Tag Archives: McGill University

McGill University researchers put the squeeze Tomonaga-Luttinger theory in quantum mechanics

McGill University (Montréal, Québec, Canada) researchers testing the Tomonaga-Luttinger theory had international help according to a May 15, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily,

We all know intuitively that normal liquids flow more quickly as the channel containing them tightens. Think of a river flowing through narrow rapids.

But what if a pipe were so amazingly tiny that only a few atoms of superfluid helium could squeeze through its opening at once? According to a longstanding quantum-mechanics model, the superfluid helium would behave differently from a normal liquid: far from speeding up, it would actually slow down.

For more than 70 years, scientists have been studying the flow of helium through ever smaller pipes. But only recently has nanotechnology made it possible to reach the scale required to test the theoretical model, known as the Tomonaga-Luttinger theory (after the scientists who developed it).

Now, a team of McGill University researchers, with collaborators at the University of Vermont and at Leipzig University in Germany, has succeeded in conducting experiments with the smallest channel yet – less than 30 atoms wide. In results published online today in Science Advances, the researchers report that the flow of superfluid helium through this miniature faucet does, indeed, appear to slow down.

A May 15, 2015 University of McGill news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme and notes this is one step on the road to proving the theory,

“Our results suggest that a quantum faucet does show a fundamentally different behaviour,” says McGill physics professor Guillaume Gervais, who led the project. “We don’t have the smoking gun yet. But we think this a great step toward proving experimentally the Tomonaga-Luttinger theory in a real liquid.”

The zone where physics changes

Insights from the research could someday contribute to novel technologies, such as nano-sensors with applications in GPS systems. But for now, Gervais says, the results are significant simply because “we’re pushing the limit of understanding things on the nanoscale. We’re approaching the grey zone where all physics changes.”

Prof. Adrian Del Maestro from the University of Vermont has been employing high-performance computer simulations to understand just how small the faucet has to be before this new physics emerges. “The ability to study a quantum liquid at such diminutive length scales in the laboratory is extremely exciting as it allows us to extend our fundamental understanding of how atoms cooperate to form the superfluid state of matter,” he says. “The superfluid slowdown we observe signals that this cooperation is starting to break down as the width of the pipe narrows to the nanoscale” and edges closer to the exotic one-dimensional limit envisioned in the Tomonaga-Luttinger theory.

Building what is probably the world’s smallest faucet has been no simple task. Gervais hatched the idea during a five-minute conversation over coffee with a world-leading theoretical physicist. That was eight years ago. But getting the nano-plumbing to work took “at least 100 trials – maybe 200,” says Gervais, who is a fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

A beam of electrons as drill bit

Using a beam of electrons as a kind of drill bit, the team made holes as small as seven nanometers wide in a piece of silicon nitride, a tough material used in applications such as automotive diesel engines and high-performance ball bearings. By cooling the apparatus to very low temperatures, placing superfluid helium on one side of the pore and applying a vacuum to the other, the researchers were able to observe the flow of the superfluid through the channel. Varying the size of the channel, they found that the maximum speed of the flow slowed as the radius of the pore decreased.

The experiments take advantage of a unique characteristic of superfluids. Unlike ordinary liquids – water or maple syrup, for example – superfluids can flow without any viscosity. As a result, they can course through extremely narrow channels; and once in motion, they don’t need any pressure to keep going. Helium is the only element in nature known to become a superfluid; it does so when cooled to an extremely low temperature.

An inadvertent breakthrough

For years, however, the researchers were frustrated by a technical glitch: the tiny pore in the silicon nitride material kept getting clogged by contaminants. Then one day, while Gervais was away at a conference abroad, a new student in his lab inadvertently deviated from the team’s operating procedure and left a valve open in the apparatus. “It turned out that this open valve kept the hole open,” Gervais says. “It was the key to getting the experiment to work. Scientific breakthroughs don’t always happen by design!”

Prof. Bernd Rosenow, a quantum physicist at Leipzig University’s Institute for Theoretical Physics, also contributed to the study.

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

Critical flow and dissipation in a quasi–one-dimensional superfluid by Pierre-François Duc, Michel Savard, Matei Petrescu, Bernd Rosenow, Adrian Del Maestro, Guillaume Gervais. Science Advances 15 May 2015: Vol. 1 no. 4 e1400222 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1400222

This is an open access paper.

Customizing DNA nanotubes quickly and cheaply

Building on some work published earlier this year, scientists from McGill University (Montréal, Québec) created a new technique for building DNA nanotubes block by block (my March 2, 2015 posting) and, now, the newest research from the McGill team features a way of making long DNA strands with that technique, as mentioned in a May 7, 2015 news item on Azonano,

Imagine taking strands of DNA – the material in our cells that determines how we look and function – and using it to build tiny structures that can deliver drugs to targets within the body or take electronic miniaturization to a whole new level.

While it may still sound like science fiction to most of us, researchers have been piecing together and experimenting with DNA structures for decades. And, in recent years, work by scientists such as McGill University chemistry professor Hanadi Sleiman has moved the use of man-made DNA structures closer to a variety of real-world applications.

But as these applications continue to develop, they require increasingly large and complex strands of DNA. That has posed a problem, because the automated systems used for making synthetic DNA can’t produce strands containing more than about 100 bases (the chemicals that link up to form the strands). It can take hundreds of these short strands to assemble nanotubes for applications such as smart drug-delivery systems.

