Clubs get funding at emergency UTSU meeting

At an emergency meeting on Dec. 3, the clubs committee of the U of T Students’ Union granted funding to the French Club (EFUT), the U of T Italian-Canadian Association, and the North American Model UN student group.

EFUT, which in November had their budget request tabled, was given $8,000. The club had requested $17,020.64 in their October application. Last year, they received $10,000. Sitelle Cheskey, EFUT’s president, says the club will appeal the decision.

According to Vita Carlino, UTSU’s clubs and events coordinator, EFUT will have to submit a written statement expressing their concerns, which will be addressed once the tabled funding requests are resolved. UTSU warns clubs that if they do submit a statement of appeal, there is the possibility that they will receive no funding at all.

Clubs have expressed dissatisfaction over limited funding. WATCH, a student-run charity that serves children, asked for $500 to help cover costs for their annual holiday dinner at Hart House. UTSU gave them $400 and recommended that they search for a less expensive venue. “We are mostly unhappy with the reason they indicated for not giving us [the funding],” said Fei He, a WATCH member and former president. “What better way to inspire all these inner-city children to go to university or college than to give them a taste of the best at U of T—Hart House.”

The budgeting calendar is a primary concern. Clubs submit budgets to UTSU in October and receive the verdict in November. Rejected clubs were told their budgets would not be reconsidered until January. UTSU awards funding on a 40-30-30 schedule. For clubs that are granted over $2,000, the first 40 per cent of their grant is given immediately, with two remaining instalments of 30 per cent forwarded once clubs submit receipts to UTSU. The schedule effectively gives clubs five months to spend what their applications have budgeted as a year’s worth of money and forces clubs to draw from reserves or pay out of pocket for events in the first semester.

“I’m not an enthusiast [of the funding schedule],” said Mueen Hakak, UTSU’s professional faculties representative and former clubs committee member. “I’ve been a clubs member and I’ve seen that it causes a delay, as clubs find out how much they are going to get very late in the semester. By that time, half of their activities are already done.”

Club leaders echoed the sentiment. “Our biggest problem now is that we’re having trouble reimbursing our executives for the expenses they’ve paid themselves,” Fei He said.

“There needs to be a profound change in the clubs funding process, since we had to fund all of EFUT’s activities out-of-pocket up until now,” said Cheskey. “It is unacceptable for [the students running a club] to have to take such financial risks.”

In an email to The Varsity, UTSU’s VP campus life Danielle Sandhu said she has not heard from any clubs that the budgeting calendar was flawed. “All feedback I have received thus far regarding funding allocations has been positive,” she wrote.

UTSU informed Cheskey that the club’s application was incomplete, as they did not submit a membership list. EFUT maintains that they held back on the information out of consideration for student privacy. Alumni chair and former president Antonin Mongeau said that the clubs committee ignored an invitation to examine membership lists at EFUT’s office.

“EFUT will not likely be able to host all the events we had hoped to,” Cheskey said. “We feel that a 20 per cent cut [in funding] from last year is not consistent with our efforts.” She said EFUT had around 1,300 students on their mailing list last year, and over 1,700 this year.

Hakak said that complaints are of little significance when applications are incomplete. “We have to as clubs make sure that what we do is complete before we can make complaints or point fingers,” said Hakak. “If EFUT was the only club denied because they did not have membership lists, then it would be a problem. From what I can tell, the rules were applied across the board.” The African Students Association also had their funding delayed because of an incomplete membership list.

With the $8,000, EFUT plans to continue with most of their regular programming, which includes a tutoring program, regular movie and pub nights, and conversation clubs for students seeking to polish their French language skills. Among the events that are likely to be cancelled are a large academic conference and a trip to New Orleans.

Body Worlds and The Story of the Heart arrive at the Ontario Science Centre

Did you know that there is such a thing as dying from a broken heart? Termed broken heart syndrome, the condition involves a weakening of the heart muscle triggered by severe emotional stress, such as the death of a loved one. This is just one of many facts about the heart that can be learned at Gunther Von Hagens’ new exhibit, Body Worlds and The Story of the Heart, now open at the Ontario Science Centre.

