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When it comes to naming things, crowd-sourcing isn’t the best idea

Re: “UTM seeking student suggestions for new building name”

When it comes to naming things, crowd-sourcing isn’t the best idea

It seems that members of the U of T administration were left wanting more after the results of the Portal Naming Contest were announced in December 2017. Since one naming contest was not enough, UTM launched another earlier this month, this time for the new north building that is scheduled to open in the summer of 2018.

The contest invited UTM staff, students, and faculty to suggest a name for the new north building between February 12 and February 25. Subsequently, a committee formed by UTM’s staff, students, and faculty will review and recommend three names from these suggestions to Dr. Ulrich Krull, the principal of UTM. Krull will, in turn, pass along one name to be approved by the administration.

Though Susan Senese, UTM’s Interim Chief Administrative Officer, called this contest a “community opportunity,” it is highly likely that the results of this contest will generate frivolous responses rather than serious ones.

Undergraduate students make up the largest portion of UTM’s community, and many of these students share and create memes. Outside of the campus context, the results of numerous naming contests in the recent past have been skewed by meme-wielding internet users.

Mountain Dew’s 2012 Dub the Dew contest to name its soft drink resulted in suggestions ranging from “Fapple” to “Gushing Granny.” A public vote in 2016 to name the new UK Polar Royal Research Ship resulted in 124,109 votes for “Boaty McBoatface.” When the Philadelphia Zoo asked the public to name its newborn baby gorilla in 2016, it was bombarded with suggestions of “Harambe,” the gorilla who was fatally shot by a Cincinnati Zoo worker earlier that year after a three-year-old child climbed into his enclosure, and whose death was subsequently memorialized through memes.

U of T’s new portal name, Quercus, was also subjected to similar mockery by members of a Facebook group devoted to U of T memes, who likened it to “Ridiculus.”

Given that “Building McBuildingFace” and “Glassy Squares Boi” — both names derived from memes — have already been suggested, thanks to the U of T subreddit, I doubt that leaving the name up to the UTM community is the best idea. At this rate, students will be attending classes in the “Ignorant and Hurtful Building.”


Zeahaa Rehman is a third-year student at UTM studying Linguistics and Professional Writing.

Life-saving machine mimics the body to sustain pre-transplant kidneys

Toronto doctors revolutionize traditional transplant procedure

Life-saving machine mimics the body to sustain pre-transplant kidneys

Imagine you are an athlete competing in the Mount Everest Marathon, one of the longest endurance races in the world. Before you even start the race, you must navigate for countless hours through uncharted territory, hungry and out of breath. Race day arrives, and you are expected to be at your peak performance to start your run. Sounds daunting, doesn’t it? Now imagine you are running because your life depended on it.

This scenario is similar to the life-saving race that kidneys go through after they are harvested from donors and are awaiting transplant. Fortunately, a team of Toronto doctors found a way for these organ-athletes to start the race strong and full of energy before transplant day.

The Varsity had a chance to speak with Dr. Markus Selzner, a leading transplant surgeon from Toronto General Hospital and Associate Professor in U of T’s Department of Surgery, about this new life-saving method.

With collaborators from the University Health Network, Sick Kids Hospital and support from the Canadian National Transplant Research Program, it took about five years of research to develop the ex-vivo machine. Named for the Latin term meaning ‘out of the living,’ the machine can mimic the environment inside the human body to keep organs healthy before transplant.

In contrast, standard transplantation procedure involves removing kidneys carefully from a body’s balmy internal temperature of 37 degrees and cooling them down to about four degrees. This cooling slows the kidney’s metabolism and keeps them viable for a maximum of 30 hours before transplantation. These cooled kidneys are in a ‘sleepy’ state, which requires dialysis until it can be transplanted.

The ex-vivo machine blends old and new techniques by combining the traditional heart-lung bypass machine with customized tubing that is adapted to maintain optimal flow of the kidney’s smaller blood vessels. A series of interconnected tubes and mechanical pumps carry a solution of nutrients including amino acids, oxygen, glucose, antibiotics, and drugs to treat and relax the kidney in preparation for surgery. “The key is what’s in the fluid. It’s like cooking a soup, you want to get every ingredient right,” said Selzner.

