Canada’s CIDA reform could aid innovation work

Innovation and technology development could be boosted by the controversial merger of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) with the country’s foreign affairs department, according to the head of a group that represents Canadian NGOs.

But CIDA should be careful not to neglect development at the expense of foreign affairs and trade interests through the new arrangement, says Julia Sánchez, CEO of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC). Read more in SciDev.Net.

Bacteria from lean mice prevents obesity in peers

But microbes are only part of the story — the effect also depends on a healthy diet.

Gut bacteria from lean mice can invade the guts of obesity-prone cage-mates and help their new hosts to fight weight gain.

Researchers led by Jeffrey Gordon, a biologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, set out to find direct evidence that gut bacteria have a role in obesity.

The team took gut bacteria from four sets of human twins in which one of each pair was lean and one was obese, and introduced the microbes into mice bred to be germ-free. Mice given bacteria from a lean twin stayed slim, whereas those given bacteria from an obese twin quickly gained weight, even though all the mice ate about the same amount of food. Read more in Nature.

Last-minute reprieve for Canada’s research lakes

Government strikes temporary deal with independent institute to keep freshwater experimental site open.

Canada’s world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) has been saved from imminent closure after the federal government signed a makeshift 11th-hour deal with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) to take over the running of the facility.

Effective from 1 September to at least March next year, the Winnipeg-based IISD will assume responsibility for scientific work from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), whose decades-old agreement with the province of Ontario to run the ELA expired on that day. Read more in Nature.

Pitch-drop custodian dies without witnessing a drop fall

Photo courtesy of University of Queensland.

Photo courtesy of University of Queensland.

John Mainstone, who for 52 years tended to one of the world’s longest-running laboratory experiments but never saw it bear fruit with his own eyes, died on 23 August after suffering a stroke. He was 78.

Mainstone had been looking after the pitch drop experiment at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia since he arrived at the university as a physics professor in 1961. The experiment, set up in 1927 by the university’s first head of the physics department, Thomas Parnell, consists of a sample of tar pitch slowly running through a funnel (see ‘Long-term research: Slow science‘). Read more in Nature.

Predictors of suicidal behaviour found in blood

Changes in gene expression can indicate heightened risk for self-harm.

People who are intent on taking their own life may not seek counsel or discuss their thoughts with others. Having some ways of predicting the rise of suicidal thoughts could help save at least some of the 1 million people worldwide who die that way every year.

“It’s a preventable tragedy,” says Alexander Niculescu, a psychiatrist at Indiana University in Indianapolis who is looking for biological signs of suicide risk. Read more in Nature.

‘Safe’ levels of sugar harmful to mice

Diet comparable to that of many Americans left animals struggling to reproduce and to compete for territory.

Too much sugar is bad for you, but how much, exactly, is too much? A study in mice has found that the animals’ health and ability to compete can be harmed by a diet that has sugar levels equivalent to what many people in the United States currently consume. Read more in Nature.

End funding for liberation therapy, say New Brunswick MDs

The New Brunswick Medical Society has asked the provincial government to stop giving money to patients with multiple sclerosis who want to obtain liberation therapy outside Canada.

Dr. Robert Desjardins, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society (NBMS), says the therapy, which involves using angioplasty to open constricted veins in the neck and chest, has not been proven to be clinically effective. “NBMS always bases its recommendations for the use of public money on evidence,” he says. Read more in CMAJ.

Bacteria-killing dispute casts doubt on antibiotic development

Antibiotic drugs are one of the cornerstones of modern medicine, but, surprisingly, scientists still don’t understand all of the ways in which they work. So when biomedical engineer James Collins and his team at Boston University announced several years back that they had discovered a common mechanism of cell death underlying all major classes of antibiotics—and that the pathway could be used to combat resistance, an increasingly growing problem—the report generated a lot of excitement. It even spawned a new company, called EnBiotix, which aims to develop antibiotic ‘adjuvants’—agents designed to weaken the defenses of superbugs and resensitize them to existing antimicrobials.

But in recent months, several different researchers have tested Collins’s idea and found it wanting. “When you look at bacteria killed by different antibiotics, it’s hard to believe there is a common mechanism,” says Frédéric Barras, a bacterial geneticist at Aix-Marseille University in France. Read more in Nature Medicine.

Canada used hungry indigenous children to study malnutrition

Ire follows article detailing tests on unwitting aboriginal citizens in the 1940s and 1950s.

Canadian government scientists used malnourished native populations as unwitting subjects in experiments conducted in the 1940s and 1950s to test nutritional interventions. The tests, many of which involved children at state-funded residential schools, had been largely forgotten until they were described earlier this month in the journal Social History by Ian Mosby, who studies the history of food and nutrition at the University of Guelph in Canada. Read more in Nature.

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