Here’s a video featuring one of the researchers taking about this latest work from McGill University,

A May 6, 2015 McGill University news release, which originated the news item, describes the long DNA nanotubes in more detail,

In new research published May 5 in Nature Communications, however, Sleiman’’s team at McGill reports that it has devised a technique to create much longer strands of DNA, including custom-designed sequence patterns. What’s more, this approach also produces large amounts of these longer strands in just a few hours, making the process potentially more economical and commercially viable than existing techniques.

The new method involves piecing together small strands one after the other, so that they attach into a longer DNA strand with the help of an enzyme known as ligase.  A second enzyme, polymerase, is then used to generate many copies of the long DNA strand, yielding larger volumes of the material. The polymerase process has the added advantage of correcting any errors that may have been introduced into the sequence, amplifying only the correctly sequenced, full-length product.

Designer DNA materials

The team used these strands as a scaffold to make DNA nanotubes, demonstrating that the technique allows the length and functions of the tubes to be precisely programmed. “In the end, what we get is a long, synthetic DNA strand with exactly the sequence of bases that we want, and with exactly as many repeat units as we want,” explains Sleiman, who co-authored the study with Graham Hamblin, who recently completed his doctorate, and PhD student Janane Rahbani.

“This work opens the door toward a new design strategy in DNA nanotechnology,” Sleiman says. “This could provide access to designer DNA materials that are economical and can compete with cheaper, but less versatile technologies. In the future, uses could range from customized gene and protein synthesis, to applications in nanoelectronics, nano-optics, and medicine, including diagnosis and therapy.”

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

Sequential growth of long DNA strands with user-defined patterns for nanostructures and scaffolds by Graham D. Hamblin, Janane F. Rahbani, & Hanadi F. Sleiman. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 7065 doi:10.1038/ncomms8065 Published 05 May 2015

This article is behind a paywall.

2015 Science & You, a science communication conference in France

Science communicators can choose to celebrate June 2015 in Nancy, France and acquaint themselves with the latest and greatest in communication at the Science & You conference being held from June 1 – 6, 2015. Here’s the conference teaser being offered by the organizers,

The 2015 conference home page (ETA May 5, 2015 1045 hours PDT: the home page features change) offers this sampling of the workshops on offer,

No less than 180 communicators will be lined up to hold workshop sessions, from the 2nd to the 5th June in Nancy’s Centre Prouvé. In the meantime, here is an exclusive peek at some of the main themes which will be covered:

– Science communication and journalism. Abdellatif Bensfia will focus on the state of science communication in a country where major social changes are playing out, Morocco, while Olivier Monod will be speaking about “Chercheurs d’actu” (News Researchers), a system linking science with the news. Finally, Matthieu Ravaud and Fabrice Impériali from the CNRS (Centre National de Recherche Scientifique) will be presenting “CNRS Le journal”, the new on-line media for the general public.

– Using animals in biomedical research. This round-table, chaired by Victor Demaria-Pesce, from the Groupement Interprofessionnel de Réflexion et de Communication sur la Recherche (Gircor) will provide an opportunity to spotlight one of society’s great debates: the use of animals in research. Different actors working in biomedical research will present their point of view on the subject, and the results of an analysis of public perception of animal experimentation will be presented. What are the norms in this field? What are the living conditions of the animals in laboratories? How is this research to be made legitimate? This session will centre on all these questions.

– Science communication and the arts. This session will cover questions such as the relational interfaces between art and science, with in particular the presentation of “Pulse Project” with Michelle Lewis-King, and the Semaine du Cerveau (Brain Week) in Grenoble (Isabelle Le Brun).
Music will also be there with the talk by Milla Karvonen from the University of Oulu, who will be speaking about the interaction between science and music, while Philippe Berthelot will talk about the art of telling the story of science as a communication tool.

– Science on television. This workshop will also be in the form of a round table, with representatives from TVV (Vigyan Prasar, Inde), and Irene Lapuente (La Mandarina de Newton), Mico Tatalovic and Elizabeth Vidal (University of Cordoba), discussing how the world of science is represented on a mass media like television. Many questions will be debated, as for example the changing image of science on television, its historical context, or again, the impact these programmes have on audiences’ perceptions of science.

To learn more, you will find the detailed list of all the workshops and plenaries in the provisional programme on-line.

Science & You seems to be an ‘umbrella brand’ for the “Journées Hubert Curien” conference with plenaries and workshops and the “Science and Culture” forum, which may explain the variety of dates (June 1 – 6, June 2 – 5, and June 2 – 6) on the Science & You home page.

Here’s information about the Science & You organizers and more conference dates (from the Patrons page),

At the invitation of the President of the Université de Lorraine, the professors Etienne Klein, Cédric Villani and Brigitte Kieffer accepted to endorse Science & You. It is an honour to be able to associate them with this major event in science communication, in which they are particularly involved.

Cédric Villani, Fields Medal 2010

Cédric Villani is a French mathematician, the Director of the Institut Henri Poincaré and a professor at the Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1.
His main research interests are in kinetic theory (Boltzmann and Vlasov equations and their variants), and optimal transport and its applications (Monge equation).
He has received several national and international awards for his research, in particular the Fields Medal, which he received from the hands of the President of India at the 2010 International Congress of Mathematicians in Hyderabad (India). Since then he has played the role of spokesperson for the French mathematical community in media and political circles.
Cédric Villani regularly invests in science communication aiming at various audiences: conferences in schools, public conferences in France and abroad, regular participation in broadcasts and current affairs programmes and in science festivals.


Etienne Klein, physicist and philosopher

Etienne Klein is a French physicist, Director of Research at the CEA (Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives – Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission) and has a Ph.D. in philosophy of science. He teaches at the Ecole Centrale in Paris and is head of the Laboratoire de Recherche sur les Sciences de la Matière (LARSIM) at the CEA.

