Innovative educational programs at Canadian Light Source

NSERC PromoScience awards $125K to innovative educational programs at Canadian Light Source.

The Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan has been awarded $125,000 by NSERC’s PromoScience program, to deliver innovative educational programs expected to reach students in over 100 schools across Canada.
PromoScience funding will enable teachers and students to perform hands-on research addressing real-world issues, through existing and new programs.

A new initiative, the Trans-Canadian Research & Environmental Education (TREE) project, will allow students from even the most remote communities across Canada to participate in a national research program in partnership with the Mistik Askiwin Dendrochronology (MAD) Lab at the University of Saskatchewan, using tree cores to study the environmental history of their community.

In an unprecedented collaboration between research and education, students will gather tree core samples and mail them to the CLS, where scientists will examine their chemical signatures while live streaming with the students who collected each sample. Teaching resources will help students to make sense of the data and to compare with other student samples from across the country, in order to understand how chemical changes in different tree cores correlate to their community’s environmental history.

“Students will learn about the life and nutrient cycles of trees, the trees’ ability to capture information in rings, and the nutrients in soil by working through modules and activities designed to engage students in the areas of STEM and traditional knowledge,” said Tracy Walker, Education Programs Lead at the CLS.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

A new approach for finding Alzheimer’s treatments

Considering what little progress has been made finding drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease, Maikel Rheinstädter decided to come at the problem from a totally different angle—perhaps the solution lay not with the peptide clusters known as senile plaques typically found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, but with the surrounding brain tissue that allowed those plaques to form in the first place.
It was a novel approach that paid off for Rheinstädter and his team of researchers from McMaster University who used the Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon as part of a study of the effect various compounds have on membranes in brain tissue and the possible impact on plaque formation.

“Alzheimer’s disease has interested me for a long time,” said Rheinstädter, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Origins Institute at McMaster. “It is something almost every Canadian will be affected by in their lives.”

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Adam Hitchcock, Adree Khondker and Maikel Rheinstädter.

Researchers provide new insights into fate of Franklin Expedition

Synchrotron studies of bone and teeth have led a multi-institution team of scientists to conclude that lead poisoning did not play a pivotal role in the deaths of crew members of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition of 1845, says a paper published today in the journal PLOS ONE.
“Our findings don’t mean the crew members weren’t exposed to high levels of lead, and they don’t mean the sailors weren’t impacted. But our findings don’t lend support to massive and sustained lead poisoning that would have compromised them any more than any sailor of that era would have been compromised,” said David Cooper of the University of Saskatchewan, an author of the paper.

Data collected by the team don’t support the theory that compromised physical and/or neurological health resulting from lead poisoning prompted the stranded sailors’ fatal march southward in April 1848 to try to reach a Hudson Bay Company post, said Cooper, Canada Research Chair in Synchrotron Bone Imaging in the Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology at the U of S College of Medicine.
That theory arose from previous analyses of bone, hair and soft tissue samples from the frozen bodies of the sailors, which had found they had high levels of lead in their tissue.
The 11-member team includes Treena Swanston, who was a post-doctoral fellow on Cooper’s team at the U of S when the research began and is currently an assistant professor at MacEwan University. She is lead author of the paper.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Sanjukta Choudhury (U of S), David Cooper (U of S), and Brian Bewer (CLS) at a CLS beamline.

Imaging the inner ear promises to be new gold standard for hearing researchers

Her interest in providing people who suffer from sensorineural hearing loss with a richer music-listening experience has led a young Harvard researcher to the Canadian Light Source (CLS) and to a discovery that opens the door to exciting new avenues for the study and diagnosis of human inner ear diseases.
“Hearing loss is such a widespread problem and my hope is that our work will eventually help us better diagnose and treat it. People are just not aware of how sensitive the auditory system is to trauma, and how isolating and depressing it can be to lose one’s ability to communicate fluidly with others,” says Janani Iyer, a PhD candidate in the Harvard-MIT Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology program.

A musician herself, Iyer came to Saskatoon to tackle the problem of how to create detailed images of the delicate structures that allow humans to hear.
“Part of what drew me to this is that, despite its prevalence, hearing loss is incredibly understudied and incredibly underfunded,” she said.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Specialized scientists from all over the world attending XRM2018

More than 300 experts from all over the world are coming to Saskatoon to explore one of the hottest fields in synchrotron science, putting the city on the global scientific map.

