Nefarious nematodes

In order to continue its lifecycle, a newly discovered parasitic nematode takes advantage of a species of ant dubbed Cephalotes atratus. As researchers explain in an upcoming issue of The American Naturalist, this particular nematode does not visibly infect C. atratus like most other parasites. Instead, it changes both the ant’s appearance and behaviour. After infection, the ant’s abdomen transforms to look like a bright red, ripe, juicy berry. It is believed that this physical change tricks birds into believing the infected ants are fruit—and eating them. As the ant changes its mannerisms and goes into an alarm stance, it raises its abdomen in the air, making it an easier target for predators. The birds eat the infected ants and excrete the parasitic nematode eggs in their feces. Other ants collect the parasitecontaminated bird feces and then feed it to their larvae. The young ants’ abdomens then fill up with parasite eggs, continuing the nematodes’ life cycle.

Interestingly, the distinct colouration of the ant’s abdomen is not caused by pigment.

“The gaster [infected ant abdomen] does not actually take on a red pigment,” said Stephen P. Yanoviak to Discovery News. Yanoviak is a coauthor of the study and assistant professor of biology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

“Instead it becomes translucent amber. With the yellowish [parasite] eggs inside and a touch of sunlight, it appears bright red,” he said.

While the mechanism behind how the parasites change an ant’s abdomen is still undetermined, researchers have some ideas.

“We think the worms either sequester pigment compounds from the exoskeleton or they make the exoskeleton thinner—or maybe both,” Yanoviak said.

In May 2005, Yanoviak was studying the gliding ability of C. atratus with colleagues Robert Dudley, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California at Berkeley, and Michael E. Kaspari, an ant ecologist at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. By chance, Dudley happened upon the infected ants. Their unusual appearance perplexed all three scientists, but they did not all agree on how it could occur.

“Like other ant biologists, I initially thought this was another species of Cephalotes,” said Kaspari. “Robert didn’t think so, and we made a bet over beers. Then Steve opened one up under the scope and—wow! I lost the bet.”

Upon dissecting the ants in the lab, Yanoviak found that hundreds of nematode eggs were packed into the ants’ abdomens.

The discovery is the first described example of parasite-induced fruit mimicry.

“It’s just crazy that something as dumb as a nematode can manipulate its host’s exterior morphology and behaviour in ways sufficient to convince a clever bird to facilitate transmission of the nematode,” Dudley said.

It’s Not Rocket Science – Episode 5

Spare parts from stem cells

It seems that every week, a new development regarding stem cells pops up in the news—and this week is no exception. Finnish scientists recently announced that they restored a missing upper jawbone in a 65-year-old man, but with an interesting twist: the jawbone was grown inside his abdomen using stem cells taken from his fatty tissue. The advantage to this transplant is that rejection of the organ or structure is avoided, as the tissue comes from the patient’s own body. If refined, these procedures could ease the demand for organ transplants, making the body its own source of spare parts.

Link: tinyurl.com/3y6nhp

Thanks to NASA, the Beatles are now literally out of this world

As if being one of the most popular bands on Earth wasn’t enough, the Beatles have just gone live on intergalactic radio. Today, NASA will broadcast the song “Across the Universe” (an appropriate choice) towards the North Star, Polaris, celebrating both the 40th anniversary of the song and the 45th anniversary of NASA’s Deep Space Network. In 431 years, inhabitants of the star should be able to pick up the song on their radios after the signal has made the 2.5-quadrillion-mile journey. Expect the Beatles to revolutionize music in that solar system, too.

Link: tinyurl.com/3xqn5z

Those beautiful baby blue eyes (are mutations)

As it turns out, blue eyes originated only six to 10 thousand years ago. A change in the OCA2 gene, involved in the production of the pigment melanin, reduced the creation of brown colouration in the iris, making the eyes appear blue. The team, led by professor Hans Eiberg of the University of Copenhagen, examined the genes of blue-eyed individuals from a wide range of countries. Since the mutation is in the exact same spot of DNA for all blue-eyed people, researchers believe that blue eyes all came from one common ancestor.

