Perfect pitch

On Saturday, Varsity Blues women’s soccer team’s performance showed why they are not only one of the top teams in the province, but also in the country. In contrast, the RMC Paladins’ performance showed why the “beautiful game” isn’t always so pretty.

On an overcast day on the pitch at Varsity Stadium, dozens of fans were treated to more of a demolition derby than a soccer match. The big-wheeled Varsity Blues’ relentless attack ran over the Paladins like they were cheap, rusty Chevys, handing them a lopsided 6-0 defeat.

Perhaps having the football grid still painted on the Varsity Stadium field inspired the Blues to put up a football score against their opponents. How badly did the Blues outplay the Paladins? Less then four minutes into the match, the home side had already buried two goals behind Paladins keeper Olivia Clarke.

In the third minute, Melanie Seabra, inexplicably left unmarked inside the 18-yard box, buried her sixth of the year into the twine from 15 yards out. On the Blues’ very next possession, Arin King lobbed a perfect pass from almost 40 yards out to teammate Jesse Fantozzi. All alone, at point blank range, Fantozzi made no mistake with her team-leading eighth goal of the season, bringing the score to 2-0 Blues.

Those early two goals clearly rattled the Paladins, as they looked hesitant, sloppy, and scared on each possession afterward. Not once in the half did their forwards mount anything resembling a challenge on Blues’ goalkeeper Mary Anne Barnes.

Credit must also go to the back four on the Blues, as they easily brushed aside any rare Paladins venture into U of T territory, and all match they frustrated the Paladins’ only striker, Katrina Searle. Fifth-year defender Heidi Borgmann added a little offence to the defence, with several strong rushes up the field, setting up her teammates for several scoring opportunities.

The Blues forwards would continue to pick apart RMC’s defence for the remainder of the half, resulting in several close calls and culminating in a 26-minute strike with Mel Bowen tapping in a world-class cross from Fantozzi just inside the six-yard box.

The half-time whistle finally gave the Paladins a chance to breath as the Blues poured it on until the end, forcing Clarke into action several times, but she managed to keep the Blues advantage stalled at three.

However, deja vu would strike Clarke so hard in the second half that in the 49th minute she was injured during a collision with a teammate on another Blues scoring chance and had to leave the game.

After that, head coach Eva Havaris’ super-subs took over.

In the 72nd minute, Jen Siu ran it in from 30 yards out, crossed it to Christina Fantozzi who tapped it to Natalie Law. Law calmly dribbled it by a Paladin defender, before slickly chipping the ball to the back of the net.

Moments later in the 74th minute, defender Jackie Miklovich found Siu from 20 yards out. Siu quickly stopped and netted the ball for a score of 5-0 Blues.

Before anyone could blink, in the 78th minute, RMC fouled Christina Fantozzi as the Blues pressed inside the penalty area, setting up a penalty shot for the senior. She made no mistake, and the score was 6-0 Blues.

Nearing the end of the match, it was clear the Paladins couldn’t wait to hear the final whistle and get back to their base in Kingston. Their offence was anemic—unable to manage a shot on Barnes all match.

The final whistle gave the Blues a team record 11 wins, breaking last season’s total of 10. However, with the Queen’s Golden Gaels 2-0 victory over Carleton and the Ottawa Gee Gees 2-0 win over Ryerson, the Blues can place no better than second.

This set up a dramatic second place showdown on Sunday: The Blues played to a 1-1 draw with the Gee-Gees, earning a first-round bye in the OUA playoffs.

Ravens soar past Blues

As a win in October is just as important as a win in February, the Varsity Blues may be regretting their latest loss.

A win would have pushed the Blues into second place in the Ontario University Athletics East Division, with a Saturday night game against winless Concordia looming.

The possibility of a 4-2 start was very real. But that didn’t happen.

The Blues led 2-0 after one, but watched the Ravens score two in the second and two in the third period en route to a 4-2 win at Varsity Arena on Friday night.

Blues defenceman Brendan Sherrard was very pragmatic about the loss.

“Every win is nice to get,” said Sherrard, who grabbed an assist on the first Blues goal. “We just got to take [the loss] in stride. You lose on one Friday and you can’t really dwell on it. You have to turn it around and come back on Saturday, and come even harder to get that [win].”

