Bee research offers insight into climate change

Jessica Forrest, a PhD student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, examines the toll of changing temperatures on the interaction between bees and the plants they pollinate.

Her experiments began in 2006 in the Colorado mountains. “Working in the mountains provides a good elevation gradient, and different sites experience different season lengths, which is representative of the variation in climate change,” explains Forrest. The main research site is at a 3000 metre elevation, where air temperatures can drop down to -20 degrees Celsius in the winter. Summer conditions are similar to those experienced in Toronto, with temperatures reaching 25 degrees in the day, but cool off significantly to about five degrees at night.

To attract bees to her study site, Forrest placed trap-nests for leaf-cutter bees and their larvae at various elevations. “The bees find these trap-nests and then they [provision holes in wood with pollen and nectar for their larvae],” says Forrest. “[The trap-nests] were colonized last summer and this summer I went out and monitored these nests every three days or so to see how many bees had come out [in each time interval].” She has recorded which flowers bloom simultaneously with bee emergence to see whether the two organisms are controlled by the same environmental factors.

Many plants rely on certain pollinators being present when they’re in bloom. However, changing climate conditions have the potential to cause organisms to alter their biological timing. Increased temperatures could cause earlier snowmelts, which would trigger flowers to bloom earlier. If flowers are in bloom but lack the bees to pollinate them, it could have a serious impact on the plants’ population. Forrest wants to determine if, even in early snowmelt years, bees are available to pollinate alpine bluebells, which blossom soon after snowmelt.

Her preliminary data shows no significant decoupling between flowers that bloom and the number of bees that pollinate them. “The pollinators are actually responding to similar cues,” she says. “They are managing to stay in sync it seems, but I could be telling a different story next year.” Forrest stresses that while her findings are still in the preliminary stage, her research details a significant change.

Is there a link between the bee-bluebell interaction and climate change? As the study site climate varies year-to-year, plant pollinators might be relatively used to an alteration in temperature. If a separation between plants and pollinators is observed, it’s possible that the plants will be able to self-pollinate or attract other species. Forrest notes a possibility for evolutionary change. “If bees are emerging before there are any plants around, natural selection will act to change their timing of emergence.”

Forrest hopes to finish her study in the next two years. After its completion, she plans to examine the consequences for bees that emerge too early. She is also interested in investigating the basic biology of bees for signs of evolution, especially in their flexibility of food choice.

Despite the impact of climate change, for now it’s business as usual for the bees in Colorado. Forrest seems content with her work, saying, “It’s not a bad job. Working in a field of flowers and watching bees sure beats working at a desk all the time!”

Media ejected from ASSU vote

Current and former Arts and Science Students’ Union executives forced Victoria University camera crew from a council meeting Monday evening, citing non-existent legislation. The open meeting saw the council vote on forming ASSU’s impartial election committee and a panel to review its constitution.

According to VUTube president Doug Sarro, Sheila Hewlett, one of the two remaining ASSU execs from those elected last year, approached the camera crew before the began to warn them that ASSU bylaws prohibit filming without unanimous consent. Sarro, who had access to the bylaws and constitution, found that no such provision exists, and he stayed put.

“As the location of yesterday’s meeting was never released on ASSU’s website, VUTube’s coverage would have been the only opportunity for ASSU’s thousands of fees-paying members to observe what happened at that meeting,” he added.

The crew filmed for half an hour, documenting debate over the meeting’s agenda without complaint. However, before the meeting could move past procedural issues, execs told the chair to refer the matter of the filming to council.

One council member said she did not want to be filmed but did not mind audio recording. Sarro offered to omit the images of anyone who did not approve of being filmed. The chair, suggested that the matter be left between the media and those who declared discomfort, but Hewlett interjected, “If anybody is uncomfortable being filmed, we’re not filming this.”

Following objection from two members, including former ASSU exec Krystyne James, the VUTube crew put the lens cap on their camera and continued recording the meeting’s audio. Minutes later James objected to being audio recorded as well. James is one of several former execs involved in altering minutes from ASSU’s previous election meetings, as uncovered by The Varsity last week.

James sought a position on the election committee, but withdrew after an ASSU staffer reminded the council that James had served on last year’s exec.

Hewlett said she had previously referred the matter of filming meetings to a lawyer, and been advised that media should have unanimous consent. She did not name the lawyer or the law involved. Under sustained pressure, the VUTube crew eventually left the meeting before the matter of elections was raised.