Link: tinyurl.com/2ccocd

New mammal discovered (and it’s an odd one)

Looking like an unholy combination of an anteater and mouse, meet the newly uncovered Rhynochocyon udzungwensis. Approximately the size of a normal house cat, the creature was found in Tanzania. Commonly referred to as a type of giant elephant shrew, the creature is actually more closely related to elephants, sea cows, and aardvarks—although they diverged from a common ancestor approximately 100 million years ago. They are a good case for evolution not always favouring the prettiest.

Link: tinyurl.com/2vgu7l

Finally, science brings us a better onion

Using an inspired method of genetic manipulation known as RNA interference, the team was able to silence the gene responsible for making the sulphur- based tearing agent. These onions are said to be more flavourful and healthier compared to normal, unmodified onions. Expect these consumer-oriented genetic modifications—and public concern regarding them—to become more common in the near future. With these results, who could possibly be against genetically modified foods?

Link: tinyurl.com/ysl3ac

We have the technology. We can rebuild him

Named after Luke Skywalker’s artificial arm from Star Wars, the “Luke arm” may soon see clinical trials if approved by the FDA. Led by Dean Kamen of Deka Research and Development Corp. (best known for developing the Segway scooter), the research team intends the prosthetic to be immediately usable by amputees. This effort wasn’t without cost, using up $18.1 million of funding provided by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Link: tinyurl.com/2yn9jl

Experimental device improves memory

Researchers from Toronto Western Hospital have discovered a way of enhancing memory that may prove benefi cial in helping those suffering from memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

The memory-improving treatment is a surgical procedure called deep brain stimulation (DBS). During the procedure, an electrode is implanted in the patient’s brain and then stimulated, to excite a specifi c area of the brain. The electrode is wired under the skin to a battery-operated controller that sits beneath the collarbone and acts as the stimulator. Deep brain stimulation has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease, This is believed to be the first time it has been used in relation to memory function.

The link between DBS and memory was stumbled upon by Dr. Andres Lozano and his team of researchers. While conducting a unique study using DBS in an attempt to suppress the appetite of an obese 50-year-old man, an electrode was placed in the man’s hypothalamus, an almond-sized part of the brain that controls hunger and thirst. When the researchers stimulated the electrode, the result surprised them. The man, who was awake during the procedure, suddenly recalled a memory from his youth. As the stimulation intensity increased, so did the clarity of his recollection.

“We knew that was somewhat of an eureka moment, this was something quite unusual,” said Dr. Lozano, Canada Research Chair in neuroscience and the senior investigator of the study. “We have now direct evidence that by stimulating in this area, we are driving activity in the memory circuit.”

After observing these miraculous results, Lozano and his team changed the focus of their research, testing the memory-enhancing capabilities of deep brain stimulation more rigorously. Psychological tests given to the man before and after the surgery were analyzed. The team found that the patient’s memory scores had improved considerably since undergoing DBS.

“Selectively, only his memory functions seem to have improved and they’ve improved quite signifi cantly,” said Dr. Lozano.

He believes that this research has the potential to develop new treatments for memory disorder sufferers, as it shows that it is possible to manipulate memory circuits to enhance their performance. “Specifi cally, it may be possible to access these circuits in patients who have memory deficits and to try to enhance them and bring them to a more normal level of function,” he said. As a first step towards making these treatments a reality, the team of Toronto Western Hospital researchers are currently pursuing a new line of research involving six patients diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s. They are hopeful that if this research shows DBS to be a safe way of treating memory disorders, it will be possible to run larger experiments in the future.

“If this is reliable, which means we can replicate it and show it again and again, it could be quite profound,” said Mary Pat McAndrews, a neuropsychologist at Toronto Western Hospital who worked on the study. “What we’re hoping to do is to provide some symptomatic relief, changes in memory function, that in the long run may actually preserve independence and quality of life for a longer period.”

The study can be found in the American Neurological Association’s Annals of Neurology Journal

RCMP probes UTM student’s free speech line

The RCMP and CSIS are investigating a UTM student to determine whether to charge him with inciting and facilitating terrorism.