The Blues took a 1-0 lead on a five-on-three power play 4:05 into the opening stanza. Eddie Snetsinger scored his first goal when he took a pass from Sherrard and ripped a wrist shot that whizzed by screened Ravens starter Ryan Dube. Toronto then went 1-6 with the man advantage.

Toronto pushed the lead to 2-0 at 15:54 of the first period, when Joe Rand cashed in a rebound off a Byron Elliot point shot. Dube kicked the rebound in the high slot and Rand threw the puck over the goalie for his second point of the year. Dube stopped 44, netting his first win of the year.

The Ravens made the score 2-1 over a minute into the second period when Derek Wells lifted a rebound over a fallen Toronto goalie Andrew Martin for his third goal this year. Martin ended the night stopping 26 and evened his record at 2-2.

Wells was standing wide open to the right of Martin, and had all day to lift the puck over the Toronto goalie.

“We were puck watching,” Sherrard said. “Our second forward up high was looking at the puck instead of looking where his man should be.”

The goal was the final straw for Toronto, as far as head coach Darren Lowe was concerned. He thought his team sagged towards the back end of the first period, and continued sluggishly into the second.

“The thing that led up to that [first Carleton goal] was we had a poor last two-and-a-half minutes of the first period,” Lowe said. “I think it just carried over to the second period and they scored right away.”

Following an interference call to Rand, Carleton tied up the game at 2-2 with a power-play goal at 11:40 of the middle frame. Brett Halstead took a pass from Andrew Self and beat Martin through a maze of legs with a one-timer. The tally was the first power-play goal allowed by the Blues in 20 chances this year.

“We just didn’t get in the shooting lane,” Lowe said. “We were just a little slow to get there and [Halstead] was able to get the puck to the net and the goalie [Martin] couldn’t see it.”

Mike Byrd scored the winner on the man advantage at 9:15 of the third period. He collected an errant shot off the backboards and deposited the puck into the net before Martin could get his left leg against the post. The Ravens went 2-4 with the man advantage.

“When a team has a power play that is that strong [nine goals in five games] you’re not going to hold them forever. I think that was part of it,” Lowe said.

Carlton increased the lead to 4-2 at 13:03 of the final period when Yves Bastien picked up a loose puck in the slot and skated around a falling Martin before putting it into the empty net with a backhand for his second point of the season.

Dube turned away 17 shots in the third period, sealing the deal.

“We kind of gave it [the victory] to them,” Sherrard said. “They buried their chances and we didn’t.”

Pride of the Yankees goes before the fall

Stop handing the New York Yankees the World Series. The 2009 team are not winning their 27th championship this year. In fact, as of press time, they have not even made it into the World Series, and the Los Angeles Angels are still in it to win it. ESPN.com is already writing stories about how Pedro Martinez will pitch against the Yankees in Game Two. But couldn’t Pedro Martinez pitch to Vladimir Guerrero and the Angels? Martinez was possibly the most dominant pitcher in Montreal Expos history, and Guerrero the greatest hitter. The loss of both players was perhaps the final nails in the Expos’ coffin. But this is not a sad lament about a former baseball team. This is about how the Yankees, the Evil Empire, will continue their streak of not winning the World Series. Even if they defeat the Angels, this team is not built like a winner.

There are many stories about how the Yankees’ chemistry improved when they picked up “character guys,” or “clubhouse guys” like C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Nick Swisher. Sabathia has pitched very well this off-season, even though the Milwaukee Brewers overused him last year, and starting on short rest has not hurt his health—so far. C.C.’s a big guy, which may allow him to go to the well, but soon that well’s going to run dry. Burnett seems to be more famous for his contracts and his antics than any of his pitching performances. Sure, Burnett has pitched great games, but can he do so in the pressure of the postseason? Perhaps it is no surprise that the Marlins won the World Series in 2003 with Burnett on the roster, because A.J. was hurt the whole year. Swisher has always seemed like one of those happy-go-lucky players that stoic teams like the Yankees seemed to be lacking. But how much fun can a player be when he is hitting less than .100 for the postseason? No more smiles, Swish?

The Yankees’ success this postseason seems to be measured in part by the two hitters in the middle of their lineup. Mark Teixeira was the Yankees’ premiere off-season acquisition, bigger even than Burnett and Sabathia But in the postseason, one bad pitch from Darren Oliver is all that stood between Teixeira and a complete lack of production, as Teixeira drove that pitch for a three run double in Game 5. Teixeira hit a few home runs during the regular season at the new Yankees Stadium, but didn’t everybody? It seems unlikely that Teixeira will be leaving his mark in New York.