Four years after the Canadian premiere of Body Worlds II at the Science Centre, Dr. Von Hagens is back with a brand new chapter in his Body Worlds saga. The current exhibit presents an integrated view of the heart using anatomy, cardiology, psychology, and culture to explain how this four-chambered muscle regulates and sustains life.

Through the life-like and dramatic poses of full-body specimens and the detailed presentation of organs and body parts, guests obtain in-depth insight into the structure and function of healthy and unhealthy bodies. These captivating displays use real human bodies that have been preserved through a technique called plastination.
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The organs and whole-body plastinates in the exhibition came from people who generously donated their bodies to Von Hagens’ Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg, Germany, specifically to be used in Body Worlds exhibitions for educational purposes. Today, more than 10,000 donors have bequeathed their bodies for plastination, 68 of whom are Canadian.

Plastination was developed by Von Hagens in 1977 to enhance the education of medical students. It is a technique that removes water and fat tissues from deceased specimens and replaces them with curable plastic polymers to halt decomposition. Today, it is used at more than 40 medical and dental schools throughout the world as a supplement to anatomical

There are four steps to the plastination process: fixation, dehydration, force impregnation in a vacuum, and hardening. The first step entails embalming a body in formaldehyde to halt decomposition. After the necessary dissections, the dehydration step involves placing the specimen in an acetone bath, then exposing it to freezing conditions. This allows the acetone to draw out and replace all the water from the body’s cells. In the third step, the specimen is then placed in a liquid polymer bath, such as silicone rubber, epoxy resin, or polyester. When placed in a vacuum, the acetone in the cells boils at a low temperature. As it evaporates and leaves the cells, it draws the liquid polymer in behind it, leaving a cell filled with liquid plastic. The plastic must then be cured in the last step using gas, heat, or ultraviolet light to give the specimen rigidity and permanence.

Once plastinated, specimens can be manipulated and positioned. These preserved specimens retain their natural structure and are identical to their pre-preservation states, even down to the microscopic level. The new exhibition includes over 200 human specimens including whole-body plastinates, organs, and translucent body slices. Of particular interest are a full sized (15-foot) sliced giraffe (a personal favourite) and a full-body plastinate in a delicate yoga position.

Visitors are provided with profound insight into the human body, health and disease, and the physical ramifications of unhealthy habits and lifestyle choices. The exhibit juxtaposed plastinates depicting healthy bodies against those that deteriorated due to common conditions such as arteriosclerosis, smoking, and obesity. It also provides fascinating displays featuring up-to-date research in cardiology, including preventive care and state of the art treatment options such as artificial hearts and angioplasty techniques.

The exhibit also includes a powerful emotional element that explores the heart’s significance in art, history, and religion. A striking and memorable example is a full body plastinate named “star warrior,” posed in mid-prayer holding a perfectly preserved human heart up to the sky, a poignant image representing the historical and cultural significance of the heart.

Body Worlds and the Story of the Heart is designed to appeal to an extremely diverse audience, from health nuts, to parents with small children wanting to learn more about the importance of healthy life choices, to university students of all disciplines. No previous medical knowledge is required and the exhibit acts as a fascinating aggregate for information and discovery into your own body. One U of T life science student remarked on her experience: “It’s like rereading all your notes on PSL302 [Human Physiology] again, but it’s fun and interesting because there’s no test!”

It is a must-see for anyone with a passing interest in anatomy and the human body. The exhibit inspires a sense of awe at the intricacies of our physiology. The displays motivate visitors to learn more about the human body and empower them to make healthier life choices.

Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds & The Story of the Heart runs until February 28, 2010 and offers a special discounted price for students (with ID). Photos are not allowed.

Migrant workers have right to unionize: protestors

Two activist groups are going to the Supreme Court over unionizing rights for migrant workers.

Justicia for Migrant Workers and the Industrial Accident Victims Group of Ontario presented oral arguments on Dec. 17. The arguments were presented as a part of the ongoing case Fraser vs. Attorney General of Ontario to give Ontario’s 100,000 agricultural workers the right to bargain collectively.

Ontario’s Agricultural Employees Protection Act gives agricultural workers who come to Canada yearly with temporary visas the right to form associations but not to bargain collectively. The Fraser case is a legal challenge to that exclusion.

