The temple of Zeus

“What do you say, boys? Three different kinds of wings, three different kinds of dudes.” Carlin Nicholson looks at the platter of chicken wings with only one of each flavor remaining for him and bandmates Rob Drake and Neil Quin. (Mike O’Brien is well into his own personal serving of fish and chips.) “See how easy we do this?” Carlin explains in a satisfied tone. “This is Zeus.”

Of course, things haven’t always been this simple for the group, including the process of naming the band. As Nicholson recounts, “It started off with Juice, then Zeus’ Juices, then Zeused … It came from a joke.” Just like everything else about Zeus, the name developed through natural evolution, without a real plan. Just look at how the members came together: O’Brien and Nicholson bonded in high school over their common interests in music and mayonnaise on fries. With Nicholson’s brother and another friend, they formed their first band together, the 6ixty 8ights. After some time apart playing with different people, the two rejoined about two and a half years ago.

In Zeus’s first incarnation, Nicholson and O’Brien opened for Peter Elkas with a couple guys from the Golden Dogs. Then local mainstay Jason Collett asked Zeus to tour with him. Nicholson and O’Brien recruited Paso Mino, Neil Quin, and Rob Drake (with whom Nicholson had always wanted to play).

“In the same conversation I asked Neil to come and live with me and join the band,” Nicholson recalls, reacting to the spicy kick of his Bollywood-flavored chicken wings. “Musically and life-wise, it was very consistent for both of us.”

Quin interjects, “And if he didn’t give me the place, I would have had to move in with my mom, which would have been cool, but not as cool.”

O’Brien tries to explain the strength of the current lineup in a different way. “It’s kind of like we were building a rocket, and then when Quin joined the band, it was like adding that final rocket booster cylinder. And then—” Quin makes a child-like exploding sound using both his mouth and his body. With a chicken wing still in his mouth, he backtracks. “I have Soviet propulsion techniques.”
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In addition to rockets, the guys of Zeus also know a thing or two about songwriting—and it shows. Their full-length debut, Say Us, released on Feb. 24, is getting deservedly solid reviews and acclaim; the 12-track album does not have a single weak spot. From first track “How Does it Feel?” to “The Renegade” (Nicholson’s favorite at the moment) through first single “Marching Through Your Head,” the album is an explosive mix of different musical styles.

The band is clearly influenced by the likes of The Kinks, The Zombies, and The Beach Boys, as well as more recent music like Beck, The Flaming Lips, and Michael Jackson—and they readily admit to loving all of these. From the classic rock and roll sounds of The Beatles to new age and alt-rock, their sound combines a wild variety of genres and comes off sounding very fresh.

O’Brien doesn’t necessarily find this diversity so surprising. “It’s rock and roll man,” he says confidently. “Rock and roll has always been about pulling from country, blues, soul, and jazz—and whatever else is around you.”

The album is full of positive energy, and not by accident. As O’Brien explains, “We’re happy about the record—we really gruelled over it. We decided there was no better time to be ruthless in what we wanted to hear, and we knew we were going to fight until we got it to sound the way we wanted it to sound.”

“It’s whatever gives you chills when you’re playing it, both musically and lyrically,” Quin says, in response to my question of what inspires the band. “It’s whatever makes you step back and go ‘whoa.’”

Nicholson opts for another explanation. “For a lot of songwriters, it is an act of necessity. It’s sort of like if you can write songs, then you have to. You need to get it out. It sounds a bit cheesy, but when you sing a song, you’re telling a secret to a room full of people that you’ve never met, and that’s a really releasing way to get stuff off your mind. It’s exhilarating to do that.”

“As far as the success of the band, who knows? You can always get bigger,” Nicholson says, and all four of them simultaneously look up to ponder. Then five seconds later he corrects himself, “Unless you’re Queen. Or, like, Josh Groban, or someone like that.”

Zeus plays Lee’s Palace as part of Canadian Music Week on March 10. Look out for more CMW 2010 coverage in upcoming issues of The Varsity.

The Pan-Am panhandle

Toronto and UTSC leaders took questions from students on the Pan American sports facility levy on Wednesday, March 3, at a town hall organized by the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union. This levy would account for students’ contribution to the athletics facility that could host the 2015 Pan Am games. The referendum runs from March 17-19 in the UTSC Student Centre.

