- Annual Meeting
- Join CSWA
Here are just a few highlights from the Preliminary Programme
What makes a liveable city? We’ll be going from the private spaces and the issues of homelessness, housing and health, through the urban ecosystem and the issues of urban air quality, climate change and ecosystem function, out into the wider urban communities to explore relationships between social welfare and state militaries.
As requested, there will be professional development workshops about how the business of being a freelance journalist is more than knowing how to write an invoice. You might have to get into grant Grabbing and virtual panhandling if you want to survive.
We’ll explore One Story Three Ways, analyzing this year’s story of the human powered helicopter and how the Sikorsky prize was finally won after nearly thirty years as told from three different perspectives; the scientists, the science communicator and the journalist. Is it like that rumour game? What gets lost, and found in translation from science journal to science story?
We’ll be exposed to the latest research on human development from changes to our ideas about genes and their influence on behaviour, to the effect of nutrition on the health development of children, to the cognitive-social-cultural factors that affect the way children learn to lie, to the role that societal conditions play in shaping inequities in population health and human development, and finally to the way our attention changes as we age.
Is anybody paying attention to your tweets? The session on assessing your social media endeavours will explore social media metrics and other ways of gauging your online success and introduce proven strategies to help you meet your goals.
There will be another Canadian Polar Commission reception this year where we’ll share some snacks and consider a case study of the geology behind Canada’s Arctic United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea offshore bid along with some of the sovereignty, and other implications of that bid.
And that’s still not all. There will be Field Trips, complete with Bus Rides!
For details and information about more sessions check out the Preliminary Programme available online now. You can also make an early bird registration and find out about accommodation at the University of Toronto.
By Shelly Fan
Sometimes, good proteins go bad.
Normally, when a protein has served out its useful life, cellular mechanisms break it down. In Huntington’s disease, however, a mutation affecting a protein called Hungtintin causes the protein to aggregate into harmful clumps that the cell cannot clear. In certain types of Parkinson’s disease, the number of an otherwise normal protein skyrockets, disrupting the delicate balance of the cell’s protein ecology and eventually causing the cell to die.
In other cases, it’s all about set and setting: death-associated protein kinase 1 (Dapk1) tells cancerous cells to commit suicide, but during a stroke Dapk1 mistargets, turning its death command on damaged neurons. (When scientists learned to blocked the protein’s activity, they gave rats that had strokes a better chance of their brain cells surviving.)
For decades, researchers have been working on clever ways of reducing or eliminating disease-causing proteins without affecting their non-mutated counterparts. Many highly sophisticated methods go after the mutated or “overactive” gene by knocking it out or killing off its messenger, blocking its production. These methods work, but the medications often need to be injected directly into the patient’s brain—multiple times—to sustain the knockdown, limiting their use.
But what if, instead of going after the gene that makes a mutated protein, doctors could directly wipe out the disease-causing protein itself? In a recent study, a team of neuroscience researchers from the University of British Columbia, of which I am a part, showed how we could harness the power of the cell’s internal protein-chopping machinery to target disease-causing mutated proteins. We did this by hijacking a process called chaperone-mediated autophagy.
Certain proteins have a short stretch of amino acids (a “motif”) that makes them recognizable by a family of protein chaperones. During chaperone-mediated autophagy, chaperones grab onto the protein’s motif and direct it to the cell’s execution chamber—the lysosome, a highly acidic sac filled with over 50 types of enzymes that ensures the complete disintegration of any protein that enters it.
My team and I took this motif and added another short stretch of amino acids to it. This added stretch is fully customizable—it binds to whichever protein you want to target—meaning that we can use it to send the cell’s executioners after whichever protein we choose.
Say you want to degrade α-synuclein, the over-expressed protein in Parkinson’s disease. One way to go about it is to find existing proteins that are already built to grab onto α-synuclein. Although proteins are intricately structured molecules, they often interact with each other through short amino acid sequences, like two human bodies only touching through a brush of their fingertips. Once you find a protein already built to target α-synuclein, you can chop it up into tiny chunks. Bathing this mix of protein bits in a soup of your target protein (α-synuclein), lets you figure out which part, specifically, is the part that binds to α-synuclein. This is the part you’ll need to target the protein.
By designing a molecule that carries both a chaperone-attracting motif and the protein chunk that targets α-synuclein, you can build a homing beacon that causes the body’s executioner to fight Parkinson’s disease.