Justicia’s main organizers are Tzazna Miranda Leal, an undergrad at U of T, and Chris Ramsaroop, a former president of the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students at U of T.

Supporters, including 15 U of T students and alumni, travelled to Ottawa to attend the trial. They also demonstrated at the house of Stephen Harper and held a vigil at the Chinese Railroad Monument.

“We were interveners in the case, meaning we were a party to the proceedings. We brought forth arguments relating to the particular experiences of migrant workers,” Ramsaroop stated in an e-mail to The Varsity. Ramsaroop was present for the court proceedings.

Intervention is a legal procedure that allows outside parties to join and contribute to ongoing litigation. Justicia was included in the intervention because of the organization’s affiliation with migrant workers.

After being awarded intervener status, Justicia and IAVGO jointly raised nearly $5,000 to cover the cost of buses, food, and demonstration materials. Legal representation was pro bono.

Justicia argued that uncertain employment compounded by the lack of immigration status denies migrant workers the ability to exercise their rights.

Arguments that Justicia and IAVGO developed were delivered by Selwyn Pieters, who told the court that the current model of labor relations in Ontario is insufficient to protect workers and results in systematic discrimination.

Ramsaroop said arguments also sought to capitalize on the history of discrimination in Canada. “We wanted to show how history has repeated itself through the exploitation faced by migrant workers,” he said.

Full proceedings of the Fraser case are expected take between six months and a year.

A public vigil will be held for four migrant construction workers on Thursday, Jan. 7 at 7 p.m, at 2757 Kipling Avenue. They died on Christmas Eve when the swing scaffolding they were working on broke in two pieces, plummeting them over 13 stories to the street below. With files from Naushad Ali Husein.

Crime and news in brief

Crime on campus

Campus police kept busy in December, investigating crimes from theft to arson.

There were 40 counts of trespassing, 32 thefts, 19 emergency calls, and one report of elevator entrapment. Out of thefts reported, six laptops were stolen.

There were several reports of mischief. On Dec. 14, campus police investigated damage inflicted on a door at the Graduate Students’ Union pub and damage to a vending machine.

On Dec. 1, campus police responded to a complaint of a suspicious package at 222 College St., which turned out to be a charging battery pack. They also investigated a report of arson at the Koffler Student Centre.

Campus police responded to two complaints of indecent acts, one at St. George and Hoskin, and the other at St. George and College.

The St. Basil’s Church parking lot on Bay St. had the highest number of reported incidents, followed by Robarts and the Bahen Centre.—Nikki Rozario

College students fear strike

A strike has been a possibility ever since talks between Colleges Ontario and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents 90,000 teachers, broke down in December. The union has set a strike vote for Jan. 13.

Mature students enrolled in Ontario’s Second Career program fear potential campus strikes across Ontario.

The program offers training and financial support to laid-off workers, and has approved 21,000 people since 2008. Now many of these people are worried about their situation should the strike take place.

“A lot of us, after getting laid off and going through all that uncertainty, looked to the education system as a place of safety,” said Don DeSchutter, 44, who is in his final year of a human resources program at Fanshawe College in London, Ont.

“People who are getting ready to get into second careers may not be able to do that now, [and] their life is in the balance.”—Ryan Tuzyk

Source: Canadian Press

Language changes how Canadians see university

A national poll of Canadians over whether a university degree is a minimum requirement for success shows a wide gap between French- and English-speakers.

The survey of 1,500 Canadians found that fewer than 20 per cent of French speakers between the ages of 18 and 24 said a degree was required, whereas 40 per cent of the English group maintained it was. Notably, more than two-thirds of respondents whose first language is neither French nor English agreed that a degree is necessary for success.

Michel Perron, a professor at the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi, pointed out that the results of the survey may be affected by the importance placed on technical degrees by many in the province. In a poll conducted this spring for the Ménard group, when college training was included as an option, nearly 90 per cent of respondents said post-secondary education was important.

Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies, worries that there will be a growing incongruity between the groups unless action is taken to change the attitude that education is insignificant to success.—Carolyn Arnett

Source: Globe and Mail

Separation of church and philosophy

Plans at the University of Winnipeg to merge the philosophy, classics, and religious studies departments into a singular humanities department have been postponed. Dean of Arts David Fitzpatrick formally revealed the amalgamation plan early this November, arguing that amalgamating the departments would effectively save the school close to $30,000 in its Arts budget. He maintained that each program would still remain a separate unit within the merger to maintain its academic integrity. However, there was immediate backlash from the would-be affected communities, and the project has been moved back for at least another academic year. Nevertheless, students and faculty continue to express concern over the recent disintegration of the philosophy department in particular, and what the merger could mean for the department’s future at the university.—Gina Shin

Source: Winnipeg Free Press

No joy in Hogtown

Last year was a terrible one for professional sports in Toronto. If any other city had as bad a year as T.O. in ’09, it would certainly have to be a monumental disaster. Though there was little good news on the Toronto sports front, the New Year brings faint glimmers of hope. But far from predicting a Toronto sports renaissance, or the hope of a championship (or even a play-off berth), each Toronto team offers a compelling story.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Jays are proof as to why losing hurts more than winning. The Blue Jays went into the year with very few expectations to succeed, and then started off with a bang. They were 27-14 at the quarter mark of the season. Then the wheels on the bandwagon fell off. Had the Jays been knocked out at the start of the year, rather than opening with a flurry before being shot down, perhaps the mood would have been less sour. Luckily, the Jays management has tried to rectify the situation by giving the Jays no hope of competing in 2010.

Okay, that’s a bit of exaggeration. The Jays fired their longtime general manager with one game left in the season. The replacement was forced to trade top pitcher Roy Halladay to the Phillies for a number of prospects, who may or may not pan out. But it’s not like the Blue Jays had brought back their most beloved manager in history, Cito Gaston, and the players led a silent revolt—oh, that did happen. Gaston will be back managing this year, before moving on to a “consulting” role, making him a lame duck for 2010.

The Jays may not win more games than they did in 2009, but the uncertainty provides the drama, as it will be interesting to see which players are giving Gaston the stink eye. Roy Halladay is gone, but as recently as 2001 he was a complete mess. The Jays sent him to the lowest level of the minor leagues, where he was helped by former major league pitching coach Mel Queen. So instead of trying to find the next Roy Halladay, shouldn’t the Jays focus on finding the next Mel Queen?

Toronto Raptors

Though the Raptors have had a little run of success recently, this team cannot play defence. When the offense sputters, it’s pretty much game over. Hedo Turkoglu, Andrea Bargnani, and the injured Jose Calderon on defence are essentially pylons with uniforms.

But lo and behold, when Calderon got hurt and Jarrett Jack stepped in to run the point, suddenly the Raps had a chance.

Now, the future is about the Raptors trio of Amir Johnson, Sonny Weems, and DeMar DeRozan, who have come to be known as the Young Guns. The nickname may have a better chance to stick if Johnson, Weems, and DeRozan emerged onto the court in slow motion to Jon Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory.”

But what about the elephant in the room? Chris Bosh is set to be a free agent after 2010, and he probably will not be coming back. But I think his number four is appropriate, because when the Raptors first got him, he was thought to be the fourth best player in a three-team draft. While he was better than advertised, (and Darko Milicic far worse), easy come, easy go?

Toronto Maple Leafs

What could it possibly take for this team’s fans to give up hope? I am fascinated to see what happens to the Olympic men’s hockey team, because the results are going to be intriguing for Maple Leaf fans. Since the team is coached by Ron Wilson, managed by Brian Burke, and led by top player Phil Kessel, the Olympics will be a chance to see if the core Leafs have the winning formula. Let’s say the team does really poorly, finishing eighth. Then it will be clear that Brian Burke really is a snake oil salesman and a new direction is needed for the team.

But what will happen if the U.S. team surprises, and finishes first or second? Upon the NHL resuming, it will be clear that the Leafs do in fact have the right stuff, and the pressure will be on to replicate that success. Because after the season, especially since no high first round draft pick is coming their way, the Leafs will essentially come down to whatever Brian Burke can secure over the open market, Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri, Francois Beauchemin, the hugely overrated Mike Komisarek, and a broken-hearted Jonas Gustavsson.