The student, Salman Hossain, posted online messages arguing for the legitimacy of killing Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

The offending comments first appeared last September, when German authorities arrested three Islamist militants for planning to bomb a German airport. That same day, according to the National Post, Hossain posted this text: “I hope the German brothers were gonna blow up U.S.-German bases in their country. We should do that here in Canada as well. Kill as many western soldiers as well so that they think twice before entering foreign countries.” The same post blames Canada’s participation in the war in Afghanistan on “Jew masters.” Since that time, Hossain’s posts have continued in this vein.

UTM students have formed a rapidly growing Facebook group, Expel or Suspend Salman Hossain. At press time, the group has attracted nearly 400 members, several of whom have posted comments, photos, and videos praising the Canadian military. Hossain himself has become an active member of this group, posting frequent responses and rebuttals to criticism.

The UTM student’s comments drew scrutiny from the RCMP, who are currently investigating Hossain. Said RCMP spokesperson Cathy McCory, “[The government is] committed to ensuring the safety and security of citizens, and we will not tolerate those that seek to harm Canadians.”

Stockwell Day, Minister of Public Safety, also condemning the posts.

“The promotion of hate and violence has no place in Canadian society,” he said.

Hossain’s posts have stirred fresh debate on the balance between freedom of expression and state security.

Walied Khogali, president of the UTM Student Union, condemned Hossain’s comments as overstepping the bounds of individual freedoms. “As a student union, we will forever acknowledge and encourage free speech, but there is a difference between free speech demonstrating disapproval and free speech inciting the killing of others,” said Khogali. “As a union, we cannot support anyone suggesting the murder of others.” He added that he felt the Muslim community at UTM joined him in rejecting Hossain’s comments.

But Khogali suggested that any procedure against Hossain should be watched closely. “I want to make sure that if he is charged of anything, he is given a transparent and due process of justice.”

In June 2006, Saad Khalid, then 19 years old and a business student at UTM, was arrested along with 16 other suspects in an alleged terrorist ring. Police apprehended Khalid in a warehouse, apparently preparing boxes to hold fertilizer. He is still in detention

Ahead of the pack

Around this time of year, fashion tribes throughout the city begin to quiver in their vintage motorcycle boots. Not only are we cold as hell, but we’re ready to be swept away by the whimsy of next season. Let us lay off all the bloody layers, take off the tights, and banish winter’s ubiquitous berets. In this spirit of escapism, fresh and exciting Spring trends emerge.

It all starts somewhere. Even if you feel alienated or confused by the extreme images that sulk at you on the pages of fashion magazines, subliminal messages are being transferred to your brain. From the runways of New York, Milan, and Paris, a signal is sent out that radiates long after the last Amazonian waif has stomped off. The best messages are the ones that don’t immediately make sense. For example, for fall, Balenciaga’s Nicolas Ghesquiere-fused oxford school-boy chic with a former-USSR ethnic. He then threw in a dose of tribal and a dash of robot. Translation? Preppy blazers paired with jodhpurs, kaffiyeh scarves, Ikat prints, fur pelt collars, and tetchy, futuristic footwear. Par exemple, It was a brilliant hodge-podge that had the fashion packs salivating. This highly influential collection trickled down to many a wardrobe in some form or another. (Yes, Mr. Ghesquiere is responsible for the bib-style checkered neckwear du jour all campus coeds feverishly adopted.) However, it’s high time to pull ourselves out of this winter’s misery, and fantasize about this coming spring.

Asymmetrical dresses

Please re-watch Breakfast a Tiffany’s. Ms. Golightly’s toga from the party scene will erase all frat party connotations. Holly looks modern, relaxed, and spirited. Once more, there is something incredibly seductive, yet still modest, about a single bare shoulder—fashion’s equivalent to a game of hide and seek. Some of the season’s best were shown at Lanvin, YSL, and Dior by John Galliano. The shoulder is one of the most underrated body parts—and least hated. As the dynamo Donna Karan says, “No woman gains weight in her shoulders.” Let this style replace the tired baby doll styles that once looked cheeky, and now seem prenatal.