The panel taking students’ questions consisted of Toronto mayor David Miller, UTSC principal Franco Vaccarino, Malvern community coordinator Alex Dow, 2004 Olympic medallist Liz Warden, SCSU acting president Amir Bashir, and John Kapageridis, president of UTSC’s Athletics Association.

Panellists urged students to vote yes to the proposed levy. “It [presents] a truly transformative moment for UTSC,” said Vaccarino.

“I am not against the Pan Am games in Toronto. I’m just against students paying for it. They should find another way to fund [the construction],” said a fourth-year life science student.

Vaccarino said that a reduced levy is not an option for UTSC. “We looked at various financial models [and] with the parameters we had, this is the model that we got.”

Miller agreed. “U of T’s funding is contingent on the levy,” he said. “It cannot shrink.”
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Students campaigning against the levy argue that the athletics complex will go ahead despite a No vote. Members of “Vote No to a Legacy of Debt” referred to Varsity Stadium at St. George campus, which faced a similar referendum in 2002. Students voted no to a proposed $70 fee. The stadium was still constructed and students currently pay a levy of $18.

“A No vote means that students do not want to support the complex,” said Vacarrino. Richard McKergow, a member of the “Vote No” campaign who works with the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students, noted that the wording on the referendum does not ask students whether they want the complex but whether they’re willing to pay the levy.

Joeita Gupta, spokesperson for the group No Games Toronto, asked why the costs should be placed on the students. Gupta is also VP external of APUS and sits on U of T’s Governing Council.

Vacarrino replied that his “commitment and ability to support this [complex] comes directly from students,” and that in his view, students want the complex. He did not give any direct reply as to why students are taking on the costs.

First-year student David Khachikyan said he was glad for better facilities. “I would vote yes because there is not even a swimming pool here. It sucks. Why should I have to go downtown and not [have access] here?” His response to the levy: “It’s not a lot of money.”

Asked what he had to say to students currently struggling to pay their tuition, Miller mentioned the summer jobs he took on to get through school. “I understand the challenges. I ask you to see the opportunities,” said Miller. He referred to his own experience as a student who had to “pave roads” and “clean the rich kids’ toilets” in the summer to get through college. “I’m not going to tell you how to afford it. That’s your choice.”

Several students mentioned that the panel consisted solely of those supporting the levy. Bashir commented that he had not been approached by any member of the opposing side wanting to hold a similar forum.

No Games Toronto will be holding an open forum, said Gupta and Oriel Varga, the executive director of APUS. They declined to mention who would be speaking at the forum. Gupta said she does not think SCSU will give their group space.


The bottom line

• If passed, the levy would amount to $40 per semester for full-time students and $8 for part-timers. This fee will increase by four per cent each year until 2014, when the facilities are scheduled to open. Fees will then go up to $140 per semester for full-time students and $28 for part-time students.

• The proposal has students contributing $30 million over a 25-year period, which is 80 per cent of UTSC’s share of the bill. The Pan Am venue will be located along Military Trail and Morningside Avenue as part of an expansion project that runs to $750 million.

• The new sports complex will include fitness and training facilities, two 50-metre competition pools, and a multi-sport field house. A Scarborough-Malvern Light
Rail Transit system is also included in the package.

• UTSC’s Athletics Association website states that the money students contribute through the levy up until their graduation will be credited toward an alumni membership at the complex. Alumni memberships currently cost $365 per year.

• International students planning to leave Canada after graduation will not have access to these facilities. UTSC principal Franco Vaccarino said these students will still benefit from the complex because when asked by employers about the university, the mention of UTSC will evoke images of a prestigious institution whose world class athletics complex hosted the Pan Am games.
The referendum runs from March 17-19 in the UTSC Student Centre.

Research, youth employment get funding bump in federal budget

The 2010 federal budget, released on Thursday, includes moderate funding increases for research, youth employment, promoting college and university education to low-income students, and First Nations schools.

Overall, $108 million is to be spent over three years to help youth gain skills and work experience. This includes a $30 million increase each for programs targeting at-risk youth and funding internships for recent graduates, both part of the Youth Employment Strategy program. Another $30 million will go towards improving governance and accountability in First Nations elementary and secondary education. A $20 million boost will go to the Pathways to Education program, which works to lower the high school dropout rate and increase access to post-secondary education.

Approximately $517 million will be devoted to research over the next two years, outstripping increases to government spending in virtually all other sectors. In his speech Thursday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty highlighted the push for research.

“We are supporting innovation in our colleges and universities, research hospitals and other research institutions,” he said. “These investments will help create clusters of great new jobs on the frontiers of knowledge.”

