Passion for fishing fuels research ambition

Make no mistake, the University of Lethbridge's new Chair in Aquatic Health, Dr. Greg Pyle, loves to dangle a line in the water. In fact, it's that love for fishing and environment that motivated Pyle to pursue a career in aquatic studies. It is also a focus of his research program, to take what he learns in the lab and apply it to the glorious outdoors.

Dr. Greg Pyle is the University's new Chair in Aquatic Health, the first of four Chairs joining the University in 2013 as part of the CAIP program.

"I think it's critical actually, in helping you understand it from a different perspective than just the pure academic research perspective," says Pyle, who came to the U of L as part of the Government of Alberta's Campus Alberta Innovation Program (CAIP) Chairs plan.

"It's good to know how these systems work out there. It's a real central theme in my research program, understanding how the effects that we demonstrate under controlled lab conditions translate out into the real world, that's a really important consideration in what we do in our research."

Pyle, originally from Sarnia, Ont., was a mortgage salesman in Mississauga, Ont. who grew tired of the "Hwy 400 parking lot every Friday" as he tried to escape the city and head to northern Ontario to fish.

"The start of my career was simply a matter of how do I find a way to make a living in a boat catching fish," says Pyle.

So, he moved north, enrolled at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., and began to study fish biology. His field study took him to the Elliot Lake Research Field Station and he began working on fish toxicity in uranium mining affected waters. A career was born.

Pyle comes to the University after spending the previous five years as head of the Aquatic Biotechnology and Ecotoxicology Laboratory at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont. Prior to taking up a Canada Research Chair in Environmental Biotechnology and Ecotoxicology at Lakehead, Pyle helped establish and build the Department of Biology at Nipissing University. He earned both his bachelor and master's degrees from Laurentian and received his PhD from the University of Saskatchewan.

The move to Lethbridge as part of the CAIP program is a natural one for Pyle, who recognizes the strong reputation the U of L has cultivated in respect to aquatic research and sees a natural fit with the work he is doing.

Working with the FORWARD III Research Project, Pyle has been employing water quality models to areas where there have been large landscape disturbances.

"The models have been developed in a forestry context and we want to see whether or not they work with other large-scale impacts at a landscape level," says Pyle. "That means mining and bitumen extraction."

Naturally, that brought him to Alberta and fieldwork north of Fort McMurray. This summer, Pyle will work with his master's student, Steven Beery, on a three-way reciprocal cross transplant experiment in which they will collect invertebrate animals from one clean water source and two potentially contaminated sites. One site will contain natural bitumen and another will have potentially been contaminated by the industrial operations in Fort McMurray.

"We'll be trying to find out whether contaminated animals rid themselves of environmental contaminants when they are put into a clean environment or are the effects more or less permanent? Similarly, if we move clean animals into contaminated sites, we want to know to what extent they take up the contaminant," he says.

A second summer project, in addition to the lab work he and his team will be leading, is a study in the Sudbury, Ont., area where they will look at yellow perch and how they respond to metal contamination, specifically how metals interfere with their sense of smell.

As he did at Laurentian, Pyle will actively engage students, both undergraduate and graduate, in his research activities.

"I have always included undergraduate students in my research program," says Pyle. "I've found that bringing them in at an early stage, sometimes as early as second year, if you give a student good guidance and the resources to do something well, you can get great results. When you find the right student who is motivated to get the work done, I find they do an amazing job. This is how you turn them on to science and what feeds into our graduate programs."

They also might help Pyle get a little more time on the water – as a fisherman as opposed to a researcher. And what exactly does Pyle like to fish for?

"Whatever happens to bite my line," he laughs.


· Pyle's wife Laurie is a project manager remotely building a 3G cellular network back in Ontario

· Pyle has two sons who both live in Thunder Bay, Ont. Tyler is a chef and David is a recreational therapist

· Pyle was able to bring a post-doctoral fellow, Bill Dew, as well as a master's candidate, Steven Beery, with him as part of the CAIP Chairs program

· Pyle's CAIP funding is over the course of seven years and he is the first of four CAIP Chairs who will be coming to the U of L

This story first appeared in the March 2013 issue of the Legend. For a look at the full issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.