Biology postdoc Brittney Borowiec named a 2022 L’Oréal-UNESCO Canadian Fellow

Monday, December 5, 2022
Ambassador of France to Canada with 2022 recipients of L'Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science recipients.

Last week, the Ambassador of France to Canada, Mr. Michel Miraillet, presented five promising female scientists with the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Fellowship. The awards recognize rising stars of science in Canada, including Dr. Brittney Borowiec, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biology.

Since 2003, L’Oréal Canada and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO have been recognizing young female doctoral and postdoctoral researchers. The L’Oréal Canada For Women in Science Research Excellence Fellowships are supported by the Canadian Commission for UNESCO.  

The event, moderated by science journalist Véronique Morin, began with a foreword by Ambassador Michel Miraillet and L'Oréal Canada President and CEO An Verhulst-Santos on the importance of this year's celebration in reminding the world how essential women scientists and their work are to building a better future.

The five Fellows will also be invited to participate in the L’Oréal Canada For Girls in Science mentorship program, in partnership with the UNESCO Schools in Canada and Let’s Talk Science, where they will encourage high school girls’ scientific vocations, shatter myths about science careers, and hopefully inspire others to follow in their footsteps to make the world a better and more inclusive place.

One of the fellows is Dr. Brittney Borowiec, an award-winning zoologist and freelance science writer. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Paul Craig's lab in the Department of Biology. Boroweic received a $10,000 supplement from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science 2022 program.

Portrait of Brittney Borowiek.

Her research focuses on how fish cope with natural and human-induced environmental challenges and how these responses intersect with the contemporary issues of the Anthropocene.She will investigate the molecular level mechanisms that co-ordinate how fish respond to extreme fluctuations in oxygen level, like those observed with high and low tides.

Borowiec is interested in understanding the molecular and physiological changes that occur within the fish as it cycles between high and low oxygen environments. Some questions she is looking to answer include, how are they controlling or regulating these changes? What signals are they using to tell their body? 

"This research will provide insights to the potential changes facing fish populations and other species as a result of climate change," said Borowiec. "We are seeing big temperature swings and hypoxia is getting more common, as a result many more animals are going to be dealing with these hypoxic events."

She will be examining the function of microRNA in the zebrafish liver and muscle during extreme oxygen fluctuations. The liver has a lot of metabolic activity during these cycles unlike the muscle which shuts down. The contrast should provide interesting results. She is also interested in understanding the physiology behind how fish cope with big cycles in oxygen. To do this, she will examine whether or not the microRNA impacts the fish's mitochondria.

Borowiec was previously a postdoctoral fellow at Wilfrid Laurier University where she studied how the pesticides used to control invasive sea lamprey in the Great Lakes region damage their mitochondria. Her Ph.D. project at McMaster University focused on how killifish cope with different patterns of low oxygen conditions, especially rapid transitions in oxygen level that occur in environments such as estuaries and the intertidal zone.

Her interest in science communication, especially science writing, began in graduate school. As a freelancer, her writing appears in NatureBBC Science FocusMassive ScienceThe Conversation, and many other places. She’s also written scripts for science series on YouTube, including the entirety of Crash Course: Zoology, and a few episodes each of Bizarre Beasts and PBS Eons. She has authored several digital children’s books as a part of Plympton, Inc.’s Did You Know? series.

Borowiec is also passionate about creating more scientist-science writers by helping her colleagues develop their science communication skills in the form of workshops, guest lectures, and mentorship roles. From 2019 to 2021, she worked as an Editor at Massive Science, where her favourite part of the job was seeing a pitch from a first time writer grow into an interesting and unique story about science.

Currently, she is the Managing Editor of CSZ-SCZ Blog, a new initiative of the Canadian Society of Zoologists that seeks to develop popular science writing in its members, and previously co-facilitated an NSERC-funded science writing internship program for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

Congratulations Brittney!