A total of $32 million will go to the three major granting councils, with the majority going to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research ($16 million), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council ($13 million). The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council will pick up the remaining $3 million. A new grant gives the three councils $45 million over five years for post-doctoral fellows.

This increase comes in the wake of last year’s highly controversial budget, which stipulated cuts of $148 million to the granting councils over three years. These cuts, which far outstrip this year’s modest $32 million increase, have not been suspended.

Adam Awad, VP university affairs at the U of T Students’ Union, argued that the funding did not go far enough, especially for U of T students. “As a principle, we know that the amount of money available from the granting councils is not enough and it’s been hugely problematic,” he said, calling last year’s cuts regressive. “Particularly at U of T where the overriding goal is to increase graduate studies, but the funding has not been any more.”

Awad also pointed to a lack of increased funding for the Post-Secondary Student Support Program, which helps First Nations and Aboriginal students access post-secondary education, as a major problem for U of T students.

“Each band council is given a certain amount of money to allocate as they see fit, which has been capped at two per cent per year, whereas tuition fees have been increased across the country,” he said.

The budget got a better reaction from Lyse Huot, director of communications for the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. Huot cited the increased funding for post-doctoral fellows as a good sign.

“At the maturity of the program, that will fund about 40 fellowships annually, valued at about $70,000 each for two years,” she said.

With files from Jane Bao


Where the money goes

$1 billion: For post-secondary educational infrastructures for the 2010-2011 year, as stipulated in 2009 Budget

$600M: Of funding for the Canada Foundation for Innovation remains to be spent; details to be released in coming months

$75M: Increase to Genome Canada’s budget

$45M: To the three granting research councils over five years, to establish a new post-doctoral fellowship program

$16M: Canadian Institutes of Health Research

$13M: Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council

$3M: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council

$8M: Indirect costs of research

Campus Stage: Student groups try to upstage each other at the 18th annual U of T Drama Festival

Dead-End

(Victoria College Dramatic Society)

While there’s little new that can be brought to the zombie genre, the creative minds behind Dead-End gave it their best shot. What seemed at first to be a standard zombie script was instead revealed to be a character-exploring buddy comedy. Taking refuge in an abandoned school, two young men (identified only as “Gun” and “No Gun”) are confronted by a lone zombie barring their most immediate escape route by standing at the end of a corridor and very gradually moving toward them.

Beginning as a debate over their next course of action, the play becomes an involved dialogue on the undead experience, Nazis, homophobia, and whether zombies are like jellyfish. The play is filled with knowing winks and nods—forays into controversial territory while skirting offensiveness with plenty of good humour. The dialogue was largely nonsensical, however, and sounded improvised—sometimes meandering into mere semantics. With a re-write and more solid performances, this could be an excellent piece. For now, it was barely more than your standard zom-com.—Rae Matthews
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A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Electric Chair

(St. Michael’s College)

Some projects blow their whole creative wad on their title. Attempting not to fall into that category, the kids from St. Michael’s College bit off a project more ambitious than they could chew. Humour, action, wit, pathos, mystery, suspense, political commentary, and moral ambiguity were all crammed into less than an hour’s running time. To their credit, these are all met with limited success, but the unwieldy effort becomes a bit of a mess.

The actors delivered their dialogue so quickly that it was almost unintelligible, presumably just to fit it all into the time allowed. Scene changes relied heavily on lighting effects, with the occasional failure leaving actors speaking in the dark. The large ensemble meant that some characters had little to do, and Katie Blundell’s “Mona Vandoum” ended up vamping it up in a tight dress for seemingly no reason other than to show off her nice legs.

That said, there are the occasional inspired moments and memorable lines that make this show rather entertaining—“Does everyone in this prison have a gun except me?” asked the warden during a particularly complicated hostage situation. The crew from St. Mike’s ought to be commended for their ambition, but not their execution.—RM

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

(Mississauga Campus)

Directed by Brandon Gillespie, Forgive Us Our Trespasses follows Father Patrick (Marcus Haccius) in his attempt to take over as the new pastor of a neighbourhood church. As he attempts to help his young, troubled churchgoers, the Father is forced to confront adversity. For the most part, the play was well-directed and delivered, but there were a few bumps along the way. At times, the storyline was a bit choppy, causing relationships between characters to be unclear. The play had a primarily serious tone, bringing forth issues of drug addiction and abuse, and attempts at comic relief were therefore sometimes ineffective. Although the dialogue and emotional attachment needed some polishing, the overall performance was effective.—Jessica Tomlinson

