From green thumbs to edible vaccines – A journey not like any other

Monique Power wearing a face mask while holding a lettuce plant

Monique Power

Monique Power started her studies at the University of Ottawa unsure of where she would end up, much like many other first year students. She knew her interests included science and plants so she opted for the biology program at the Faculty of Science. Little did she know that she was going to graduate in a worldwide pandemic and work on research to create an edible vaccine using lettuce.

After joining the university co-op program in her second year, Monique met Dr. Allyson MacLean during the placement interviews. Although their interaction was short and they did not end up working together, Dr. MacLean left an impact on Monique. She kept revisiting their conversation; It had sparked her interest and her curiosity. That’s why, after completing her co-op term, Monique reached out to the assistant professor to seek out an opportunity to work with her. Her initiative paid off as they ended up working together through the university's UROP program, a program that allows undergrads to participate in a short research project in a professor’s lab.

In third year, Monique worked on a research project with Dr. MacLean on plant interaction and microbes. That research, along with the course BIO4142: Plant Immunity and Symbioses, were Monique’s “lightbulb moments” where she realized that studying and working in the field of plant-microbe interactions was her passion, and her desired field of work!

Inside a greenhouse filled with vegetable and lettuce plants

She pursued her research work with the MacLean lab in third year, just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic to shut everything down. Following all safety protocols, the Faculty of Science research labs were able to continue their work. By then, Monique’s research team decided to try to look for ways to include the disease in their studies. After some trial and error came the edible vaccine. Following that summer term, which was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Undergraduate Student Research Award (NSERC-USRA), she continued working on this research during her fourth year as her honours project.

The edible vaccine is now in the first phase of testing in partnership with The Ottawa Hospital, and the results should be available shortly after Monique’s graduation. The new biology graduate will keep working on this major project and see it through to the end; her hopes are that the vaccine can be given as a booster and work with the injectable vaccine people have already started to receive.

Monique’s journey started with incertitude and doubts but has landed her in an incredible position today, working on an edible COVID-19 vaccine. Her involvement in research laboratories and the people she met along the way pushed her toward her professional calling. So much so that she decided to pursue graduate studies at the uOttawa’s Faculty of Science in Fall 2021 as she enters the next chapter with her Master’s in Biology.

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