Alberta sets aside $1.4 billion for industry to reduce carbon emission

Alberta is setting aside close to $1.4 billion from climate levies to help industry reduce carbon emissions.

The government said the funding, spread over seven years, will make it easier for industries to invest in new technologies, stay competitive and create jobs.

“The business case for action on climate change has never been more clear, more urgent or provided so many opportunities,” said Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips at a Calgary press conference Tuesday, December 5, 2017.

“Today’s policy announcement with help grow the modern Alberta economy, put more people back to work, attract more investment dollars, and continue to show the world that low carbon energy is developed and produced right here in Alberta.”

The oilsands industry will get $440 million to update and upgrade facilities so they can better meet new guidelines for large emitters, which the government says it will announce later this week.

Industries of all kinds will be able to apply for a further $225 million for carbon reduction innovations, including $80 million to Emissions Reduction Alberta and $145 million for the Climate Change Innovation and Technology Framework.

Alberta Energy Minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd said the investments are needed to respond to rapidly changing investor expectations.

“The world is shifting every day. How it produces and how it consumes energy, and how we reduce emissions. And we need to shift it because we’re seeing investors demand credible plans to fight climate change.”

A further $240 million will go to industrial energy efficiency, which will be available to a range of sectors including agriculture, manufacturing and energy.

The plan also sets aside $400 million in loan guarantees for climate reduction programs, reducing the cost and challenges for businesses to fund projects.

When asked if the funding could be considered industry subsidies, Phillips said that industry has provided much of the funds being allocated. He added that the province’s Climate Leadership Panel had recommended that a large amount of climate levy funds be reinvested in reducing industry emissions.

“This is being paid for in large part through the compliance costs our large emitters pay in.”

She also said that while large emitters have paid for much of the funds, they will be available to a range of sectors and business sizes.

“There are so many different firms and so much different kind of activity that you can incent and move along with clean tech investments as well. There’s a whole world of diversification that we can realize through investments like this. It’s a real opportunity.”

 

Unique floating lab decodes gene blueprint of ‘aliens of the sea,’ seeks clues on regeneration

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Researcher Leonid Moroz emerges from a dive off the Florida Keys and gleefully displays a plastic bag holding a creature that shimmers like an opal in the seawater.

This translucent animal and its similarly strange cousins are food for science. They regrow with amazing speed if they get chopped up. Some even regenerate a rudimentary brain.

“Meet the aliens of the sea,” the neurobiologist at the University of Florida says with a huge grin.

They’re headed for his unique floating laboratory.

Moroz is on a quest to decode the genomic blueprints of fragile marine life, like these mysterious comb jellies, in real time on board the ship where they were caught so he can learn which genes switch on and off as the animals perform such tasks as regeneration.

No white coats needed here. The lab is a specially retrofitted steel shipping container, able to be lifted by crane onto any ship Moroz can recruit for a scientific adventure.

Inside, researchers in flip-flops operate a state-of-the-art genomic sequencing machine secured to a tilting tabletop that bobs with rough waves. Genetic data is beamed via satellite to a supercomputer at the University of Florida, which analyzes the results in a few hours and sends it back to the boat.

The work is part conservation.

“Life came from the oceans,” Moroz says, bemoaning the extinction of species before scientists even catalogue all of them. “We need a Manhattan Project for biodiversity. We’re losing our heritage.”

Surprising as it may sound, it’s part brain science.

“We cannot regenerate our brain, our spinal cord or efficiently heal wounds without scars,” Moroz notes.

But some simple sea creatures can.

Moroz accidentally cuts off part of a comb jelly’s flowing lower lobe while putting it into a tank. A few hours later, the wound no longer is visible. By the next afternoon, that lobe had begun to regrow.

What’s more remarkable, these gelatinous animals have neurons, or nerve cells, connected in circuitry that Moroz describes as an elementary brain. Injure those neural networks and some, but not all, species of comb jellies can regenerate them, too, in three days to five days, he says, if they’re in a habitat where they can survive long enough.

“Nature has found solutions to how to stay healthy,” says Moroz, who also studies human brains when he’s back on shore. “We need to learn how they do it. But they are so fragile, we have to do it here,” at sea.