Civilization and its Dissed Contents

(St. Michael’s College)

Directed by Lucy Coren, this multi-dimensional play centres on a crime committed by the convoluted Dr. Freud (Matt Mcgrath) and the endeavour of Detective Innocent (Quintin Peirce) to solve the mystery. The play invited the audience inside the brain of Dr. Freud by introducing his Id (Brittany Picard), Ego (Natalia Pujalte), and Superego (Vanessa Rowlin). The stage direction and set design were masterfully incorporated into the piece, and the transitions between the two plots were carried out cleverly. Although certain characters were not developed to their full potential, and a few line deliveries were unclear, the cast was very talented and kept the audience laughing.—JT

Faith

(Mississauga Campus)

Ben Hayward and Ali Richardson’s production of Faith was simply excellent. The play centred on a rebellious teenager, Faith (Tanya Filipopolous), who casually narrated her life story and offered brief flashbacks to her adulterous relationship with local minister Dave (Owen Fawcett). The spot-lighting and stage direction worked hand-in-hand, and the intentional audience interaction gave a very conversational feel to the narration. Faith’s dialogue was both sarcastic and witty, and it was easy to relate to her eloquently delivered anecdotes about cheating parents, kids picking their nose in the ball-pit at McDonald’s, and other random thoughts. The play was inappropriately funny, and the crowd loved it.—JT

Life Boat

(New College Dramatic Society)

New College’s Life Boat featured five dissimilar men stranded and awaiting rescue after their boat went down. As heatstroke and frustration set in, revelations about their unfulfilling lives begin to emerge. Although much of the acting lacked pace and appeal, Christian Glas as the happy-go-lucky Frank held the piece together (and definitely deserved the Award of Merit for his performance at Saturday night’s award ceremony).—Ceara East

Tangent on a Tangent

(Trinity College Dramatic Society)

The Trinity College Dramatic Society followed the New College production with a very different, more light-hearted mood. The show follows two dorky middle-aged men as they attempt to convince a couple of unsuspecting foreign women that they are attending a spiritual new-age convention. Although the cast played their characters with conviction and sincerity, the stereotyping and gags were a little forced at times.—CE

Where the wild things are made

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Genomics gets personal

You’ve probably heard of “paternity testing” and “prenatal screening,” but how many people understand the terms “genotype” and “genomics”? While many people aren’t familiar with genetic terminology, chances are that at some point during your life you’ll find yourself discussing information that has been obtained from analyzing your genome.

Genomics is the study of genomes, the full set of hereditary information (or genes) present in an organism. As a field, genomics has grown exponentially over the past several decades. The bacteria Haemophilus influenzae was the first to be sequenced in 1995; however genomics became really exciting with the completion of the Human Genome Project, which set out to sequence the human genome using DNA taken from four anonymous donors.

Genomics is more than just genome sequencing. It also focuses on analyzing genetic data to determine how gene products function and interact, and which gene products are expressed in a given set of conditions. The Human Genome Project aimed to locate and identify the 20,000 to 25,000 nucleotide stretches of DNA in the genome. Initiated in 1990, the project published the complete human genome sequence in 2003.

The published sequence reflects the general arrangement of genes found in every human being. At the same time, it does not completely reflect the genomic sequence of individuals, because every organism (that is not a twin or clone) is genetically unique.

Enter the era of personal genomics. Personal genomics is all about determining and analyzing DNA sequences for individuals. This relatively new field is growing rapidly and has already found a number of applications, particularly in the area of genetic testing. Genetic testing refers to the process of examining and interpreting an individual’s DNA using bioinformatics tools. Police use genetic testing to identify suspects and victims at crime scenes as well as biological relationships in paternity tests. Doctors also perform genetic tests on newborns to screen for various genetically based disorders that can be treated before the disease progresses. In addition, some individuals screen themselves to determine whether there is a chance that their children will have a particular genetic disorder. Pre-natal diagnostics test whether a fetus has a genetic disorder, while other types of genetic testing can be performed to confirm a diagnosis of a disease, to identify individuals at risk for developing a particular disease or disorder, and how an individual may respond to certain chemicals or drugs.
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How does analyzing a genetic sequence provide information about disease susceptibility? Although humans share the same genes, individuals can possess different variations of each gene, called alleles. Variations in the sequence of a gene may lead to differences in the appearance and/or behaviour of a gene product. In the case of certain genes, possessing a particular variant has been found to correlate with an increased risk of developing a specific disease. Various genes have been linked to breast cancer, Burkitt’s lymphoma, leukemia, a hereditary form of retinoblastoma, as well as many other conditions. These linkages are determined by genome-wide association studies which look at large numbers of people with or without a particular disease. Researchers then analyze the DNA sequences to determine if those with the disease share common genetic features.

