The fall of the noble Nalgene water bottle

My world is made of plastic. Yours is, too. From the resins that bind the particleboard of our IKEA bookshelves to the synthetic insulation of our Honest Ed’s quilts, plastic particles are everywhere. We also happen to like buying things. We like buying things so much that whenever anything frightens us we rely on our wallets to direct us to the nearest and quickest solution. These days, water bottles are the hot new item to fear and replace. The solution: buy stainless steel.

The formerly noble creation known as the Nalgene bottle is being branded as a potential danger to your health because of a chemical known as Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is a key monomer in the plastics used for the bottles, as well as all sorts of receptacles: the linings of food cans, sippy cups, and baby bottles, to name a few.

Scientists are currently debating the safety of the chemical: animal lab tests have shown BPA to activate estrogen receptors in the body, which may lead to cancers, infertility, and, apparently, general doom down the road. Scientists have known about the hormone-disrupting properties of BPA for years, though its trace impact on human physiology is still a matter of debate. The makers of Nalgene have long insisted that the quantity of the chemical in their polycarbonate plastic is insufficient to cause harm.

The signature hard plastic bottles have not officially been recalled by the Rochester-based company, but many major Canadian distributors have opted to pull the popular con tainers from their shelves. Mountain Equipment Co-op was among the fi rst to stop selling the bottles in November, and Lululemon quickly followed suit.

A former emblem of eco-cool, the plastic Nalgene has been a staple of backpack holsters on university campuses across North America for over a decade. Until recently, drinking from your Nalgene bottle projected an image of environmental awareness, social consciousness, and overall pragmatism. Nowadays, those who are “in the know” are swapping their old Nalgenes for a variety of sleeker, pricier, metal-based alternatives that are being marketed as “safe” and “healthy” substitutes for the old plastic standard.

It’s more than a little ironic to see the once-wholesome Nalgene bottle become the latest addition to an ongoing consumer witch-hunt that includes such no-no’s as gluten, candy bars without cacao-content brag tallies, non-organic produce, and anything that doesn’t call itself “green.” Then again, if whole wheat (gluten!) can make its way onto “bad choice” lists, why shouldn’t everyone’s favourite earth-friendly water bottle qualify?

It may be difficult to cast aspersions on products that aim to provide discerning shoppers with environmentally ethical options, and it is probably unfair to criticize the individuals who choose to purchase responsibly. But, how long can we count on our latest “smart” buy to be smart enough?

When the virtually indestructible polycarbonate Nalgene bottle was initially released in the mid-’90s, it was hailed as the top choice for proponents of an active, healthy lifestyle. In spite of Nalgene’s fall from grace, it’s unlikely that we’ll learn our lesson. Consumers will continue to buy more things, convinced that we are buying the pinnacle of utility and safety each time. Our plastic world may expand to include stainless steel for now, but only until someone comes up with the next best thing to replace it.

How did you deal with the snow this weekend?

Clockwise, from top left

KRISTIAN, U of T employee

I work at U of T’s AV Department and our van kept getting stuck in the snow. Each time we needed to start moving, we had no choice but to pull a Cool Runnings, pushing the van until it picked up speed and then hopping on.

KATIE – 2nd year Music and Physics

I built a snow man on the landing outside my 3rd-floor window, but he was soon crushed by a massive pile of snow from the roof.

MATT, 3rd year Psychology

I still went out and partied. I picked up a straight guy who said ‘I’m not gay, but can I sleep over?’ In the process of trying to get him to come out of the closet I hit my head on a door!

AMY, 2nd year Mathematics

I had a snowballs fight outside G’s Fine Foods on Bloor with some of my friends. I lost my glasses and we all searched for 15 minutes through piles of snow.

Women have the right to choose

Anti-abortion advocates claim that abortion is murder. They say that from the moment of conception, the fetus is a living human being. What they don’t know, or at least don’t say, that is that any fetus will not be sufficiently developed to feel real pain until after 30 weeks, well after the threshold where most abortions are carried out.

According to the United Nations, reproductive rights of individuals consist of being able to “decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing and timing of [one’s] children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health.” Furthermore, everyone should have the right to make decisions regarding reproduction “free of discrimination, coercion and violence.”

Despite these rights, 120 million couples in the developing world do not have the resources and support necessary to control their pregnancies. In fact, 43 per cent of all pregnancies are unwanted.

The motive of pro-life groups is to make women feel guilty for having sex, forcing them to give birth to unwanted children. The Roman Catholic Church views abortion as a sin. Pope John Paul II compared abortion to a mass genocide similar to the Holocaust.

Instead of enforced shame, we should show tolerance and empathy for a difficult situation. Providing support and unbiased information to aid women in their decision-making process would obtain better results than shaming them.

Each year 70,000 women die because of illegal abortions and slightly fewer suffer serious injuries. A grown woman should not have to risk her life to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

Of course, there are also teenage pregnancies. Every year approximately 15 million girls under the age of 18 give birth. These girls are five times more likely to die in childbirth than a woman between the ages of 18 and 25. Not only is a pregnant teen’s life at risk, but also her future. Many schools with pregnant students offer them little choice. Without an abortion, they will be forced to drop out of school.

And what about women who have become pregnant after being raped? Can they be expected to carry a child for nine months, a reminder of the sexual assault they were forced to endure? According to Status of Women Canada, over half of Canadian women have been the victims of at least one act of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16. With such a high degree of sexual assault in our own society, can we realistically expect rape victims to deal with the results of an attack for the rest of their lives?