In our study, rather than targeting α-synuclein, we set our sights on Dapk1, one of the proteins that commands neurons to die after a stroke. Building on previous research, we designed our Dapk1-targeting molecule with the condition that it only binds to the death-inducing protein after the latter’s “death message” is activated—this generally happens in areas of the brain that succumb to stroke damage.
Testing our molecule on rats that had had strokes, we found that a single abdominal injection of our molecule decreased the level of Dapk1 in areas that normally would have sustained damage from the stroke. Yet, our molecule also didn’t hinder the normal functioning of Dapk1 in other parts of the body. This means that Dapk1 was able to go on doing its job fighting cancer, but we were also able to shut it down in a targeted way and help mitigate damage from stroke. Eliminating this cellular death-inducing protein protected neurons from their fate, almost completely rescuing the rats’ brains from stroke-induced damage.
This is the first time that scientists have been able to snipe down a disease-causing mutated protein in such a targeted way.
This isn’t to say, however, that we’ll soon have a vaccine for stroke. Although theoretically the concept can be applied clinically, researchers have not yet completely mapped out its potential side effects: will the immune system attack the foreign molecule? Will it only go to its desired destination, like a homing torpedo, or is there a threat of it going rogue? What if the protein targeting system isn’t as specific as we’ve hoped, and instead of a sniper rifle you make a machine gun? Finally, remember that the chaperone-attracting motif is part of the molecule; this means that, in essence, it has an activated self-destruct signal. What if the weapon disintegrates before it reaches its target?
Nevertheless, scientists now have a new tool to help interrogate the function of proteins, and a new way to develop therapeutics. Even a small step down this path may mean a big leap in scientific discover.
Fan X. et al., Rapid and reversible knockdown of endogenous proteins by peptide-directed lysosomal degradation. Nat Neurosci published online 26 January 2014; doi: 10.1038/nn.3637
You probably thought you got along just fine with dietary fibre. A sandwich with whole grain bread? No problem. Apples with the skin on? You bet. As you eat them, you can almost see your doctor watching you, arms crossed, nodding proudly. After all, scientific studies from the past few decades support the fact that fibre has measurable beneficial effects, especially on digestive health.
Yet a team of researchers from the University of British Columbia are now arguing that the relationship between you and your dietary fibre is not inherently harmonious. They say that your body actually can’t stand fibre, since the human genes just don’t carry the code for the enzymes needed to digest it. The truth is, you can’t digest the fibre in a tomato any more than you can digest a strip of birch bark.
So how come you seem to get along so well with fibre? (Aside from birch bark, that is.) Here’s the trick: you can’t digest fibre, but the bacteria that live in your gut can.
Researchers at the Brumer Lab have recently published evidence that a sequence of genes in Bacteroides ovatus, a common species of gut bacteria, is able to chop up a main component of dietary fibre in order to help us digest our vegetables. In a sense, the little critters can take all of the credit for the fact we’re able to metabolize dietary fibre at all.
Thanks to some wide-ranging surveys of gut bacteria, the researchers determined that in about 92% of people one of the types of bacteria in their gut carry the genes needed to break down fibre. What’s not clear yet is whether there are other bacterial species that do similar, or complementary, work, using different genes.
This is just the tip of the iceberg lettuce when it comes to finding out how gut bacteria serve as an intermediary between us and our food. Almost all of nutritional science, including everything we know about calories and harvesting nutrients from our food, is going to have to be re-examined in light of what we’re learning about gut bacteria.
So eat your Raisin Bran, but don’t think for a minute you could manage it all on your own.
Kristina Campbell, a gut bacteria science critic who lives in Vancouver, blogs about digestive health at http://intestinalgardener.blogspot.ca
CANADIAN SCIENCE WRITERS ASSOCIATION
FAST TALKER AWARD
Got a thesis?
Got the gift of the gab or a visual, moving way to tell your story in 3 minutes or less?
Then you should make a video and enter the CSWA’s Fast Talker, 3-minute thesis competition. You could win $500 and have your video screened for some of the top science journalists, authors and science communicators in the country at this year’s Canadian Science Writers’ Association annual awards dinner in Toronto. And we’ll post it on our website, too. It’s a chance to get your thesis out in front of influential communicators, meet some of the most talented writers in the land, and get a free meal.
The Fast Talker competition is open to Masters and PhD students registered in a program in Ontario in the following areas who have made substantial progress in their research and analysis: natural sciences, medicine and health, engineering, chemistry, physics. It is also open to PhD and Master’s students in Ontario who have defended their thesis but not yet graduated.
You may use any props, animation, sound, costumes, instruments, etc. except other humans and dead/alive animals. If you use sound, it cannot be at the same time as the narration. You must speak your presentation, no rap, poems, or songs. You must present the research that went into your thesis.
