Tag Archives: biofuels

A transatlantic report highlighting the risks and opportunities associated with synthetic biology and bioengineering

I love e-Life, the open access journal where its editors noted that a submitted synthetic biology and bioengineering report was replete with US and UK experts (along with a European or two) but no expert input from other parts of the world. In response the authors added ‘transatlantic’ to the title. It was a good decision since it was too late to add any new experts if the authors planned to have their paper published in the foreseeable future.

I’ve commented many times here when panels of experts include only Canadian, US, UK, and, sometimes, European or Commonwealth (Australia/New Zealand) experts that we need to broaden our perspectives and now I can add: or at least acknowledge (e.g. transatlantic) that the perspectives taken are reflective of a rather narrow range of countries.

Now getting to the report, here’s more from a November 21, 2017 University of Cambridge press release,

Human genome editing, 3D-printed replacement organs and artificial photosynthesis – the field of bioengineering offers great promise for tackling the major challenges that face our society. But as a new article out today highlights, these developments provide both opportunities and risks in the short and long term.

Rapid developments in the field of synthetic biology and its associated tools and methods, including more widely available gene editing techniques, have substantially increased our capabilities for bioengineering – the application of principles and techniques from engineering to biological systems, often with the goal of addressing ‘real-world’ problems.

In a feature article published in the open access journal eLife, an international team of experts led by Dr Bonnie Wintle and Dr Christian R. Boehm from the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge, capture perspectives of industry, innovators, scholars, and the security community in the UK and US on what they view as the major emerging issues in the field.

Dr Wintle says: “The growth of the bio-based economy offers the promise of addressing global environmental and societal challenges, but as our paper shows, it can also present new kinds of challenges and risks. The sector needs to proceed with caution to ensure we can reap the benefits safely and securely.”

The report is intended as a summary and launching point for policy makers across a range of sectors to further explore those issues that may be relevant to them.

Among the issues highlighted by the report as being most relevant over the next five years are:

Artificial photosynthesis and carbon capture for producing biofuels

If technical hurdles can be overcome, such developments might contribute to the future adoption of carbon capture systems, and provide sustainable sources of commodity chemicals and fuel.

Enhanced photosynthesis for agricultural productivity

Synthetic biology may hold the key to increasing yields on currently farmed land – and hence helping address food security – by enhancing photosynthesis and reducing pre-harvest losses, as well as reducing post-harvest and post-consumer waste.

Synthetic gene drives

Gene drives promote the inheritance of preferred genetic traits throughout a species, for example to prevent malaria-transmitting mosquitoes from breeding. However, this technology raises questions about whether it may alter ecosystems [emphasis mine], potentially even creating niches where a new disease-carrying species or new disease organism may take hold.

Human genome editing

Genome engineering technologies such as CRISPR/Cas9 offer the possibility to improve human lifespans and health. However, their implementation poses major ethical dilemmas. It is feasible that individuals or states with the financial and technological means may elect to provide strategic advantages to future generations.

Defence agency research in biological engineering

The areas of synthetic biology in which some defence agencies invest raise the risk of ‘dual-use’. For example, one programme intends to use insects to disseminate engineered plant viruses that confer traits to the target plants they feed on, with the aim of protecting crops from potential plant pathogens – but such technologies could plausibly also be used by others to harm targets.

In the next five to ten years, the authors identified areas of interest including:

Regenerative medicine: 3D printing body parts and tissue engineering

While this technology will undoubtedly ease suffering caused by traumatic injuries and a myriad of illnesses, reversing the decay associated with age is still fraught with ethical, social and economic concerns. Healthcare systems would rapidly become overburdened by the cost of replenishing body parts of citizens as they age and could lead new socioeconomic classes, as only those who can pay for such care themselves can extend their healthy years.

Microbiome-based therapies

The human microbiome is implicated in a large number of human disorders, from Parkinson’s to colon cancer, as well as metabolic conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Synthetic biology approaches could greatly accelerate the development of more effective microbiota-based therapeutics. However, there is a risk that DNA from genetically engineered microbes may spread to other microbiota in the human microbiome or into the wider environment.

Intersection of information security and bio-automation

Advancements in automation technology combined with faster and more reliable engineering techniques have resulted in the emergence of robotic ‘cloud labs’ where digital information is transformed into DNA then expressed in some target organisms. This opens the possibility of new kinds of information security threats, which could include tampering with digital DNA sequences leading to the production of harmful organisms, and sabotaging vaccine and drug production through attacks on critical DNA sequence databases or equipment.

Over the longer term, issues identified include:

New makers disrupt pharmaceutical markets

Community bio-labs and entrepreneurial startups are customizing and sharing methods and tools for biological experiments and engineering. Combined with open business models and open source technologies, this could herald opportunities for manufacturing therapies tailored to regional diseases that multinational pharmaceutical companies might not find profitable. But this raises concerns around the potential disruption of existing manufacturing markets and raw material supply chains as well as fears about inadequate regulation, less rigorous product quality control and misuse.

Platform technologies to address emerging disease pandemics

Emerging infectious diseases—such as recent Ebola and Zika virus disease outbreaks—and potential biological weapons attacks require scalable, flexible diagnosis and treatment. New technologies could enable the rapid identification and development of vaccine candidates, and plant-based antibody production systems.

Shifting ownership models in biotechnology

The rise of off-patent, generic tools and the lowering of technical barriers for engineering biology has the potential to help those in low-resource settings, benefit from developing a sustainable bioeconomy based on local needs and priorities, particularly where new advances are made open for others to build on.

Dr Jenny Molloy comments: “One theme that emerged repeatedly was that of inequality of access to the technology and its benefits. The rise of open source, off-patent tools could enable widespread sharing of knowledge within the biological engineering field and increase access to benefits for those in developing countries.”

Professor Johnathan Napier from Rothamsted Research adds: “The challenges embodied in the Sustainable Development Goals will require all manner of ideas and innovations to deliver significant outcomes. In agriculture, we are on the cusp of new paradigms for how and what we grow, and where. Demonstrating the fairness and usefulness of such approaches is crucial to ensure public acceptance and also to delivering impact in a meaningful way.”

Dr Christian R. Boehm concludes: “As these technologies emerge and develop, we must ensure public trust and acceptance. People may be willing to accept some of the benefits, such as the shift in ownership away from big business and towards more open science, and the ability to address problems that disproportionately affect the developing world, such as food security and disease. But proceeding without the appropriate safety precautions and societal consensus—whatever the public health benefits—could damage the field for many years to come.”