He has taken part in several major projects, such as developing a method of isotope separation involving the use of lasers, and the study of a particle accelerator with superconducting cavities. He was involved in the design of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN.
He taught quantum physics and particle physics at Ecole Centrale in Paris for several years and currently teaches philosophy of science. He is a specialist on time in physics and is the author of a number of essays.
He is also a member of the OPECST (Conseil de l’Office parlementaire d’évaluation des choix scientifiques et technologiques – Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Choices), of the French Academy of Technologies, and of the Conseil d’Orientation (Advisory Board) of the Institut Diderot.
Until June 2014, he presented a weekly radio chronicle, Le Monde selon Etienne Klein, on the French national radio France Culture.

Photo by Philippe Matsas © Flammarion


Brigitte Kieffer, Campaigner for women in science

B. L. Kieffer is Professor at McGill University and at the Université de Strasbourg France. She is also Visiting Professor at UCLA (Los Angeles, USA). She develops her research activity at IGBMC, one of the leading European centres of biomedical research. She is recipient of the Jules Martin (French Academy of Science, 2001) and the Lounsbery (French and US Academies of Science, 2004) Awards, and has become an EMBO Member in 2009.
In 2012 she received the Lamonica Award of Neurology (French Academy of Science) and was nominated Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur. In December 2013 she was elected as a member of the French Academy of Sciences.
In March 2014, she received the International L’OREAL-UNESCO Award for Women in Science (European Laureate). She started as the Scientific Director of the Douglas Hospital Research Centre, affiliated to McGill University in January 2014, and remains Professor at the University of Strasbourg, France.

Photo by Julian Dufort

Here’s more about the conference at the heart of Science & You (from The Journées Hubert Curien International Conference webpage),

Following on the 2012 conference, this project will bring together all those interested in science communication: researchers, PhD students, science communicators, journalists, professionals from associations and museums, business leaders, politicians… A high-level scientific committee has been set up for this international conference, chaired by Professor Joëlle Le Marec, University of Paris 7, and counting among its members leading figures in science communication such as Bernard Schiele (Canada) or Hester du Plessis (South Africa).

The JHC Conference will take place from June 2nd to 6th at the Centre Prouvé, Nancy. These four days will be dedicated to a various programme of plenary conferences and workshops on the theme of science communication today and tomorrow.

You can find the Registration webpage here where you can get more information about the process and access the registration form.

Reversing Parkinson’s type symptoms in rats

Indian scientists have developed a technique for delivering drugs that could reverse Parkinson-like symptoms according to an April 22, 2015 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

As baby boomers age, the number of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease is expected to increase. Patients who develop this disease usually start experiencing symptoms around age 60 or older. Currently, there’s no cure, but scientists are reporting a novel approach that reversed Parkinson’s-like symptoms in rats.

Their results, published in the journal ACS Nano (“Trans-Blood Brain Barrier Delivery of Dopamine-Loaded Nanoparticles Reverses Functional Deficits in Parkinsonian Rats”), could one day lead to a new therapy for human patients.

An April 22, 2015 American Chemical Society press pac news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the problem the researchers were solving (Note: Links have been removed),

Rajnish Kumar Chaturvedi, Kavita Seth, Kailash Chand Gupta and colleagues from the CSIR-Indian Institute of Toxicology Research note that among other issues, people with Parkinson’s lack dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that helps nerve cells communicate with each other and is involved in normal body movements. Reduced levels cause the shaking and mobility problems associated with Parkinson’s. Symptoms can be relieved in animal models of the disease by infusing the compound into their brains. But researchers haven’t yet figured out how to safely deliver dopamine directly to the human brain, which is protected by something called the blood-brain barrier that keeps out pathogens, as well as many medicines. Chaturvedi and Gupta’s team wanted to find a way to overcome this challenge.

The researchers packaged dopamine in biodegradable nanoparticles that have been used to deliver other therapeutic drugs to the brain. The resulting nanoparticles successfully crossed the blood-brain barrier in rats, released its dopamine payload over several days and reversed the rodents’ movement problems without causing side effects.

The authors acknowledge funding from the Indian Department of Science and Technology as Woman Scientist and Ramanna Fellow Grant, and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (India).

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

Trans-Blood Brain Barrier Delivery of Dopamine-Loaded Nanoparticles Reverses Functional Deficits in Parkinsonian Rats by Richa Pahuja, Kavita Seth, Anshi Shukla, Rajendra Kumar Shukla, Priyanka Bhatnagar, Lalit Kumar Singh Chauhan, Prem Narain Saxena, Jharna Arun, Bhushan Pradosh Chaudhari, Devendra Kumar Patel, Sheelendra Pratap Singh, Rakesh Shukla, Vinay Kumar Khanna, Pradeep Kumar, Rajnish Kumar Chaturvedi, and Kailash Chand Gupta. ACS Nano, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/nn506408v Publication Date (Web): March 31, 2015
Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is open access.

Another recent example of breaching the blood-brain barrier, coincidentally, in rats, can be found in my Dec. 24, 2014 titled: Gelatin nanoparticles for drug delivery after a stroke. Scientists are also trying to figure out the the blood-brain barrier operates in the first place as per this April 22, 2015 University of Pennsylvania news release on EurekAlert titled, Penn Vet, Montreal and McGill researchers show how blood-brain barrier is maintained (University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Montreal or Université de Montréal, and McGill University). You can find out more about CSIR-Indian Institute of Toxicology Research here.

Frogs: monitoring them, finding new species, and research about the golden ones in Panama

I have three frog-oriented items and while they’re not strictly speaking in my usual range of topics, given this blog’s name and the fact I haven’t posted a frog piece in quite a while, it seems this is a good moment to address that lack.

