research into the sex-allocation decisions of solitary bees, which can determine whether they produce males or females.

He discovered that female bees alter the sex of their offspring based on their living conditions. If food is far away, for example, they’ll produce males because they’re smaller and easier to produce.

His findings, published in Behaviour Ecology Research, have implications for scientists studying pollination.

Peterson also continues to volunteer for Let’s Talk Science at his neighbourhood school, encouraging Grade 4-7 kids who aren’t operating well in the regular curriculum to use filmmaking to explore science.

The group has produced several award-winning videos, including one about the biology of a nearby creek that won best Canadian documentary honours at the Panasonic Kid Witness News Film Festival.

Another on ‘green’ Olympic venues was screened daily at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Peterson’s work with Let’s Talk Science confirmed his interest in teaching, but instead of teaching kids, he plans to become a professor. He has a new job as a sessional biology instructor at the University of Alberta, but says, “I’ll always be volunteering with kids, they have so much to teach me.”

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