Genetic testing used to be mediated by professionals such as doctors and genetic counsellors. However, over the past few years a number of companies have sprung up that offer this service to anyone who can afford it. These direct-to-consumer (DTC) companies argue that every individual has the right to access their genetic information. All a person has to do is send in a DNA sample and pay up. The company then analyzes the sequence to provide information about the customer’s likelihood of developing certain diseases later in life. In addition, some companies make predictions about an individual’s reactions to certain drugs and offer other services. For example, one DTC company called 23andme helps customers “fill in” their family tree by comparing their genotype with those of other customers and assigning biological relationships based on genetic similarity. The company also claims it can map a client’s origins by determining which ethnicities his or her ancestors likely belonged to.

Those intrigued by these possibilities should keep in mind that costs range between $500 and $999, depending on the company and the information you want to obtain. But is it even worth it?

An article recently published in Nature suggests that predictions obtained from DTC companies should be taken with a grain of salt. The article compared the results obtained by two different DTC companies (Navigenics and 23andme) after testing five individuals for their susceptibility to 13 diseases. The study found that while the companies’ predictions matched perfectly for four of the diseases, the remaining seven diseases involved predictions with 50 per cent agreement or less between the two companies. Although the sample size in this example is small, it shows that there are flaws with DTC testing. The article points out that the genotypes determined by each company matched more than 99.7 per cent of the time, indicating that the raw data was quite accurate. In addition, DTC companies base their predictions on results obtained from scientific studies. The fact that predictions given by different companies do not always agree is not necessarily a sign of incompetence.

U of T researcher Dr. Stephen Scherer points out, “As with everything there are variances […] most of the data the DTC companies deliver is based on relative risks with lots of mathematics behind them. The data is mainly ‘grey’ and not black and white, but that is no different than most other medical data.”

The authors of the Nature article suggest that the differences in predictions reported by the two companies may partly lie in the fact that each test uses different disease markers. Diseases with a genetic basis are caused by a combination of genetic factors, and each company chooses the disease markers that it feels provide the best predictions. Part of the reason for the disparity in predictions likely arises from the information each company uses to establish its analyses. Hence, the problem likely lies in an imperfect understanding of the connection between genetic factors and disease.

Scherer suggests that the accuracy of DTC testing could be improved by taking into account other kinds of genetic variations. Currently, DTC companies only look at single-nucleotide variations called single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in DNA sequences. However, there are many other kinds of genetic variations: nucleotide additions, deletions, sequence inversions, and duplications called structural variations. These are very common and can also increase an individual’s susceptibility to developing a particular disease. “The importance of structural variation to gene expression, protein structure, and chromosome stability is being increasingly recognized in normal development and disease,” says Scherer, who argues that structural variations are “gain[ing] more prominence in genomic medicine.”

Of course, the best way to obtain genetic data is to sequence the entire genome. For the most part, only genes thought to be linked to certain diseases are analyzed to determine disease susceptibility. This means that the sequences of all variants need to be known. Sequencing reveals all the variations present throughout the genome.

Since the Human Genome Project, DNA sequencing technology has improved significantly and the costs have also fallen dramatically. The complete sequence published at the end of the project in 2003 cost $2.3 billion, while the first individual’s genome sequence, published several years later, cost several million. In November 2009, Complete Genomics claimed to have sequenced a full genome for $1,700. The DTC company Knome offers full genome sequencing for $68,500. Promises abound to drive down the cost to $1,000 or less within the next few years. Some believe that in the near future it will be affordable to sequence the genome of every individual in the United States. Having such a wealth of information will undoubtedly be invaluable to researchers, but does having access to one’s genetic information have any impact on the individual?

Experts point out that predictive genetic testing is only valuable if it leads to behavioural change. For example, if an individual discovers that he has a higher risk of developing colon cancer, this might motivate him to get screened for it earlier. However, it is unlikely that an individual with a two per cent higher risk of obesity will significantly change his or her eating and exercise habits. And what about diseases like Huntington’s? A positive genetic test for this disease means that an individual will definitely have it later in life. Not everyone may want to know about their predispositions to certain illnesses.