Monitoring frogs and amphibians at Trent University (Ontario, Canada)

From a March 23, 2015 Trent University news release,

With the decline of amphibian populations around the world, a team of researchers led by Trent University’s Dr. Dennis Murray will seek to establish environmental DNA (eDNA) monitoring of amphibian occupancy and aquatic ecosystem risk assessment with the help of a significant grant of over $596,000 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Awarded to Professor Murray, a Canada research chair in integrative wildlife conservation, bioinformatics, and ecological modelling and professor at Trent University along with colleagues Dr. Craig Brunetti of the Biology department, and Dr. Chris Kyle of the Forensic Science program, and partners at Laurentian University, University of Toronto, McGill University, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and Environment Canada, the grant will support the development of tools that will promote a cleaner aquatic environment.

The project will use amphibian DNA found in natural breeding habitats to determine the presence and abundance of amphibians as well as their pathogens. This new technology capitalizes on Trent University’s expertise and infrastructure in the areas of wildlife DNA and water quality.

“We’re honoured to have received the grant to help us drive the project forward,” said Prof. Murray. “Our plan is to place Canada, and Trent, in a leadership position with respect to aquatic wildlife monitoring and amphibian conservation.”

Amphibian populations are declining worldwide, yet in Canada, amphibian numbers are not monitored closely, meaning changes in their distribution or abundance may be unnoticeable. Amphibian monitoring in Canada is conducted by citizen scientists who record frog breeding calls when visiting bodies of water during the spring. However, the lack of formalized amphibian surveys leaves Canada in a vulnerable position regarding the status of its diverse amphibian community.

Prof. Murray believes that the protocols developed from this project could revolutionize how amphibian populations are monitored in Canada and in turn lead to new insights regarding the population trends for several amphibian species across the country.

Here’s more about NSERC and Trent University from the news release,

About NSERC

NSERC is a federal agency that helps make Canada a country of discoverers and innovators. The agency supports almost 30,000 post-secondary students and postdoctoral fellows in their advanced studies. NSERC promotes discovery by funding approximately 12,000 professors every year and fosters innovation by encouraging over 2,400 Canadian companies to participate and invest in post-secondary research projects.

The NSERC Strategic Project Grants aim to increase research and training in areas that could strongly influence Canada’s economy, society or environment in the next 10 years in four target areas: environmental science and technologies; information and communications technologies; manufacturing; and natural resources and energy.

About Trent University

One of Canada’s top universities, Trent University was founded on the ideal of interactive learning that’s personal, purposeful and transformative. Consistently recognized nationally for leadership in teaching, research and student satisfaction, Trent attracts excellent students from across the country and around the world. Here, undergraduate and graduate students connect and collaborate with faculty, staff and their peers through diverse communities that span residential colleges, classrooms, disciplines, hands-on research, co-curricular and community-based activities. Across all disciplines, Trent brings critical, integrative thinking to life every day. As the University celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014/15, Trent’s unique approach to personal development through supportive, collaborative community engagement is in more demand than ever. Students lead the way by co-creating experiences rooted in dialogue, diverse perspectives and collaboration. In a learning environment that builds life-long passion for inclusion, leadership and social change, Trent’s students, alumni, faculty and staff are engaged global citizens who are catalysts in developing sustainable solutions to complex issues. Trent’s Peterborough campus boasts award-winning architecture in a breathtaking natural setting on the banks of the Otonabee River, just 90 minutes from downtown Toronto, while Trent University Durham delivers a distinct mix of programming in the GTA.

Trent University’s expertise in water quality could be traced to its proximity to Canada’s Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), a much beleaguered research environment due to federal political imperatives. You can read more about the area and the politics in this Wikipedia entry. BTW, I am delighted to learn that it still exists under the auspices of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD),

Taking this post into nanotechnology territory while mentioning the ELA, Trent University published a Dec. 8, 2014 news release about research into silver nanoparticles,

For several years, Trent University’s Dr. Chris Metcalfe and Dr. Maggie Xenopoulos have dedicated countless hours to the study of aquatic contaminants and the threat they pose to our environment.

Now, through the efforts of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), their research is reaching a wider audience thanks to a new video (Note: A link has been removed).

The video is one of a five-part series being released by the IISD that looks into environmental issues in Canada. The video entitled “Distilling Science at the Experimental Lakes Area: Nanosilver” and featuring Professors Metcalfe and Xenopoulos profiles their research around nanomaterials at the Experimental Lakes Area.

Prof. Xenopolous’ involvement in the project falls in line with other environmental issues she has tackled. In the past, her research has examined how human activities – including climate change, eutrophication and land use – affect ecosystem structure and function in lakes and rivers. She has also taken an interest in how land use affects the material exported and processed in aquatic ecosystems.

Prof. Metcalfe’s ongoing research on the fate and distribution of pharmaceutical and personal care products in the environment has generated considerable attention both nationally and internationally.

Together, their research into nanomaterials is getting some attention. Nanomaterials are submicroscopic particles whose physical and chemical properties make them useful for a variety of everyday applications. They can be found in certain pieces of clothing, home appliances, paint, and kitchenware. Initial laboratory research conducted at Trent University showed that nanosilver could strongly affect aquatic organisms at the bottom of the food chain, such as bacteria, algae and zooplankton.

To further examine these effects in a real ecosystem, a team of researchers from Trent University, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada has been conducting studies at undisclosed lakes in northwestern Ontario. The Lake Ecosystem Nanosilver (LENS) project has been monitoring changes in the lakes’ ecosystem that occur after the addition of nanosilver.