The research was made possible by the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, the Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative (both at the University of Cambridge), and the Future of Humanity Institute (University of Oxford). It was based on a workshop co-funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation and the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

A transatlantic perspective on 20 emerging issues in biological engineering by Bonnie C Wintle, Christian R Boehm, Catherine Rhodes, Jennifer C Molloy, Piers Millett, Laura Adam, Rainer Breitling, Rob Carlson, Rocco Casagrande, Malcolm Dando, Robert Doubleday, Eric Drexler, Brett Edwards, Tom Ellis, Nicholas G Evans, Richard Hammond, Jim Haseloff, Linda Kahl, Todd Kuiken, Benjamin R Lichman, Colette A Matthewman, Johnathan A Napier, Seán S ÓhÉigeartaigh, Nicola J Patron, Edward Perello, Philip Shapira, Joyce Tait, Eriko Takano, William J Sutherland. eLife; 14 Nov 2017; DOI: 10.7554/eLife.30247

This paper is open access and the editors have included their notes to the authors and the authors’ response.

You may have noticed that I highlighted a portion of the text concerning synthetic gene drives. Coincidentally I ran across a November 16, 2017 article by Ed Yong for The Atlantic where the topic is discussed within the context of a project in New Zealand, ‘Predator Free 2050’ (Note: A link has been removed),

Until the 13th century, the only land mammals in New Zealand were bats. In this furless world, local birds evolved a docile temperament. Many of them, like the iconic kiwi and the giant kakapo parrot, lost their powers of flight. Gentle and grounded, they were easy prey for the rats, dogs, cats, stoats, weasels, and possums that were later introduced by humans. Between them, these predators devour more than 26 million chicks and eggs every year. They have already driven a quarter of the nation’s unique birds to extinction.

Many species now persist only in offshore islands where rats and their ilk have been successfully eradicated, or in small mainland sites like Zealandia where they are encircled by predator-proof fences. The songs in those sanctuaries are echoes of the New Zealand that was.

But perhaps, they also represent the New Zealand that could be.

In recent years, many of the country’s conservationists and residents have rallied behind Predator-Free 2050, an extraordinarily ambitious plan to save the country’s birds by eradicating its invasive predators. Native birds of prey will be unharmed, but Predator-Free 2050’s research strategy, which is released today, spells doom for rats, possums, and stoats (a large weasel). They are to die, every last one of them. No country, anywhere in the world, has managed such a task in an area that big. The largest island ever cleared of rats, Australia’s Macquarie Island, is just 50 square miles in size. New Zealand is 2,000 times bigger. But, the country has committed to fulfilling its ecological moonshot within three decades.

In 2014, Kevin Esvelt, a biologist at MIT, drew a Venn diagram that troubles him to this day. In it, he and his colleagues laid out several possible uses for gene drives—a nascent technology for spreading designer genes through groups of wild animals. Typically, a given gene has a 50-50 chance of being passed to the next generation. But gene drives turn that coin toss into a guarantee, allowing traits to zoom through populations in just a few generations. There are a few natural examples, but with CRISPR, scientists can deliberately engineer such drives.

Suppose you have a population of rats, roughly half of which are brown, and the other half white. Now, imagine there is a gene that affects each rat’s color. It comes in two forms, one leading to brown fur, and the other leading to white fur. A male with two brown copies mates with a female with two white copies, and all their offspring inherit one of each. Those offspring breed themselves, and the brown and white genes continue cascading through the generations in a 50-50 split. This is the usual story of inheritance. But you can subvert it with CRISPR, by programming the brown gene to cut its counterpart and replace it with another copy of itself. Now, the rats’ children are all brown-furred, as are their grandchildren, and soon the whole population is brown.

Forget fur. The same technique could spread an antimalarial gene through a mosquito population, or drought-resistance through crop plants. The applications are vast, but so are the risks. In theory, gene drives spread so quickly and relentlessly that they could rewrite an entire wild population, and once released, they would be hard to contain. If the concept of modifying the genes of organisms is already distasteful to some, gene drives magnify that distaste across national, continental, and perhaps even global scales.

These excerpts don’t do justice to this thought-provoking article. If you have time, I recommend reading it in its entirety  as it provides some insight into gene drives and, with some imagination on the reader’s part, the potential for the other technologies discussed in the report.

One last comment, I notice that Eric Drexler is cited as on the report’s authors. He’s familiar to me as K. Eric Drexler, the author of the book that popularized nanotechnology in the US and other countries, Engines of Creation (1986) .

Gold nanoparticles used to catalyze biofuel waste and create a useful additive

This work is the result of an international collaboration including Russia (from a May 23, 2017 news item on Nanowerk),

Gold nanoparticles serve as catalysts for obtaining valuable chemical products based on glycerol. Scientists from Tomsk Polytechnic University and their international colleagues are developing gold catalysts to recycle one of the main byproducts of biofuel production. The obtained products are in high demand in medicine, agriculture, cosmetic industry and other sectors.

Scientists from the University of Milano (Italy), the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the Institute of Catalysis and Petrochemistry of Madrid (Spain) and the University of Porto (Portugal) take part in the study of gold nanoparticles.

A May 23, 2027 Tomsk Polytechnic University press release, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

Today the production of biofuels is an important area in many countries. They can be obtained from a great variety of biomasses. In Latin America it is orange and tangerine peel as well as banana skin. In USA biofuels are produced from corn, in the central part of Russia and Europe – from rape (Brassica napus). When processing these plants into biofuels a large amount of glycerol is formed. Its esters constitute the basis of oils and fats. Glycerol is widely used in cosmetic industry as an individual product. However, much more glycerol is obtained in the production of biofuels – many thousands of tons a year. As a result, unused glycerol merely becomes waste,’ describes the problem Alexey Pestryakov, the Head of the Department of Physical and Analytical Chemistry. ‘Now, a lot of research groups are engaged in this issue as to how to transform excess glycerol into other useful products. Along with our foreign colleagues we offered catalysts based on gold nanoparticles.’

The authors of the research note that catalytic oxidation on gold is one of the most effective techniques to obtain from glycerol such useful products as aldehydes, esters, carboxylic acids and other substances.

‘All these substances are products of fine organic chemistry and are in demand in a wide range of industries, first of all, in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. In agriculture they are applied as part of different feed additives, veterinary drugs, fertilizers, plant treatment products, etc.