This issue only scratches the surface of the huge number of ethical, practical, and legal issues that have arisen with the growth of personal genomics. Privacy is a primary concern when it comes to genomic information. Another common concern is that genetic data indicating a susceptibility to certain illnesses may lead to genetic discrimination by insurance companies. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, passed in 2008 by U.S. Congress, protects individuals from such discrimination by health insurance companies and employers, but not life insurance companies.

Then there is the issue of DTC companies and what laws will regulate them from exploiting naive and uneducated consumers. Several European countries have resorted to banning DTC testing companies outright. There have been cases where DTC companies have been accused of making claims unsupported by scientific evidence. Commentaries on this issue express the need for greater transparency in the companies’ methods, increased consumer education, and government agencies to play some role in regulating their actions.

In addition, questions are being raised about the way genetic information is used in genomic research. In some studies, genetic samples are gathered from children with consent from their parents or guardians. Some argue that by the time these children reach the age of majority, they may decide that they do not want their genetic information to continue being used and should therefore be contacted and asked for further permission. Others argue that it is unrealistic to track down and contact every person whose DNA has been sampled.

In other cases, research may require linking genomic information with medical records. Harvard lecturer Patrick Taylor claims that seeking consent when it comes to using personal information for research will result in biased samples that pose a huge barrier to carrying out effective research. Nevertheless, in either debate, there is general agreement about the need to protect privacy, whether or not consent is given.

These heated debates hint that current regulations used for controlling the use and accessibility of genomic information are inadequate and will have to be rethought as the personal, economic, and political ramifications of personal genomics become more evident.

The Human Genome Project provides a glimpse into a possible future in which people are at ease with accessing and sharing their genomic data, where genetic testing and full genome sequencing is easily accessible and allows individuals to play a more prominent role in making decisions regarding lifestyle and health. This may also be a future for which we are not prepared, where genetic data is exploited and used by employers to discriminate between potential employees, or by DTC companies who make unreasonable promises to uneducated consumers.

Whether we are prepared for it or not, personal genomics seems to be the way of the future, and that future is coming fast.

GC dreams

Twenty-eight candidates are running for eight seats on Governing Council. About half showed up to a town hall last Monday to field questions from an audience around the same size. The event was hosted and extensively promoted by the French Club, known as EFUT, and the Young Liberals of U of T.

This year, GC shortened the election season from five to three weeks and reduced the number of signatures required for nomination from 20 to five. But the number of candidates decreased from last year, when 46 students ran (of which three were disqualified and three withdrew).

Students hold eight seats on the 50-seat GC, despite frequent calls to give students, staff, and faculty equal representation. Though student governors are vastly outnumbered—a perennial issue that was raised Monday night—they can vote on decisions that come before the university’s highest decision-making council and give voice to the students they represent.

In this issue and the next, The Varsity takes a look at each constituency represented on GC. Voting takes place on ROSI until March 12. All candidates’ statements are available online at here (PDF).
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Full-Time Undergraduate Constituency I: 13 candidates, 2 seats

With Andrew Agnew-Iler’s decision not to seek another term, 12 new candidates are vying with incumbent Margaret Kim for one of two seats reserved for undergraduate candidates from Arts and Science, UTSC, and UTM.

Kim said she wanted an opportunity to build on the work she started this year, and compared sitting on GC to a part-time job and that students needed a representative who treated it that way. She added that she spent about 15 hours a week attending meetings, not including the time it took to prepare. “I try to make sure that when I go into that room, I know what I’m talking about and that I have constructive, critical questions to ask these people,” she said.

Candidates like Kim, whose approach to campaigning is mainly through face-to-face interaction, face stiff competition. Other candidates have lined up a string of endorsements and made extensive use of social media to get out the vote.

One of those contenders, Daniel Gatto, has received endorsements from several former governors and student society leaders. As of press time, he had 178 members in his Facebook group. “I already have a fair base of contacts to work with and I’m really into outreach, so I’m always trying to connect with new organizations,” said Gatto. He said that one of the major items of his platform would allow students to opt into health and dental plans on ROSI. “That’s really a UTSU issue but I don’t see the UTSU as an organization that would bring forward something like that.” Gatto also recalled an instance where he found a piece of a cutting board in his Subway sandwich and said he wanted to work for healthier food choices on campus and give campus groups like Investing in Integrity a stronger profile when it came to finance-related issues.