Best paired with: Upswept hair, bold bangles, and gladiator sandals.

Try: Either bold, saturated colours, or cool neutral tones. This is not the season for Easter pastels, and we’re all chicer for it.

Boys’ Club

Androgyny remains relevant on the oft-fickle fashion barometer. From David Bowie to Pete Doherty, who stars in the latest collection from Roberto Cavalli, there is something coy about borrowing from the boys, yet still injecting a serious dose of femme. Try taking on the tux by pairing black skinny jeans with a white collared shirt (tucked in) and tuxedo blazer. The juxtaposition of masculine and feminine is the key to this look. Drape a black piece of fabric the width of a thin tie around your neck and let it hang like an undone bow tie. Add feminine flourishes like bold red or raspberry lips and nails, and hellishly high heels. An oversize mannish timepiece, jaunty bowler hat, and sharp structured clutch provide a look that is le smoking. The little boys’ section of department stores is a great place to stock up on pieces that give you this lean look. Play with the dichotomy of the sexes.

Try: Loose, almost gone waves.

Steal: Your father’s satin cummerbund.

Tip: This is about extremes, so button it all the way up or let it plunge. Anything in between can be a bit nine-to-five. And there’s plenty of time for that later.

Done Just Right: Look at Keira Knightley and Kirsten Dunst, who both found the perfect balance.

Colour Therapy

It seems that every spring we’re told colour is back, but this season there were no mixed messages. The result is pungent shades that are instantly memorable. Lapis blue, garnet fuchsia, and canary yellow add drama. Look for dresses, tops, and skirts with clean lines that spotlight the shade. If you tend to remain neutral, dare to try a strong shade at your next soiree. The element of surprise is exactly what makes these colours so interesting. High-impact accessories, like a bright silk scarf, belt or pumps spark a similar jolt. Let go of wishy-washy rules like Only Certain Hair Colours Need Apply. These fun pigments conjure up childhood, where regulations were verboten and Crayola ruled.

Try: Combine brights with sharp black to add a graphic grounding. Or if you dare, pair fuchsia and red—so wrong it’s right.

Body Con

While voluminous styles are still prevalent, the time to streamline has come. In a nod to the early ’90s supermodels that were always in Alaïa, trace your silhouette in this season’s new body-conscious styles. But make no mistake—just because it’s skin-tight doesn’t mean you should show a lot of skin. Cardigans, scarves, and cropped toppers keep this look more lady, less tramp.

Best paired with: booties, an oversize clutch, and weekly Pilates.

Tip: The great thing is how it teeters on the verge of Eurotrash, but falls just on the side of Paris Vogue. Keep grooming minimal. Sport lanky, dishevelled hair and undone makeup.

Leather Looks

The great thing about leather, besides being a seasonless staple, is its ability to toughen up looks that feel a bit too pretty. Pulling on a little leather jacket is a great way to make girly dresses less sugary sweet. Also, consider leather for the lower half. Wet-look leggings and skirts have an avant-garde feel when paired with something slouchy and soft, like a thin cashmere cardigan. Try American Apparel or a vintage boutique to find a piece that adds a jagged edge to your look.

FYI : If your leather is tougher than 400-level chemistry, take it to the cleaners, and have it, yes, washed, to get that great slouchy quality.

Tip: Still chilly? Put a hoodie on underneath for a touch of The Outsiders

Payout ‘a drop in

Maintaining a sprawling 180-year-old campus isn’t cheap. That’s why U of T is getting nearly $26 million to spruce itself up. The provincial government is doling out $200 million to Ontario colleges and universities this year for deferred maintenance.

On Tuesday, Jan. 29, the Ontario government announced it will give $200 million to Ontario universities and colleges, out of the $1.4 billon infrastructure fund established in its fall economic statement.

U of T’s president David Naylor says the money will go towards things like improving campus security, adding safety railings, and fixing leaky roofs. “Most of the funding here will go to things that are unobtrusive but that actually let us get on with doing work to make life better on campus that otherwise would be tough to fund.”