Thus, unused glycerol after being processed will further be applied,’ sums up Alexey Pestryakov.

Gold catalysts are super active. They can enter into chemical reactions with other substances at room temperature (other catalysts need to be heated), in some case even under zero. However, gold can be a catalyst only at the nanolevel.

‘If you take a piece of gold, even very tiny, there will be no chemical reaction. In order to make gold become chemically active, the size of its particle should be less than two nanometers. Only then it gets its amazing properties,’ explains the scientist.

As a catalyst gold was discovered not so long ago, in the early 1990s, by Japanese chemists.

To date, TPU scientists and their colleagues are not the only ones who develop such catalysts.

Unlike their counterparts the gold catalysts developed at TPU are more stable (they retain their activity longer).

‘A great challenge in this area is that gold catalysts are very rapidly deactivated, not only during work, but even during storage. Our objective is to ensure their longer shelf life. It is also important to use oxygen as an oxidizer, since toxic and corrosive peroxide compounds are often used for such purposes,’ says Alexey Petryakov.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

More Insights into Support and Preparation Method Effects in Gold Catalyzed Glycerol Oxidation by Nina Bogdanchikova, Inga Tuzovskaya, Laura Prati, Alberto Villa, Alexey Pestryakov, Mario Farías. Current Organic Synthesis VOLUME: 14 ISSUE: 3 Year: 2017Page: [377 – 382] Pages: 6 DOI: 10.2174/1570179413666161031114833

This paper is behind a paywall. (Scroll down the page to find the article.)

Grand Challenges Canada funds 83 projects to improve global health

For the third year in a row (as per my Dec. 22, 2011 posting and my Nov. 22, 2012 posting), I’m featuring Grand Challenges Canada funding for its ‘Stars in Global Health’ programme . From the Grand Challenges Canada (GCC) Nov. 21, 2013 news release,

Imaginative: 83 Bold Innovations to Improve Global Health Receive Grand Challenges Canada Funding

Among novel ideas to reduce disease, save lives in developing world:
Diagnostic diapers to detect deadly rotavirus; Rolling water barrel;
Special yogurt offsets pesticides, heavy metals, toxins in food;
Inventive shoe, boot material releases bug repellent when walking

50 innovators from low- and middle-income countries,
plus 33 from Canada, share $9.3 million in seed grants

Grand Challenges Canada, funded by the Government of Canada, today extends seed grants of $100,000 each to 83 inventive new ideas for addressing health problems in resource-poor countries.

The Grand Challenges Canada “Stars in Global Health” program seeks breakthrough and affordable innovations that could transform the way disease is treated in the developing world — innovations that may benefit the health of developed world citizens as well.

Of the 83 grants announced today, 50 are given to innovators in 15 low- and middle-income nations worldwide and 33 to Canadian-originated projects, to be implemented in a total of 30 countries throughout the developing world.

“Innovation powers development leading to better health and more jobs. I feel proud that Canada, through Grand Challenges Canada, has supported almost 300 bold ideas to date in our Stars in Global Health program,” says Dr. Peter A. Singer, Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada.  “This is one of the largest pipelines of innovations in global health in the world today.”

Says the Honourable Christian Paradis, Canadian Minister of International Development and Minister for La Francophonie: “Grand Challenges Canada’s portfolio of projects shows how innovators with bold ideas have the potential to make a big impact on global health.  By connecting game-changing ideas with some of the most pressing global health challenges, these projects will lead to sustainable and affordable health solutions in low- and middle-income countries.”

The portfolio of 83 creative, out-of-the-box ideas, selected through independent peer review from 451 applications, includes projects submitted by social entrepreneurs, private sector companies and non-government organizations as well as university researchers.  Among them:


  • A simple, portable, dry, yeast-based blood screening test (Belize, Jamaica).  WHO estimates almost half of 46 million blood donations in low-income countries are inadequately tested;  in Africa up to 10% of new HIV infections are caused by transfusions.  A University of Toronto-developed yeast-based blood screening tool will detect combinations of diseases. Like baking yeast, it can be stored dry, and can be grown locally with minimal equipment and training, improving accessibility in rural areas.
  • A bedside, Litmus paper-like test to detect bronchitis (Brazil, India). Being pioneered at McMaster University with international collaborators, a simple sputum test will detect infectious and allergic bronchitis in adults and children, reducing mis-diagnosis in developing countries and saving resources: time, steroids, antibiotics.

Water, sanitation, hygiene and general health

  • Special yogurts formulated to offset the harm to health caused by heavy metals, pesticides and other toxics in food (Africa).  Between 2006-2009 in Nairobi, only 17% of the total maize sampled and 5% of feed was fit for human and animal consumption respectively. University of Western Ontario researchers have developed novel yogurts containing a bacteria that, in the stomach, sequesters certain toxins and heavy metals and degrades some pesticides.
  • Addressing arsenic-laced groundwater. In Bangladesh, 1 in 5 deaths (600,000 per year) occur due to groundwater arsenic, dubbed by WHO as the largest mass poisoning in history, with some 77 million people at risk.  Project 1) Toronto-based PurifAid will deploy new filtration units via franchised villagers who will filter and deliver purified water, perform maintenance, acquire new filters and dispose of old ones, which can be used to produce biofuels.  Project 2) A project based at the University of Calgary, meanwhile, will work to increase the use of Western Canadian lentils in Bangladeshi diets.  The crop is rich in selenium, which can decrease arsenic levels and improve health.
  • “WaterWheel” (India, Kenya, Mongolia).  This simple, innovative device from India is a wheeled water container that enables the collection and transport of 3 to 5 times as much water as usual per trip, as well as hygienic storage, saving valuable time for productive activities and improving health.


  • A vaccine based on a newly-discovered antibody in men that prevents malaria infection in the placenta (Benin, Colombia).  Colombian men exposed to malaria are found to have antibodies that can prevent infection in the placenta of a pregnant woman. This University of Alberta finding forms the basis for developing a novel vaccine against several forms of malaria, which cause 10,000 maternal deaths and 200,000 stillbirths annually.
  • Insect-repellent clothing, footwear and wall plaster (East Africa).  1) In Tanzania, the Africa Technical Research Institute will lead the design and manufacture of attractive, affordable insecticide-treated clothing while 2) the Ifakara Health Institute will develop anti-mosquito footwear material that slowly releases repellents from the friction of walking.  A key advantage: no compliance or change in habits required.  3) Uganda’s Med Biotech Laboratories, meanwhile, will produce a colorful, insecticide-infused ‘plaster’ for the outside walls of African village homes.