“X-ray microscopy is absolutely cutting-edge because both the technology and the applications are developing very rapidly,” says Stephen Urquhart, chair of the XRM2018 conference and a chemistry professor at the University of Saskatchewan. “These microscope techniques are quite powerful for a wide range of areas from scientists studying medicine to scientists studying materials. On the technology side, the developments in light sources also help with the development of more powerful and advanced microscopes.”

Synchrotrons, including the U of S Canadian Light Source, produce light that’s millions of times brighter than the sun. Using the X-ray portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, scientists shine that light on what they are studying and then use specially designed microscopes to study matter at the molecular level. The CLS has five beamlines dedicated to X-ray microscopy.

The X-ray microscopy experts attending XRM2018 will be coming from 24 countries. During the week-long conference, 76 leaders in this field of science will present their research findings. In addition, 200 scientific posters will be on display. “We are doing good things at the Canadian Light Source and by hosting the meeting here we get a chance to highlight the work that we do to people around the globe,” says Urquhart, who adds that the recent shut-down at the CLS due an equipment failure won’t interfere with the conference.

Printing nerve scaffolds

Engineering 3D bio-printed scaffolds to help regenerate damaged peripheral nervous systems

In the last decade or so, 3D printing has experienced a surge in popularity as the technology has become more precise and accessible. Now, researchers from the University of Saskatchewan are looking at how we can use 3D printing to help damaged nervous systems to regrow.

The peripheral nervous system, which controls the body beyond the brain and the spinal cord, can be damaged by poor diet, toxins, and trauma. It can also be damaged by diseases such as diabetes, which affects about 422 million people worldwide, and 3.4 million people in Canada.

Damage to the peripheral nervous system can affect our sense of touch and our motor control. The current standard for treating large gaps in the nervous system due to damage is nerve autografts, where donor nerves from another part of the body are used to repair the damaged parts.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: The tiny, bio-printed scaffolds are less than a centimeter long on each side.

Fuel cells from plants

Using elements in plants to increase fuel cell efficiency while reducing costs

Researchers from the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique, Québec are looking into reeds, tall wetlands plants, in order to make cheaper catalysts for high-performance fuel cells.

Due to rising global energy demands and the threat caused by environmental pollution, the search for new, clean sources of energy is on.

Unlike a battery, which stores electricity for later use, a fuel cell generates electricity from stored materials, or fuels.

Hydrogen-based fuel is a very clean fuel source that only produces water as a by-product, and could effectively replace fossil fuels. In order to make hydrogen fuel viable for everyday use, high-performance fuel cells are needed to convert the energy from the hydrogen into electricity.

Hydrogen fuel cells use platinum catalysts to drive energy conversion, but the platinum is expensive, accounting for almost half of a fuel cell’s total cost according to Qiliang Wei, a PhD student in Shuhui Sun’s group from the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique – Énergie, Matériaux et Télécommunications who studies lower-cost alternatives to platinum catalysts.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Research shows how to improve the bond between implants and bone

Research carried out recently at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) in Saskatoon has revealed promising information about how to build a better dental implant, one that integrates more readily with bone to reduce the risk of failure.

“There are millions of dental and orthopedic implants placed every year in North America and a certain number of them always fail, even in healthy people with healthy bone,” said Kathryn Grandfield, assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at McMaster University in Hamilton.

A dental implant restores function after a tooth is lost or removed. It is usually a screw shaped implant that is placed in the jaw bone and acts as the tooth roots, while an artificial tooth is placed on top. The implant portion is the artificial root that holds an artificial tooth in place.

Grandfield led a study that showed altering the surface of a titanium implant improved its connection to the surrounding bone. It is a finding that may well be applicable to other kinds of metal implants, including engineered knees and hips, and even plates used to secure bone fractures.

About three million people in North America receive dental implants annually. While the failure rate is only one to two percent, “one or two percent of three million is a lot,” she said. Orthopedic implants fail up to five per cent of the time within the first 10 years; the expected life of these devices is about 20 to 25 years, she added.

