Author Archives: brian-lawrence-owensgmail-com

Half of Canada’s government scientists still feel muzzled

More than half of government scientists in Canada—53%—do not feel they can speak freely to the media about their work, even after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government eased restrictions on what they can say publicly, according to a survey by a union that represents more than 16,000 federal scientists. Read more in Science.

How Island Bats Took Over the Mainland

South America’s short-faced fruit bats are the descendants of “reverse colonists.”

When it comes to colonizing new habitats, island species tend to get the short end of the stick. Typically, organisms from the mainland invade an island and take over—pushing the natives to near extinction. But sometimes, colonization can go the other way. In a rare case of “reverse colonization,” researchers in Brazil found that the short-faced bats now living in South America originally arrived from nearby Caribbean islands. Read more in Hakai.

Gut bacteria link to immunotherapy sparks interest

One of the world’s largest cancer centers will collaborate with microbiome biotech Seres Therapeutics to investigate the gut microbiota’s role in shaping a patient’s response to immunotherapies. The MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy signed the agreement with the Cambridge, Massachusetts–based biotech in November. Read more in Nature Biotechnology.

Most insect studies lack crucial species information

Survey results suggest that a lot of entomology research could be impossible to replicate.

More than 98% of entomology papers contain so little species information on the insects being studied that they are essentially impossible to replicate, according to a survey of more than 550 articles published in 2016. Read more in Nature.

Zika vaccine development: two years on from the outbreak

Two years after the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, researchers have made good progress in developing vaccines against the disease, with some candidates now in Phase II trials. However, the brief nature of the outbreak is making wide-scale testing of the new vaccines difficult and some research programmes have already been curtailed. Read more in The Pharmaceutical Journal.

The Moss That Removes Lead from Polluted Water

Green plant could help clean up heavy metal contamination at industrial sites.

A new solution for purifying drinking water polluted with lead could be growing under our feet. Researchers in Japan have discovered a species of moss that can absorb large amounts of lead into its cell walls as it grows. Read more in Inside Science.

National Research Council lays out a four-year reform plan

This latest overhaul of the NRC aims to boost engagement, restore lost morale.

The National Research Council of Canada will set up a postdoctoral program, appoint a chief scientific adviser and establish a president’s research excellence committee as part of the lat-est round of reforms at the agency. The four-year reform plan, the result of a year-long “dialogue” with NRC staff initiated in August 2016 by the agency’s new president, Iain Stewart, includes spending $20 million over three years on new scientific equipment and improved computing and data storage. The plan was posted on the agency’s website this past fall. Read more in University Affairs.

What Happens When Oil Sands Pipelines Spill?

The solution flowing through the Keystone pipeline isn’t just crude oil. Scientists are now learning what that means for spills.

In June next year, a remote lake in Canada will suffer eight simultaneous oil spills. But it will be for a good cause. Scientists are trying to learn how dilbit, or diluted bitumen — the complex mixture of bitumen, gasoline and other chemicals that flows through pipelines and is hauled on railway cars away from Canada’s oil sands — behaves when it is released into the environment.

Researchers at the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario will study the fate and behavior of dilbit in freshwater and how best to clean it up when a spill does happen. Read more in Inside Science.

Family doctors call for guaranteed access to EMR data for research and quality improvement

To support quality improvement and research, family physicians and medical research networks need guaranteed, safe and affordable access to the data in electronic medical records (EMR) from the companies that provide the software, according to the College of Family Physicians of Canada.

The college, along with the Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network and the University of Toronto Practice-Based Research Network, recently issued a position statement decrying demands imposed by EMR vendors, such as prohibitive fees, restrictions on third-party extraction and analyses, and limitations on the type and frequency of data extractions. Read more in CMAJ.