Two trial-run sails off the Florida coast showed that the shipboard lab can work. Moroz’s team generated information about thousands of genes in 22 organisms, including some rare comb jellies. Moroz’s ultimate goal is to take the project around the world, to remote seas where it’s especially hard to preserve marine animals for study.

“If the sea can’t come to the lab, the lab must come to the sea,” says Moroz, who invited The Associated Press on the second test trip, a 2 1/2-day sail.

___

Flying fish zip alongside the 141-foot yacht Copasetic as it bounces across the giant ocean current known as the Gulf Stream. Inside the lab, the donated $50,000 genetic sequencer is rocking on its special tabletop.

Molecular biologist Andrea Kohn wedges her hip against cabinets to stay upright, prepping the machine for the day’s first run.

With a pipette in hand, she carefully drips precious samples from a comb jelly experiment onto a chip the size of a digital camera’s memory card.

Graduate student Rachel Sanford had given a series of these animals a cut, and then biopsied the healing tissue 30 minutes, an hour and two hours later. She’s trying to tease out what genetic activity spurs the steps of healing.

She studies the comb jellies’ rudimentary brains in much the same way.

“I work on these things that are kind of like jellyfish, but they’re not jellyfish at all. And I take out their brain. And then it grows back. And then I try to figure out how it grows back,” is Sanford’s simplified explanation.

She’s looking for master regulators, key molecules that control that regrowth. If she can find some, a logical next step would be to investigate whether people harbour anything similar that might point to pathways important in spinal cord or brain injuries.

A clue, Moroz says, probably will be found in the differences between comb jelly species.  “Why does one regenerate, and another not? That is the million-dollar question.”

Evolution shows “there is more than one design for how to make a cell, how to make a brain,” he adds.

The floating lab was born of frustration, Kohn says as she keeps close watch on the sequencing.

While there’s been an earlier attempt at less complex DNA fingerprinting at sea, traditionally marine scientists collect animals, freeze samples and ship them home for genetic research.

But often, Moroz had shipments lost in transit or held up at U.S. Customs, thawed and ruined. Plus, some creatures’ genetic material begins breaking down almost immediately after they’re caught.

“When I think of all the animals we’ve lost through years and years,” Kohn says, shaking her head. To completely map the genome of a single comb jelly species, “it took us a year to get DNA that wasn’t degraded.”

Researchers usually collect extra animals as insurnace. But the supercomputer’s rapid feedback means with Moroz’s new project, “there’s a lot more preservation,” says University of Washington biology professor Billie Swalla, who is watching it with interest. “If you have unused animals, you can return them.”

The pieces for the floating lab fell into place last fall when Moroz met a University of Florida alumnus willing to lend his boat for the trial runs. Then, the Copasetic’s captain noted that the main deck could fit a shipping container like freighters use to transport goods.

The non-profit Florida Biodiversity Institute found one for sale, welded in windows and installed lab fixtures, and the team was off.

___

If oceanography and brains seem strange bedfellows, consider: Much of what scientists know about how human neurons and synapses, their connections, form memories came from years of studies using large sea slugs, called Aplysia, such as the one graduate student Emily Dabe gently cups in her hand.

Human brains have 86 billion neurons, give or take. Sea slugs have only about 10,000 neurons, large ones grouped into clusters rather than a central brain, Dabe explains while dissecting the easy-to-spot cells. She brought the animal on board as a control for experiments with the more mysterious creatures.

Yet scientists can condition sea slugs, with mild shocks to their gills, to study that type of memory, Dabe says. Her own research examines the neurochemical serotonin in the animals.

A bit further up the neural ladder, the octopus, with the most complex nervous systems of any animal without a backbone, has about 500 million neurons, says graduate student Gabrielle Winters. There are reports of them learning by watching, although Moroz cautions that’s highly controversial.

Understanding how multiple genes work together to make increasingly complex memories is a building block toward better understanding of brain diseases. It requires working with simple creatures, notes the University of Washington’s Swalla, an invertebrate specialist.

“We sequenced the human genome but we still don’t know how it works,” she explains.  “To figure out how it works, you have to have other models you can work on. A lot of these genes are the same, and they interact in the same kind of pathways.”