The goal of the device is to preserve and rejuvenate less-than-ideal kidneys by mimicking the “normothermic” or normal temperature inside the body. “We keep the kidney warm, perfused with oxygen and nutrition, so we pretend that the organ is still in the body… and it works at this time,” said Selzner.

In Canada, kidneys are the most frequently transplanted solid organ, but the need for this organ exceeds the supply. These kidneys go through rigorous analysis and only the most healthy organs are chosen to ensure success for the patients receiving them. Selzner hopes that by meeting this demand through rejuvenating less-than-ideal kidneys, countless individuals will be given a new lease on life.

Selzner has an optimistic outlook of what is to come and emphasized the importance of collaboration between research and clinical teams to advance life-saving technologies. Selzner is part of the team seeking new applications for this technology including rejuvenating other organs like the liver, pancreas, and heart.

In the long term, he is hoping to create a central hub or repair center for organs which would involve organs being docked and actively analyzed for up to date information on how well it works pre-transplant. This would be an significant advancement in accessibility and availability of organs for transplant.

International Women’s Day urges us to ‘press for progress’ on working conditions

Securing decent work bears positive ramifications for gender equity and women’s health

International Women’s Day urges us to ‘press for progress’ on working conditions

International Women’s Day (IWD) arrives yet again on March 8, presenting another opportunity to reflect on the status of gender equality in our society. This year has already been galvanized by powerful movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp, which clearly demonstrate an amplified interest in progressing issues related to gender equality. Quite appropriately, the theme of IWD this year is #PressforProgress, calling on the community to advance efforts in all areas on gender-inclusive action worldwide.

Recalling that International Women’s Day was born out of women’s labour struggles at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and Europe, it is time to return to these roots. Despite many achievements in women’s equality in the labour sector, we must press for progress on remaining shortcomings, particularly in our own province.

Many women continue to face discrimination and unfair working conditions in Ontario. In fact, precarious employment overall has increased in Canada by nearly 50 per cent in the last 20 years, and women are overrepresented in the population that faces such conditions. Research shows that racialized immigrant women specifically experience a higher burden of precarious employment in the province. As children of working immigrant women, this is a reality we have seen first-hand.

Ontario is still far from where it needs to be when it comes to equity in the labour sector. As public health students, our work entails closely reviewing the evidence linking  working conditions to ramifications for health and wellbeing. Governed by provincial labour policy, employment and working conditions directly influence health by determining individuals’ income, which ultimately dictates the affordability of aspects of healthy living such as nutritious foods, stable housing, and  medication. Additionally, flexibility in working hours and access to paid leaves affect people’s ability to look after themselves in times of illness. Research shows that having insecure and precarious employment results in anxiety and greater social isolation.

Fortunately, some progress has been made in this area. In November 2017, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, or Bill 148, was passed in Ontario, with many of its measures implemented in January 2018. Some of the changes brought about by this bill include the increase in minimum wage, equal pay for equal work regardless of employee status, and an increase to a total of 10 days of emergency leave per year, two of which are paid at employee’s regular rate. It is also inclusive of new scheduling practices around shift changes and cancellations, ensuring that employees are given fair notice.   

The bill is definitely a step in the right direction — it is progress on labour rights for all in Ontario. But for women, who form the majority of those in precarious forms of work, there is more to be done. This is especially true in certain industries. For instance, the caregiving sector, primarily made up of women, is overwhelmingly susceptible to precarious working conditions. It is often low-wage with no flexibility in scheduling, not to mention that it is mentally and physically exhausting given the emotional toll that caregiving can take. This sector is also highly racialized, as immigrant and racialized women are often pushed into caregiving jobs.

