ISSUE 05/2011 01 Events + Featured 02 MESSENGER Data Paints New Picture of Mercury's Magnetic Field 03 Tropics 'Less Unique' Than We Thought: UBC Researchers 04 New Culprit in Alzheimer’s Disease: Too Many Blood Vessels 05 Class Connections + Kudos
UBC Science Connect
Zooplankton. Photo by David Xiao Song.

Global Warming Will Reduce Populations of Plant-eaters

Rising world temperatures will cause most populations of herbivores – including plant-eating fish – to decline, according to a UBC biologist.

That prediction resulted from updated mathematical models that integrate fundamental biological effects of temperature with the way herbivores and plants interact. These models were combined with data from experiments using “mini-ecosystems” of phytoplankton and zooplankton co-existing in four-litre tanks set to different temperatures over eight days.

As expected, higher temperatures increased the metabolisms of both plants and animals, but the effect on animal metabolisms was more intense. The zooplankton consumed more phytoplankton as a result. But the plants could not keep pace with the animals’ increased appetites, and the lack of food ultimately led to a decline in the animals’ numbers.

“Herbivores are going to need more food than the plants are making just because of the higher temperatures,” says Mary O’Connor, an assistant professor of zoology who co-authored the article, published online by The American Naturalist. “Eventually, the system is limited by how fast the plants can grow.”

Beyond the Magic at Chemistry's Open House

You're invited! The Department of Chemistry at UBC is throwing open its doors to kids of all ages for a fun-filled day of hands-on activities, shows and tours. Taste liquid nitrogen ice cream, build marshmallow molecules and watch chemistry magic in action!
» October 22, 2011

Apple Festival
A family event for all ages, the UBC Apple Festival celebrates one of British Columbia's favourite fruits. From children learning about the diversity of apples to those who remember tasting heritage apples in their youth, the Apple Festival is a great opportunity to not only discover more about this delicious fruit, but have a whole lot fun doing it!
» October 15-16, 2011

Extrasolar Parents
We know of more than 500 extrasolar planets orbiting different types of parent stars. Kaspar Von Braun discusses the importance of these parent stars for exoplanet exploration.
» October 17, 2011

Polar Bears in a Changing Arctic
How are polar bears affected by climate change? Andy Derocher shares his research regarding the ecology and conservation of the large arctic carnivores, as part of the Chitty Lecture series.
» November 2, 2011

Problems with Pixels?
Frustrated with Photoshop and other low-level image and video processing tools? Maneesh Agrawala presents a higher-level alternative: interfaces and algorithms which allow users to manipulate visual imagery without having to deal with pixel-level details.
» November 17, 2011

UBC Biologist Wins MacArthur 'Genius' Grant

Sarah Otto, courtesy of the MacArthur Foundation

Sarah Otto, a zoology professor and director of the Biodiversity Research Centre at UBC, is one of 22 people to be picked for this year’s round of ”genius grants” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Otto, a theoretical biologist, has focused on fundamental questions of population genetics and evolution, such as why some species reproduce sexually while others reproduce asexually, and why some species carry more than one copy of each gene. She has helped to make mathematical modeling a more accessible tool for fellow biologists, having co-authored a textbook on the power and rigor of quantitative analysis in biology.

MacArthur Fellows, as recipients of the grants are formally known, receive $500,000 payable over five years, no strings attached. Candidates, who must be citizens or residents of the U.S., are nominated by a specially selected group of about 100 people (their identities are not disclosed), and are chosen by a selection committee of about a dozen people (whose identities also are secret). Candidates are selected for their “exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.”

“As an evolutionary biologist at UBC, where I’m surrounded by so many creative people, I’ve been able to go places intellectually that I otherwise might not have explored,” Otto says.

“The MacArthur Fellowship gives people the freedom to be creative, giving them room to focus on what they do well,” Otto says. “So I am going to take that to heart and carve out more time for the math and science that I love doing.”