Of course, the man hitting behind Tex in the order has certainly made a splash this postseason. Yet there must a hidden catch marking Alex Rodriguez’s transformation from A-Rod (and A-Fraud) to A-God. From allegations of sign-stealing and steroid abuse, to repeated shots of new girlfriend Kate Hudson trying to look anonymous in the crowd, there is the lingering sense that A-Rod is going to fail when he is needed most. Perhaps if the Yankees do make it to the final and then lose, Rodriguez and Hudson can star together in a movie based on real events entitled How to Lose a World Series in Ten Days. It couldn’t be any worse than their other performances.

Take your guys that have won it before, your Jeter, your Posada, your Mariano Rivera, your former villain Johnny Damon, and all of the other Yankees that have come through in the past, and think back to last year. The Yankees didn’t even make it into the playoffs. If (and when) they fail to win it all this year, shouldn’t this season still be considered a success?

Blue Jays are a product, not a team

Toronto has longed for sustained sports success. Unfortunately, Toronto’s major sports franchises are the sort of bubbles we have become accustomed to on Wall Street: predictably irrational, fraught with initial excitement, built like a house of cards. Coincidentally, with the markets at the moment ebbing more than they do flow, the fan bases of our city’s franchises are left wanting to jump off the same buildings as those fair-weather Wall Street types.

Yet the Toronto Blue Jays haven’t even felt the temporary euphoria of a bubble since well before the dot-com boom. The Jays keep aiming for the same oasis, the same mirage of grandeur. What we have witnessed, since the back-to-back World Series, is a repeating cycle:

Step 1: Half-heartedly cultivate prospects.

Step 2: Give up prematurely on said prospects, panic, and sign free agents out-of-step with revenues.

Step 3: Fire GM, blame him for the mess, and repeat.

Toronto is a world-class city that desperately wants to compete with the never-sleeping giants in their division. With fan bases firmly entrenched into the cultural fabric of their cities, the Yankees and Red Sox are simply in a higher financial class. Toronto hasn’t come to grips with its placement in the AL East caste. But this is not to say that they cannot rise above their social standing.

With rumours swirling about the Jays’ impending old boys’ reunion, it seems like the more things change, the more the Jays stay the same. Next season could find Pat Gillick as president, Paul Beeston as CEO, Cito Gaston as manager, and a whiz-kid Doogie Howser type as GM, a contrast to the old farts. I guess the idea is to surround Doogie with seasoned baseball men to remind him there was a time in baseball before Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball.

When J.P. Ricciardi arrived eight years ago, he claimed the minor league cupboard was bare, and set out to replenish a barren development system. Looking over the system today, you might think he took the metaphor literally and replenished it with cups and paper plates. Ricciardi also went out of his way to label Carlos Delgado’s contract an albatross while Delgado was still productive. Ricciardi left town responsible for the development of Adam Lind and Aaron Hill, but he also inherited Gord Ash draftees like Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells (in his prime).

Eight years later, new GM Alex Anthopolous is espousing the same rhetoric, post-Ricciardi. Anthopolous has stated his intention to refocus on scouting and development. Similarly, he also has a problem contract on his hands, with Vernon Wells’ absurdly back-loaded deal. If Delgado’s contract was an albatross, then Wells’ is surely the seventh sign of the apocalypse. The parallels between past and present regimes are numerous, with one exception: it won’t take four years to change course with Anthopolous.

With the likely appointment of Gillick, logic would dictate the Jays won’t be going under a much-needed rebuild. His resume is undeniable. Gillick and Co. will be charged with convincing Rogers to bring back the glory days they once provided for the city. But that would involve a significant payroll increase.

Now that Ted Rogers is deader than the parents on Party of Five, Rogers’ commitment to the Blue Jays is at best by way of their commitment to stockholders. Without the face to put to the name, Rogers won’t undergo the same scrutiny as Ted used to. The fantasy of a payroll developed to compete with the Yankees could be dreamed up in only some post-surgery Vicodin haze.

Realistically, what we have is a faceless ownership not far removed from the teachers’ union that owns the “Toronto Maple Laughs.” This same faceless ownership’s staunchest commitment is to Blackberry-mongering (not unlike the teachers’ union’s pension-padding). At best, Rogers will reinvest the money saved on the Rios and Rolen contract dumps, claiming a renewed financial commitment.