Despite these struggles, however, workers in caregiving in private homes and in other sectors are banned from forming a union to collectively advocate for improved standards and working conditions. Currently, exemptions and regulations in other legislations like the Labour Relations Act and the Employment Standards Act exclude workers in certain sectors and of certain origins from the right to unionize.

Current efforts to improve working conditions through Bill 148 can only be successful if they are implemented well. This includes ensuring that employees are aware of new changes and that they are also well-equipped with support and information in the event that this legislation is not being adequately applied in their workplace. Migrant workers, for example, are specifically vulnerable, as they may be repatriated by exploitative employers if they complain.

With this year’s IWD theme being ‘pressing for progress,’ the time is right to insist on improving working conditions for women in Ontario. While there is much to celebrate in terms of labour rights in the province, we should be cognizant of the many changes that still need to be made.

It is also important to be critical and push for change not only on IWD, but all year round — especially in light of the provincial election in June and the potential implications its outcome may bring for Bill 148 and gender equality in women’s everyday lives. As young people, if we want a more progressive and equitable society, we should celebrate achievements in the labour sector for women on March 8, but continue to press our politicians on this cause going forward.


Sandani Hapuhennedige and Afnan Naeem are Master’s students at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and steering committee members of the Decent Work and Health Network.

Are all snowflakes unique?

Data shows that some might be similar, if we don’t look too closely

Are all snowflakes unique?

The frosty, delicate beauty of a snowflake is a romantic symbol of wintertime — and in Canada, it’s still with us in spring. The six-edged figure of the snowflake is so iconic that it has become part of the emblem of several Winter Olympics to date.

In modern heraldry, the snowflake is often used as a silver-tinctured charge, emblazoned on the coats of arms of municipalities in northern Europe. Around dinner tables the snowflake is also commonly used as a serviceable cliché to highlight uniqueness, owing to the idea that no two snowflakes are the same.

But is this commonly held belief true?

It was the endearingly nicknamed Wilson Alwyn “Snowflake” Bentley who first introduced the idea. Bentley grew up in Jericho, Vermont, where he developed an interest in nature and attempted to draw representations of snow crystals he observed under a microscope given to him by his mother.

It should be noted that ‘snow crystal’ is the correct word used to define a singular crystal of solid, arranged water molecules whereas the term snowflake can describe a snow crystal or include multiple crystals that clump together.

On January 15, 1885, at the age of 19, Bentley became the first person to photograph a snowflake by catching one on a velvet blackboard, transferring it to a slide, and capturing its image with a bellows camera attached to a compound microscope before it melted. With his innovative photomicrographic techniques, he photographed over 5,000 images of snow crystals in intricate detail through his lifetime. In his celebrated book Snow Crystals, he notes the similarity of the general hexagonal shape, but also highlights “the endless variety in the details of a [snow crystals’] structure.”

In 1954, the physicist Ukichiro Nakaya published his groundbreaking study on snow crystal formation and shape. In a series of firsts, he showed that snow crystals formed when supersaturated water vapour cooled below zero degrees Celsius the transition from vapour to solid leads to ice crystal formation and growth while the freezing of liquid water instead forms sleet.

Being the first to grow them artificially in the lab, Nakaya demonstrated how the intricate shapes of crystals are primarily determined by the tandem effects of temperature and humidity. While all snow crystals have a hexagonal symmetry due to the hydrogen bonding pattern of water in ice, each of them acquires their own features as they tumble from the clouds. Each crystal ultimately forms uniquely as it collects more frozen water molecules on its surface and delicately dances through the variable temperature and humidity of the sky.

This artificial creation of crystals laid the groundwork for the more recent efforts of Dr. Kenneth G. Libbrecht at the California Institute of Technology. Libbrecht has created what he refers to as ‘identical twin crystals’ using snow crystal producing machines to control crystal growth conditions. Upon first glance, these crystals appear to be identical but are not when closely examined.

According to Libbrecht, when one considers that isotopes of water can contain different forms of hydrogen or oxygen atoms, and that a large number of water molecules comprise one crystal, there is little to no chance that water molecules are identically arranged in two crystals.