MESSENGER Data Paints New Picture of Mercury's Magnetic Field

Catherine Johnson, a UBC geophysicist is part of a NASA mission that is analyzing the first sets of data being collected by MESSENGER as it orbits Mercury. The spacecraft is capturing new evidence that challenges many previous assumptions about our innermost planet.

Analyses of new data from the spacecraft reveals a host of firsts, including observations of the planet’s global magnetic field.

The results are reported in a set of seven papers published in a special section of Science magazine.

Johnson, along with colleagues at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab, Goddard Space Flight Centre, University of Michigan and the Carnegie Institution, analyzed the data collected by the spacecraft’s magnetometer to detect Mercury’s magnetic equator and paint a never-before-seen picture of Mercury’s magnetic field.

“The MESSENGER data has allowed us to establish the large-scale structure of Mercury’s magnetic field,” says Johnson. “Mercury’s field is weak compared to Earth’s. But until now, figuring out exactly how much weaker has been a challenge.”

entrepreneurship@UBC Seed Accelerator Competition Heats Up on October 20th

Join us for the “entrepreneurship@UBC Seed Accelerator Competition” on October 20th. Five new ventures from the UBC community will be pitching to become the first recipients of investments between $25k and $100k from the entrepreneurship@UBC Seed Accelerator fund. Come see what it takes to secure up to $100k.

What’s so unique about the tropics? UBC researcher says: “Less than we thought”

The temperate forests of Canada or Northern Europe may have much more in common with the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia or South America than commonly believed, according to a research group led by a UBC ecologist.

The assertion, published in the journal Science, is focused on the concept of “beta-diversity” – a measure of the change in species composition between two sites, such as neighbouring patches of forest.

Typically, beta-diversity increases as you move from the poles towards the equator, often leading ecologists to conclude that there is something inherently different about the ecology of the tropics.

But a group led by Nathan J.B. Kraft, a postdoctoral fellow at UBC’s Biodiversity Research Centre, challenged this interpretation. Using an extensive dataset and computer modeling, the researchers demonstrated that current patterns of beta-diversity are much more similar than ecologists once thought.

“For decades now, ecologists have gone to the tropics to try to explain the often incredibly high diversity found there,” says Kraft. “But what our results show is that the same ecological mechanisms might operate in similar ways in Costa Rica and Calgary.”

Mark your Calendars! UBC LSI Presents Café Scientifique

Join us on November 21st for Café Scientifique: Seeing is Believing. Researchers at the Life Sciences Institute are exploring the molecular and cellular details of life as it relates to health and disease.

Kurt Haas, Brain Research Centre, Shernaz Bamji and Doug Allan, CELL Research Group, on imaging the developing and aging brain.

UBC Researchers Find New Culprit in Alzheimer’s Disease: Too Many Blood Vessels

UBC scientists may have uncovered a new explanation for how Alzheimer’s disease destroys the brain – a profusion of blood vessels.

While the death of cells, whether they are in the walls of blood vessels or in brain tissue, has been a major focus of Alzheimer’s disease research, a team led by Wilfred Jefferies, a professor in UBC’s Michael Smith Laboratories, has shown that the neurodegenerative disease might in fact be caused by the propagation of cells in blood vessel walls.

Jefferies, in an article published online by PLoS One, theorizes that the profusion of blood vessels is stimulated by amyloid beta, a protein fragment that has become a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. The blood vessel growth, or “neo-angiogenesis,” leads to a breakdown of the blood-brain barrier – the tightly interlocked network of cells that allows oxygen-carrying blood to reach brain tissue while blocking harmful substances, such as viruses.

“When the blood vessels grow, the cells of the vessel walls propagate by dividing,” Jefferies says. “In the process of splitting into two new cells, they become temporarily rounded in shape, and that undermines the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, potentially allowing harmful elements from outside the brain to seep in.”

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Sabine Lague
BSc 2011, Biology

Current employer and position: M.Sc. student in the UBC Department of Zoology with focus in comparative physiology. Research explores cardiovascular adaptations of bar-headed geese to flight at high altitudes.