With files from Naushad Ali Husein

Huge pain, no gain

Everyone experiences pain. In fact, it’s a healthy physical response that keeps us alert to danger and helps avoid injury. But what if an ache started one day and didn’t go away? Worse yet, what if no one—including your doctor—knew what was going on, or how to make it stop?

It’s hard to imagine, but this is a reality for many suffering from chronic neuropathic pain. Fortunately, researchers at the University of Toronto’s Centre for the Study of Pain are making in roads into the treatment of this complex condition, gaining profound insights into our brain and how it works.

Neuropathic pain is caused by damage to the nervous system, which is made up of the central nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord), and the peripheral nervous system (the sensory and motor neurons and nerves in the rest of the body). It can be brought on by a number of different conditions, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, viral infections like AIDS, and even routine surgery. Yet, its trigger remains a mystery.

Though it is often described as a burning, numbing, or stabbing sensation, neuropathic pain can differ greatly depending on an individual’s experience. It can happen spontaneously, or in response to stimuli under which normal circumstances would cause no pain at all. For those suffering from this condition, even the lightest touch can be excruciating. Unlike nociceptive pain, which is felt in response to tissue damage and dissipates once the injury has healed, chronic neuropathic pain often occurs completely out of the blue. Like its name suggests, the sensation can persist for months, years, or even a lifetime.

Dr. Thuan Dao, an Associate Professor with the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Dentistry, is a researcher attempting to gain a better understanding of neuropathic pain. She is interested in orofacial neuropathic pain, which affects the face and inside the mouth. Currently testing a medication called pregabalin, Dao and her team believe it could offer relief to sufferers of orofacial neuropathic pain.

It is thought that orofacial neuropathic pain is triggered by injury to the nerves during routine dental procedures like root canal treatment, surgery, or filling a deep cavity. Dr. Dao is quick to point out that this doesn’t necessarily mean a dentist is doing their job incorrectly; it may simply be that a person’s anatomy or genetic background makes them more prone to this type of injury or pain.

Neuropathic pain is prone to misdiagnosis, as it can appear long after treatment in locations far away from the initial procedure. Health professionals often intervene without understanding the neuropathic nature of their patient’s discomfort. This can have unfortunate consequences: one patient’s misdiagnosis resulted in 32 root canals, after which he still had a toothache.

When asked why the pain continues after the damaged nerve heals, Dr. Dao exclaimed, “That is the million dollar question!” The key to understanding nerve pain is in the continuous remodeling of the peripheral and central nervous system, known as neuroplasticity. After an injury changes the periphery of the nervous system, it can lead to further effects all the way up into the spinal cord and the brain. These changes occur down to gene level, resulting in a continuous reverberation of the pain signal long after the initial stimulus has stopped.

Once patients have received a diagnosis, they are usually treated with a cocktail of antidepressants, anticonvulsants, opioids, and canabinoids. These drugs interfere with the ability of nervous system cells to communicate with each another, effectively blocking the pain signal from reaching or being commanded by the brain. Ideally, Dr. Dao says, the neurons that are misfiring eventually “go to sleep,” as the patient is weaned off the medication.

An effective drug cocktail is found for only half to a third of all patients, and some can have long-term side effects. A small percentage of patients are forced to seek invasive surgical intervention such as deep brain stimulation. In this therapy, electrodes that deliver electrical impulses are inserted deep into the brain. How this treatment works is still unclear, though it appears to interfere with the neural activity at the insertion site, disrupting the pain signal. Hopefully, research done at the Centre for the Study of Pain will someday bring lasting relief to sufferers of neuropathic pain, making these treatments a distant memory.

New research hopes to gain a better understanding of neuroplasticity and why some patients respond better to certain therapies than others. This will allow for better screening and more effective, individualized treatments. New drugs and vaccines are also being developed to treat diseases that trigger neuropathic pain.

Province unveils integrated transit network proposal

Metrolinx, the agency in charge of the city’s transit makeover, unveiled its long-awaited $50-billion plan to expand the transportation system throughout the GTA. The 25-year plan is the largest of its kind in North America in more than half a century.

Metrolinx chair Rob MacIsaac ruled out funding the initiative through a dramatic fare increase, promising no new fees or tolls until 2013. However, the plan fails to outline who will foot the bill.