So, are all snowflakes unique?

The answer depends on the scale. Examining snow crystals under a low powered microscope will make them seem identical, but more detailed analysis will show that no two snow crystals are identical.

Under the microscope

U of T undergrad Joseph Moysiuk is making a name for himself in paleontology

Under the microscope

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s a child, Joseph Moysiuk was fascinated by the rocks at his local ravine. There, he would discover fossils and think, ‘What are these things?’

Moysiuk, a fourth-year Earth Sciences and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (EEB) student at Victoria College, made headlines last year for his research on a group of extinct cone-shaped animals called hyoliths; the paper, which he co-authored, was published in the science journal Nature.

The hyoliths were previously thought to be part of a group of animals called molluscs, but Moysiuk’s paper, “Hyoliths are Paleozoic Lophophorates,” explains that they are more closely related to another group, called brachiopods.

Although it might not seem extraordinary to those who aren’t well versed in fossils, the discovery has broken new grounds — and Moysiuk is just getting started.

A “first taste” of paleontology, Toronto-style

Moysiuk’s curiosity about unfamiliar rocks is what first led him to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). As a kid, he would bring his findings to the ROM’s Rock, Gem, Mineral, Fossil, and Meteorite Identification Clinics, where the museum’s curators would help him identify them.

“That was kind of my first taste into paleontology and what really started me into this field,” he says.

These identification clinics sparked his ongoing involvement with the ROM. While attending Etobicoke Collegiate Institute, he was given the opportunity to get involved through his high school’s co-op program.

“That was like five years ago now, and I’ve been hanging around ever since. They can’t get rid of me,” says Moysiuk.

Moysiuk chose to attend U of T because of its “unique affiliation with the ROM.” He cites Jean-Bernard Caron’s dual role as the senior curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at the ROM and an associate professor in the EEB department. Moysiuk was interested in working further with the professors and conducting research himself.

The Research Opportunity Program (ROP) at U of T, which allows second- and third-year Arts & Science students to work on a professor’s research project, gave him the opportunity to make his hopes a reality.

Through the program, Moysiuk conducted research under Caron. Martin Smith from Durham University was also a part of the research team.

Prior to the ROP, Moysiuk had only worked in collections management roles, but the program allowed him to get hands-on research experience. “The ROP gave me the first chance to actually study the fossils and maybe learn something new about them that we didn’t know before,” he says.

Photo Courtesy of Joseph Moysiuk.

The methods behind the paleontological madness

The ROM’s expansive collection of hyoliths, which according to Moysiuk “nobody had really looked at” before, inspired Moysiuk and Caron to embark on the project that has now introduced Moysiuk’s name to the wider world of paleontology.

“It seemed like it was a project that was potentially right for something. We didn’t really know what at the time,” he says.

They began the project by going through all the hyolith specimens, taking inventory of them, and forming a hypothesis using the information gathered, a process that took up a fair part of that year.

Excavations that Moysiuk participated in before beginning his ROP from the Burgess Shale at the Kootenay National Park provided a lot of new material that became fundamental to the study. The fossils found at Burgess preserved the hyoliths’ soft tissue details particularly well, allowing the research team to observe details that were not visible in previous fossils.

The fossils collected from the shale were preserved as carbon films. “That’s like if you took an organism and just flattened it onto the rock and heated it so you burn off everything except the carbon,” explains Moysiuk.

Soft tissues of organisms are typically made of compounds of organic carbon, so the carbon film preservation made sure much of the soft tissue detail was well preserved.

These small details required special equipment to analyze. They used a scanning electron microscope, which allowed them to examine the chemical composition of the fossils. Some details were only visible under polarized light that cut down on the reflection of the rocks, thus making the features more visible.

Visualizing fossils through scanning electron microscopy allows researchers to observe what is overprinted from the fossilization process and what the original matter is. This became particularly valuable in the analysis of fossils from the Burgess Shale.

Using the scanning electron microscope, the team looked at “what preservation factors have affected these fossils that might affect our interpretation of the anatomy,” says Moysiuk.