Toronto FC

At least the football club has the excuse of being a recent expansion team. Except that the Seattle Sounders FC, a first-year team, just qualified for the playoffs. Toronto FC did make an off-season coaching change, bringing in their fourth coach in four years, former Chivas USA coach Predrag Radosavljevi, known simply as “Preki.” One of the first moves by Preki was to dump fan favourite Amado Guevara, whom he clashed with while at Chivas USA. Canadian championships are all well and good, but will 2010 be the year that TFC has MLS success?

Varsity Blues Football

Two years ago the Varsity Blues experience a really tremendous season. Slotback Mark Stinson had a great year, Quarterback David Hamilton won the Russ Jackson Award, and Greg DeLaval was named the permanent head coach. Oh yeah, and the losing streak finally ended, and the team came that close to making the playoffs.

Stinson and Hamilton moved on in 2009 and the team struggled to find its way. It was definitely a transitional season with a push towards stability in 2010. However, one bright spot emerged. The Blues lone win, against York, was an away game. The University of Toronto is no longer the worst team in Ontario. Naturally, that dubious distinction now belongs to York, who also hail from Toronto.

Toronto Argonauts

Perhaps, in retrospect, bringing in Bart Andrus, a man with no CFL experience, along with assistants with no CFL experience, was not such a good idea. Andrus produced a 3-15 record, and clashed with top receiver Arland Bruce III, forcing the team to trade Bruce to Hamilton. It was interesting that the team waited until the day of the Halladay trade to fire Andrus after only one season. The Argonauts have said that their new focus will be hiring a coach that is familiar with the Canadian game. Well, duh!

Buffalo Bills

Let’s see, extended playoff drought, coaching changes, top players not producing, lousy games at the Rogers Centre, questionable signings, how are they not a Toronto team again? Make sure to check out new guard Richie Incognito, who the Bills picked up off waivers from St. Louis. At 330 pounds, littered with tattoos, and having a penalty called on him every play, Richie is far from incognito.

Explain my brain: Frontal lobes

Humans love talking about their frontal lobes. Commonly considered the seat of intelligence and abstract thinking, these sirloins of the neural steak are thought to be the “most human” part of the brain. The human prefrontal cortex, the most forward part of the frontal lobes, is strikingly bigger than that of any other animal, which has led researchers to believe that the frontal lobes are what set humans apart in terms of our behavioural complexity.

The first major discovery of frontal lobe function occurred in 1848 when during a construction accident an iron rod shot through the head of a railroad worker by the name of Phineas Gage. When doctors saw the gaping hole at the top of Gage’s skull, his injury was unanimously considered fatal. But by some miracle, Gage made a full physical and mental recovery—or at least it seemed so at first. In the aptly titled report “Passage of an iron rod through the head,” Gage’s doctor, John Harlow, revealed that his patient’s personality had distinctly changed since the accident. Gage had gone from a rational, respected, and admired supervisor in railroad construction, to a childish and impulsive man with a hole in his head.

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Gage’s injury offered the first major evidence on the role of the frontal lobes in personality and behavioural control. Since then, researchers have demonstrated that the frontal lobes are involved in everything from language to emotions to decision making. The PFC in particular is known for its role in executive functions. That means it’s responsible for planning, initiating, or inhibiting actions, for switching between tasks, and for abstract thinking. In other words, the PFC is a kind of boss for the brain, coordinating and planning activities and our attention toward them. We use executive functions all the time in things like problem solving, decision making, and reasoning.

Another part of the frontal lobes, called Broca’s area, is involved in speech production. In 1861 when French anatomist Paul Pierre Broca observed the postmortem brains of two patients who had lost their ability to speak, he noticed that a specific area of the left frontal lobe was damaged. This led him to conclude that the area was needed for speech production. More recently, researchers have found that Broca’s area is also involved in aspects of speech comprehension and gestures associated with speech.

Recent studies also show that the frontal lobes are linked with “theory of mind,” our ability to attribute mental states, beliefs, and attitudes to ourselves and others. Only humans and a few species of great apes seem to possess theory of mind, and in humans, this begins to develop around age two. Neuroimaging studies show that a part of the left frontal lobe is activated when participants consider the thoughts and feelings of characters in a narrative. Another study suggested that the right frontal lobe is particularly critical, especially in interpreting social situations and empathizing with others.

