DNA - The Code of Life and Diversity for Innovation with Dr Parwinder Kaur (#52)

We talk about biotechnology and genetics for conservation, and creating sustainable solutions through interdisciplinary innovation.

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Dr Parwinder Kaur is an award-winning scientist, a passionate leader and positive role model as a mother, and a professor in science for the next generation of diverse scientists to pursue their passion for science and discovery. She leads cross-disciplinary biotechnology research investigating Earth’s biodiversity and natural environments to ensure sustainable futures. She uses her expertise to reach people in new ways, connecting them with their surroundings. Through her diverse research teams, such as ExPlanta, she harnesses STEM to achieve maximised impact. In doing so, she believes this will help us tackle the bigger issues we as society are facing, bringing about solutions through fresh thinking rather than following usual norms. She has been recognised for her substantial contributions to biotechnology and scientific excellence by the prestigious “Science and Innovation Award” by the Australian Academy of Sciences in 2013, won the Microsoft’s AI for Earth award for 2019 and WA Innovator of the Year (finalist) in 2022. Dr Kaur is a passionate science communicator, an entrepreneur in the biotechnology sector, an active mentor for gender equity, a Superstar of STEM, a Women in Technology WA Role Model, GirlsXTech international ambassador working to close the gender gap in technology and Diversity in STEM expert panel appointment with the Office of the Hon Ed Husic MP, Minister for Industry and Science, Australia.

In our conversation, we talk about biotechnology and genetics for conservation, and creating sustainable solutions through interdisciplinary innovation.

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Show Notes

[00:01:11] Parwinder’s journey to molecular biology and the study of DNA.
[00:02:10] Growing up surrounded by different cultures and faiths.
[00:03:23] Parwinder’s chemistry teacher opening the door to science as an avenue to answer her questions.
[00:04:28] Changing perspectives over time. The relationship between Ayurveda and epigenetics.
[00:06:16] Tools don’t make the science, but they sure can make things go faster.
[00:06:47] Work that took Parwinder 7 years, now can be done in 7 days, because of tools.
[00:08:00] The knowledge needs to progress and we can help that along by making it more accessible to get a wider range of perspectives.
[00:08:38] Diversity is an important factor in innovation.
[00:11:07] How Parwinder’s cultural and religious background inspires her science.
[00:13:18] There is enough old knowledge validated with science to suggest that we just need better tools or methods to get there as well.
[00:13:47] Investigating different faiths revealed to her that there are many common beliefs about the origin of life.
[00:14:35] Epigenetics. It’s all connected.
[00:15:13] The road to understanding DNA in a three-dimensional space.
[00:19:35] We need to think bigger as well. Many of the problems we’re trying to solve globally also must be viewed in multiple dimensions.
[00:24:32] Parwinder’s work touches on so many different areas, what has been achieved could not have been done without multidisciplinary collaboration.
[00:25:53] Comparatively, Australia is less restrictive than India with respect to disciplinary boundaries.
[00:28:14] The system doesn’t favour multidisciplinary approaches that may take longer.
[00:28:58] It’s hard to inspire students to solve the problems around us if we can’t allow them to explore a broader range of disciplines to find the solutions.
[00:33:17] Funding and KPIs can be bound to a limited scope.
[00:33:28] Obstacles to remote collaboration, and being a scientist in the most isolated city in the world.
[00:37:49] Remote collaboration with a medicine lab outside KPIs has lead to initiatives like DNA Zoo.
[00:41:55] Promoting Australia for its biodiversity and Perth for its Pawsey supercomputer.
[00:45:38] DNA Zoo.
[00:45:57] What can we learn about the superpowers of other species.
[00:47:24] Conservation has to factor in genetics as well as environment.
[00:48:47] The rate of innovation in genetics just for humans. Why not also for animals?
[00:49:36] With technological advancements, sequencing costs are significantly more accessible.
[00:52:55] It’s about helping people connect the dots. Making the content public domain because this is bigger than just publishing papers.
[00:55:22] Open data because not having access to the knowledge is inefficient and making it accessible allows more people to take a shot at it.
[00:56:57] Data is our next bio-economy.
[00:58:21] Methane from cows.
[00:59:54] The factors that contribution to methane emission.
[01:00:22] “You are what you eat”. Let’s look at diet.
[01:00:49] Clovers and their simplicity and impact, and secondary discoveries in science.
[01:03:00] Japanese research on red clovers and their applications.
[01:04:27] A serendipitous conversation about kombucha.
[01:05:44] From a joke to a commercial opportunity in synthetic biology.
[01:07:29] Giving her students another option for a career path in entrepreneurism.
[01:10:57] Bonus Question 1: What hobby or interest do you have that is most unrelated to your field of work?
[01:12:41] Bonus Question 2: Which childhood book holds the strongest memories for you
[01:15:17] Bonus Question 3: What advice you would give someone who wants to do what you do? Or what advice should they ignore?

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