“In our particular case, we will be able to study and understand the effects of only nanosilver because that is the only variable that is going to change,” says Prof. Xenopoulos. “It’s really the only place in the world where we can do that.”

The knowledge gained from the study will help policy-makers make decisions about whether nanomaterials can be a threat to aquatic ecosystems and whether regulatory action is required to control their release into the environment.

You can find the 13 mins. video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nJai_B4YH0#action=share

Shapeshifting frogs, a new species in Ecuador

Caption: This image shows skin texture variation in one individual frog (Pristimantis mutabilis) from Reserva Las Gralarias. Note how skin texture shifts from highly tubercular to almost smooth; also note the relative size of the tubercles on the eyelid, lower lip, dorsum and limbs. Credit: Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

Caption: This image shows skin texture variation in one individual frog (Pristimantis mutabilis) from Reserva Las Gralarias. Note how skin texture shifts from highly tubercular to almost smooth; also note the relative size of the tubercles on the eyelid, lower lip, dorsum and limbs.
Credit: Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

Here’s more about the shapeshifting and how the scientists figured out what the frogs were doing (from a March 23, 2015 Case Western Research University news release on EurekAlert; Note: A link has been removed),

A frog in Ecuador’s western Andean cloud forest changes skin texture in minutes, appearing to mimic the texture it sits on.

Originally discovered by a Case Western Reserve University PhD student and her husband, a projects manager at Cleveland Metroparks’ Natural Resources Division, the amphibian is believed to be the first known to have this shape-shifting capability.

But the new species, called Pristimantis mutabilis, or mutable rainfrog, has company. Colleagues working with the couple recently found that a known relative of the frog shares the same texture-changing quality–but it was never reported before.

The frogs are found at Reserva Las Gralarias, a nature reserve originally created to protect endangered birds in the Parish of Mindo, in north-central Ecuador.

The researchers, Katherine and Tim Krynak, and colleagues from Universidad Indoamérica and Tropical Herping (Ecuador) co-authored a manuscript describing the new animal and skin texture plasticity in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society this week. They believe their findings have broad implications for how species are and have been identified. The process may now require photographs and longer observations in the field to ensure the one species is not mistakenly perceived as two because at least two species of rain frogs can change their appearance.

Katherine Krynak believes the ability to change skin texture to reflect its surroundings may enable P. mutabilis to help camouflage itself from birds and other predators.

The Krynaks originally spotted the small, spiny frog, nearly the width of a marble, sitting on a moss-covered leaf about a yard off the ground on a misty July night in 2009. The Krynaks had never seen this animal before, though Tim had surveyed animals on annual trips to Las Gralarias since 2001, and Katherine since 2005.

They captured the little frog and tucked it into a cup with a lid before resuming their nightly search for wildlife. They nicknamed it “punk rocker” because of the thorn-like spines covering its body.

The next day, Katherine Krynak pulled the frog from the cup and set it on a smooth white sheet of plastic for Tim to photograph. It wasn’t “punk “–it was smooth-skinned. They assumed that, much to her dismay, she must have picked up the wrong frog.

“I then put the frog back in the cup and added some moss,” she said. “The spines came back… we simply couldn’t believe our eyes, our frog changed skin texture!

“I put the frog back on the smooth white background. Its skin became smooth.”

“The spines and coloration help them blend into mossy habitats, making it hard for us to see them,” she said. “But whether the texture really helps them elude predators still needs to be tested.”

During the next three years, a team of fellow biologists studied the frogs. They found the animals shift skin texture in a little more than three minutes.

Juan M. Guayasamin, from Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Ecuador, the manuscript’s first author, performed morphological and genetic analyses showing that P. mutabilis was a unique and undescribed species. Carl R. Hutter, from the University of Kansas, studied the frog’s calls, finding three songs the species uses, which differentiate them from relatives. The fifth author of the paper, Jamie Culebras, assisted with fieldwork and was able to locate a second population of the species. Culebras is a member of Tropical Herping, an organization committed to discovering, and studying reptiles and amphibians.

Guayasamin and Hutter discovered that Prismantis sobetes, a relative with similar markings but about twice the size of P. mutabilis, has the same trait when they placed a spiny specimen on a sheet and watched its skin turn smooth. P. sobetes is the only relative that has been tested so far.

Because the appearance of animals has long been one of the keys to identifying them as a certain species, the researchers believe their find challenges the system, particularly for species identified by one or just a few preserved specimens. With those, there was and is no way to know if the appearance is changeable.

The Krynaks, who helped form Las Gralarias Foundation to support the conservation efforts of the reserve, plan to return to continue surveying for mutable rain frogs and to work with fellow researchers to further document their behaviors, lifecycle and texture shifting, and estimate their population, all in effort to improve our knowledge and subsequent ability to conserve this paradigm shifting species.

Further, they hope to discern whether more relatives have the ability to shift skin texture and if that trait comes from a common ancestor. If P. mutabilis and P. sobetes are the only species within this branch of Pristimantis frogs to have this capability, they hope to learn whether they retained it from an ancestor while relatives did not, or whether the trait evolved independently in each species.

Golden frog of Panama and its skin microbiome

Caption: Researchers studied microbial communities on the skin of Panamanian golden frogs to learn more about amphibian disease resistance. Panamanian golden frogs live only in captivity. Continued studies may help restore them back to the wild. Credit: B. Gratwicke/Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Caption: Researchers studied microbial communities on the skin of Panamanian golden frogs to learn more about amphibian disease resistance. Panamanian golden frogs live only in captivity. Continued studies may help restore them back to the wild.
Credit: B. Gratwicke/Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Among many of the pressures on frog populations, there’s a lethal fungus which has affected some 200 species of frogs. A March 23, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily describes some recent research into the bacterial communities present on frog skin,

A team of scientists including Virginia Tech researchers is one step closer to understanding how bacteria on a frog’s skin affects its likelihood of contracting disease.