Maternal and child health

  • Mothers Telling Mothers: improving maternal health through storytelling (Uganda).  Work by Twezimbe Development Association has found that stories told by mothers in their own words and reflecting shared realities are most likely to increase the number of moms seeking skilled health care, and convince policymakers to improve healthcare access.  This project will capture 3 to 5 minutes stories to be shared through digital media platforms and health clinics.

Mobile technology

  • Digital African Health Library (Sub-Saharan Africa).  The University of Calgary-led project is creating an app to support bedside care by medical doctors in Africa: a smartphone-accessible resource providing evidence-based, locally-relevant decision support and health information.  A pilot involving 65 doctors in Rwanda showed point of care answers to patient questions more than tripled to 43%, with self-reported improvement in patient outcomes.

Health care

  • Simple sticker helps track clean surfaces in healthcare facilities (Philippines).  WHO estimates that 10% to 30% of all patients in developing country health care facilities acquire an infection.   An innovative sticker for hospital surfaces developed by Lunanos Inc. changes colour when a cleaner is applied and fades color after a predetermined period of time, helping staff track and ensure cleanliness of equipment and other frequently touched surfaces.
  • “Mystery clients” to assess and improve quality of TB care (India).  India accounts for 25% of global tuberculosis (TB) incidence.  To evaluate variations in practice quality, and identify ways to improve TB management in India, this project, led by Canada’s McGill University, will send researchers into clinics posing as a patient with standard TB symptoms.  The project builds on earlier work related to angina, asthma and dysentery, which revealed incorrect diagnoses and treatment.

And many more.

A complete set of 83 short project descriptions, with links to additional project details, available photos / video, and local contact information, is available in the full news release online here: http://bit.ly/HOLt5b

Here’s a video for the one of the projects (filtering arsenic out of Bangladesh’s water),

I chose this project somewhat haphazardly. It caught my attention as I have written more than once about purification efforts and as it turns out, this is a Canada-based project (with a Bangladeshi partner, BRAC) from the University of Toronto.

You may have heard the video’s narrator mention scotch whiskey, here’s why (from the YouTube page hosting the project video,page),

We plan to roll out a new generation of filtration units which run on an organic by-product of the beverage industry. The units address many of the failings of existing devices (they require no power or chemicals and are very low maintenance).

This project gets still more interesting (from the full project description page),

Device for the Remediation and Attenuation of Multiple Pollutants (DRAM) removes 95% of arsenic from contaminated water within 5 minutes of exposure. With an estimated 600,000 deaths directly attributable to arsenic poisoning every year, these units hold the potential to save millions of lives. Existing solutions are too complicated and suffer from significant usability issues (2012 UNICEF study).

We will deploy our units through a franchise business model. [emphasis mine] Local villagers will filter and deliver purified water, perform maintenance, acquire new media, and dispose spent media. The current market leader, the Sono Filter, has less than 20% uptake (according to UNICEF). DRAM costs only 25% of this solution, has lower maintenance requirements (4-6 month media cycle vs. 2 week media cycle), higher durability, and can be retrofitted onto existing tube wells villagers use thereby requiring no behavior change. The spent media (which must be replaced every 4-6 months) can be used to produce biofuels, giving PurifAid a decisive capability over competitors.

With the assistance of our local partner BRAC (ranked #1 on Global Journal’s list of top NGOs in 2012) we will retrofit our units onto existing tubewells. Contaminated water is pumped from the tubewell into the unit where it passes into the bottom of the unit, rising up through a bed of the organic filter media, binding the arsenic. Clean water is displaced and forced out of the top of the unit and out through the built-in tap. Our community based solution will begin with a proof-of-concept installation in the Mujibnagar District (pop. 1.3 million). BRAC will assist in testing our filter water quality on the ground and these results will be used to obtain regulatory approval for our technology. We will then operationalize our community-run DRAM systems. A council of local stakeholders will nominate prospective franchisees amongst villagers. These villagers will replace filter media in 4 month intervals and order annual delivery of new media. We are securing partnerships with nearby distilleries to locally source the filter media. [emphasis mine] Disposal will be handled by a local caretaker who will store spent media in bulk before transferring it for use as biofuel. Caretaker salary, media sourcing, and delivery costs will be paid by charging a levy on customer households. PurifAid will monitor behavioural and health indicators to ascertain DRAM’s immediate and long-term impact. To this end PurifAid has partnered with Ashalytics, a start-up global health analytics company, to report operational issues, measure impact, and communicate important metrics to key staff and stakeholders via mobile phones. This results in an environmentally-friendly value chain that uses beverage industry waste, maximizing positive impact. If the Bangladesh installations are a success then this system can be introduced across the Indian subcontinent and in west Africa, where arsenic in groundwater poses a serious health problem. DRAM has the potential to improve the lives of millions globally.

After 18 months we envisage having installed 15 DRAM systems supplying 45 liters of purified water per day to 2,700 households. In order to ensure maintenance, 15 paid caretakers will operate the pumps and a driver will supply the caretakers with fresh media every 4-6 months. Biannually, new bulk media will be provided to storage unit in the village, spent media will in turn be taken to a plant and converted to biofuel. Villagers will invest collectively to purchase, install and operate DRAM on pre-existing tube wells – thus no behavioral changes needed.

Our filters employ a new water filtration technology. Our franchise model involves social and business innovation, empowering communities to manage their own water treatment under the stewardship of a local partner that manages 17 social businesses with combined annual revenues of $93m in 2011.

(Aside: Don’t they ask for a ‘dram’ of whiskey in the movies?) This project is intended to do more than purify water; it’s designed to create jobs. Bravo!

