ISSUE 04/2011 01 Events + Featured 02 Key Mechanism Regulates Plant Growth 03 Cascading Impacts of Extinction 04 Physicists 'Quiet Down' Interference 05 'Megapixel' DNA Replication 06 Class Connections + Kudos
UBC Science Connect
Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Milky Way Galaxy, home of 55 Cancri e

Mangrove Fish Uses ‘Bifocal’ Eyes To See Above and Below Water at the Same Time

A “four-eyed” fish that sees simultaneously above and below the water line has offered up a dramatic example of how gene expression allows organisms to adapt to their environment.

Gregory L. Owens, a UBC graduate student, found a sharp divide between the upper and lower sections of the eyes of Anableps anableps, a six- to 12-inch fish closely related to guppies.

The four-eyed fish spends most of its life at the water surface, feeding on flying insects as well as algae, in the mangrove swamps of central America and northern South America. The upper half of its eyes penetrate the water line, while the lower half of its eyes are submerged.

Beaty Biodiversity Series: Sea Stars are Way Cool

These colourful echinoderms can turn their stomachs inside-out, re-grow entire arms, travel using thousands of tiny suction cups-- all without a brain or central nervous system to guide them! Becca Gooding will demonstrate the unique lifestyle and evolution of sea stars, and help you discover why they’re more closely related to you than you’d ever guess.
» September 4, 2011

Treasured Bulb Sale
The UBC Botanical Garden is hosting the first annual Treasured Bulb sale. There will be demonstrations, children's actitivities, bulb selection and more!
» September 24, 2011

Catherine Johnson discusses her role as part of NASA's Mercury Messenger space mission
» September 15, 2011

Seismic Structure
Mark Richards discusses the deep seismic and petrologic structure of large igneous provinces.
» September 27, 2011

Uncertainty Quantification and Systemic Risk
Can small probabilities of large (possibly catastrophic) changes be calculated?
» November 7, 2011

UBC Researchers Create “Lab-on-a-Chip”

Microfluidic chip created by Carl Hansen's team at the Centre for High-Throughput Biology

UBC researchers have invented a silicone chip that could make genetic analysis far more sensitive, rapid, and cost-effective by allowing individual cells to fall into place like balls in a pinball machine.

The device – about the size of a nine-volt battery – allows scientists to simultaneously analyze 300 cells individually by routing fluid carrying cells through microscopic tubes and valves. Once isolated into their separate chambers, the cells’ RNA can be extracted and replicated for further analysis.

By enabling such “single-cell analysis,” the device could accelerate genetic research and hasten the use of far more detailed tests for diagnosing cancer.

Single-cell analysis is emerging as the gold standard of genetic research because tissue samples, even those taken from a single tumour, contain a mixture of normal cells and various types of cancer cells – the most important of which may be present in only very small numbers and impossible to distinguish.

“It’s like trying to trying to understand what makes a strawberry different from a raspberry by studying a blended fruit smoothie,” says Carl Hansen, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Centre for High-Throughput Biology, who led the team that developed the device.

UBC Researchers Discover Key Mechanism that Regulates Shape and Growth of Plants

UBC researchers have discovered a key mechanism that -- much like a construction site foreperson -- controls the direction of plant growth as well as the physical properties of the biopolymers that plants produce.

The finding is a major clue in a 50-year-long quest to explain how plants coordinate the behaviour of millions of cells as they grow upward to compete for light, penetrate soil to obtain nutrients and water, and even open petals to flower.

“We’ve known for decades that structures in plants called microtubules act as scaffolding to define the direction of cell expansion,” says Professor Geoffrey Wasteneys, a UBC botanist and Canada Research Chair in Plant Cell Biology.

“But we haven’t been able to determine how these tiny microtubules are organized into scaffolds in the first place.”

A Protein That Bosses Plant Cells Around: New York Times

Want to read more about Professor Wasteneys' work with the microtubules that help grow and shape plant cells? Read Sindya N. Bhanoo's article in the New York Times.