The plan aims to have 75 per cent of GTA residents living within 2 km of a rapid transit line, up from 42 per cent today.

Despite this modest progress of saving five minutes a day, MacIsaac argued that the new transit spending is essential. Toronto is estimated to grow by 2.6 million people over the next 25 years, “Not proceeding with this plan would be higher than the cost of proceeding with it. We cannot be scared away from this challenge,” he said.

Metrolinx has identified eight goals, few of which are likely to appeal to students. Among these are implementing a complete walking and cycling network with bike-sharing programs. U of T students who live in the 905 region may benefit from an integrated transit fare system based on the “smart card” model that has been adopted in cities such as Montreal and Madrid. A high tech information system will help passengers plan their trip and pay either online or by phone. Finally, Metrolinx plans to create a network of connected mobility hubs. The plan calls for hubs to be more than just stations, but rather destinations unto themselves.

Andrae Griffith, a student at Ryerson University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning who sits on the Regional Transportation Plan Advisory Committee. noted, “There will be about 7000 km of bike lanes and I think a lot of students will definitely appreciate that infrastructure.”

Rachel Strong, a fourth-year student from Richmond Hill, thinks that the transit system definitely needs to be upgraded. “I drive to school everyday,” she said. “If I could get downtown faster and without having to hop from one bus to the next, then for sure I would consider it.”

Blues soccer teams clean up against Carleton

The Varsity Blues men’s soccer team redeemed themselves on Sunday with a 1-0 win against the only team to beat them this year, the Carleton Ravens. Playing without their starting goalkeeper Luciano Lombardi—forced out after an injury in Saturday’s tie against Trent—the Blues had an aggressive offensive strategy, pushing the ball up the field quickly, creating several opportunities to score early on. The first of these came four minutes in, when Toronto nearly converted a corner kick, forcing a close save by the veteran Ravens goalkeeper, Arjun Langford.

“Last week we had prepared for Carleton [with] a little too much emphasis on what they were going to do, and we played a little too defensively,” said Blues head coach Anthony Capotosto. “We learned from last week’s game that we didn’t have to do that today and so we lined up with a more offensive system.”

This approach was particularly bold against Carleton, the top team in the Eastern division who hadn’t lost in 31 regular season games. What the Blues provided in energy and ambition, the undefeated Ravens answered with skill and patience. Carleton’s midfield often out-maneuvered the Blues, moving the ball effectively and dictating the pace of the game.

The second half saw a reversal in strategies, as the Blues committed to winning possession of the ball with the Ravens on the defence. Blues captain Dustin Chung commented on this strategic change.

“The one thing that we were lacking in the first half was the technical part,” he said. “We’re a technical team. We can put the ball in the net and we can spread the ball around. We went in at half-time and [Coach] Anthony Capotosto said ‘You know what guys, we’re going to have to make a better effort at keeping the ball, widening up in the wings a little, getting open and doing that extra little bit of running so we could get the ball moving.’ That was most definitely the strategy in the second half.”

Although the Ravens continued to create opportunities, the Blues defence was up for the fight. A late offensive push sucked the air out of Varsity Centre as fifth-year Carleton striker Matthew D’Angelo beat first-year Toronto keeper John Smits to the ball. Smits had him covered and secured the crucial save. Smits came through again as a free kick taken by Carleton bounced off the post and was quickly cleared. All of this happened with just four minutes left.

Despite the Carleton onslaught, the Blues maintained their composure. Just when it looked like the chance to beat Carleton was gone, first-year midfielder Dylan Bams, picking up a superbly placed goal-kick from Smits, single-handedly wrestled the ball past three Ravens and scored a goal. The crowd erupted in jubilation.

The Ravens came on strong in the final stretch, but the Blues defence proved too much. The Blues’ win brought an end to the Ravens domination of the Eastern division and signaled the birth of a new rivalry between two of the top teams in Ontario.

“U of T men’s soccer is on the rise. We prepared for weeks for this game and we’re going from strength to strength right here. This is going to be a big win,” said Chung after celebrating with his teammates.

The Blues take on Trent on Saturday and the RMC Rams on Sunday at Varsity Centre. As the only team to shut out Toronto this year, Trent will challenge the Blues to pull off another strong offensive showing. RMC will no doubt be playing hungry as they continue to search for their first win.

