Photo credit: Grady Mitchell

FHS university research associate finding the fun in genomics fundamentals

July 18, 2022

By: Sharon Mah

Dr. Kaylee Byers joined the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) as university research associate in January 2022. While her background is rooted in One Health – a collaborative, multisectoral, and transdisciplinary approach to health sciences that recognizes the interconnectedness of human, animal, and environmental health – she has multiple research interests and occupies additional roles, including urban wildlife ecologist and health communications researcher.

Byers’ work at FHS is focused on exploring the challenges and opportunities for strengthening health communications, specifically in British Columbia. She is curious about how scientists communicate and solve issues like dealing with uncertain outcomes and managing trust. These issues have come to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic, but appear in other branches of health communication as well.

“There are so many different platforms to communicate on. [And] you have the challenge that information is always changing, and that as we gain information, messages change. How do [we] make sure that people are getting the right message clearly and quickly? A lot of people are trying to navigate that.”

Byers’ interest in health communications predates the pandemic. She is one of the co-founders of the science seminar series Nerd Nite Vancouver and its spin-off podcast Nerdin’ About. Her experiences as a science communicator facilitating fun, engaging and accessible knowledge translation for general audiences led Genome BC to tap her as a host for their latest podcast, Nice Genes. The new series takes a fun, inquisitive approach to learning the where, what, why and hunh?? of genomics with Byers acting as the audience’s friendly and accessible guide.

“[It’s] a constantly growing and evolving field of science that really intersects with so much around us. It helps us understand our identities in terms of things like ancestry. It helps us to understand or study animals that are difficult to find in the environment or that have existed for thousands of years [by using] tools like environmental DNA. I'm excited that [Nice Genes] takes this really broad look at a tool that can be applied in so many different ways.”

The first season of the podcast offers six episodes, ranging from an introduction to genomics, to investigating applications of genomics that involve pharmacology, ancestry, and even forensic murder investigation of “cold cases.” Co-hosts and guests include a wide range of knowledgeable experts including neuroscientists like “Science Sam”, genetic counsellors, data scientists, conservationists, evolutionary biologists, forensic genealogists and more. The topics aim to not only inform, but also to “mythbust” and feed curiosity.

Byers is pleased to be able to host and contribute to shaping the content for the Nice Genes podcast not only because she personally appreciates the format and gets to chat with interesting scientists, but also because a podcast episode permanently captures a researcher’s take on their work. It allows them to share their research widely, and also claim it on their CV as a piece of knowledge translation. “I love creating spaces for other people to share their research.”