But some of the most fascinating frontal lobe research comes from studies that look at what happens when the frontal lobes aren’t working properly. For example, the frontal lobotomy, which involves cutting the connections between the PFC and the rest of the brain, was introduced in 1935. Despite the early lesson from Phineas Gage on the dangers of frontal lobe damage, the procedure was incredibly popular in the 1940s and 1950s, and became a standard treatment for psychiatric disorders. In fact, the 1949 Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to Egas Moniz for developing the first standard lobotomy.

By 1951, nearly 20,000 lobotomies had been performed in the United States alone. The popularity of the lobotomy was thanks in part to Freeman and Watts, the infamous surgical duo who developed the “icepick lobotomy.” This new procedure no longer involved drilling holes in the skull. Instead, the surgeon inserted a long thin instrument called a leucotome through each eye socket, and drove it deep into the brain using a mallet. The leucotome was then twisted around to essentially scramble up the frontal parts of the brain. Not a pretty thought.

The frontal lobotomy eventually declined in the 1950s and 1960s with the introduction of antipsychotic drugs. But that has not stopped researchers today from studying the effects of frontal lobe dysfunction. According to neuroimaging studies, patients with schizophrenia demonstrate less activity in the frontal lobes. The effect is seen especially during difficult cognitive tasks that normally activate the frontal areas in control participants.

It just goes to show that having a healthy brain means you’ve got to go full frontal. Lobes, that is.

Science in brief

Family matters

A recent study out of McMaster University has shown that the flowering plant Impatiens pallida plays well in the sandbox, at least with its siblings. The work showed that when surrounded by plants that it is related to, Impatiens will reduce the growth of its roots, thereby sharing food and water with relatives. The plants also grow longer, “branchier” leaves that prevent the shading of nearby siblings. When unrelated plants are grown together, Impatiens instead devote more energy for leaf growth in order to compete with nearby non-kin plants for access to sunlight and shade non-family individuals. The researchers observed Impatiens recognition of kin versus non-kin occurs only after growing the plant’s roots in a shared pot. This study builds upon a mounting body of evidence that plants, like animals, are capable of kin selection. This knowledge may be useful in boosting agriculture output where vast tracts of farmland are dedicated to genetically identical crops.

Source: American Journal of Botany

Lia Cardarelli

Researchers find genes responsible for athletic ability

Much of how an athlete performs in competition is a result of mental and environmental factors. The effects of genetic factors are known, but can be more difficult to assess. A Russian study aimed at understanding the effect of genetics on performance by testing athletes for genetic markers known to correlate with endurance. Many of the genetic markers are involved in metabolic pathways. The test cohort was composed of athletes involved in endurance sports such as cycling, running, and rowing. The study found that athletes were more likely than a control group to carry nine or 10 of these genetic markers (out of 10 markers tested for). When elite athletes were compared to the control group, the enrichment of these markers was even more apparent. While each of the genetic factors has a small effect, the combination of many endurance markers may make the difference between mere mortals and the truly Herculean among us.

Source: Human Genetics


Studies find correlation between marijuana and alcohol abuse

Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in North America. Its use has been linked not only to social malfunctions but also to health risks including an increased chance of developing mental illnesses. Recent studies have shown that marijuana usage and dependence is caused by a set of genes common to alcohol abuse. A study examining over 6,000 individuals aged 24 to 36 years of age looked at the amount of alcohol consumed by subjects compared with the frequency of marijuana use. Dependency levels were also measured by symptoms indicative of addiction. The results of this study show that genes influencing the use and misuse of marijuana also influence alcohol consumption and abuse. Genetic influences on drug use are not specific to a single drug, but rather cause a general tendency to engage drug use. Researchers hope to gain more insight on the environmental factors influencing the use of both substances to further advance this area of research.

Source: Science Daily

Tahmina Nasserie

A tradeoff to the excitement of colonizing Mars

Astronauts embarking on space journeys now have an additional worry while in space. Research at the Nancy-University in France and the University of Luxembourg shows that space travelers’ immune systems progressively weaken during spaceflight. Moreover, bacteria replicate faster in micro- or zero-gravity environments, while latent viruses, responsible for diseases such as chicken pox and mononucleosis, are more likely to reawaken. Bacteria are also more virulent and antibodies are less effective in outer space. Data reviewing more than 150 studies from the Apollo era show that even short-term space journeys resulted in compromised immune systems. NASA scientists are still trying to identify the reasons behind the immune system deficiency syndromes astronauts experience. Unfortunately, their first-ever comprehensive study of the evolution of viruses and astronauts’ immune systems was lost in 2003, as the shuttle Columbia disintegrated while re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. Louis Montaner, editor of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, acknowledges that with current technological achievements, disease-free survival in space is unlikely and may pose a significant impediment in successfully colonizing Mars or even the Moon.