Moroz compares the genetic interactions to learning grammar: knowing an animal’s, or a person’s, DNA is like knowing the alphabet and some words, but not how they’re strung together to make a sentence.

“We need to know how to orchestrate the grammar of the brain,” said Moroz, whose research is funded by NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and others.

___

Outside on the deck, it’s suddenly like Christmas.

Moroz and Gustav Paulay, a curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, are back from a bluewater dive bearing gifts for the lab: clear jars and plastic bags teeming with invertebrates that Paulay describes as “wonky.”

The race is on to keep them alive for study. Moroz’s three graduate students hoist buckets of seawater and transfer the delicate animals into tanks, stopping to ogle strange finds.

“Oh my god, you have to see this one,” Paulay exclaims, entranced by a rarely seen type of flat, see-through snail, pink ribbons snaking through its shell-free body.

Another transparent mollusk has wings.

Then there’s the wriggly worm that looks like a Chinese dragon, big eyes glowing red under the microscope. Unlike with most worms, these eyes actually form images, Paulay instructs as the ship’s crew and passengers crowd around to watch.

Invertebrates are critical to the food chain, but little is known about them. It’s estimated that thousands of species have yet to be identified. Paulay calls them “nature’s master works,” but says they’re just not as sexy to study as, say, pandas or tigers.

In the oceans, “the amount of new stuff out there is boggling. It’s changing before our eyes,” he says.

But the catch of this day is the collection of comb jellies, officially named ctenophores. (Don’t pronounce the silent “c”.) They made headlines last year as DNA research suggested these animals may represent the oldest branch of the animal family tree, rather than the sea sponges that scientists long have believed held that distinction.

Named for the comb-like rows of hair they use to swim, the ctenophores refract light so it looks like they flash electric through the water. The one that shimmered like an opal is a little bigger than a golf ball.

Another is light pink, flat and shaped like a delicate sack. This one’s a hungry predator: It swallows whole its larger, rounded cousin when the researchers turn their backs.

A tiny, hot pink version zips through the water it looks like a new species, Moroz says.

Some ctenophores regenerate that elementary brain and some, like that hungry sack-shaped Beroe, don’t. Some use more muscles to swim. Some have tentacles to catch their food, instead of the Beroe’s stretchy mouth.

Moroz muses on the diversity: “Tell me honestly, why do we study rats?”

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Science Discoveries 2013: What Canadians Uncovered About Health This Year

In our day-to-day lives, we don’t often take time to appreciate just how lucky we are to be surrounded by so much knowledge and technology that improves our lives, from mundane machines like telephones to lifesaving medical devices like MRIs. But all of these things we now take for granted started somewhere, and at the end of 2013, we want to celebrate the top science discoveries made this year that could be making our lives even better in the future.

From a pill made from poop that could stop disease to a 3D atlas for the brain to access every region, Canadian researchers has been making waves in big ways this year. The Huffington Post Canada took a look at hospitals and universities across the country to discover the most amazing and fascinating things Canadians uncovered about health this year.

Sharp-Shooting Cancer Drugs
It was massive news in June when researchers at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital announced that they, in conjunction with researchers at UCLA, had developed a drug over the past decade that specifically targeted cancer cells in chemotherapy. This ran in contrast to previous forms of treatment, which targeted all fast-dividing cells, cancerous or otherwise. The drug is awaiting approval, but showed a lot of promise in mice trials, potentially paving the way for new breast and ovarian cancer treatments soon.

Moms Make The Pain Go Away
Infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can go through as many as 500 to 1000 procedures, and the pain experienced can not only potentially create stress later in life, but also change the way their brains form. Researchers at Dalhousie University determined that having a mother hold her baby during a procedure can reduce the pain by up to 30 per cent, making a massive impact. Considering parents are often kept away from the NICU and these procedures, this could change how at-risk babies are treated — and how they develop.

An Atlas For The Brain
The Montreal and German researchers who worked on the 3D digital brain atlas compare it to a “Google maps” for the brain, allowing researchers around the world to download incredibly high resolution portions of the organ in order to further their studies. The data set is 125,000 times bigger than a typical MRI.