Jays fans won’t buy it—at least not completely. Like a neurotic, unsure kid looking for a little reassurance, Jays fans are as optimistic as a pessimist’s glass is half full. At least every October, hope springs eternal—even if their team is perpetually in an autumn flux. It’s understandable how the ignorance of the common Jays fan can be reinterpreted as adherence to the Blue Jay way. Well intentioned but fleeting, the fans’ commitment is like the success the organization haphazardly plans for.

The problem lies with an ownership whose priorities lie in its product proliferation rather than on field success. This all too familiar set up may seem fresh, but it is not the answer. It is a house built on a bubble, or at best, a deck of cards.

In a desperate attempt to compete with cities to which we feel inferior, we are destined to fail. Repeating the same actions and expecting different results isn’t just the definition of insanity, but the defining characteristic of a city overcompensating for its inferiority complex.

The Blue Jays are only a microcosm of this ongoing problem.

Wrestle mania

On Sunday, Oct. 18, the Varsity Blues men’s and women’s wrestling teams opened their seasons at the second annual Toronto Open. The event, held at the Athletic Centre’s sports gym, included participants from McGill, Queen’s, Western, and York, as well as private clubs TeamImpact, X-Couture, and YM-YWHA.

The Blues finished with a respectable 27 points in the men’s competition, good enough for fourth place. Shujon Mazumder placed first in the 54 kg category, winning a gold medal after defeating second-ranked Santiago Duro of York University. Mazumder, who won a bronze in last season’s OUA championship, did not concede a single point in four matches. Dene Ringette, in the men’s 76 kg category, trounced X-Couture’s Andrew McInnes 6-0 to take his spot atop the podium.

U of T’s Matt Fruchman (90 kg) finished fourth, while John Feng (68 kg) and Bojan Kladnjakovic (61 kg) placed fifth.

On the women’s side, U of T’s Melissa Biscardi won silver in the 48 kg category, while Jennifer Seidel had a third-place finish in the 63 kg category. Seidel, coming off a rookie season that saw her win gold at the OUA’s U21 championships, lost to eventual gold medalist Larissa D’Alleva from UWO. The team finished third behind Western, who ended the competition with an impressive 35 points, 20 more than second-place TeamImpact.

The Blues will travel to Hamilton on Oct. 31 to compete in the McMaster Invitational, a tournament that will host OUA champions Brock University among its competitors

E-volution

“Here’s an interesting idea: we need more romance novelists making video games.”

This is the bold opening line of Collin Roswell’s piece from The Escapist, “A Risk of Romance,” on the evolution (or lack thereof) of the video game industry. He brings up two major points: first, the experimentation of publishers of romance novels should be emulated by leading video game publishers; second, video game developers should be encouraged to team up with novelists to include more romantic storylines in games, which may open up gaming to a demographic that is currently underserved: women. “If video game publishers want to extend their reach beyond the standard 18- to 34-year-old male demographic, they might want to form development teams with fewer gamers and more romance novelists,” writes Roswell.

The idea has begun to circulate throughout the gaming world. But will introducing romantic narratives be enough to draw women into gaming? And if so, what kind of games would this encourage? Is forcing video game evolution worth it?

Industry Innovation

Roswell’s article isn’t so trite as to suggest that just adding romance to games will attract women to the industry.

For one, Roswell contends that the business model for the publishers of romance novels has more than a cosmetic similarity to gaming companies. “You have high output with frequent, addictive variations on the same theme. You have episodic content. You have nimble adaptation to changing technology,” Roswell writes.

The romance novel industry is certainly a tempting model for game developers, since romance is big business. A recent New York Times article estimated that romance novels make up over 50 per cent of paperbacks sold in North America—outselling all other fiction genres and bringing in increased earnings for publishers, while sales in general adult fiction are declining. Part of this success is attributed to the people at Harlequin Enterprises, the largest publisher of romance novels worldwide, who have been lauded for their willingness to innovate within the book-publishing industry.

Harlequin has always been something of a leader in finding new revenue streams. It was the first major publisher to offer all of its new titles as e-books available for download online. Among its other initiatives, it has recently developed mobile applications for women, hosts romance blogs, offers digital-only short stories and free novels for download, and participates in a partnership with NASCAR to produce racing-themed romances. As ludicrous as the pairing may sound, the line has proved popular with readers.