“Basically, my first few months of the ROP program was going through the collections, looking at every single specimen under the microscope, and seeing, ‘What do we have?’ ‘Is there anything important here?’” explains Moysiuk. “Once we had selected some kind of specimens that seem to be more important, we try other techniques of imaging them to see if we can tease out some more aspects of their morphology.”

One of those techniques was using a scanning electron microscope, a device that allows researchers to examine the chemical composition of fossils.

“One of the tricky things about studying fossils is we’re always trying to interpret the anatomy of these organisms, but kind of overprinted on that anatomy [are] all of the changes that have affected the organism between the time that it died and was buried, and it’s gone through 500 million years of alteration, of heat, pressure, fluids passing through the rock,” says Moysiuk.

Photo Courtesy of Joseph Moysiuk.

Discovering a new branch in the evolutionary tree

Prior to Moysiuk’s research, there wasn’t much clarity as to how hyoliths should be classified. While they were presumed to be related to molluscs, there wasn’t much concrete research to verify it.

Hyoliths did not fit nicely into any evolutionary scheme. While many hyolith fossils were found and identified, they remained either unclassified or were assumed to be likely molluscs, until now.

“People have been puzzling over them for 175 years, and most people have been saying, ‘Oh, these things are probably molluscs, they’re probably related to squid, clams, snails.’ They didn’t have a lot of evidence to back that up, but they said it enough that no one else had any better ideas to refute that.”

The key finding associating hyoliths with brachiopods was their feeding apparatus. Hyoliths fed from a ring of tentacles around their mouth, sandwiched between two shells, called the lophophore.
The presence of the lophophore shows that the hyolith was part of a larger group of animals called the lophophorates, which include modern brachiopods and horseshoe worms. This new anatomical knowledge suggested that hyoliths were related to the brachiopod group, as the brachiopod is the only modern animal that has a similar configuration of shells and tentacles.

Although many features of the hyoliths aligned with those of the brachiopods, other hyolith features, such as their elongated cone-shaped shell, are not present in brachiopods today.

These features are instead found in other brachiopod relatives, like horseshoe worms. “Hyoliths have brachiopod-like shells but an elongated body like the horseshoe worm, and that puts them kind of between these two lineages,” says Moysiuk.

Moysiuk, Caron, and Smith consider the hyolith a transitional form.
“Being that kind of intermediate between these two groups is telling us something about the evolution of both and the origin of both of these groups and how both of them have come to be in the modern world,” says Moysiuk.

One of the researchers’ goals was to better understand the biodiversity of the world.
“All living animals can trace their ancestry back to the Cambrian explosion 500 million years ago, and so, by studying the different, bizarre animals that lived back then, [we’re] starting to be able to tease out how biodiversity came to be.”

With biodiversity at risk in many areas in the world, the value of understanding its origins is an important step toward helping protect it.

Photo Courtesy of Joseph Moysiuk.

Learning lessons and continuing the hot streak

While the opportunity to help discover such a significant part of the evolutionary puzzle is astonishing, Moysiuk also emphasizes the learning process involved.

“It’s one thing to do a literature review, and it’s another thing to take it to the next step and think beyond what other people have said,” he says.

The research project has opened his eyes to many of the more formal aspects of research, from communicating long-distance with his fellow researchers — Caron at the ROM and Smith in the United Kingdom — to the submission and peer-review process of scientific journaling.

“It was eye-opening to see this process that I’ve heard about,” says Moysiuk. “It’s very different to do it yourself.”

Despite the hurdles that he had to face while adjusting to the research process, he has learned a lot and has accomplished things that he never expected, citing his experience giving a talk at the ROM.

“I was able to give a talk at the ROM, it’s in their big speaking hall, to like 300 people, but wow. That’s definitely not something that I expected to get out of my undergrad, but it’s been amazing,” he says.

One of the most gratifying parts of conducting his research, however, was seeing that it actually had impact in the scientific world.