Health Isn’t Always About Weight
For obese patients with conditions like high glucose and blood pressure, staring down the long road to health can be intimidating and scary. Researchers at York University made it a bit less daunting with their discovery that this population can improve their health even without weight loss by following a diet program that worked with their lifestyle. Too often “healthy” is equated with losing pounds, and this gives hope for health to those who constantly go up and down.

Poop Pill
Using other people’s feces to cure someone’s gut problems may sound counterintuitive, and yes, gross, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Dr. Thomas Louie at the University of Calgary made massive news this year with his “poop pills,” a more (ahem) digestible version of fecal transplants that help cure C. Difficile, thanks to a balancing of gut bacteria. There’s hope these pills can help a variety of digestive conditions in the future.
One Part Of Our Brain Is Keeping iTunes In Business
McGill researchers watched people listen to new music they’d never heard before, and uncovered the surprising finding that the more activity in the nucleus accumbens, which deals with expectations and rewards, combined with activity in the auditory cortex, which stores information about what we’ve heard, the more likely they are to buy that music. Basically, people have expectations of what music should sound like, and vote with their dollars if they are or aren’t met.

Physical Help For Anorexia
Why is it such a big deal that University of Toronto has potentially found a treatment for anorexia? “Eating disorders have the highest death rate of any mental illness,” says Professor Blake Woodside, a teacher in U of T’s Department of Psychiatry and medical director of Canada’s largest eating disorders program at Toronto General Hospital. The university used electrodes on the parts of patients’ brains that dealt with emotion and depression and watched for changes. In the six months afterwards, half the patients gained more weight than they ever had in the past.

Hunting Down Alzheimer’s
Researchers at York University, working with colleagues at Cornell University, published a study showing how structural changes in the brain throughout one’s life could be related to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, creating the possibility of an earlier diagnosis. From this, they hope to develop ways to stimulate cognitive functioning in those parts and prevent the onset of the disease.

Where Obesity Comes From
Discrimination against fat people could be the last remaining prejudice, but McGill and University of Toronto researchers may have found an answer to stop that. Though many people assume obesity comes from poor food choices, a study determined it actually stems from three things: genetic predispositions, environmental stress and emotional well-being. Specifically, a lack of the gene that regulates dopamine can affect children’s food choices, prompting them to opt for unhealthier comfort foods, and knowing this, doctors and parents can work to prevent it.

Where REM Sleep Happens
Sleep is still a mystery, for the most part, though scientists are fairly certain REM sleep (the deep kind, when dreaming happens) is imperative for our mental well-being. So the discovery by researchers at McGill University of neurons that are directly related to REM sleep could mean big things for understanding more about what happens when our eyes are shut and why sleep matters so much.

Music Eases The Pain
Many of us have used music as a distraction technique to block out annoying co-workers or fellow commuters, but University of Alberta researchers have found an even better purpose for it: to block out pain. Studies with children found that those who listened to music while getting an IV reported less pain immediately after the procedure. So turn up the sound for those blood tests!

Turn Water Into Gold!
Nathan Magarvey, assistant professor, biochemistry and biomedical sciences at McMaster, discovered a species of bacteria (Delftia acidovorans) that can turn water-soluble gold into the precious metal’s solid form. The amounts are tiny, but researchers think this could be used to find bodies of water where gold can be found.

A Better IQ Test
There have long been problems associated with the narrowness of traditional IQ tests, but York University may have uncovered a better way to determine intelligence. By testing rational thinking at a young age, the school demonstrated a correlation between rational thinking in children and executive functions and intelligence. This could go a long way to broadening how we define the term.

Concussions Can Last Decades
This is scary news, especially considering how common concussions are among Canadians, but a Quebec neuropsychologist found the brain waves of a concussed head can be abnormal for years, as well as having deteriorated motor pathways, leading to attention problems. It’s no surprise so many athletes are suing their leagues.

Unborn Babies Love Exercise
It takes as little as 20 minutes a day, three times a week, and your baby can reap the benefits of exercising — that was the message delivered to soon-to-be moms by University of Montreal researchers this year. Apparently even that minimum amount of activity helped kids showcase more mature brain activity right off the bat than those of mothers who did not exercise. That walk sure seems worth it now.