More to the point, romance novel readers have started to come around to the idea of using technology to interact with stories. This is most prevalent in Japan, where Harlequin’s On the Go mobile application—which makes content portable as a digital graphic novel for readers—is popular. The findings suggest that women, who are almost exclusively the consumers of romantic fiction, are not only an underserved market for other media, but are willing to use technology in conjunction with older media.

“It certainly seems like a wise area for game developers to pursue,” says Borut Pfeifer, a freelance game developer and former AI at Electronic Arts, the largest developer in North America. “There’s a lot of gamers of both genders that have significant others and would like to play with them on a romantic date. They may play together normally, but being able to do so while enjoying a romantic moment could only enhance a couple’s playing together.”

Perhaps this isn’t such a brave new world for romance, or gaming, after all.

Men are from Mars?

Then again, at least a couple people in the romance and gaming communities have a problem with the theory that you need more romantic storylines in order to appeal to a female demographic.

New York Times bestselling romance novelist Laura Kinsale, for one, has led the charge against “romanticizing” gaming.

“I think it’s the wrong way to ‘bring women’ into games,” Kinsale notes in a recent blog post. “The right way is to appeal to the things women enjoy—social frameworks, co-operation instead of competition, creativity within an environment, and attachment.”

In Kinsale’s estimation, what developers should be asking is “what goal does the game provide the player? Do male and female players respond to different goals, or respond differently to the same goals? What’s the payoff? A happy ending for a first-person shooter game is killing the boss. Is there any other possible way to make the player feel whole and satisfied? If
the player is female, is [there] another angle?”

“Why separate women gamers into an uber-feminine ghetto?” asks Ashleigh Gardner, a self-declared feminist gamer. “As a female gamer, I don’t want to play games that have been deemed ‘for girls.’ I just want to see my own views and experiences represented in the games I play.”

There is also a prominent argument that expanding the appeal of video games beyond the short swath of women who are already playing them is impossible.

“Men and women are different when it comes to what appeals to them,” notes Jessica Grierson, another prolific female gamer.

“It’s not what the video game is about. Video games in general have more male players because men are visually stimulated.”

Indeed, a recent study by the Stanford University School of Medicine found that the mesocorticolimbic centre of the brain—associated with the experience of reward and addiction—is much more active among men playing video games than for women doing the same. The Stanford study concluded that the circuity of male brains is organized differently than that of females, thus explaining the
difference in how men and women will respond to the particular challenges and rewards of gaming.

“I think creating games for women is a waste of time,” agrees Grierson.

Game Dates

Even if Kinsale and Stanford Univeristy are right, the thought experiment that Roswell’s original piece elicits is an enticing one nonetheless: what would a “romantic” video game for women look like?

“Just as I roll my eyes at dishonest romance in other media—film, literature, music—so I roll my eyes at it in games,” says Andrew Gardner, a recent U of T grad and burgeoning game developer. “Video games are already moving away from the uber-macho, and while I think there’s still room to go, I think it’s gotta happen naturally, through artistry, not artificially through marketing and stereotypes.”

Pfeifer believes that a game can be romantic without falling into the old tropes of television soap operas.

“To me the most interesting definition of a ‘romantic game’ is a game meant to encourage romance between two players,” says Pfeifer. “In other words, this would be a game you could play on a date with someone as an alternative to another romantic activity, like seeing a [romantic] movie.”

When it comes to developing such games, Pfeifer notes, “It’s not that challenging to feature interesting co-operative play.”

Storylines where gamers have to face complicated challenges together could be inherently romantic. It’s just that most women aren’t good enough at gaming yet to make it viable, says Pfeifer.

“It’s more that the variety and types of activities need to be appealing to players with very different skill levels. The problem is most co-op games don’t deal well with players of different skill levels. Balancing co-operation, competition, style, and different skill levels are the hardest challenges to making a romantic game.”

But others still think that maybe video games will never be the right media for this kind of interaction.

“Perhaps romance works well either through contact between real humans, or as a vicarious narrative, but not in between,” Roswell concedes. “Perhaps—more so than most other feelings—romance is about surrendering control to some very basic emotional forces, and this only works if you’re either immersed in it totally, when it’s your real life, or when a story you have no control over plays you like an instrument, any great movie, book, you name it.