Now back to the news release for details about the countries and agencies involved,

The global portfolio of grants, broken down by region and country:

30 projects based in 6 African countries (16 in Kenya, 5 in Tanzania, 5 in Uganda, 2 in Nigeria and 1 each in Senegal and Ghana)
17 projects based in 7 countries in Asia (7 in India, 2 in Pakistan 4 in Thailand and 1 each in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Mongolia and the Philippines)
Two projects based in South America (Peru) and one in Europe (Armenia)
33 projects based in 11 Canadian cities (14 in Toronto, 3 each in Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver, 2 each in Winnipeg, Edmonton and London, and 1 each in Halifax, Hamilton, Ottawa and Saskatoon)

The Canadian-based projects will be implemented worldwide (a majority of them implemented simultaneously in more than one country):

15 countries in Africa (5 in Kenya, 4 in Tanzania, 3 each in Uganda and Ethiopia, 2 each in Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, and Zambia, and 1 each in Benin, Botswana, Ghana,  Malawi, Nigeria, and DR Congo)
8 countries in Asia (8 in India, 6 in Bangladesh, 1 each in Bhutan, China, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines and Thailand)
5 countries in South and Latin America (Belize, Brazil, Colombia, Jamaica, Peru.) and
1 in the Middle East (Egypt)

Including today’s grants, total investments to date under the Grand Challenges Canada “Stars in Global Health” program is $32 million in 295 projects.

For full details: http://bit.ly/HOLt5b

* * * * *

About Grand Challenges Canada

Grand Challenges Canada is dedicated to supporting Bold Ideas with Big Impact in global

health. We are funded by the Government of Canada through the Development Innovation Fund announced in the 2008 Federal Budget. We fund innovators in low- and middle-income countries and Canada. Grand Challenges Canada works with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and other global health foundations and organizations to find sustainable, long-term solutions through Integrated Innovation − bold ideas that integrate science, technology, social and business innovation. Grand Challenges Canada is hosted at the Sandra Rotman Centre.

Please visit grandchallenges.ca  and look for us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn.

About Canada’s International Development Research Centre

The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) supports research in developing countries to promote growth and development. IDRC also encourages sharing this knowledge with policymakers, other researchers and communities around the world. The result is innovative, lasting local solutions that aim to bring choice and change to those who need it most. As the Government of Canada’s lead on the Development Innovation Fund, IDRC draws on decades of experience managing publicly funded research projects to administer the Development Innovation Fund. IDRC also ensures that developing country researchers and concerns are front and centre in this exciting new initiative.


About Canadian Institutes of Health Research

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is the Government of Canada’s health research investment agency. CIHR’s mission is to create new scientific knowledge and to enable its translation into improved health, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened Canadian health care system. Composed of 13 Institutes, CIHR provides leadership and support to more than 14,100 health researchers and trainees across Canada. CIHR will be responsible for the administration of international peer review, according to international standards of excellence. The results of CIHR-led peer reviews will guide the awarding of grants by Grand Challenges Canada from the Development Innovation Fund.


About the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada

The mandate of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada is to manage Canada’s diplomatic and consular relations, to encourage the country’s international trade, and to lead Canada’s international development and humanitarian assistance.


About Sandra Rotman Centre

The Sandra Rotman Centre is based at University Health Network and the University of Toronto. We develop innovative global health solutions and help bring them to scale where they are most urgently needed. The Sandra Rotman Centre hosts Grand Challenges Canada.


I have found it confusing that there’s a Grand Challenges Canada and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has a Grand Challenges programme, both of which making funding announcements at this time of year. I did make some further investigations which I noted in my Dec. 22, 2011 posting,

Last week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $21.1 M grant over three years for research into point-of-care diagnostic tools for developing nations. A Canadian nongovermental organization (NGO) will be supplementing this amount with $10.8 M for a total of $31.9 M. (source: Dec. 16, 2011 AFP news item [Agence France-Presse] on MedicalXpress.com)

At this point, things get a little confusing. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has a specific program called Grand Challenges in Global Health and this grant is part of that program. Plus, the Canadian NGO is called Grand Challenges Canada (couldn’t they have found a more distinctive name?), which is funded by a federal Canadian government initiative known as the Development Innovation Fund (DIF). …

Weirdly, no one consulted with me when they named the Bil & Melinda Gates Foundation programme or the Canadian NGO.

Car engines, tribological (friction-oriented) performance, and the Fraunhofer Institutes

A June 3, 2013 news item on Nanowerk about the TRIBOMAN project at the Fraunhofer Institute focuses on friction and combustion engines,

Within the scope of the “TRIBOMAN“ project, researchers at five Fraunhofer Institutes are working to develop production methods and processes to improve combustion engines‘ tribological (meaning friction-related) performance. The focus is on components exposed to particularly high levels of friction, such as the running surfaces of engine cylinders. „Our common approach is to move the process of forming marginalized layers to an earlier stage in production,“ explains Torsten Schmidt from the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU in Chemnitz.

Schmidt and his team have developed optimized production technologies for precision finishing in this connection. “For precision drilling of running surfaces on cylinders, we use defined cutting edges with a specific design. This results in very high surface quality,“ Schmidt adds. “We also systematically use the force of the machining process to promote ‚grain refinement‘ – meaning the hardening of the materials – even during production.“

The June 3, 2013 Fraunhofer Institute news release, which originated the news item, provides some context for the TRIBOMAN project,

If a new car engine is to run, smoothly,“first it has to be properly run in: drivers should avoid quick acceleration and permanent short trips during the first 1000 kilometers, for instance. Why is this “grace period“ necessary at all? When an engine is being run in, the peripheral zone on the articulations – the components in mechanical contact with one another – changes as a result of friction: the surface itself becomes “smoother“, and the granularity of the microstructure becomes finer at a material depth of roughly 500 to 1000 nanometers (nm), creating a nanocrystalline layer.

Quite a bit of friction has taken place, though, by the time this nano scale layer has formed. That is why, even now, a large share of the energy is lost to friction during the phase in which an engine is run in. Surface running properties are also a function of the customer‘s behavior during the running-in phase. A critical topic for the automotive industry: against the backdrop of increasingly scarce resources and the need to reduce CO2 emissions, reductions of friction loss has top priority on the development agenda.

The results, according to the Fraunhofer news release,

Using a single cylinder test engine with cylinder running surfaces of aluminum, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM in Freiburg have already documented the first positive results of this kind of modified finishing: analyses of the processed cylinder surfaces showed a significantly lower grain size compared to conventional methods. The surface microgeometry is comparable to the cylinder running surfaces of well-run-in cylinders. Researchers are currently working to adapt their method to new development trends in automobile manufacturing such as the introduction of biofuels: since the ethanol content of biofuels is higher, aluminum components are now usually fitted with a coating layer to protect them from corrosion more effectively.

For those who would like to learn more about the TRIBOMAN project and have the German language skills, go here.