A frog-killing fungus known as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or Bd, has already led to the decline of more than 200 amphibian species including the now extinct-in-the-wild Panamanian golden frog.

In a recent study, the research team attempted to apply beneficial bacteria found on the skin of various Bd-resistant wild Panamanian frog species to Panamanian golden frogs in captivity, to see if this would stimulate a defense against the disease.

A March 23, 2015 Virginia Tech University news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, provides a twist and a turn in the story (Note: Links have been removed),

They found that while the treatment with beneficial bacteria was not successful due to its inability to stick to the skin, there were some frogs that survived exposure to the fungus.

These survivors actually had unique bacterial communities on their skin before the experiments started.

The next step is to explore these new bacterial communities.

“We were disappointed that the treatment didn’t work, but glad to have discovered new information about the relationship between these symbiotic microbial communities and amphibian disease resistance,” said Lisa Belden, an associate professor of biological sciences in the College of Science, a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate, and a faculty member with the new Global Change Center at Virginia Tech. “Every bit of information gets us closer to getting these frogs back into nature.”

Studying the microbial communities of Panamanian golden frogs was the dissertation focus of Belden’s former graduate student Matthew Becker, who graduated with a Ph.D. in biological sciences from Virginia Tech in 2014 and is now a fellow at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

“Anything that can help us predict resistance to this disease is very useful because the ultimate goal of this research is to establish healthy populations of golden frogs in their native habitat,” Becker told Smithsonian Science News. “I think identifying alternative probiotic treatment methods that optimize dosages and exposure times will be key for moving forward with the use of probiotics to mitigate chytridiomycosis.”

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

Composition of symbiotic bacteria predicts survival in Panamanian golden frogs infected with a lethal fungus by Matthew H. Becker , Jenifer B. Walke , Shawna Cikanek , Anna E. Savage , Nichole Mattheus , Celina N. Santiago , Kevin P. C. Minbiole , Reid N. Harris , Lisa K. Belden , Brian Gratwicke. April 2015 Volume: 282 Issue: 1805 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.2881 Published 18 March 2015

This is an open access paper.

For anyone curious about the article in the Smithsonian mentioned in the news release, you can find it here.

 

Tune in, turn on, and drop out—LSD and psychedelic talk at Vancouver’s (Canada) Café Scientifique on March 31, 2015

There seems to be a lot of interest in psychedelics these days and not least here in Vancouver. Next Tuesday, March 31, 2015 Cafe Scientifique, held in the back room of The Railway Club (2nd floor of 579 Dunsmuir St. [at Seymour St.], will be hosting a talk on LSD (from the March 16, 2015 announcement,

Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Michael Hughesa Research Associate in the Department of Medical Genetics at UBC (University of British Columbia) …

Psychedelic Medicine: The History & Science of LSD in the Clinic

Ergot is a fungus that grows on rye and other grains that has been blamed (rightly or wrongly) for episodes of mass hysteria throughout history. Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was first synthesized from ergot in 1938 by a Swiss chemist named Albert Hoffman, who, at the height of World War II, also discovered (somewhat mysteriously) its psychedelic properties. LSD soon came to the attention of the U.S. Army who quickly proceeds to buy up all the supply – primarily to keep it out of the hands of its enemies. Throughout the Cold War, elements in U.S. defense and security agencies engage in experiments by secretly slipping LSD to citizens with dangerous (and sometimes comical) consequences with the goal of perfecting brainwashing and mind control. Canadian scientists at McGill participated in some of these studies, thinking they could use LSD to cure psychoses. These unethical and largely unscientific experiments were akin to psychological torture. Meanwhile, the public discovered the recreational benefits of LSD and the hippie movement adopted the drug as a symbol and vehicle to enlightenment. Largely for this reason, in the early ‘70s LSD was classified as a Schedule-1 drug in the U.S. restricted legal access stopped most research and hopes of the clinical benefits of LSD was abandoned and all but forgotten. Recently, scientists, mostly working outside of the U.S. and Canada, have rediscovered LSD’s efficacy for the treatment of psychiatric disorders including post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and existential fear in terminally ill patients. Are we ready for a new wave of ethical human research to (re)-discover the clinical benefits of LSD? Take a journey through the strange history of LSD research and learn about its potential applications in medicine. What a long, strange trip it’s been.

Hughes works as a team member in the Hematopoietic Cell Development laboratory at the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Biomedical Research Centre.

Last week on March 18, 2015, The UBC Neuroscience Graduate Student Association hosted a screening of Neurons to Nirvana: Understanding Psychedelic Medicines at the Pacific Cinematheque theatre in Vancouver (Note: Links have been removed),

A thought-provoking and visually-stunning documentary that explores the potential of five powerful psychedelic substances (LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, ayahuasca, and cannabis) as psychotherapeutic medicines. Despite the potential promise shown by such drugs in research conducted in the 1950s, the increasingly restrictive anti-drug policies of successive governments effectively shut down further enquiry. As one of the many world-renowned researchers, writers, psychologists, and scientists interviewed in the film says: “The government does not allow this research to take place, and then says there’s no research to support it. It’s beyond hypocrisy.” The film is a cogent call to put irrational, fear-based beliefs aside in order to allow clinical, evidence-based research into psychedelics in areas such as addictions, PTSD, anxiety, depression, and end-of-life care.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Post-screening discussion with co-director Oliver Hockenhull and Mark Haden.