While the average age of a university building in Ontario is 30 years, centuryold buildings are not uncommon on U of T’s downtown campus. U of T is the largest recipient of funding, which was distributed based on space and utilization.

“The simple fact of the matter is that sometimes education is about bricks and mortar,” John Milloy, the minister of training, colleges and universities, said during a news conference at George Brown College. “In fact, for faculty and students to have an excellent learning experience, they need to work in facilities that are up-to-date, that are energy-efficient, and that are safe and secure.”

“It’s more than a shot in the arm,” said Council of Ontario Universities president Paul Genest. “It’s octane fuel for the university sector, so we’re just thrilled.”

Critics are less optimistic. Conservative legislator Jim Wilson called the sum a “drop in the bucket.”

“It’s one-time money and it won’t go very far,” said Wilson.

The figure is five times greater than last year’s maintenance allotment, but still short of the $1.6 billion Ontario’s auditor general Jim McCarter reports is needed to completely repair Ontario university facilities. As of January 2008, U of T had accrued a whopping $276 million in deferred maintenance costs, according to a report released for the Business Board Governing Council. Creakiness on St. George campus accounted for $254,630,484 of that figure, with UTM and UTSC ringing in at $9,549,644 and $12,297,061 respectively.

The funding comes in the wake of a $200M class action lawsuit against Ontario’s public community colleges for use of allegedly illegal ancillary fees in order to fund infrastructure maintenance.

“We have seen college and some university administrators increasing ancillary fees to fund core operational expenses, which is illegal,” said Jen Hassum, chairperson of the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students. “The provincial government should ensure that the money is transferred with an understanding that universities and colleges should be reducing their reliance on ancillary fees for constructing or repairing campus buildings.”

The province announced it expected the funding to create 2,000 temporary jobs and help protect Ontario’s economy from a current downturn. “Our government’s investment will help local communities across Ontario immediately by stimulating construction and creating jobs,” said Milloy.

Ross Paul, vice-chair of the Council of Ontario Universities, hailed the funding as “a tremendous boost to the university sector.”

CFS expressed “tentative satisfaction” with the funding. “Students look forward to a subsequent announcement from the Ontario government to ensure that it spends the remaining $500 million that was promised to Ontario in both 2006 and 2007 federal budgets,” said Hassum.

MPP Jim Wilson, a PC education critic, called the funding “a drop in the bucket.”

“It’s one-time money and it won’t go very far,” he said.

Milloy hinted at possible additional funding. “This is an ongoing story. We’re going to continue to work with the sector to make sure that their needs are addressed.”

According to school’s the latest report on deferred maintenance, U of T has budgeted costs totaling $276 million across its three campuses. Robarts Library and the Medical Sciences buildings were in greatest need, with $31.7 million and $26.1 million, respectively, required for maintenance and upgrades.

The money will be stretched to cover a long list of necessary, if unspectacular, repairs, such as replacing leaky roofs, improving old sewage systems and safety railings, and upgrading electrical systems and elevators.

“This will help us address some essential things that just don’t figure high on the radar screen and are critical to improving campus life,” Naylor told the Globe and Mail.

Naylor gave an example to the CBC: “No one is going to get up and make a high-profile announcement about the diameter of the stack running into the sewer system, but you get that wrong and you’ve got a rather large problem.”

With files from Shabnam Olga Nasimi

Old-time comics net big new laughs

If the excessive use of chequered patterns or the aptly-worn wide-brimmed hats don’t intrigue you, the quick and witty banter of comedy duo Parker and Seville will steal your attention.

Dave Barclay (Parker) and Matt Kowall (Seville) pay homage to vaudeville style comedy, similar to the infamous wit of Abbott and Costello. Reinventing a once-mainstream style of comedy, the animated duo introduce a unique and fresh routine into an endless sea of one-man comedians. The flawless, fast-paced, back-and-forth dialogue is combined with exaggerated hand gestures, tipping of the hat, fixing of the collar, and, if in the mood, a little dance number. The dynamic chemistry between Parker and Seville is captivating. The act consists of 21st-century topical issues such as obese kids or the iPod craze, twisted in an unusual and distinctive perspective reflecting the fundamentals of vaudeville comedy infused with old-time buzzwords like “malarkey” and “flabbergasted.”