“To see that the research that I’ve done is having an impact beyond this university [is] something that I’ve always wanted to work towards, and it’s just really gratifying to see that the research [is] contributing to the body of science,” he says.

As he finishes his last year of his undergraduate degree, Moysiuk hopes to continue with graduate studies in paleontology.

He is currently working on another project studying a different group of fossils collected from Kootenay National Park: the agnostids. While they are known to be orthopods — meaning they are related to insects, spiders, centipedes, and crabs — it has been hotly debated where they fit in.

For undergraduates who may be interested in pursuing research, Moysiuk’s advice is to get started early and take initiative.

“The earlier you start, the more you’re going to know about what you’re getting yourself into and the more chances that you’re going to have to be able to do different research along the way, and maybe you’ll discover something amazing.”

We shouldn’t be surprised Netflix is trying to conquer late night

Talk shows are just another step toward the service’s total TV domination

We shouldn’t be surprised Netflix is trying to conquer late night

Netflix’s transformation of the television industry has long been debated as being either a blessing or bane for the old gogglebox. With the streaming giant’s latest string of original programming, that debate has now zeroed in on one specific genre: late night.

Talk shows have been around forever, but Netflix seems to be trying to work its magic to bring new dynamics to the tried and true late night formula.

Bill Nye’s Bill Nye Saves the World cuts to enough celebrity segments to give it the feel of a talk show, but it primarily focuses on zany experimentation and palatable scientific explanations. Chelsea Handler’s now-canceled Chelsea eschewed the traditional monologue in favour of longer interviews, more cinematic and comedic segments, and even ‘remote’ dinner parties featuring multiple guests.

One of Netflix’s latest ventures, The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale, exposes its viewers to a wide range of content, some drawn from the internet. It harkens back to not only McHale’s previous show on E!, The Soup, but another clip show of old: Ray William Johnson’s Equals Three.

Elsewhere, Jerry Seinfeld and David Letterman have managed to make the simple art of conversation exciting again with Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee and My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, not to mention Jim Rash’s talk show lite take on behind-the-scenes footage with Beyond Stranger Things.

With these exciting, fresh takes on a classic genre, Netflix is cleverly combining its own pedigree with the individual star power of big-name celebrities to usher in a new age of late night — the same kind of new age it brought with its other originals. The revolution is truly being televised.

No revolution is without its opponents, however. Netflix has been blamed for significantly impacting traditional cable viewership with its à la carte nature and quality original programming.

Netflix boasts a slew of high-profile shows with large fanbases under its Netflix Original label. Stranger Things, for example, has had such a cultural impact that it warranted a coveted Super Bowl halftime trailer for its second season.

The influence of the Netflix special has even made its way into comedy. The service has begun to offer many comedians, seemingly regardless of their mainstream popularity, the chance to film their own hour.

Late night is only the latest foray Netflix has made into original programming, and it might have only just begun. The Daily Show alum Michelle Wolf, a standup comedian and long-time contributor to the satirical news show, recently announced her own talk show venture with the streaming giant. Fellow Daily Show alums Jessica Williams and Hasan Minhaj have also contributed to the Netflix catalogue, and Minhaj also recently secured his own deal with Netflix for a talk show.

The talk show correspondents and hosts who have attracted Netflix’s attention prove that the streaming service has an eye for talent and is willing to expend its resources to lure them away from traditional broadcasting.

The great prestige attached to its original work and the unprecedented access it provides to an ever-expanding library of network TV shows have firmly established Netflix as not only a part of the industry, but of the cultural zeitgeist.

Such a force cannot exist without challenge or something to challenge. Netflix very much seems to be gearing up to actively compete with traditional cable television. Be it in late night, standup, or scripted shows, the Netflix Original is undeniably on the rise.

Should personal genomics be a standard healthcare procedure?

Genetic information derived from personal genomics is both powerful and dangerous

Should personal genomics be a standard healthcare procedure?