UTM student to be expatriated by Oct 3

The extent of Saad Alam’s memories of Bangladesh are those of an eight-year old, but he’s looking at rebuilding his life from scratch as a 23-year-old in the place of his childhood.

Saad Alam and his parents recently received a deportation notice last month, telling informing them that they have untill October. 3 to leave Canada. The family fled Bangladesh in 1994, when Badrul Alam’s political affiliations turned bitter. They spent nine years in the U.S. before crossing to Canada to claim refugee status.

Alam, set to enter his third year at UTM, is faced with the prospect of never being able to complete his degree. Both his parents have worked multiple jobs to cover his international tuition fees, which amount to several times what domestic students pay.

Campus action group No One Is Illegal will be organizing a demonstration at noon on Tuesday, September. 30 at Sid Smith, protesting Alam’s cause and other deportations resulting from Canada Border Service Agency crackdowns.

Women blank Ravens, 4-0

The University of Toronto Varsity Blues women’s soccer team shook off their only loss this season against the Carleton Ravens just 15 seconds into last Sunday’s game. On the game’s first possession, Blues veteran midfielder Jenessa Banwell beat the Ravens goalkeeper Katherine Shaughnessy on a centering pass from rookie Jennifer Siu.

“The first goal sent the message right away that we’re here to play, and we’re here to win this game,” said interim head coach Eva Havaris. That goal proved to be the eventual game-winner as Toronto shut down Carleton with a 4-0 win at Varsity Centre. The win allowed the Blues to improve to 5-1 on the season for 15-points, putting them atop the OUA standings. The Ravens’ record fell to a 3-2-1.

“It’s a great feeling, not only to just beat [Carleton] but to beat them by that much,” said team captain Laura Arduini. “We were focused all week and we knew what we had to do. We knew the fight we were going to have and we all came and showed up to play. I was really proud of them. Just to know that everyone is doing their part is amazing.”

The Blues were opportunistic, with third-year midfielder Erica Basso scoring the second goal in the 32nd minute on a perfectly executed header over the outstretched hands of Shaughnessy. By contrast, the Ravens showed little fight. They played a flat game, allowing the Blues to dominate both offensively and defensively, unable to penetrate the Blues solid defense that kept Carleton without a shot on goal in the first half.

“We just cleaned up what we didn’t do the first time that we played them,” explained Coach Havaris, when asked about what changes were made for the rematch. “We’re not concentrating necessarily on our opponents; we were working on our own performance. We knew how we wanted to play this weekend and the girls applied what we did all week in practice.”

Carleton came out with more energy in the beginning of the second half, but they were stopped on every opportunity by the Blues veteran goalkeeper Mary Anne Barnes. A defensive breakdown in the Ravens end eventually allowed for the third Blues goal. Siu, whose speed had been giving Carleton’s defense trouble throughout the game, caught the Ravens off guard at the 74th minute. Left wide open, she let loose a hard shot from nearly 30 yards from the goal to beat Shaughnessy.

The goal visibly deflated Carleton’s spirits as the Blues capped off their scoring at the 87th minute. Siu finished her impressive afternoon by providing the cross to first-year striker Julianna Bergin as they cruised to the 4-0 win. “It was a strong offensive and defensive showing,” commented Havaris on the complete victory. “We prepared all week for this game and it showed.”

“We’ve just got to bring this energy that we have right now. Even after the game we’re still jumping around,” said Arduini. “If we bring that into every game, it’d be hard to stop us.”

Memorial chair bows out

Faced with criticism over allowing government intervention in Memorial University’s search for a new president, Gil Dalton, chair of the search committee and the university’s board of regents, announced last week his decision to bow out when his term expires on Oct. 15.

Memorial’s quest for a new president has been rife with controversy since Labrador education minister Joan Burke effectively vetoed two top candidates for the position after the search committee invited him to interview the candidates.

Documents obtained through freedom of information act requests show that Dalton had encouraged the interview so as to probe the candidates’ political stance on issues surrounding government, according to the CBC.

Memorial University Faculty Association and Canadian University Teachers’ Association had protested the government’s involvement. They argued that it would discourage competent candidates from applying for the presidency, and undermine the university’s autonomy.

The search has since been suspended.

Provincial law makes the university’s presidential appointments subject to approval of the cabinet, although the province’s role has been mostly a formality in the past.