Full-Time Undergraduate Constituency II: 6 candidates, 2 seats

The race for the professional faculties seats is on, with several challengers mounting sophisticated campaigns. Manveen Puri, a first-year medical student, boasts 27 campaign volunteers who have together logged in 39 volunteer hours, according to Puri’s website. Puri said he didn’t feel that endorsements from student society leaders were particularly effective and that he preferred to campaign by talking to students in their classes.

Adam Heller is a law student seeking his second term on GC. Heller said he wanted to be a moderate representative that would stand up to small special interests and oppose an activist form of governance. He said he understood GC’s role as inter-jurisdictional between the faculties.

Ken Kuran is a mechanical engineering student who has the endorsement of the current Engineering Society president and a past EngSoc president (EngSoc itself does not endorse candidates). He said he and fellow candidate Natalie Melton also had the support of current student governor Ryan Campbell, who graduates this year. Kuran said that one of his priorities would be to address the disparities in tuition costs between Arts and Science students and engineering students, whose tuition is considerably higher.

Heller said he felt some of his opponents were misleading students with proposals that he described as “overly broad.” “I think the platforms of some of the other candidates suggest that they don’t understand the role of Governing Council. I think they’re pledging things that aren’t within the purview of Governing Council,” said Heller, who declined to name names.

Kuran didn’t hold back. “We personally don’t feel that Adam Heller has done a sufficient amount to even deserve a seat on Governing Council,” he said. Kuran accused Heller of poor attendance at meetings and said he only showed up when the president and other higher-ups were in attendance.

“If you put out these massive overhauls that you claim you’re going to achieve, it’s not going to happen,” said Heller. “The Governing Council is not about these faculty-specific proposals that one student is going to be able to pursue.”

An earlier version of this article stated that Ken Kuran has the endorsements of past Engineering Society presidents. In fact, he has been endorsed by the current EngSoc president and one past president.

Nobelmen: The discovery of the cause of mad cow disease

The Prize:

The 1997 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine went to Stanley B. Prusiner “for his discovery of prions—a new biological principle of infection.” The same prize went to Carleton Gajdusek in 1976 for his half of work on “discoveries concerning new mechanisms for the origin and dissemination of infectious diseases.”

The Science:

The field of prion disease is one rife with controversy, tales of cannibalism, and mad cows. Yet in the midst of all of these peculiarities, two Nobel prizes have been awarded to researchers in a field only 60 years old.

The discovery that many diseases are caused by micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses fundamentally changed the practice of medicine. Potentially life-threatening infections could be fought off with anti-microbials and anti-fungals that kill the infectious organisms. So when Stanley Prusiner proposed that some neurodegenerative diseases were caused by misfolded proteins, the medical community was baffled. At the time, it seemed impossible that an entity carrying no genetic information could cause disease.

Prusiner’s interest in neurodegenerative disease started in 1972 when he witnessed a patient die of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). CJD is a rare, incurable disease that can cause dementia, memory loss, and loss of motor function, eventually leading to death. CJD can be inherited genetically or acquired later in life. The brains of affected individuals slowly waste away, developing a characteristic “spongy” appearance caused by the empty pockets that once held live neurons.

Prusiner was inspired by his patient’s strange symptoms: her brain function was degrading daily but her body was unaffected and she did not display any signs of infection. This flew in the face of the hypothesis of the time that CJD, like some other documented neurodegenerative diseases, was caused by a “slow virus.” Without any symptoms of infection, Prusiner asked, how could CJD be caused by a virus?

A discovery by Carleton Gajdusek in the 1950s led to the further discoveries connecting the symptoms of CJD, the human disease “kuru,” and the disease “scrapie” in sheep. Kuru is a disease found in the Fore people of the New Guinea highlands. Like CJD, kuru slowly eats away at the brain, leading to death. Women and children of the Fore were especially prone to developing kuru symptoms. Scrapie has a similar prognosis for sheep. These and other similar diseases are now known as the spongiform encephalopathies.

Carleton Gajdusek began studying kuru in the Fore people in the 1950s. After ruling out nutritional deficiency and toxicity, he discovered that kuru was transmitted by ingesting infected human brain tissue. He showed that inoculating infected human brain tissue into chimpanzee brains caused the chimps to succumb to a kuru-like disease. For this work, Gajdusek was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1976. For the Fore people, eradication of kuru was made possible by outlawing the ritualistic cannibalism (which transferred the infectious agent from the dead to the living) that was practiced in honour of the dead. In the outlawed ritual, women and children often ate the less choice body parts, including the brain, which explained why they so often succumbed to kuru.