A teacher and essayist as well as a filmmaker, Oliver Hockenhull has presented at numerous universities in Canada, the US, and Europe. He has blended the documentary, essay, and experimental genres in such previous works as Aldous Huxley: The Gravity of Light (1996), Building Heaven, Remembering Earth (1999), and Evo (2002).

Mark Haden worked for Vancouver Coastal Health Addiction Services for 28 years and is now an Adjunct Professor at the UBC School of Population and Public Health. He is a pivotal voice in the drug policy reform movement, providing viable models for reforming drug education and regulating markets for currently illegal substances. Mark is also the Chair of the Board of MAPS Canada (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies).

Moderated by Dr. Harry Karlinsky, Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia.

Perhaps popular demand will lead to another showing. In the meantime, there’s Hughes’ talk and if his description is indicative it should be fascinating.

For anyone who did not recognize it,  ‘tune in, turn on, and drop out’, is a phrase that Timothy Leary, the high priest of psychedelics, psychologist, and former lecturer at Harvard University popularized during the 1960s and 70s. According to the ‘tune in, turn on, and drop out‘ entry in Wikipedia, the phrase was given to Leary by Canadian media theorist, Marshall McLuhan.

ETA March 27, 2015 at 1610 PDT: I just received a newsletter from Canada’s National Film Board where the feature item is this,

All About Acid: Hofmann’s Potion

Open your mind with this powerful feature documentary that retraces the history of LSD, a substance first used to treat addiction and mental illness that became the self-understanding tool of a generation.

For more on Hofmann’s Potion, read Meet the Lab Coat-Clad Granddaddies of LSD on the NFB/ blog.

Watch Now

* ‘tun’ changed to ‘turn’ (sigh) March 27, 2015 at 1615 PDT

McGill University (Canada) researchers build DNA nanotubes block by block

McGill University (Montréal, Québec, Canada) researchers have found a new technique for creating DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) nanotubes according to a Feb. 24, 2015 news item on Azonano,

Researchers at McGill University have developed a new, low-cost method to build DNA nanotubes block by block – a breakthrough that could help pave the way for scaffolds made from DNA strands to be used in applications such as optical and electronic devices or smart drug-delivery systems.

A Feb. 23, 2015 McGill University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes current practice and the new technique,

Many researchers, including the McGill team, have previously constructed nanotubes using a method that relies on spontaneous assembly of DNA in solution. The new technique, reported today in Nature Chemistry, promises to yield fewer structural flaws than the spontaneous-assembly method. The building-block approach also makes it possible to better control the size and patterns of the DNA structures, the scientists report.

“Just like a Tetris game, where we manipulate the game pieces with the aim of creating a horizontal line of several blocks, we can now build long nanotubes block by block,” said Amani Hariri, a PhD student in McGill’s Department of Chemistry and lead author of the study. “By using a fluorescence microscope we can further visualize the formation of the tubes at each stage of assembly, as each block is tagged with a fluorescent compound that serves as a beacon. We can then count the number of blocks incorporated in each tube as it is constructed.”

This new technique was made possible by the development in recent years of single-molecule microscopy, which enables scientists to peer into the nano-world by turning the fluorescence of individual molecules on and off. (That groundbreaking work won three U.S.- and German-based scientists the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.)

Hariri’s research is jointly supervised by chemistry professors Gonzalo Cosa and Hanadi Sleiman, who co-authored the new study. Cosa’s research group specializes in single-molecule fluorescence techniques, while Sleiman’s uses DNA chemistry to design new materials for drug delivery and diagnostic tools.

The custom-built assembly technique developed through this collaboration “gives us the ability to monitor the nanotubes as we’re building them, and see their structure, robustness and morphology,” Cosa said.

“We wanted to control the nanotubes’ lengths and features one-by-one,” said Sleiman, who holds the Canada Research Chair in DNA Nanoscience. The resulting “designer nanotubes,” she adds, promise to be far cheaper to produce on a large scale than those created with so-called DNA origami, another innovative technique for using DNA as a nanoscale construction material.

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

Stepwise growth of surface-grafted DNA nanotubes visualized at the single-molecule level by Amani A. Hariri, Graham D. Hamblin, Yasser Gidi, Hanadi F. Sleiman & Gonzalo Cosa. Nature Chemistry (2015) doi:10.1038/nchem.2184 Published online 23 February 2015

This article is behind a paywall.

Tim Blais and A Capella Science

Thanks to David Bruggeman’s July 16, 2014 ‘musical science’ posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog for information about another Canadian ‘science musician’. Tim Blais has been producing science music videos for almost two years now. His first video, posted on YouTube, in August 2012 featured an Adele tune ‘Rolling in the deep’ sung to lyrics featuring the Higgs Boson (‘Rolling in the Higgs’),

He shares the text of the lyrics (from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtItBX1l1VY&list=UUTev4RNBiu6lqtx8z1e87fQ),

There’s a collider under Geneva
Reaching new energies that we’ve never achieved before
Finally we can see with this machine
A brand new data peak at 125 GeV
See how gluons and vector bosons fuse
Muons and gamma rays emerge from something new
There’s a collider under Geneva
Making one particle that we’ve never seen before

The complex scalar
Elusive boson
Escaped detection by the LEP and Tevatron
The complex scalar
What is its purpose?
It’s got me thinking

Chorus:
We could have had a model (Particle breakthrough, at the LHC)
Without a scalar field (5-sigma result, could it be the Higgs)
But symmetry requires no mass (Particle breakthrough, at the LHC)
So we break it, with the Higgs (5-sigma result, could it be the Higgs)

Baby I have a theory to be told
The standard model used to discover our quantum world
SU(3), U(1), SU(2)’s our gauge
Make a transform and the equations shouldn’t change

The particles then must all be massless
Cause mass terms vary under gauge transformation
The one solution is spontaneous
Symmetry breaking

Roll your vacuum to minimum potential
Break your SU(2) down to massless modes
Into mass terms of gauge bosons they go
Fermions sink in like skiers into snow

Lyrics and arrangement by Tim Blais and A Capella Science
Original music by Adele

In a Sept. 17, 2012 article by Ethan Yang for The McGill Daily (University of McGill, Montréal, Québec) Blais describes his background and inspiration,

How does a master’s physics student create a Higgs boson-based parody of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” that goes viral and gets featured in popular science magazines and blogs? We sat down with Tim Blais to learn more about the personal experiences leading to his musical and scientific project, “A Capella Science”.

