Dr. Shawn Mansfield Named Forest Biotechnologist of the Year

Vancouver, BC Shawn D Mansfield, a professor in the Department of Wood Science at the Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia, has been named 2014 Forest Biotechnologist of the Year by the Institute of Forest Biosciences.

Mansfield is the sixth scientist to win this award. Mansfield was nominated because of his unwavering dedication to producing world-class research, and ability to bring this topic to a broad audience with humility and an open mind that encourages valuable dialogue.

Lori Knowles, Chair of the Institute of Forest Biosciences Board (IFB), and Faculty in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Alberta, Canada notes how critical communicating with diverse stakeholders is in this field. With effort and dedication Shawn has proven that discussing complex concepts in biotechnology with people from various backgrounds and perspectives is possible and productive. We need more scientists like Shawn who can inspire meaningful dialogue about the social and environmental need for responsibly used forest biosciences.

Mansfields scientific career has focussed on understanding the molecular underpinnings of plant cell wall biosynthesis and development. Based, in part, on studies of the molecular biochemistry of tree secondary cell wall metabolism, Mansfield generally uses poplar as a model organism to investigate the fundamentals of cell wall development, but with an emphasis on developing solutions to real-world problems.

According to Adam Costanza, President of the IFB, Dr. Mansfields research is producing information that will be useful to breeders developing trees for biofuel production and resilience to climate and pest stresses. This is a critical area of focus for the IFB. Connecting research, like Shawns, to downstream users will speed up the process of showing on-the-ground value says Costanza.

Mansfields research uses a unique combination of molecular biology, biochemistry, analytical chemistry and plant cell wall characterization techniques, to elucidate the influence of various biosynthetic pathways on the development, growth, chemistry and ultrastructure of secondary xylem formation. Mansfield says our primary research is fundament in nature and curiosity driven, however, the insights gained should help shape our ability to improve and protect the very trees that underpin one of the most important industries in North America, and more importantly form a vital part of our natural ecosystems.

Malcolm Campbell, IFB board member and Vice Principal of Research at the University of Toronto Scarborough highlighted Professor Mansfield’s impressive record as a scientist and as a science communicator. “Shawn is truly a world-leading scientist, irrespective of discipline. His cutting-edge research is being published in the very best of journals, including premiere generalist journals like “Science”. This is an impressive feat for any scientist, let alone one who is conducting research on what is sometimes viewed as a “niche” area. His work is highly regarded in his field, and has also captured the public imagination. The latter is largely attributable to Shawn’s skills as a highly effective communicator – someone who is able to engage a vast array of communities.”

Mansfield earned his doctorate in Forest Biotechnology (Forestry) from The University of British Columbia, his Masters from Dalhousie University and Bachelor’s degree in biology from Mount Allison University. He did his Post Doctoral Fellowship at Forest Research (Scion) New Zealand, before joining the Faculty of Forestry at UBC in 2000, where he was the recipient of a Canada Research Chair in 2002. During his tenure at UBC, he has published 165 peer-reviewed articles and 18 book chapters and is the holder of 4 patents. Mansfield is also a Fellow of the International Academy of Sciences, and recipient of a Scientific Achievement Award from IUFRO, a MacMaster Fellowship from CSIRO and the David J Gifford Award in Tree Biology from the Canadian Society of Plant Biologists.