Breath-holding seals eyed in heart research

A deep-diving Antarctic seal that can swim for up to 30 minutes without taking a breath may hold the key to repairing the damaged tissue of heart and stroke victims, reported The Globe and Mail Aug. 6. Scientists hope studying the changes in the muscle proteins of Weddell seals, which unlike humans can exercise without breathing, will shed light on how to prevent tissue damage in humans with cardiovascular problems. “Weddell seals can dive down to 400 meters and hold their breath for up to 30 minutes to find food,” said stem-cell biologist Thomas Hawke, a professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science. “That is equivalent to a human taking a deep breath, walking into a darkened Wal-Mart, shopping, and emerging 30 minutes later before taking their next breath. And yet they don’t have heart attacks, they don’t have strokes.” This October, Hawke will travel to Antarctica with three scientists to study the seals. The team will take tiny muscle biopsies from infant, juvenile and adult seal populations cavorting on the Ross Ice Shelf, he said.

Case hinges on lack of seed-sale enforcement, says prof

What is unusual about BC Marijuana Party leader Marc Emery’s extradition case is that the allegations involve the sale of seeds and not the narcotic-producing portions of the plant, says Alan Young, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School who has represented Emery in the past, reported the Toronto Star Aug. 6. In order to be extradited from Canada, a person has to be charged with an offence that is also considered a crime here. Prosecutions may be rare but seed sales “are rampant in Canada,” said Young, who thinks the absence of enforcement will be the basis of a legal challenge to Emery’s extradition. “When an activity is so prevalent, with little enforcement or no enforcement, it almost leads to a de facto legalization,” he said. “It seems to violate principles of fundamental justice for the government to passively give the green light to an activity, but still allow a foreign jurisdiction to prosecute, by way of extradition, for the same crime,” Young said.

  • Young also commented on the case on the “Dave Rutherford” show on Calgary’s CHQR-AM Aug. 5.

Compers use fortune to help others

In a time when corporate leaders are widely perceived to be focused entirely on the bottom line and charities are complaining of donor fatigue, Bank of Montreal chief executive Tony Comper and his wife Elizabeth have spent a lifetime working to boost the causes they believe in, reported the Toronto Star Aug. 6. “They are very gutsy people,” says Irving Abella, Canadian history professor in York’s Faculty of Arts and a 15-year friend of the Compers. “When they see something wrong, instead of talking about it and clucking over it, they stop and work to correct it. They’re people of action, not of words. They’re a team and they have a very compassionate view of society. I like that about them. They are modest and humble people, but they are able to do really remarkable things.”

Bees going extinct and scientists playing catch-up

Many scientists are increasingly concerned that bees may really be turning into ghosts; that extinction may be stalking not only commercial hive bees but also thousands of species of wild bees that ensure that flowers bloom and crops ripen, reported the Toronto Star Aug. 7. Just weeks ago, Amro Zayed, a bee researcher in York’s Biology Department, published research that significantly upped the ante in the bee survival debate. The PhD student and his supervisor, Laurence Packer, a biology professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, used computer simulations to calculate that species of solitary bees are 10 times less able than other insects to rebound from a random population crash. The reasons are complex, most of them stemming from the peculiar genetic mechanism that determines the sex of newborn bees, wasps and ants. In small populations, this mechanism can sometimes turn female bees into sterile males, greatly increasing their risk of extinction. This high proportion of dud males isn’t a threat to apian (bee) survival as long as there is a large enough gene pool, explained Zayed. “Above a thousand individuals you’re usually safe, so long as that’s the breeding population,” he said.

Refugee claims plunge at border

Six months after the Safe Third Country Agreement took effect Dec. 23, there are 31 per cent fewer refugee claims at the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel compared to the same period in 2004, reported the Windsor Star Aug. 6. A report on the impact of the agreement by the Canadian Council on Refugees released this week speculated some are now seeking the services of smugglers to get into Canada or disappearing into the US underground. “When they get turned back we don’t know where they are going,” said Michele Millard, coordinator of York’s Centre for Refugee Studies. “Are they smuggled into Canada? Are they going to other countries? (The agreement) got what (the government) wanted, which is fewer refugees.”

Literacy camps benefit children – and counsellors

Lieutenant-Governor James Bartleman has launched five free day camps at fly-in reserves as a pilot project to bolster children’s reading skills and self-confidence, reported the Toronto Star Aug. 8. So far, it’s not clear who is getting more out of it – the First Nations children who are learning literacy or the big-city counsellors who are learning about First Nations culture. “It was amazing timing. I was just finishing my master’s thesis about the importance of cross-cultural dialogue between natives and non-natives as a way to help eliminate racism in Canada, when I read about these literacy camps being run by the lieutenant-governor,” said York University student Kirsten Ryan, 25, of Toronto. She is working at the camp in Muskrat Dam, a 20-minute bush-plane ride away from Kingfisher Lake. “But this is turning out to be a two-way street. Yes, we’re teaching these children that literacy and learning can be fun. But they’re teaching us so much about their history, what they eat, how they live, hunting and fishing, the spirit of their community from volleyball tournaments to potluck dinners.”

New priests from around world reflect diversity

Toronto’s newest Catholic priests are from six distinct ethnicities – British, Filipino, Korean, Polish, Trinidadian and Vietnamese, reported the Toronto Star Aug. 6. Being the lone Englishman among the new priests, York grad Dominic Barber, whose family moved here from east London in 1969, feels at ease with the multicultural St. Justin Martyr Parish in Unionville, where most of the 4,500 families are of Chinese and Caribbean backgrounds. Barber, who grew up in Durham Region, says he’s impressed by how the immigrant population has revitalized the Catholic community in Greater Toronto. Cultural sensitivity comes first when serving an ethnically diverse community, said Barber, 40, who graduated with a BA from York in 1988. “The entire vitality of the church can be attributed to the immigrant community. Diversity is not an impediment or obstacle at all. It simply adds to the richness and fullness of the gifts of communion Christ has given to us in his church.”

On air

  • Astronomer Paul Delaney of York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering said NASA officials have left no stone unturned to ensure safe re-entry of the Discovery space shuttle and said night-time landings are not common but have been done before, in a Broadcast News clip aired on “CTV National News” Aug. 7.
  • Biology researcher Bonnie Woolfenden, part of a York team studying forest birds, commented on evidence that songbirds cheat on their mates, on “CBC News: Express” aired on the network’s digital cable channel, CCAN-TV, Aug. 5.
  • Alan Middleton, marketing professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, talked about advertising and artistic freedom, in particular the Montreal Film Festival’s decision to drop the movie Karla due to pressure from sponsors, on CKLM-AM’s “Windsor Now” Aug. 4.