Behind-the-Scene: Trevor Charles

This week, I am introducing a member of our team! These Behind-The-Scene posts reveal a bit about the people involved with Health Hydroponics. We would like to put names to faces and personalities especially during this time when we are unable to meet growers in person.

Trevor Charles is the Chief Science Officer of Metagenom Bio Life Science which is the company leading Healthy Hydroponics. He did his Bachelor of Science in Microbiology at the University of British Columbia and got his PhD in Biology at McMaster University. Trevor is also a professor at the Biology Department at the University of Waterloo. He and his research group study bacterial genetics, microbiome of environments (metagenomics), and functional relationships between plants and microorganisms.

I asked Trevor a mix of serious and light questions and here are his answers.

What is your role at Healthy Hydroponics and what do you do?

I came up with the idea that developed into the Healthy Hydroponics project. Currently, my role is to develop a strong team and work with them to transform these initial ideas into reality. 

What motivated/inspired you to develop/pursue the project, Healthy Hydroponics? 

My research team has carried out projects in plant microbe interactions for several years. It is well known that plant growth promoting microbes can work well in the lab, growth chamber or greenhouse, but often do not perform in the field. As I came to understand the scale of hydroponic vegetable production in Canada, I thought, why not work on engineering the microbiome in the greenhouse? In greenhouses, the grower has control over many aspects of the growing conditions, but the microbiome is usually ignored. Let’s pay attention to it! 

What does your working-from-home desk look like?

Where do you see Healthy Hydroponics three years from now?

Our vision is for Healthy Hydroponics to be a system of routine microbiome monitoring, along with rapid pathogen detection, combined with application of inoculants and other methods to engineer the microbiome, resulting in better, more consistent, crop yield and quality. This is something that could take off around the world. 

What are your interests/passions outside of work or academia?

I love to travel, something that I am missing terribly right now. Other than that, spending time with my immediate family is most important to me. 

What is your favourite microorganism or most interesting microorganism and why?

Agrobacterium. It is what made me decide to become a microbiologist. I first heard about it as an undergraduate student, when the science was first coming out about its ability to transfer DNA to plants. This blew my mind. I spent hours in the library reading journal articles about this. I eventually did get to work on Agrobacterium, as a postdoc. 

What’s one thing you’ve struggled with since the pandemic hit?

Hands down, my level of fitness. I have got to get back on track. 

As both a professor and the Chief Science Officer of the company, how do you achieve work life balance?

I don’t believe in work life balance, at least for myself. I am passionate about my work, and the science behind it, so it is an integral part of my life, connected to everything else that I do. 

What’s the last book you’ve read that you enjoyed?

Apocalypse Never by Michael Shellenberger

If you were not a professor, what would you be?

I can’t really think of anything else. 

Do you listen to any podcasts, if so which ones?

Talking Biotech, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe

If you had to delete all but 3 apps from your smartphone, which ones would you keep?

Spotify, Twitter, Slack

Do you have a favourite plant?

Alfalfa. I spent a lot of time with alfalfa as a grad student. 

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