Source: Popular Science

Albert-Razvan Gheorghita

Teaching our bodies to kill cancer and HIV

In a program funded by the National Institute of Health, researchers at Yale University published a breakthrough discovery that proposes a cure for two of the deadliest diseases of the 20th century. Researcher David Spiegel introduced synthetic molecules to healthy cells that were able to trigger the body’s immune response against prostate cancer cells and HIV-infected cells, while preventing healthy cells from becoming infected. The molecules attach themselves to antibodies already present in the bloodstream and to proteins located outside infected cells. Prostate cancer synthetic molecules allow for high cell selectivity, unlike radiation-induced chemotherapy. The treatment can be delivered simply in the form of a pill, and its side effects are predicted to be minimal since the molecules act to enhance the body’s natural immune response. In comparison to HIV antiviral drugs, the synthetic molecules targeting HIV-infected cells are less costly to produce and easier to administer. HIV affects 33 million people worldwide, while one in six American men will have prostate cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths.

Source: ScienceDaily


The men who moil for oil

When celebrated Cambridge astrophysicist Sir Martin Rees estimated humanity’s chances of surviving the century at “no more than 50/50,” Stephen Harper had not yet sabotaged the Copenhagen talks to protect the Alberta tar sands project from binding carbon reduction goals. Sir Rees has yet to update his estimation, but it cannot have improved. In the post-Copenhagen world it takes less than PhD qualifications to calculate the survival chances of the world’s most desperately poor at somewhere between “slim” and “nil.”

After Copenhagen, it appears the rich nations, the primary creators of global warming, will resist emissions cutbacks to maintain their competitive advantage in the world economy. Meanwhile, droughts will bring cholera, and floods will bring malaria to the poorest peoples on earth who, incidentally, do the least emitting. The savage drought currently leaving a trail of crop failures, animal corpses, and human bodies in its wake as it ravages Kenya gloomily foreshadows the fate awaiting the pauperized masses of the African coast and flood-prone regions. As the drought wreaks grotesque devastation on subsistence farmers, pushing 1.3 million people into risk of starvation, the tar sands project contaminates over 3 million barrels of water a day as its carbon emissions climb steadily into the range of mid-sized industrial states. The anticipated decimation of fisheries as oceanic PH levels decline due to climate change could be catastrophic. This fate now seems ever more likely.

The highly-trumpeted non-binding agreement thrown together at the eleventh hour of Copenhagen would only limit the world’s temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Even if this purely voluntary target is met (by signatories who displayed their abundant good will all week by blaming each other and the developing world for climate change), the deal still dooms Tuvalu and at least three other island states to watery graves.

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That such people suffer the carbon profligacy of rich nations because major emitters refuse to rein-in industrial profiteering smacks of dystopian irony. It’s of little comfort that Stephen Harper told that this government will put economic recovery before efforts to protect the environment. Nor is it reassuring that the much-hyped Tar Sands Boom will be a lasting gravy train for the future economy. Leaving aside the immorality of prioritizing of the Canadian economic recovery above the survival of countless Africans, the idea that the Tar Sands will benefit the future Canadian economy holds water only if that economy is somehow independent of human survival past this century—a view not likely shared far outside of the Conservative Cabinet and the corporate oil lobby.

While Harper’s myopic choosing of oil over the planet unacceptably menaces our grandchildren with disaster, others are experiencing this disaster at present. Right now, Kenyans are doubtlessly wondering what Tuvaluans, Maldivians, and millions of coast-dwellers will likely wonder in the near future: “Why are the profits of big Canadian oil corporations more important than the lives of our children?” Others, even more audacious, may ask: “Why do the Canadian people allow their government to kill us for money?”

These are the questions we will have to answer in the future, unless we ask them now.