"Plant growth can seem like a busy construction site, with a lot of activity by components called microtubules, structures that capture, store and move around plant material to help grow and shape cells."

Image Copyright: Chris Ambrose, The New York Times

Need Some Dough to Grow Your Start-Up?

Entrepreneurship@UBC is investing in the next generation of entrepreneurs by launching a seed accelerator fund. To kick of the first round of funding, entrepreneurship@UBC is hosting a 'Dragon's Den'-style competition. So if you need some seed money for your start-up, check out the details at entrepreneurship@UBC. The fund is open to UBC students, staff, faculty and alumni who've graduated within the last three years.

Extinctions at the Top of the Food Chain Have Surprising Cascade Impacts on Ecosystems

The loss of large predator animals across the globe is having unanticipated impacts on processes as diverse as human disease dynamics, wildfires and biogeochemical cycles, according to new research by an international team of scientists that includes UBC zoologists.

The report, published in the journal Science, by two dozen researchers from institutions in the United States, Europe and Canada, calls for increased scientific scrutiny of the 'top-down' ecological role played by large predator species.

"Most ecosystems in the world require predators to be in the system because they control the next level down--the plant eaters," says Tony Sinclair, a professor with the UBC Department of Zoology and one of the authors of the study.

"If you take away the predators then things start to go wrong. Too many plant eaters remove the plants, having all sorts of anticipated and unanticipated impacts. The problem is that humans are systematically removing the predators."

Two Minutes with UBC Chemistry's Ruth Signorell

Given their pervasiveness and impacts on human life, understanding the formation and behaviour of molecular aerosols is vitally important in fields as diverse as climate research and medicine. Pioneering research by Ruth Signorell, of The University of British Columbia, is helping unlock these mysteries, with the help of NSERC funding.

UBC Physicists Quiet the Interference that Hampers Quantum Computing

UBC researchers have made a major advance in predicting and quashing environmental decoherence, a quantum mechanical phenomena that has proven to be one of the most formidable obstacles standing in the way of quantum computing.

The findings--based on theoretical work conducted at UBC and confirmed by experiments at the University of California Santa Barbara--were published in the journal Nature.

"Decoherence helps bridge the quantum universe of the atom and the classical universe of the everyday objects we interact with," says Phil Stamp, UBC Professor of Physics and Astronomy and director of the Pacific Institute of Theoretical Physics. "Our ability to understand everything from the atom to the Big Bang depends on understanding decoherence, and advances in quantum computing depend on our ability to control it."

Speaking of Alumni Reunions...Did You Graduate 1961, 1987, or 2002?

If so, you’ll be marking an important milestone in 2012: your 50, 25 or 10 year reunion! This is an occasion to celebrate, but we need your help. Enthusiastic and dedicated alumni volunteers are the key to planning a successful class reunion. If you’d like to be the lead--or even play a supporting role--in your next reunion, please contact Kim Duffell, Alumni Relations Manager.

UBC ‘Megapixel’ DNA Replication Technology Promises Faster, More Precise Diagnostics

UBC researchers have developed a DNA measurement platform that sets dramatic new performance standards in the sensitivity and accuracy of sample screening.

The advance could improve a range of genetic diagnostics and screenings where precise measurement is crucial--including the early detection of cancer, prenatal diagnostics, the detection of pathogens in food products, and the analysis of single cell gene expression.

The new digital polymerase chain reaction device uses liquid surface tension, rather than systems of microscopic valves, to partition DNA samples into arrays of 1,000,000 chambers or more. The device enables the direct counting of single molecules isolated in individual chambers.

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Alia Dharamsi,
BSc 2010, Integrated Sciences

Current employer and position: UBC Faculty of Medicine, Class of 2014

Favourite UBC memory? Towards the end of my undergrad, a group of friends and I went to the hill behind the Museum of Anthropology and spent an afternoon in the sun taking in the magnificent view of the ocean and the mountains--and getting some much-needed Vitamin D. Even after I've completed all of my studies, I know that's the afternoon I'll always remember--taking in the natural beauty of UBC and appreciating being surrounded by the friends I'd made.