Screens Are Worse Than Sitting
Forget getting worried about your kid sitting around all day — get worried that your kid is sitting around in front of a computer all day. An inter-university team of researchers from University of Ottawa, University of Montreal, Concordia University, Laval University Laval and McGill University found that when kids sat in front of screens, they consumed more calories and had lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol — known as “good” cholesterol. It won’t be the first time you’ve heard it: reading trumps video games.

Robot Surgeons
In 2013, the Jewish General Hospital became the first hospital in Canada to perform robot-assisted cardiac surgery, using the da Vinci surgical robot to repair a mitral valve. The surgery only needed pencil-sized holes between the ribs, making the robot the perfect candidate to enact this.

Alternatives To Salt
With the discovery this year that Canadian fast food was incredibly high in salt by University of Toronto researchers, the University of Saskatchewan is looking into alternatives, particularly for processed meats, in order to maintain their safety and taste.

Excerpted article by Rebecca Zamon The Huffington Post Canada

Coldest spot on Earth identified by satellite

The coldest place on Earth has been measured by satellite to be a bitter minus 93.2 Celsius (-135.8F).

As one might expect, it is in the heart of Antarctica, and was recorded on 10 August, 2010.

Researchers say it is a preliminary figure, and as they refine data from various space-borne thermal sensors it is quite likely they will determine an even colder figure by a degree or so.

The previous record low of minus 89.2C was also measured in Antarctica.

This occurred at the Russian Vostok base on 21 July, 1983.

It should be stated this was an air temperature taken a couple of metres above the surface, and the satellite figure is the “skin” temperature of the ice surface itself. But the corresponding air temperature would almost certainly beat the Vostok mark.
“These very low temperatures are hard to imagine, I know,” said Ted Scambos from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.

“The way I like to put it is that it’s almost as cold below freezing as boiling water is above freezing. The new low is a good 50 degrees colder than temperatures in Alaska or Siberia, and about 30 degrees colder than the summit of Greenland.

“It makes the cold snap being experienced in some places in North America right now seem very tame by comparison,” he told BBC News.

Dr Scambos was speaking here in San Francisco at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, the largest annual gathering of Earth scientists.

‘Like pearls’
He and colleagues have been examining the data records from polar orbiting satellites stretching back some 30 years.

They find the coldest moments in Antarctica occur in the dark winter months at high elevations, where the extremely dry and clear air allows heat to be radiated very efficiently out into space.

It is evident that many super-cold spots are “strung out like pearls” along the ridges that link the high points, or domes, in the interior of the continent.

They are not quite at the ridge crests, but set slightly back down the slope.

“Air chilled near the surface flows downhill because it’s denser; and it flows into these very shallow topographic pockets,” explained Dr Scambos.

“If you were standing in one of these places, you’d hardly notice you were in a topographic low – it’s that gentle and that shallow. But it’s enough to trap this air.

“And once in those pockets, the air can cool still further and get down this extra three or four degrees below the previous record air temperature in Vostok.”

Antarctic
The 2010 cold spot (red) was just south of a ridge running between Dome A and Dome F
The cold pockets run in a line for hundreds of kilometres between Dome Argus [Dome A] and Dome Fuji [Dome F]. They all achieve more or less the same low temperature between minus 92C and minus 94C. The minus 93.2C figure is the temperature event in which the team has most confidence. It was recorded at a latitude of 81.8 degrees South and a longitude of 59.3 degrees East, at an elevation of about 3,900m.

Hottest place
One of the spacecraft instruments being used in the study is the Thermal Infrared Sensor on the recently launched Landsat-8.

It has very high resolution, but because it is so new the team says more time is needed to fully calibrate and understand its data.

“I’d caution Guinness not to take this result and put it in their world record book just yet, because I think the numbers will probably adjust over the coming year,” Dr Scambos told BBC News. “However, I’m now confident we know where the coldest places on Earth are, and why they are there.”

By way of comparison, the hottest recorded spot on Earth – again by satellite sensor – is the Dasht-e Lut salt desert in southeast Iran, where it reached 70.7C in 2005.

The coldest place in the Solar System will likely be in some dark crater on a planetary body with no appreciable atmosphere. On Earth’s Moon, temperatures of minus 238C have been detected.

By Jonathan Amos, Source BBC

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