Launched in 2012 by the University of Toronto and the Hospital for Sick Children, the Personal Genome Project Canada (PGP-C) is the Canadian counterpart of Harvard Medical School’s Personal Genome Project. The project aims to sequence the genomes of 100 Canadians, integrate this data with personal health care information, and make these genomes freely available to the public.


A relative of mine got extremely sick last year. They were not too old and had no major health issues prior to this. They had a sudden bout of weakness in their body and their health got increasingly worse thereafter. The doctor ordered several tests. None of them came back positive, and after a month and a half, my relative passed away.

Because the doctors were not able to find out what was afflicting them, treatment and cure were not even part of the question.

This story is heartbreaking to me on both a personal and a scientific level — was there anything more that could have been done?

DNA sequencing, or genomics, has been an important discussion in genetics and health care for the past few decades. Sequencing the human genome first came into the limelight in the early 1990s with the Human Genome Project (HGP). The HGP cost an astonishing $2.7 billion — today, sequencing a whole genome has become much more affordable at around $1,000. Lower costs have allowed us to personalize it.

PGP-C researchers anticipate that whole genome sequencing will likely become part of mainstream health care in the near future.

PGP-C integrated participants’ genomic data with their personal health information to help understand genetic contributions to human health and disease. It also gives patients direct access to their genetic information through an online database. Analysis of this genetic information can help doctors determine potential disease risks, how your body will react to certain drugs, and more.

Most importantly, genetic diseases can be revealed through this technology. Risk factors for cancer, cystic fibrosis, arthritis, and even high blood pressure can be detected through genetic testing before symptoms manifest. This kind of early detection is key for preventing and treating some of these diseases. Having more time for proper treatment can make all the difference.

Personal genomics is also an important tool for ‘precision medicine’: the tailoring of health care according to each individual. We are not all built the same, at least not genetically. Thus, different people sometimes need different treatments for the same disease.

This is why cancer treatments are often individualized. Currently, most cancer patients receive a combination of various treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation. With the help of personal genomics, doctors can give more targeted treatment to individuals based on how they might respond to a drug or therapy.

I think a lot about my relative who passed away. Had personal genomics been available, was there a chance of saving them? If the sickness was genetic in nature, perhaps we would have identified the cause. Personal genomics can help change how we see medicine and how we diagnose and treat patients. It can provide the guidance that is needed in the world of medicine today.

Anya Rakhecha is a first-year Life Sciences student.


The usefulness of personal genomics can only go as far as our understanding of the human genome. There is a significant discrepancy between an individual’s genomic information and their actual state of health: findings from PGP-C seem to indicate that people can be missing huge chunks of chromosomes without negative effects on health.

One participant, for example, possessed risk factors for aortic stenosis, a lethal heart defect that develops before birth. Yet that individual is a healthy 67-year-old who works long hours, skis, and has a normally functioning heart.

These false positives — supposedly harmful mutations in DNA with no ill effects — suggest that the accuracy of genetic testing for uncovering health issues is uncertain, at least until scientists develop the necessary tools to fully decode the human genome.

Moreover, extensive testing may provide more data, but this also runs the risk of overdiagnosis. If the results of a genetic test indicate that a patient is at risk of developing a disease, a doctor could take precautionary measures and prevent the illness from manifesting. But in the case where the disease is actually harmless or does not develop, precautionary treatments could cause more harm than good due to side effects.

The increasing accessibility of genomic information also comes with potential social consequences. Canada’s recently passed Genetic Non-Discrimination Act protects individuals from having to disclose the results of a genetic test to an employer, but the same cannot be said for health insurance.

According to the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association’s voluntary code, results of genetic tests can be requested by companies if the application is for a premium worth $250,000 or more. Considering the privacy risks associated with having your genome accessible to third-party organizations, some people may deliberately avoid genetic testing, which means that they cannot reap its potential benefits. Furthermore, what if an insurance company takes into account a false positive when calculating your insurance rate?

Without appropriate genetic counselling needed to contextualize the genetic information, patients may live their lives believing that they possess some sort of abnormality. They may end up a victim of the self-fulfilling prophecy, internalizing the presumed condition and behaving according to what they expect the symptoms to be.