As characters, Parker and Seville are notorious anti-communists, hailing from the small towns of North-North Tanawanda, Ontario and Extreme Poverty, Saskatchewan. Both aspiring comedians, they claim to have met by chance at a bar in New Jersey, where they then decided to give up their jobs as orange peelers, and set aside their womanizing ways to pursue the tough industry of comedy. Leaving behind a record number of 47 women impregnated (three of whom are claimed by Seville), and an unknown number of spawned children who are likely rummaging the vast North American plains, Parker and Seville have settled in Toronto, making their presence known across many venues in the GTA.

Barclay and Kowall, graduates from Humber College, first introduced the Parker and Seville act in early 2007 at the Second City Fresh Meat competition. The crowd responded with uproarious laughter, encouraging the pair to evolve and continue the hilarious act. Since then, the duo have successfully begun to solidify their name in the Toronto comedy scene playing gigs at The Laugh Resort, Yuk-Yuk’s, The Rivoli, Bad Dog Theatre, Clinton’s, and many other venues.

To celebrate the progressive perfection of their act, Parker and Seville will be hosting a show called On the Town, It’s A Real Humdinger at the Supermarket on Monday, Feb. 4. Also appearing will be comedy guests Mr. McGudgeon (Tim Gilbert), Marilyn (Anne Vadas), Poppa Proppa, Canada’s Oldest Living Prop Comic (Brian Barlow), and the moustachioed comic Mike Balazo.

The One Year Anniversary show at the Supermarket starts at 8:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 4. To ensure historical accuracy, admission is only five cents—seriously! For more info check www.parkerandseville.com

Sky watchers look for buyout

Vehement opponents of U of T’s plan to sell off the historic David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill have decided to fight to the last. With the Feb. 15 deadline for bids on the 190-acre property fast approaching, the town council has appealed to the provincial government to step in. The university has made it clear that it intends to sell the site without consideration for the buyer’s plans.

The DDO, opened in 1935, was once one of the best facilities in the world for astronomical research. Its 1.8-metre reflector telescope remains the largest in Canada, but technological advances, changes in the field of study, and the advantages of high-altitude and orbital telescopes have long overshadowed the facility. Nonetheless, it retains a devoted following among scientists and amateurs, and a community of naturalists drawn to the observatory’s well conserved, vibrant grounds.

The DDO grounds were donated to U of T in 1932 by the widow of the Toronto businessman David Dunlap, on the condition that they always be used for astronomical research. The university reached an undisclosed agreement with the Dunlap family to sell the land.

Talk by Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty and education minister Kathleen Wynne has spurred hopes for an eleventh-hour provincial buyout to preserve the observatory.

“I tell you, I grew up in Richmond Hill and the Dunlap observatory was very much a part of my background, so it’s certainly something I would be willing to talk about,” Wynne told the Toronto Star.

Richmond Hill’s mayor David Barrow said he hoped the premier’s office would raise an objection to the sale and ask the university to reconsider.

Thornhill MP Peter Shurman and Richmond Hill MP Reza Moridi were among a handful of local politicians who attended a rally at Queen’s Park on Jan. 17 to show support for preserving the DDO and its grounds.

The protesters marched to Simcoe Hall to meet with U of T’s Governing Council. Asked by protestors whether the university would consider extending the deadline for bids, U of T’s vice-president business affairs Catherine Riggall was adamant that the Feb. 15 date would stand.

Some researchers have questioned the prevailing logic that the DDO is obsolete. Peter Martin, chair of astronomy at U of T, told the Toronto Star that the observatory is “still a vital spot where stellar spectroscopists gather important new observations at wavelengths unaffected by the brilliant light of a Richmond Hill night.”