Favourite clubs or groups you were apart of as a student? While at UBC, I founded the UBC Meal Exchange Club, a national, student-driven not-for-profit organization that works to empower students to take initiative in the fight against hunger. We organized events for thousands of students, like the annual Trick or Eat Halloween Campaign, that raised thousands of dollars worth of food and resources for local food banks and shelters. I met other passionate leaders whose motivation and energy inspired me to do what I could to make Vancouver a more livable city. Meal Exchange was also a perfect fit for my degree in International Health. As I was learning about food and health in my classes, I was gaining first hand experience and applying my knowledge through Meal Exchange.

How has your education at UBC helped you get to where you are today? I came from the Integrated Sciences Program, with a very unique degree in International Health that focuses on food--how our body uses food, the ethical issues surrounding food availability and distribution, malnutrition and the role food plays on international health on a larger scale. I find that my perspective brings something unique to discussions between peers and colleagues. Integrated Sciences also showed me how to learn in depth, but apply in breadth—-a concept that is integral to medicine. While we need to know very specific and intricate concepts, understanding that each organ is part of a human being and each human being is part of a community is important.

What have you been up to since graduation? Once a student, always a student! Just four months after graduating, I started at UBC Medical School and have just finished my first year! It’s a long journey and one that can be very challenging, but I can’t wait to begin applying what I learn in a clinical setting. In the next few months I will be off to Southeast Asia and Japan to explore the cultures, experiences, history--and foods!--that Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Japan have to offer.

UBC Chemistry Opens 'Instrumental' Learning Facility

UBC recently unveiled the Department of Chemistry’s new Shared Instrument Facility, a ground-breaking learning space designed to provide undergraduate students with unprecedented access to highly specialized equipment. The 262 sq. metre space, which combines a laboratory and student resource centre, houses equipment that will be available both for instruction and research, and is designed to facilitate first-hand experience with advanced chemical analysis instruments for undergraduates that would otherwise be unavailable.

UBC Researchers Unveil Advances at SIGGRAPH
Advances in computer animation and simulation, high dynamic range 3D displays, and text-art design tools are being presented by UBC researchers at SIGGRAPH, the world's largest computer graphics conference, that was held in Vancouver this month.

UBC Microbiologist Earns Grand Challenges Canada Award for TB Research
Santiago Ramón-García, a research associate with UBC Microbiology and Immunology, has received $100,000 in funding from Grand Challenges Canada to investigate new drug combinations for tuberculosis treatment. Ramón-García will investigate new synergistic combinations of drugs already approved for other therapeutic applications, work that could allow the introduction of new tuberculosis therapies in a shorter time.

UBC Botany and Computer Science Welcome New Heads
Lacey Samuels--a cell biologist studying the biosynthesis of plant cell walls who played a key role in designing UBC's first-year science small class seminars--has been appointed head of the Department of Botany. Anne Condon--internationally recognized for her research in complexity theory and bioinformatics, and a leading Canadian proponent for women in science and technology--will take on the leadership of UBC's Department of Computer Science.

UBC Science Researchers Awarded Funding from Two NSERC programs
Eight UBC Science researchers are part of a new round of funding that awarded a total of $2 million from two NSERC grant programs to researchers at the University. Laurel Schafer, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, will receive DAS funding for her work in green chemistry. Other funded projects in the departments of Zoology, Mathematics, Statistics, Physics and Astronomy will delve into a range of areas, including quantum devices, molecular mechanisms, global seismology, growth and nutrition in fungi, and ecological filtering.

» 2011

The Biological Sciences South and West wings undergo renovation. Three lab spaces in the building feature the Core Sunlighting System, which automatically tracks, collects, and concentrates sunlight and guides the light into the building. The technology was created by Lorne Whitehead at UBC’s Structured Surface Physics Lab.

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