Send us a URL or archived link to your video and make sure it is available throughout the judging period and until the end of June 2014.
How Do I Enter?
Make your video. Have fun. Stop when it’s 3 minutes long. Upload it. Fill out the submission form linked here and include the link to your video. Keep that link live until the end of June 2014. Pay the entry fee of $35 and discover that you’ve been given a one-year CSWA student membership. Welcome to the Canadian Science Writers Association!
One entry per student
Submissions open Feb 17, 2014
AWARDS PROGRAM DEADLINE MARCH 1, 2014
NEW AWARDS PROGRAM DEADLINE MARCH 1, 2014
CSWA 2014 Science In Society Awards
The Canadian Science Writers’ Association offers Science In Society awards annually to honour outstanding contributions to journalism and science communication in Canada. This year the awards program has been re-vamped based on feedback from previous entrants, jurors, board members and members. For 2014 the CSWA is offering three awards in broad categories to honour excellence in science journalism and science communication presented to the general public during the 2013 calendar year.
SUBMISSIONS NOW OPEN: DEADLINE MARCH 1,2014
CSWA Science Communication Award: $1,000
This award goes to an individual or small team, museum, university or college, whose work in 2013 explored or explained the topic of science to the public in an informative, accurate and engaging way. The work can be in any medium, and was produced for the purposes of public communications, outreach, advertising, marketing, or any similar venture. Submit Here
CSWA Science Journalism Award: $1,000
This award goes to an individual who has a science piece published in their name in any media during the calendar year 2013. Submit Here
CSWA Herb Lampert Emerging Journalist Award: $1,000
This award is goes to student or newly practicing journalist who has a science piece published in any media during 2013. Submit Here
CSWA Lifetime Achievement Award
We also occasionally present a lifetime achievement award and the CSWA board is open to suggestions regarding this award. Email suggestions to email@example.com
CSWA GENERAL SUBMISSION GUIDELINES:
Submissions Now Open: Deadline March 1, 2014
Competitors must be Canadian citizens or residents of Canada.
Each award is presented for original material disseminated – in French or English – during the 2013 calendar year.
The awards will be presented during the CSWA annual conference.
1 entry per person or team
All entries must submit:
- description of the entry, less than 150 words
- biography of the writer(s), less than 150 words
- confirmation of the date published, broadcast, or presented
- online entry form
- entry fee online: entry fee $50 for non-members, $25 for members, (no fee for Herb Lampert Emerging Journalist Award)
How to Submit Formats:
- four copies of the article or series on one topic or theme
- or a link to the online article or series on one topic or theme
radio or podcast:
- link to mp3 file either through an active url or an archived link,
- or 4 copies on DVD
- 4 copies of on DVD
- or a link to an active url
Live Event or Media Campaign (Science Communication):
Event or campaign promotion material, images, video, audio and media coverage as appropriate and relevant to the event. Material can be submitted in any of the formats listed above. You’ll be asked to provide a complete list of all links and DVD or print copies being submitted per entry.
Print copies and DVDs must be delivered by March 1 to:
CSWA SIS Awards
105 Villeneuve O
Montreal, QC H2T 2R6
All audio and video files and links or urls must be active and available throughout the submissions & judging period (Feb 1 to May 15)
Entries in each of the categories may deal with research and development, regulatory trends or social issues. They are judged generally on the basis of initiative, originality, clarity of interpretation and value in promoting a better understanding of science by the public and on the following specific criteria:
PRESENTATION AND CLARITY
Is it understandable without being overly simplistic? Is the medical or scientific terminology clarified? Have the facts or hypotheses been marshaled in an orderly and progressive fashion? Has the importance, or purpose, of the subject matter been clearly stated relative to its value? Is the grammar good? Is the material in good, logical order? Does the presentation flow easily?
Has the entrant expended more than standard time and effort in soliciting and preparing the entry? For example, this would rule out straight reporting of speakers and papers at scientific meetings, regardless of excellence, unless the entrant has pursued the topic in greater depth or obtained other expert validation, beyond the initial presentation.
Is it relevant to the majority of the audience or does it have a narrow interest appeal? Does it lead to a higher degree of awareness or practical understanding of the importance of science in society today? It may be either educational or informative.
The subject matter does not necessarily have to be new. However, if a familiar topic or review is presented, it should offer more than another presentation of the facts. It should reinforce current understanding of the topic, or create a new awareness by offering a new perspective or innovative concept.