While personal genomics provides new and exciting avenues for the diagnosis and prevention of disease, its applicability to current medical affairs is still limited by our lack of understanding of the human genome and by the risks associated with having genomic information accessible to the public.

Jeffrey To is a first-year Life Sciences student.

“Justice for Tina Fontaine” rally held at Nathan Phillips Square

Protesters call for action following Raymond Cormier’s acquittal in death of Indigenous teenager

“Justice for Tina Fontaine” rally held at Nathan Phillips Square

More than 1,000 people gathered outside City Hall on March 3 to voice their outrage about the fate of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old Indigenous girl who died in 2014. The rally came a week after a jury found her alleged murderer, Raymond Cormier, not guilty of the crime. The event was organized through Facebook by 16-year-old Madyson Arscott. “The news of Tina Fontaine’s death took the breath out of me. It made me lose the balance in my step,” said Arscott. “There was nothing she could have done to deserve it. However, the system of colonial court that we have here in Turtle Island makes Indigeneity a crime.”

Fontaine went missing from the care of Manitoba’s Child and Family Services in the summer of 2014. Her body was later found in Red River in Winnipeg, wrapped in a duvet and weighed down by rocks. In a taped confession to police, Cormier admitted to sexual relations with Fontaine and said, “She got killed because we found out, I found out she was 15 years old.”

Cormier’s defence team argued that the evidence tying him to the crime was circumstantial and that the prosecution provided no forensic evidence linking him to the crime. The jury acquitted Cormier of the second-degree murder charge.

Many attendees could be seen holding signs that read, “Justice for Tina Fontaine,” “In Unity We Stand,” and “Missing and Murdered are Canada’s shame.” The rally’s numbers swelled after people from the International Women’s Day March joined in.

The speakers at the rally, many of them Indigenous women, highlighted the systemic injustices Indigenous people face in Canada. “She was a child, still had her life ahead of her, taken away too soon by a colonial mindset, a racist mindset, a dangerous mindset that Canada continues to protect and encourage by the injustice that the system continues to enforce on Indigenous people,” said Eve Saint.

Saint also criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for failing to take action in the cases of the missing and murdered Indigenous women. “You do not have good standing with Indigenous people of Canada, as you selfishly proclaim to the world at the United Nations. You truly want to be a leader? Listen to us.”

Suzanne Smoke of the American Indian Movement also spoke at the rally, denouncing the justice system for its treatment of the Indigenous community. “How dare you take our children,” said Smoke. “Don’t dare walk into any of our communities and into any of my sisters’ homes and think that you know better than us, the original people on our sovereign land, how to raise our children on this land.”

Another speaker, John Fox, shared his story of suing the Attorney General of Canada. His daughter, Cheyenne Fox, fell from a balcony on the 24th floor of a Toronto building in 2013; police called it a suicide, but her family maintains it was murder. “It’s going on for years now because of my daughter… and it doesn’t look like there’s going to be anything in sight for a long time,” said Fox. “We’re fighting for justice for Cheyenne Fox, who was killed here.”

Fox also called out police officers in the back of the crowd, saying, “The culprits are right there in the back with the yellow jackets on, and the blue, whatever they’re dressed in today, those are the culprits around here. Shame!”

Charlie Angus, MP for Timmins—James Bay and the NDP Critic for Indigenous Youth, also spoke. “Our nation failed here,” said Angus. “This was not a crime in the courtroom — this was a crime of a nation, of taking children. Just as they took Amy Owen, and Courtney Scott, and Kanina Turtle, and all the other young children that have been taken into a system that has left them without support, and too many have ended on the streets or have died.”

Like Saint and Smoke, Angus also criticized Trudeau. “If enough children die, and The New York Times calls the government, and the government will tweet and say they’re sorry, it’s a tragedy. A tragedy is when you walk out and get hit by a bus. When children die, and are taken day after day after day, that is not a tragedy, it is genocide.”