Biofuels could be competitive with fossil fuels according to Australians

The University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering & Nanotechnology released a three-year study on biofuels and aviation fuel at a Weds., May 22, 2013 aviation environmental summit hosted by Boeing, according to a May 24, 2013 article by Steve Creedy for The Australian.com.au,

AVIATION biofuels produced in Australia using widely touted feedstocks and existing technology would be competitive only if crude oil was almost three times its present price, a three-year study by universities and industry has found.

The cheapest of three feedstocks studied, sugar cane, would be competitive if crude oil was at $US301 a barrel.

This increased to $US374 for oil-producing seeds from the pongamia tree and a huge $US1343 with microalgae. Brent crude is trading at about $US105 a barrel.

But technological improvements in key areas could significantly lower the price to $US168 for sugarcane, $US255 for pongamia seeds and $US385 for algae.

Peter Hannam’s May 22, 2013 article about the presentation for the Newcastle Herald provides some context for the airlines’ interest in biofuels,

… Nations and carriers continue to wrangle over rules to curb emissions. The European Union earlier this year suspended plans to impose emission permits for any flight arriving or leaving European airspace. The EU backed down after threats of non-compliance or retaliation from China, India and the US, although discussions continue for global restrictions to come into force from 2020.

As Creedy notes in his article, ” … technological improvements in key areas could significantly lower the cost …” and this would require funds. There isn’t any mention in either Creedy’s or Hannam’s article about increased funding.

You can find out more about the Queensland Sustainable Aviation Fuel Initiative here and this is where the group’s latest research study can be found,

Technoeconomic analysis of renewable aviation fuel from microalgae, Pongamia pinnata, and sugarcane by Daniel Klein-Marcuschamer, Christopher Turner, Mark Allen, Peter Gray, Ralf G Dietzgen, Peter M Gresshoff, Ben Hankamer, Kirsten Heimann, Paul T Scott, Evan Stephens, Robert Speight, and Lars K Nielsen.  Biofuels, Bioprod. Bioref.. doi: 10.1002/bbb.1404 Article First published online: 25 APR 2013

This study is behind a paywall.

Algae factories could produce nanocellulose for biofuels and more

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is holding its 245th meeting April 7 – 11, 2013 and its first International Symposium on Bacterial Nanocellulose simultaneously. I have written about nanocellulose previously but it’s always been concerned with the type derived from plant matter; bacterial nanocellulose is new to me but not the scientific community as the Apr. 8, 2013 news item on Azonano notes,

In the 1800s, French scientist Louis Pasteur first discovered that vinegar-making [and Kombucha tea and nata de coco] bacteria make “a sort of moist skin, swollen, gelatinous and slippery” — a “skin” now known as bacterial nanocellulose. Nanocellulose made by bacteria has advantages, including ease of production and high purity that fostered the kind of scientific excitement reflected in the first international symposium on the topic, Brown [R. Malcolm Brown, Jr., Ph.D.] pointed out.

Before going on to this latest research, here’s a description of cellulose and nanocellulose as per its presence in plant material (from the news item),

Cellulose is the most abundant organic polymer on Earth, a material, like plastics, consisting of molecules linked together into long chains. Cellulose makes up tree trunks and branches, corn stalks and cotton fibers, and it is the main component of paper and cardboard. People eat cellulose in “dietary fiber,” the indigestible material in fruits and vegetables. Cows, horses and termites can digest the cellulose in grass, hay and wood.

Most cellulose consists of wood fibers and cell wall remains. Very few living organisms can actually synthesize and secrete cellulose in its native nanostructure form of microfibrils. At this level, nanometer-scale fibrils are very hydrophilic and look like jelly. A nanometer is one-millionth the thickness of a U.S. dime. Nevertheless, cellulose shares the unique properties of other nanometer-sized materials — properties much different from large quantities of the same material. Nanocellulose-based materials can be stronger than steel and stiffer than Kevlar. Great strength, light weight and other advantages has fostered interest in using it in everything from lightweight armor and ballistic glass to wound dressings and scaffolds for growing replacement organs for transplantation.

A new kind of bacteria actively entered the nanocellulose picture in 2001 (from the news item) allowing Brown to exploit research he had been pursuing since the 1970s (from the news item),

Brown recalled that in 2001, a discovery by David Nobles, Ph.D., a member of the research team at the University of Texas at Austin, refocused their research on nanocellulose, but with a different microbe. Nobles established that several kinds of blue-green algae, which are mainly photosynthetic bacteria much like the vinegar-making bacteria in basic structure; however, these blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, as they are called, can produce nanocellulose. One of the largest problems with cyanobacterial nanocellulose is that it is not made in abundant amounts in nature. If it could be scaled up, Brown describes this as “one of the most important discoveries in plant biology.”

While I find the science interesting, it’s Brown’s comments about the policy and politics of commercializing nanocellulose-based fuels that intrigue me (from the news item),

In his report at the ACS meeting, Brown described how his team already has genetically engineered the cyanobacteria to produce one form of nanocellulose, the long-chain, or polymer, form of the material. And they are moving ahead with the next step, engineering the cyanobacteria to synthesize a more complete form of nanocellulose, one that is a polymer with a crystalline architecture. He also said that operations are being scaled up, with research moving from laboratory-sized tests to larger outdoor facilities.

Brown expressly pointed out that one of the major barriers to commercializing nanocellulose fuels involves national policy and politics, rather than science. Biofuels, he said, will face a difficult time for decades into the future in competing with the less-expensive natural gas now available with hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”  [emphasis mine] In the long run, the United States will need sustainable biofuels, he said, citing the importance of national energy policies that foster parallel development and commercialization of biofuels.

Science policy, innovation and more on the Canadian 2010 federal budget; free access in the true north; no nano for Van Gogh’s The Bedroom; frogs, foam and biofuels

There are more comments about Canada’s 2010 federal budget on the Canadian Science Policy Centre website along with listings of relevant news articles which they update regularly. There’s also a federal budget topic in the forums section but it doesn’t seem have attracted much commentary yet.

The folks at The Black Hole blog offer some pointed commentary with regard to the budget’s treatment of post doctorate graduates. If I understand the comments correctly, the budget has clarified the matter of taxation, i. e., post doctoral grants are taxable income, which means that people who were getting a break on taxes are now losing part of their income. The government has also created a new class of $70,000 post doctoral grants but this will account for only 140 fellowships. With some 6000 post doctoral fellows this means only 2% of the current pool of applicants will receive these awards. Do read The Black Hole post as they clarify what this means in very practical terms.