“Games can’t do either: they’re not your real emotional life (unless you’re interacting with someone using the game as a medium), yet they almost always have to let you keep some element of control, because otherwise they wouldn’t be games. This works great for a whole bunch of things, from kinetic thrills to puzzles, but maybe not for the big R—or, for that matter, death, grief, and genuine horror.”

“I don’t agree with romance being introduced,” says Mike MacKinnon, a third-year U of T student, and self-described recovering gamer.

“I think the way tech has gone, it’s eliminating the need for human contact,” he says, comparing the prospect of romantic games to the often life-ruining isolation of World of Warcraft. “This would just add to that—people will use it as a surrogate for human contact.”

Perhaps women don’t want to have it the same as men in this domain, after all.

Regardless, what happens next in game development may challenge many assumptions. And if romantic games are a success, it will change our total perception of what gaming, and a gamer, can be.

Understanding the cell’s massive molecular machine: the ribosome

The Prize:

The 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded jointly to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas A. Steitz, and Ada E. Yonath “for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome.”

The Science:

The central dogma of molecular biology has remained essentially the same for decades: DNA encodes RNA which in turn encodes protein. Every cell’s genome has the information in it to perform all cellular activities, but the genetic information has to be transcribed into RNA, the blueprint molecule, in order to be used. That RNA can then be decoded and used to build the proteins which carry out the enzymatic, structural, and signaling functions crucial to life.

RNA and DNA are chemically very similar, but RNA is usually single-stranded, whereas DNA has two strands. The DNA genome stays in the nucleus, but RNA (or mRNA for message RNA) can be exported anywhere in the cell where its cognate protein is required. The decoding of the mRNA blueprint into a functional protein, a process called translation, requires the ribosome, a massive molecular machine.

The ribosome is a large complex of specialized RNAs, known as rRNAs, and proteins that assemble into two subunits, small and large. Together, the small and large subunits make up the functional ribosome, one of the largest complexes in the cell. In cells that produce a lot of protein, there are millions of ribosomes. Despite its productivity, the ribosome is remarkably accurate: only once in every 100,000 reactions will a ribosome incorrectly “read” the DNA encoding it.

The current understanding of this process, DNA to RNA to protein, has been shaped largely by information gleaned through structural biology. Structural biology is the study of the three-dimensional chemical structure of a biological molecule. Scientists discover a molecule’s structure through a number of methods including nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, X-ray crystallography, and electron microscopy.

Structural biology shed light on the structure of DNA (Nobel 1962) and that of proteins (Nobels in 1962, 1964, 1972, 2002, 2003, 2006), but up until 2000, no one had any idea what the ribosome looked like at the atomic level.

Due to its large size (millions of atomic mass units!), the structural biology techniques most suitable for solving the structure of the ribosome are X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy. Although both methods can give us valuable information about a biological molecule, to date, crystallography has provided the greatest amount of detail, or what scientists call resolution. Structural biologists are always striving for structural information at the highest resolutions, resolutions at which they can visualize biological molecules at the atomic level. This information is available at resolutions around 3Å, or three one-hundred-millionths of a centimetre.

In the late 1970s, Ada Yonath decided to use crystallography to try to solve the atomic structure of the ribosome. At that time this goal was considered ambitious for a number of reasons. Crystallography works by concentrating a beam of X-rays on a crystal and analyzing the diffraction pattern as the electrons in the crystal scatter the incoming X-rays. Each “dot,” or reflection, in the pattern holds structural information for every atom in the crystal. Solving a structure by crystallography has two major prerequisites.

First, the molecule you want to study has to crystallize. Today, scientists manipulate conditions such as salt concentrations and temperature to achieve this, but crystallization is not always possible and it is virtually impossible to predict the conditions that will allow it.

Second, once one has a suitable crystal that diffracts X-rays well, there is a “phase problem.” The complex math required to convert the diffraction pattern into an atomic resolution structure requires one to know the “phase angle” of every reflection, which must be calculated and is not experimentally determined. The common trick for solving the phase problem is to introduce heavy atoms into the crystal, but this does not work in the case of ribosome crystalization, since the ribosome is so large that it binds to too many heavy atoms for proper analysis. Although Yonatz was able to “grow” many suitable crystals of the large subunit of the ribosome in the early 1980s, the phase problem stood in her way.

