Skip to main content

Dayani Patuwatha Withanage

Research Associate


Dayani Patuwatha Withanage is a Research Associate with crops at Olds College Centre for Innovation (OCCI). Dayani finished her B.Sc. in Zoology at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, and then moved to Canada in 2020 to complete her masters in Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta (U of A). Dayani’s research project for her masters involved slugs and nematodes, and she became fascinated with nematodes. Dr. Shabeg Briar, Research Scientist with crops, was on her masters committee at the U of A assisting with her field work project, and encouraged her to come work at Olds College after graduating.

Dayani works primarily in the lab and greenhouse on Olds College campus, and she truly enjoys working with microscopes and conducting experiments. She is actively engaged in two projects on the crop research team. The first is on assessing the comparative effectiveness of a native entomopathogenic nematode (EPN) species in contrast to two commercially available EPN strains. The second project involves the isolation and taxonomic characterization of plant parasitic nematodes from diverse soil samples, primarily relying on the nematode morphology. Through these efforts, Dayani aims to contribute to the development of sustainable pest management strategies and the promotion of ecologically sound agricultural practices.

Essentially, an entomopathogenic nematode is a microscopic worm that lives in the soil and eats insects such as root maggots and black cutworms. Since root maggots and black cutworms can negatively affect major field crops such as canola, peas and wheat, finding nematodes that feed on these pests would be very beneficial to producers. Dayani is actively testing a native strain similar to commercially available entomopathogenic nematodes found locally in Alberta, and trying to figure out if this particular strain of nematode can be used in future pest management applications in the province to help minimize pests in major crops. Dayani’s lab work and experiments are geared towards finding a biological pest control with beneficial nematodes.

Nematodes can only be seen with a microscope, so Dayani loves being able to peer at them through the lens and see their distinguishing features. She explains that nematodes have unique features. For example, plant parasitic nematodes have different types of stylets — a spear or needle-shaped structure on their head region that helps tell the various species apart. She explains how nematodes only live for a few months, and her experiments include watching them on a petri dish or glass slides. She also explains how she feeds the pest-eating nematodes with wax worms as food to culture them in the lab to maintain the nematode colonies. Her next stage of research with nematodes is in development and will include analyzing the cold tolerance of beneficial nematodes.

Dayani’s favourite part of her job is her colleagues. She loves working with the entire research team in OCCI and enjoys working closely with the crops team. Dayani brings an endless supply of happiness and smiles to work everyday — you can tell she genuinely loves her job. 

Outside of the lab, Dayani’s favourite hobby is to paint abstract art on canvases and she secretly loves watching K-dramas (funny, intense, romantic and suspenseful Korean dramas). Dayani enjoys her trips home to Sri Lanka to visit her parents and two brothers, and her pomeranian dog who now lives with her mom and dad. Dayani first came to Canada in December 2020, and she fell in love with Canada and the snow. She genuinely enjoys all four seasons in Canada — something she never experienced in Sri Lanka since it’s permanently spring/summer back home. 

Dayani is so thankful to her crops team for making her feel so welcome and at home in Olds, Alta. She is grateful to Dr. Shabeg Briar and Ike Edeogu, Applied Research Manager - Crop Research & Environmental Stewardship, for giving her the opportunity to work at the College after finishing her masters and finding this job that is so well suited to her interests.

Research Area

Crop Research

Dayani Patuwatha Withanage