There’s been another discussion outcome from the 2010 budget, a renewed interest in innovation. I’m kicking off my ‘innovation curation efforts’ with this from an editorial piece by Carol Goar in the Toronto Star,

Five Canadian finance ministers have tried to crack the productivity puzzle. All failed. Now Jim Flaherty is taking a stab at it.

Here is the conundrum: We don’t use our brainpower to create new wealth. We have a highly educated population, generous tax incentives for research and development and lower corporate tax rates than any leading economic power. Yet our businesses remain reluctant to invest in new products and technologies (with a few honourable exceptions such as Research in Motion, Bombardier and Magna). They don’t even capitalize on the exciting discoveries made in our universities and government laboratories.

Economists are starting to ask what’s wrong. Canada ranked 14th in business spending on research and development – behind all the world’s leading industrial powers and even smaller nations such as Belgium and Ireland – in the latest statistical roundup by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

I believe she’s referring to the 2009 OECD scorecard in that last bit (you can find the Canada highlights here).

There are many parts to this puzzle about why Canadians and their companies are not innovative.  Getting back to Goar’s piece,

Kevin Lynch, who served as Stephen Harper’s top adviser from 2006 to 2009 [and is now the vice-chair of the Bank of Montreal Financial Group], has just written an article in Policy Options, an influential magazine, laying the blame squarely on corporate Canada. He argues that, unless business leaders do their part, it makes little sense to go on spending billions of dollars on research and development. “In an era of fiscal constraint, there has to be a compelling narrative to justify new public investments when other areas are being constrained,” he says.

Here’s a possible puzzle piece, in yesterday’s (March 15, 2010) posting I noted a study by academic, Mary J. Benner, where she pointed out that securities analysts do not reward/encourage established US companies such as Polaroid (now defunct) and Kodak to adopt new technologies. I would imagine that the same situation exists here in Canada.

For another puzzle piece: I’ve made mention of the mentality that a lot of entrepreneurs (especially in Canadian high tech) have and see confirmation  in a Globe and Mail article by Simon Avery about the continuing impact of the 2000 dot com meltdown where he investigates some of the issues with venture capital and investment as well as this,

“It’s a little bit about getting into the culture of winning, like the Olympics we just had,” says Ungad Chadda, senior vice-president of the Toronto Stock Exchange. “I don’t think the technology entrepreneurs around here are encouraged and supported to think beyond the $250-million cheque that a U.S. company can give them.”

One last comment from  Kevin Lynch (mentioned in the second of the Goar excerpts) about innovation and Canada from his recent opinion piece in the Globe and Mail,

A broader public dialogue is essential. We need to make the question “What would it take for Canada to be an innovative economy for the 21st century?” part of our public narrative – partly because our innovation deficit is a threat to our competitiveness and living standards, and partly because we can be a world leader in innovation. We should aspire to be a nation of innovators. We should rebrand Canada as technologically savvy, entrepreneurial and creative.

Yes, Mr. Lynch a broader dialogue would be delightful but there does seem to be an extraordinary indifference to the notion from many quarters. Do I seem jaundiced? Well, maybe that’s because I’ve been trying to get some interest in having a Canadian science policy debate and not getting very far with it. In principle, people call for more dialogue but that requires some effort to organize and a willingness to actually participate.

(As for “rebranding”, is anyone else tired of hearing that word or its cousin branding?)

On a completely other note, the University of Ottawa has announced that it is supporting open access to its faculty’s papers with institutional funding. From the news release,

According to Leslie Weir, U of Ottawa’s chief librarian, the program encompasses several elements, including a new Open Access (or OA) repository for peer-reviewed papers and other “learning objects”; an “author fund” for U of Ottawa researchers to help them cover open-access fees charged by journal publishers; a $50,000-a-year budget to digitize course materials and make them available to anyone through the repository; and support for the University of Ottawa Press’s OA journals.

But the university stopped short of requiring faculty members to deposit their papers with the new repository. “We all agreed that incentives and encouragement was the best way to go,” said Ms. Weir, who worked on the program with an internal group of backers, including Michael Geist, professor of intellectual property law, and Claire Kendall, a professor in the faculty of medicine who has been active in OA medical journals.

There is some criticism of the decision to make the programme voluntary. Having noticed the lack of success that voluntary reporting of nanomaterials has had, I’m inclined to agree with the critics. (Thanks to Pasco Phronesis for pointing me to the item.)

If you’ve ever been interested in art restoration (how do they clean and return the colours of an old painting to its original hues?, then the Van Gogh blog is for you. A member of the restoration team is blogging each step of The Bedroom’s (a famous Van Gogh painting) restoration. I was a little surprised that they don’t seem to be using any of the new nano-enabled techniques for examining the painting or doing the restoration work.

Given the name for this website, I have to mention the work done with frogs in pursuit of developing new biofuels by scientists at the University of Cincinnati. From the news item on Nanotechnology Now,

In natural photosynthesis, plants take in solar energy and carbon dioxide and then convert it to oxygen and sugars. The oxygen is released to the air and the sugars are dispersed throughout the plant — like that sweet corn we look for in the summer. Unfortunately, the allocation of light energy into products we use is not as efficient as we would like. Now engineering researchers at the University of Cincinnati are doing something about that.

The researchers are finding ways to take energy from the sun and carbon from the air to create new forms of biofuels, thanks to a semi-tropical frog species [Tungara frog].

Their work focused on making a new artificial photosynthetic material which uses plant, bacterial, frog and fungal enzymes, trapped within a foam housing, to produce sugars from sunlight and carbon dioxide.

Here’s an illustration of the frog by Megan Gundrum, 5th year DAAP student (I tried find out what DAAP stands for but was unsuccessful, ETA: Mar.31.10, it is the Design, art, and architecture program at the University of Cincinnati),

illustration by Megan Gundrum, 5th year DAAP student

Thank you to the University of Cincinnati for making the image available.

Alberta and Texas collaborate on nanotechnology and greenish energy; a meta analysis of public perceptions of nanotechnology risks; how scientists think

The Premier of Alberta (Canada), Ed Stelmach, has signed a memorandum of understanding with Rice University (Texas, US) President, David Leebron, to collaborate through nanoAlberta (Alberta Advanced Education and Technology) and the Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology (Rice University). The two institutions will collaborate in the energy, environmental, medical,  agriculture, and forestry sectors. From the news item on Azonano,

Wade Adams, director of the Smalley Institute, said the interests of nanoAlberta and those of his team at Rice are perfectly aligned. “We want to help them figure out how to extract oil from their resources in a more environmentally friendly way, a more efficient way and one that will cause less damage to their own territory as well as provide oil for the needs of the human race, as they become a more important source of it.”