McGill Daily: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself: where you’re from, your childhood, and other experiences that in hindsight you think might have led you to where you are now?
Tim Blais: I grew up in a family of five in the little town of Hudson, Quebec, twenty minutes west of the island of Montreal. My childhood was pretty full of music; I started experimenting with the piano, figuring out songs my older siblings were playing, when I was about four, and soon got actual piano lessons. My mom also ran, and continues to run, our local church choir, so from the time I was three I was singing in front of people as well. Also at about three or four a kid in my preschool introduced me to Bill Nye the Science Guy, which became the only TV I watched for about six years. After kindergarten I didn’t go to school until Grade 10, but was homeschooled by my parents. We had a very multifaceted way of learning […] that I think allowed me to see the big picture of things without getting bogged down in the horrible little details that are often the stumbling block when you start learning something. That gave me a fascination with science that’s essentially carried me through a science DEC and one-and-a-half university degrees. But my parents have always been super cool about not pressuring us kids to be anything in particular, and now to show for it they’ve got an emerging rock star – my brother, Tom; a dedicated speech pathologist – my sister, Mary-Jane; and me, researcher in incomprehensible physics and recently popular internet fool. I think they did alright.

Since 2012, Blais has graduated with a masters in physics and is now devoted to a life as a musician (from a 2013 [?] posting on redefineschool.com),

Blais has just finished up his master’s degree program at McGill, and he says he’s putting academia aside for a while. “I’ve been in school all my life so I’m switching gears and being a musician this year!” he tweeted. And that career choice is just fine by McGill theoretical physicist Alex Maloney, Blais’ faculty adviser.

To bring us up-to-date with Blais, David has featured the latest A Capella Science music video titled: ‘Eminemium (Choose Yourself)’ in his July 16, 2014 ‘musical science’ posting on the Pasco Phronesis blog.

One last tidbit, Blais will be appearing at Calgary’s (Alberta) Beakerhead ‘festival’ (Sept. 10 – 14, 2014). Specifically, he will be at (from the TELUS Sept. 11, 2014 event page):

TELUS Spark Adults Only Night
September 11 [2014] @ 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm
[TELUS Spark Adults Only Night]

Mark your calendar for this special Beakerhead-themed adult night at TELUS Spark Science Centre. Meet the Festo Automation folks from Germany and see their mind-boggling biomechanical creatures up close. Are you also a fan of the internet sensation A Capella Science Bohemian Gravity? Meet the maker, Tim Blais, here in Calgary for Beakerhead.

This event is included with Admission and Membership. TOP TIP: Skip the queue with advance tickets. [go to TELUS event page to buy tickets]

You can find out more about A Capella Science on its Facebook page or via its Twitter feed. For more about Beakerhead events, go here.

Richard Berry (CelluForce) wins TAPPI’s first technical award in the nanotechnology division

Another day, another award for Dr. Richard Berry, as per this May 22, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Dr. Richard Berry of CelluForce has been named the first recipient of TAPPI’s International Nanotechnology Division’s Technical Award. This award recognizes outstanding accomplishments or contributions which have advanced the responsible and sustainable production and use of renewable nanomaterials. Dr. Berry will be presented with this award at TAPPI’s 2014 International Conference on Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials to be held June 23-26, 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Currently Vice-President and Chief Technology Officer for CelluForce, Berry has had a storied career (from the news item),

Prior to moving to CelluForce in 2011 he was Principal Scientist and leader of the nanotechnology initiative at FPInnovations. … He’s received many awards including the Nano-industry award from Nano Québec for his exceptional contribution to the development of cellulose nanocrystals, the Purvis Memorial Award and he’s been named one of Canada’s Clean 50 honourees. The initiatives Dr. Berry has spearheaded in recent years have allowed Canada to position itself as a world leader in the development of the new nanotechnology industry. This work was recognised through the 2012 NSERC Synergy award for innovation given to McGill University, FPInnovations, ArboraNano, and CelluForce .. .

I notice that the news item uses the term cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) rather than nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC). Perhaps this means someone will put me out of my misery soon and declare one term or other the winner.

As for the reference to Canada as a “a world leader in the development of the new nanotechnology industry,” that seems a little grandiose and odd. To my knowledge, no one refers to a ‘nanotechnology industry’. I believe the writer is trying say that Canada is a leader in the production of CNC. I wonder if they’ve (CelluForce) dealt with their stockpile first mentioned here in an Oct. 3, 2013 posting and again in an April 10, 2014 posting about the US Dept. of Agriculture’s workshop on commercializing cellulose nanomaterials. Should anyone know of the stockpile’s status at this time, please do let me know.

Here’s a link to the 2014 TAPPI Nanotechnology conference website here. and an interview here (Aug. 27, 2010)  where Dr. Berry very kindly answered my questions about what was then called, indisputably, nanocrystalline cellulose.