Women carrying a disabled child should also be considered. Children born with a mental or physical disability require a significantly greater amount of care and place financial strain on their parents. An illequipped mother giving birth to a child with special needs can only choose adoption or abortion. This child is much more likely, if adopted, to receive inferior care. Therefore, her choice is likely to be an abortion.

Why do many women choose abortion over adoption? One-third of all abortions are performed on unmarried women who not only wish to avoid becoming attached to a child, but also to escape judgment as they carry the child they will be giving up. Most of all, many women do not choose adoption because of the uncertainty of their child’s future. How will they know their child is being cared for?

Then there is the issue of contraception. In some places, contraception is not available to the majority of the population, or is too expensive for most to afford. In Canada, youth in rural areas cannot acquire contraceptives or information due to a shortage of sexual health centres. Sexual education in the school curriculum has become a joke, as many teachers are not qualified while some schools lack sex-ed programs entirely.

Rather than opposing abortion, we should be supporting contraception and sexual education. We should improve the lives of the children who are brought into the world, often abandoned or abused.

Put simply by Michael Jay Tucker, editorial advisor for, “If the anti-abortion movement took a tenth of the energy they put into noisy theatrics and devoted it to improving the lives of children who have been born into lives of poverty, violence, and neglect, they could make a world shine.”

20 years of injustice towards women

On Friday, Jan. 25, the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law hosted a day-long symposium marking the 20th anniversary of R v. Morgentaler, the landmark Supreme Court decision that deemed Canadian abortion law as it stood in 1988 as unconstitutional. On Friday, Dr. Henry Morgentaler himself expressed the collective viewpoint of the speakers panel, calling the decision “an important milestone in the emancipation of Canadian women.”

For all the discourse concerning the rights of women within these lectures, one thing became abundantly clear: the speakers at this symposium did not authentically represent or take the side of women.

The speakers presented themselves as champions of “choice,” which in actuality means, “the choice to abort.” They brought up heart-wrenching stories of teenage women experiencing unplanned pregnancies. Dr. Gary Romalis, a Vancouver abortionist, said that, “usually an unwanted, unplanned pregnancy is the worst trouble a girl has been in.”

The speakers assumed that abortion is the best solution for women. Dr. Romalis claimed that he “can take an anxious woman who’s in the biggest trouble of her life, and in a five-minute procedure, give her back her life.”

This utopian presentation of the abortion issue is in fact anti-woman. Nowhere in the lecture was there any mention of the mental anguish and suffering thousands of women undergo after having abortions. Pro-choice supporters dismiss the very idea of suffering as a result of the choice to abort, contradicting the testimony of countless women.

Canadian culture favours and promotes abortion, to the exclusion of a healthy discussion about other options. If we were truly serious about offering women “choice,” we would provide women with the full range of options, including support for maintaining a pregnancy.

Our society does not provide this support. Women experiencing unplanned pregnancies are left stranded, abandoned, even stigmatized. What else can they do but abort, when other options are less encouraged and much harder to access?

This situation is made worse when women are denied full information about their decision.

Don’t “pro-choicers” think that the humanity of the fetus might be an important consideration for a woman in the decision-making process? Are they afraid that women might not want to permit the killing of something that is, to many, undeniably human?

Scientific and medical facts can affect a pregnant woman’s decision, and thereby affect her life. Feminists for Life, a pro-life women’s advocacy group, publishes testimonials of women who have suffered from their abortion experiences. A refrain runs through: women were not given vital information that could have changed their decision.

One testimonial reads, “No one told me that I would hurt so badly. No one told me that I would feel so empty. No one told me that I would never be able to forgive myself for what I had done. Would I have listened if they had? Maybe, maybe not. However, I wasn’t given that option.” Many women are not told the truth about fetal

development, realizing years later that the “products of conception” actually had functioning organs, fingerprints, and a face. They were not informed about the potential emotional and physical side effects of abortion (side effects that the symposium speakers dismiss as lies spun by “anti-choicers”). Canada Silent No More, a support group run by women who have experienced the pain of abortion, highlights the disastrous lack of information given to women.

There is, in fact, only one “choice” being offered. So how exactly is this scenario “pro-woman?” A recent Hamilton Spectator opinion article points out that “Women have the right to full information, and are dis-served when they are denied it. Full information includes all sides of this debate.” What exactly are pro-choicers afraid of? A more informed choice is a better choice. Surely a decision made between a greater number of options is better than being forced into the only option presented as viable.

In the words of Emmy-award winning actress and pro-life activist, Patricia Heaton, “Women who are experiencing an unplanned pregnancy also deserve unplanned joy.” As a society, we dismiss the possibility of such joy when we speak in euphemisms, name-calling, and half-truths. Women with unplanned pregnancies deserve society’s support and assistance, not the violence of abortion.

The Morgentaler Symposium speakers want to proclaim January 28, 1988 as the day that women gained an essential, constitutionally-guaranteed freedom. The sad truth is that January 28, 1988 is the day that Canada failed women. We can—we must—do better.

Nefarious nematodes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Not Rocket Science – Episode 5

Spare parts from stem cells

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


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

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


Those beautiful baby blue eyes (are mutations)

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


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

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


Finally, science brings us a better onion

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


We have the technology. We can rebuild him

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


Experimental device improves memory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RCMP probes UTM student’s free speech line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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