The chimp brain inoculation experiment was repeated with CJD-infected brain samples yielding the same results. These results allowed scientists to hypothesize that the spongiform encephalopathies were caused by a “slow virus” that had a long incubation time (it took years for the inoculated chimps to display symptoms of kuru or CJD). However, the slow virus hypothesis did not effectively explain how CJD can also be heritable, nor was it supported by the lack of infection-like symptoms such as fever or increased white blood cell counts in affected individuals. In addition, further research showed that the infectivity of diseased brain tissue was remarkably resistant: the samples remained infective after treatment with radiation, UV light, and fixatives, treatments that readily kill viruses and microbes.

Prusiner and his group began looking for the infectious agent of the spongiform encephalopathies and found it in 1982: a single protein. The result received mixed reviews. There were those who were excited by the ramifications that a protein, previously thought to be inert and innocuous, could be an infectious agent. There were others that openly mocked and refuted Prusiner’s results, some without even reading his paper.

Prusiner has said that he and his colleagues were probably the most skeptical of their “protein hypothesis,” but after 10 years of careful experimentation, the protein hypothesis was their only answer. Prusiner and his group showed that a single protein that they named “prion” (short for “proteinaceous infectious particle”) was enough to transfer spongiform encephalopathies between rodents.

The prion protein is a normal brain protein that can exist in two forms, “normal” and “scrapie.” The scrapie form of the protein is prone to aggregation and can catalyze the conversion of normal prion protein to the scrapie form. The scrapie aggregates form plaques, called amyloids, which are toxic to neurons and lead to their death. After a subject ingests a scrapie prion, the protein can migrate to the brain where a virtual domino effect is set into play, eventually converting enough prion protein to the aggregated, scrapie form to destroy neurons.

Prion diseases, however, don’t have to start with the ingestion of scrapie-form prion. The spongiform encephalopathies can also be acquired by a normal prion protein spontaneously converting to the scrapie form, or by a hereditary predisposition to the conversion of normal to scrapie prion. Thus, prion diseases can be hereditary, spontaneous, or infectiously acquired.

Strangely, the prion protein is not essential to mice. It can be “knocked-out” of the mouse genome with little effect to the mouse’s lifetime, behaviour, or health. This has brought up questions over what role the prion protein plays in normal brain function. The fact that prion protein “knock-out” mice are resistant to prion disease, supposedly because they lack the prion proteins necessary to build the toxic plaques, supports the prion hypothesis.

The Significance:

Possibly the most famous outbreak of prion disease was the “mad cow” epidemic of the 1980s and ’90s in Great Britain. Farmers unintentionally spread “mad cow” disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), by feeding the remains (including brains) of infected cows to uninfected cows. The discovery led to the massive destruction of 4.4 million cattle in Britain that decimated the UK cattle industry. Unfortunately, BSE can be transferred to humans who ingest infected spinal column or brain, causing a CJD variant to develop. CJD acquired this way is thought to have caused the deaths of over 150 people in Great Britain. Media outlets all over the world picled up the “mad cow” story, first as a serious news issue, but eventually it became a running joke. Since the BSE outbreak, governments instituted stricter rules for cattle feeding practices in an effort to limit BSE transmission. Even today, blood donors in Canada and elsewhere are rejected if they spent significant amounts of time in the UK during the ’80s, as blood is also thought to carry the scrapie-form of the prion protein.

Yet the prion hypothesis remains just that, a hypothesis, and one that is hotly debated. Some scientists still hold to the slow virus theory and have some indirect evidence to support their claims. Scientists are also exploring whether exposure to heavy metals is a risk factor or causative agent of the spongiform encephalopathies.

Since the discovery of the prion protein mechanism of pathogenesis, many other diseases have been shown to involve protein amyloid formation. Amyloids made up of proteins other than prion have been implicated in causing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Type II diabetes, and Huntington’s disease. Yet for all the diseases that protein aggregation can cause, at some level, protein aggregation is actually necessary for some proteins to function normally. For instance, memory formation requires the aggregation of a specific protein within a neuron. Current research in the amyloid field aims at discovering how the body regulates acceptable levels of aggregation of proteins to ensure their proper function, and what triggers the dysregulations that cause disease.