Favourite UBC memory? UBC has given me many fond memories of good company and beautiful surroundings. I’ll treasure evenings spent with friends around a guitar at the beach in the setting sun, and walks with a steaming mug of tea through the foggy endowment lands, accompanied by a serenade of bird songs. Both gave me perspective and reminded me that the world only seems fast-paced if you don’t take the time to pause and appreciate it in the moment.

How has your education at UBC helped you to frame your next move? The past couple years have been instrumental in directing me towards graduate studies. Academically, conducting my thesis research and taking part in Antarctic field work have challenged me to be innovative in my thinking and bold in my learning. Both also helped frame my research interests in physiological adaptations to life in extreme environments.

I’m also grateful to my community and the mentors who have not only supported my growth as a scientist, but also my passion for other pursuits, such as music and teaching others, which compliment and give balance to my life as a grad student.

What's the most significant piece of learning you took away from UBC? There’s a lot of truth in Howard Thurman’s quote, “Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” There’s a clear distinction between serving out of perceived necessity, and serving out of genuine desire. My years at UBC have emphasized the importance of discovering and seeking out my particular passions, as well as the necessity of being involved with a community who will actively support these passions.

Are there any recent celebrations or accomplishments you wish to share? In February 2011 I was selected to participate in a multi-disciplinary research expedition to Antarctica. As the only Canadian biologist, I collaborated with a team of marine mammal ecologists from Scotland to conduct population and behavioural surveys of penguins and seabirds. It was an incredible experience that left me in awe of the unparalleled beauty and purity of the Antarctic ecosystem.

UBC iGEM Team Has Winning Weekend

The UBC iGEM team had a winning weekend at the iGEM Americas Regionals synthetic biology research competition held this past weekend in Indianapolis. The UBC team earned a gold medal status for their research project and won a special award for Best Model. This is the best showing for UBC. The team will now advance to the World Championships held at MIT in Boston from November 4-6th.

UBC Physicist Awarded 2012 Lars Onsager Prize
Ian Affleck is the recipient of the American Physical Society's Lars Onsager Prize for his pioneering role in developing and applying the ideas and methods of conformal field theory to important problems in statistical and condensed matter physics, including the quantum critical behavior of spin chains and the universal behaviour of quantum impurity systems.

UBC Computer Scientist Receives SIGSOFT Retrospective Impact Paper Award
Gail Murphy's 1995 paper, "Software reflexion models: bridging the gap between source and high-level models" has been selected to receive one of ACM SIGSOFT's Retrospective Impact Paper awards in 2011. ACM SIGSOFT recognizes papers that have been particularly influential in software engineering research.

UBC Statistician Awarded American Statistical Association Fellowship
Paul Gustafson was granted Fellowship with the American Statistical Association for his insightful and influential contributions to the improved understanding and new developments of Bayesian methodology, for implementation of the Bayesian paradigm, to biostatistical and epidemiological studies and for editorial and service to the profession. The American Statistical Association is the world’s largest community of statisticians.

UBC Mathematics Head Appointed Senior Advisor to the Provost on Women Faculty
Rachel Kuske has been appointed Senior Advisor to the Provost on Women Faculty for a three-year renewable term starting October 1, 2011. Kuske is professor and head of the Department of Mathematics and holds a Canada Research Chair in Applied Mathematics. Kuske will lead institutional transformation to enhance the environment for women faculty at UBC through policy development, promoting advancement and leadership, ongoing research and assessment, and transformation of the environment. Her diversity activities include founding and co-chairing the Association for Women in Math Mentor Network; Co-chairing workshops on Women in Math and Diversity in Math and Science, and Co-organizing Connecting Women in Math across Canada both at the Banff International Research Station.

» 2000

UBC spin-off company QLT begins sales of Visudyne, the world's first treatment for age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness. Based on the work of UBC chemistry professor David Dolphin and immunologist and alumna Julia Levy, the drug has saved the vision of approximately 500,000 people, and QLT has gone to become UBC's most successful spin-off.

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