When I read the title for the item I thought they were referring to green or bio fuels but, as you can see from the quote, the intention is altogether different. From a pragmatic perspective, since we have to depend on fossil fuels for a while longer, it’s best if we can find more environmentally friendly ways to extract it while developing other renewable sources.

This reminds me of the recent invite I received from the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) for the Perverse Incentives: The Untold Story of Federal Subsidies for Fossil Fuels event held on Sept. 18, 2009. Unfortunately, the webcast isn’t available quite yet but I think that in light of this memorandum it could be interesting viewing and might provide a critical perspective on the initiative.

PEN is holding another somewhat related event on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009 at 12:30 pm EST, Nanotechnology, Synthetic Biology, and Biofuels: What does the public think? If you’re in Washington, DC, you can attend the event live but you should RSVP here, otherwise there’s a live webcast which is posted a few days later on their website.  (There’s a PEN event tomorrow, Sept. 23, 2009 at 12 pm to 2:30 pm EST, titled Transatlantic Regulatory Cooperation: Securing the Promise of Nanotechnologies. If you wish to attend the live event, you can RSVP using the link I’ve posted previously. If you’re interested in this event, in June I posted a more complete description of it here.)

One more Canadian development on the nanotechnology front, a meta analysis of 22 surveys on public perceptions of the risks and benefits of nanotechnology has been published at Nature Online as of Sept. 20, 2009. The article (lead author from the University of British Columbia, Canada)  is behind a paywall but you can read more about it in the news item on Nanowerk (from the news item),

Previous studies have found that new and unknown technologies such as biotechnology tend to be regarded as risky, but that’s not the case for nanotechnology, according to this research. People who thought nanotechnology had more benefits than risks outnumbered those who perceived greater risks by 3 to 1 in this study. The 44 percent of people who didn’t have an opinion either way surprised the researchers. “You don’t normally get that reluctance,” says Terre Satterfield of the University of British Columbia in Canada, lead author of the study and a collaborator with CNS-UCSB [Center for Nanotechnology in Society at the University of California, Santa Barbara].

In almost three years of scanning, I don’t think I’ve ever seen two announcements that both feature a Canadian nanotechnology development of sorts. This is a banner day!

Topping today off, I’m going to segue into How Scientists Think.  It’s a paper about how scientists creatively problem solve.  From the news item on Physorg.com,

Her [Dr. Nancy J. Nersessian] study of the working methods of scientists helps in understanding how class and instructional laboratory settings can be improved to foster creativity, and how new teaching methods can be developed based on this understanding. These methods will allow science students to master model-based reasoning approaches to problem solving and open the field to many more who do not think of themselves as traditional “scientists.”

I’ve been interested in how scientists think because I’ve been trying to understand why the communication with ‘non scientists’ can be so poor. To some extent I think it is cultural. After years of training in special skills and a special language, scientists are members of a unique occupational culture, which has given birth to many, many subcultures. People who are immersed in their own cultures don’t always realize that the rest of us may not understand what they’re saying very well. (Try reading art criticism if you don’t have an understanding of art history and critical theory.) That’s my short answer and, one of these days, I’m going to write a paper with my long answer.

I had every intention of writing another part of my science communication series today but I have a couple of projects to start or finish and these series postings take more time than I have to spare.

Science communication in Canada (part 2)

Today I’m going to discuss science journalism. There’s not a lot of science journalism as the Science Day report notes,

In communicating science issues, the media fall far short. Science-focused stories rarely make the news in Canada, and when they do, often fail to adequately explain either the science or its significance. It seems that Canadian news editors and producers assume that the public considers science uninteresting or complicated. The European media, in contrast, appreciating that science can hold readers’ and viewers’ attention, routinely cover science news. Scientists, for their part, too often do not engage the world beyond their labs and institutes. When they do venture out, they sometimes fail to succinctly convey the gist or broader relevance of their research to the public, industry and government.

Contrary to the media’s assumptions, a surprisingly large number of Canadians share a keen interest in science. When conveyed properly, science news can capture the public’s imagination. And scientists are perfectly capable of conveying science to a wide audience.

I also found out recently that science journalism is not science communication; that field was described to me (by a member of the School of Journalism at the University of British Columbia) as public relations and marketing. Interesting, non? I view science communication more broadly but I can understand why it’s viewed that way. First, communication departments are often charged with public relations, media relations, and/or marketing communication initiatives. (Note: I don’t know if it’s still true but 15 years ago people in communication departments viewed their roles as distinct from public relations and/or marketing communication. Personally, I always found the lines to be blurry.) Second, there is a longstanding snobbery about public relations, communication, etc. in the journalism community.

Getting back to science journalism, I think pretty anyone will agree that there’s not much coverage of the science scene in Canada. You’re not going find many science stories in your local papers or on the radio and tv unless you make a special effort. In terms of general science magazines that are not being issued by a government agency, only two spring to mind. SEED and Yes Mag for Children and unfortunately I’ve never seen either magazine on the news stands. As for broadcast programmes,  there’s SPARK and Quirks and Quarks on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio and Daily Planet on the Discovery Channel (a Canadian offshoot station of a US television channel). SPACE: the imagination station (another offshoot of a US television channel [Syfy] which focuses on science fiction and fantasy) does cover the odd science story but they insert the news bits between programming and I’ve never been able to discern a schedule. Please let me know if  I’ve missed anything.

I’d like to note is that the term science story also includes medical stories, health stories, and environment stories which members of the news media believe are of much interest to the general public (and even they don’t get great coverage). The consequence is that other sciences tend to get short shrift in the competition for news coverage when there are so few outlets.

I will have more next week on this. In the meantime, the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) has a new event coming up on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009 at 12:30 pm EST in Washington, DC. The event is titled, Nanotechnology, Synthetic Biology, and Biofuels: What does the public think? If you’re in Washington, DC and want to attend, you can RSVP here or there will be both a live webcast and a posted webcast after the event, no RSVP required.

Finally, Rob Annan (Don’t leave Canada behind) is digging deeper into the issue of entrepreneurship in Canada and how we can nurture it here. He also provides some resources that you may want to check out or you may want to let him know of your network.