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Wired Names Dalhousie University Researcher On Best Online Science List

An apple researcher at Dalhousie University — who’s allergic to apples — has just been highlighted by a well-known technology magazine as one of the best online contributors in the world of science.

Sean Myles, an assistant professor at Dalhousie’s faculty of agriculture, has one of the 27 best feeds to follow according to Wired magazine. Myles is also the Canadian Research Chair in Agricultural Genetic Diversity, with a specialty in apples and genetics.

After the nod from Wired, Myles’s twitter account — @foodimprover — went from having 500 followers to more than 1700.

Myles was surprised to make the list, but he’s pleased to be included.

“It put me in prestigious company. The other Canadian on the list is Cmdr. Hadfield,” he said.

Myles mostly retweets other science-based tweets, from people such as Bill Gates or Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard. He also engages in Twitter conversations on plant genetics.

​Preserving biodiversity

​​Myles’s work is about preserving biodiversity, not genetic engineering.

“When you use the word genetic and agriculture then everyone thinks you’re in a lab with some pipettes and a lab coat making Frankenfood or something like this,” he said.

“That’s not what we’re about at all. What we’re really interested in is preserving biodiversity and figuring out how to better use it to breed new crops.”

Myles and his fellow researchers planted more than 1,000 varieties of apples — including everything from common commercial cultivars to heritage varieties and also exotics — at the Atlantic Food and Horticulture Research Centre in Kentville. This year, the trees are fruiting for the first time.

Myles points out a few cultivars dominate the commercial apple market. But he says there is increasing interest in diversifying the types of apples planted in Canada.

His team collects data on various traits such as flavour, sweetness, juiciness, aroma and firmness from each apple variety. They correlate those qualities with the DNA found in each apple variety, and plan to get this data into the hands of Canada’s apple breeders.

They’re also keeping notes on which apple varieties are susceptible to disease — and noting the DNA associated with that vulnerability.

But the tasting studies have to be left to others — Myles is allergic to apples and his mouth swells up after a few bites.