Alberta Researcher Profile
Who: Dr. Tarah Lynch
Assistant Professor, Cummings School of Medicine, University of Calgary, and Program Lead, Genomics and Bioinformatics, Alberta Precision Laboratories Public Health Laboratory (ProvLab) - South
Dr. Tarah Lynch has researched numerous topics from COVID-19 viral sequencing through the Canadian COVID-19 Genomics Network (CanCOGeN), to the development and deployment of bioinformatics tools in the public health setting. As a newly funded researcher through Genome Alberta, we sat down with Dr. Lynch to explore what drove her science, where her research is going, and what advice she has for new students entering the field.
Dr. Tarah Lynch’s interest in science started with translational research, specifically exploring questions where answers could quickly benefit people.
“Public health is definitely a great opportunity for anyone interested in translational research. Our work focuses on infectious disease diagnostics and surveillance which directly affects human health,” says Lynch.
During her post-doctoral research, where Lynch was working for the Public Health Agency of Canada at the National Microbiology Laboratory, the genomics sector was taking off, piquing her interest in the topic. Now through her joint roles as an Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary (UofC) and Program Lead for Genomics and Bioinformatics at Alberta Precision Laboratories (APL) ProvLab, Lynch is using her expertise in genomics, microbiology, and bioinformatics to integrate high-throughput sequencing technologies into routine public health application.
High-throughput sequencing generates giga to terabytes of data all at once, compared to conventional biochemical or PCR-based molecular tests which produce targeted results. This wholistic data generation can provide the clinical and public health sectors with higher resolution information to aid infectious disease surveillance and diagnostic efforts leading to improved medical attention.
Lynch says that research in genomics addresses multiple topic areas, all of which impact human health and delivery of healthcare to the public.
“One Health research looks to connect the environment, our food, and animals with human health and disease. I think that the more information we [can] gather through genomic surveillance is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the world. The research we do in public health plays an important role in that,” says Lynch.
Since 2020, Lynch has been part of the COVID-19 research team that played a vital role in the province’s pandemic response. Now, Lynch is ready to pivot her focus from COVID-19 research to implementing her new bioinformatics software tools directly within Alberta Health Service’s (AHS) computing systems. Lynch’s Enabling Bioinformatics Solutions project, funded through Genome Alberta, Alberta Innovates, and Genome Canada, helps to fill gaps in the current system allowing for proper data management, analysis, and allows communication of high-throughput sequencing results to our clinician stakeholders.
“Our project with Genome Alberta will be moved over to Alberta Health… it’s a database structure [for storing our] genomic data and [builds] a connection between bioinformatic analysis and delivering results,” says Lynch.
Within her lab, Lynch also advocates for expanding bioinformatics training into the public health laboratory. By doing this, Lynch says teams will become more efficient in their understanding and interpretation of genomic results if they are empowered to run the bioinformatics pipelines.
“I’m really interested in building these efficiencies and more [analysis] pipelines, our lab is really excited to learn bioinformatics,” says Lynch.
Words of Advice
Lynch’s words of advice come from working with students in both the lab and the classroom, as well as from her own experience working with other scientists studying genomics.
When exploring research opportunities Lynch says that being willing to learn new skills or collaborate with other experts in multidisciplinary projects can help clarify all the sources of data and understand the big picture.
“Generally, I’ve found that collaborative projects are the most fun and have the most impact.”
With bioinformaticians she says, “[so many people are] doing bioinformatics and/or genomics but the tools that we use are different depending on our research field, so it’s important to take advantage of networking or learning opportunities with people outside of your research area.”
Lynch says that finding someone who is familiar with your area of interest helps strengthen the translation of research. Also taking more statistics classes and appreciating bioinformatics will make results easier to clarify.
“I appreciate bioinformatics as a discipline, not just a service, I think researchers sometimes overlook this… it needs to be treated as a collaboration from the beginning of the project.”
In working with Genome Alberta, Lynch says the funding has allowed her lab to further their work and has opened the door for more research opportunities.
“[Our project] grant was a huge benefit for us … It’s been amazing for us because sometimes these projects are small compared to what most of the big granting agencies are looking for, and you don’t have the huge team project that you need… [so] having a different [funding] scale with a smaller scope was helpful for us and I think has made a big impact on what we’ve been able to do.”
Since gaining access to funding, Lynch says her team has been able to expand, including hiring the programmer who developed the bioinformatics platform that will allow further development and sustainable use of Lynch’s project at ProvLab.