Cracking the genetic code of high performance athletes

Mitacs Accelerate intern from Dalhousie combines genetics research and sport in biotech start-up

As a former varsity athlete and PhD scholar in biochemistry and molecular biology, Jeremy has always balanced a passion for sport with his profession as a genetics researcher. The idea of combining the two into a company began to take shape during a Mitacs Accelerate internship.

For his Mitacs-funded project, supervised by Robert Beiko in Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Computer Science, Jeremy partnered with local biotech firm Performance Genomics. His internship sought to determine the genetic markers of infertility among dairy cattle. The study focused on improving the success of commercial milk production, but could also inform current studies on human fertility challenges.

The internship gave Jeremy a glimpse at the potential for commercial applications of genomics. “My internship with Performance Genomics showed me that industry was ready to adopt genomics into their practices and — in the right context — genomics can be used to inform lifestyle adjustments that improve physical performance.”

Soon after completing the internship, Jeremy founded Athletigen. Now, elite athletes turn to his company to tell them how their DNA sets them apart and how to take advantage of their differences as they train for competition. The company now employs nearly 20 staff — having attracted ten of them to move to Halifax for the opportunity to work at the company. As it moves into its next stage of growth, Jeremy is seeking partnerships across North America with players in the research, athletics, and biotechnology sectors.

For Jeremy, the leap from researcher to entrepreneur came naturally.

“People may not know this, but being an academic requires you to be something of an entrepreneur.

“You’ve identified a problem that you’re passionate about, and that is worth solving. You need to build a talented team, raise money, and strive relentlessly toward an end goal that might not always be clear.

“However, one of the keys to success in both paths is to establish a solid support network. I’ve had immense support from the community here in Halifax and from various local and national funding organizations.

“With Athletigen we want to make a difference from right here in Nova Scotia. Our hope is to accelerate discovery, deliver actionable genetics, and improve lives. That is to say, we want to turn human potential into human performance.”

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Nova Scotia for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan and Research Manitoba.

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