Thomas Steitz’s group solved this phase problem by approaching it from a different angle. The group used a lower-resolution cryo-electron microscopy structure of the large subunit as a starting point. In the years after this initial discovery, Steitz’s, Yonath’s, and Ramakrishnan’s groups published structure after structure of the ribosome. Each successive structure came closer to reconstructing the entire ribosome, but none reached atomic level resolution.

It wasn’t until 2000—20 years after Yonath crystallized the large subunit—that a high-resolution picture of the ribosome was revealed. Steitz and his collaborators published the structure of the large subunit at 2.4Å, and Ramakrishnan’s and Yonath’s groups published structures of the small subunit at 3Å and 3.3Å, respectively. Since then, others have solved the high-resolution structure of the entire ribosome, small and large subunit alike.

The Significance:

The structure of the ribosome revealed much about the chemistry and biology of translation. It showed the world how the ribosome can read the mRNA sequence and decode it into the unique amino-acid sequence that makes up a protein.

Knowing the structures of the ribosome in complex with mRNA, incoming amino acids, and the nascent protein chain at various stages of protein production has allowed scientists to infer the chemical reactions that govern translation. The structure has also helped guide researchers in designing experiments to test ribosome function and to understand how the ribosome performs its duties so faithfully.

All three of the Nobel laureates have solved structures of the ribosome in complex with antibiotics that target the ribosome. This has improved our understanding of the ribosome and provided insight into the development of new antibiotics for use in the antibiotic-resistance race against bacteria.

Rallying pep for the Pap test

Ladies, it’s that time of year again. The Federation of Medical Women of Canada has embarked on its second annual Pap Test Campaign in support of Cervical Cancer Awareness Week, which takes place from Oct. 26 to 30. The national campaign allows women without a family doctor or gynecologist to drop-in or book an appointment for a Pap test at participating clinics across Canada, including U of T Health Services.

Pap tests are a crucial step in protecting against cervical cancer. Every year in Canada, 1,300 to 1,500 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and almost 400 women die of the disease. “Cervical cancer is a preventable cancer,” says fourth-year U of T medical student and FMWC Toronto student co-rep Grace Yeung. “If you pick it up early enough it takes probably five to 10 years before you actually develop the cancer or cancerous lesions.”

Doctors recommend women have regular Pap tests within three years of becoming sexually active or after age 21. The test involves removing cells from inside and around the cervix, which are then examined to detect cell abnormalities in the cervix before cancer can develop. The test also detects infections caused by HPV, which can also lead to cervical cancer. Other risk factors include smoking, HIV or Chlamydia infection, hormonal contraception, and family history.

Despite the Pap test’s effectiveness in preventing cervical cancer, many women don’t get tested regularly. According to third-year U of T medical student and Yeung’s co-rep, Kathryn Isaac, “There’s a problem with accessibility. Some women may want to have a Pap smear but may not have access to a family physician on a yearly basis. So they either don’t have that reminder or don’t have the appointment to go and see them. And next there may the lack of knowledge, so a lot of women—although we assume that Pap smears are well-known—may not know how important they are in preventing cervical cancer.”

“What’s unique for the student population is that they’re not from here: their family doctors are somewhere else,” says Yeung. “We’re generally healthy, and [cervical cancer] is not a disease you can see on the outside. The fact that you’re healthy, you might not see the need to get screened. That’s one reluctance or barrier to having people coming it to get screened.”

Now in its second year, the Pap Test Campaign aims to reach more women and improve access to screening. “Last year was more of a pilot project—it was kind of run small,” says Yeung. “Five hundred people participated. This year we’ve increased the number of clinics that are participating. One of the interesting places that we have recruited is Iqaluit, Nunavut. Within Toronto and the GTA area, we have about 12 clinics.”

Another addition to this year’s campaign is a learning experience for all those budding gynecologists. According to Isaac, “we’re also going to be having [first- and second-year medical] students go out to the clinics, so they can gain some exposure, learn from the patients, and the patients can learn from them. The role is teaching.”

The campaign also helps to raise awareness about women’s health issues, and reminds women to get screened regularly. “It’s for all women,” says Isaac. “From the young, sexually-active 16-year-old, all the way up to the 50-year-old mother that doesn’t take the time to go to her family doctor unless there’s a problem. It’s difficult to reach all those individuals, but hopefully having the Pap smear campaign during Cervical Cancer Awareness Week will help get the word out there.”

For a list of participating clinics and information about booking an appointment, visit fmwc.ca.