“What we’re trying to discover is why they fail, and why the implants that are successful work. Our goal is to understand the bone-implant interface in order to improve the design of implants.”

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Synchrotron researchers uncover lost images from the 19th century

Art curators will be able to recover images on daguerreotypes, the earliest form of photography that used silver plates, after scientists learned how to use light to see through degradation that has occurred over time.

Research published today in Scientific Reports includes two images from the National Gallery of Canada’s photography research unit that show photographs that were taken, perhaps as early as 1850, but were no longer visible because of tarnish and other damage. The retrieved images, one of a woman and the other of a man, were beyond recognition. “It’s somewhat haunting because they are anonymous and yet it is striking at the same time,” said Madalena Kozachuk, a PhD student in the Department of Chemistry at Western University and lead author of the scientific paper.

“The image is totally unexpected because you don’t see it on the plate at all. It’s hidden behind time. But then we see it and we can see such fine details: the eyes, the folds of the clothing, the detailed embroidered patterns of the table cloth.”
The identities of the woman and the man are not known. It’s possible that the plates were produced in the United States, but they could be from Europe.
For the past three years, Kozachuk and an interdisciplinary team of scientists have been exploring how to use synchrotron technology to learn more about chemical changes that damage daguerreotypes.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source (CLS) website

Image: A mounted daguerreotype resting on the outside of the vacuum chamber within the SXRMB (a beamline at CLS) hutch.
Credit: Madalena Kozachuk.

Canadian researchers unlock how seaweed is digested

Cattle on the Prairies are hundreds of kilometres from the coast and yet it’s possible that seaweed could make its way into their diet as an additive.

“Seaweed is an incredible opportunity. It is a sustainable feedstock. It grows rapidly, it doesn’t require arable land or fresh water to grow,” said Wade Abbott, research scientist at Agriculture and Agi-Food Canada’s Lethbridge Research and Development Centre.

It may seem like a leap to go from the human gut to that of cattle, but Abbott explained that by understanding the human gut microbiome, or microorganisms, and the microbiome’s ability to use the sugars found in seaweed in its symbiotic relationship with the host, he sees potential to expand what is now a limited use of algae products.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Culturing gut bacteria in the lab (shown in these test tubes) allows researchers ‎to determine which genes in the genomes of bacteria are activated and discover new enzymes that digest rare substrates like agarose.
Credit: Wade Abbott

UBC scientists break down tuberculosis structure

Scientists from the University of British Columbia have taken a crucial step towards starving out tuberculosis, following research into how the infection grows in the body.

Tuberculosis, a bacterial infection which generally affects the lungs, is a global threat; worldwide, it kills more people than HIV and malaria combined. In Canada, there are around 1,600 new cases of tuberculosis reported every year, with about 20 per cent of those cases affecting First Nations peoples, according to the Government of Canada. Researchers using the Canadian Light Source have investigated how the bacteria grow in lungs in an effort to better understand how tuberculosis can be treated.

Lindsay Eltis, a UBC professor of Microbiology and Immunology and Canada Research Chair in Microbial Catabolism and Biocatalysis, has spent the last 25 years studying bacteria and determining how they grow on different compounds. In 2007, Eltis’ group discovered that tuberculosis bacteria grow on cholesterol and that this is important for causing disease.

“Many bacteria, like humans, grow using glucose, a type of sugar. They derive energy from it, converting it to water and carbon dioxide, and use it to make building blocks essential to life. The tuberculosis bacterium is a bit unusual in that it can grow on cholesterol, deriving energy and essential building blocks from it,” explains Eltis. “This ability to grow on cholesterol helps the bacterium establish infection in our lungs.”

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Crystal structure of the newly imaged carbon-ring cleaving enzyme from the tuberculosis bacterium, IpdABMtb.
Credit: Lindsay Eltis

One size does not fit all when exploring how carbon in soil affects the climate

Scientists from Stanford University are opening a window into soil organic carbon, a critical component of the global carbon cycle and climate change.

“We have to know what kind of carbon is in soil in order to understand where the carbon comes from and where it will go,” said Hsiao-Tieh Hsu, a PhD student in chemistry at Stanford University and a member of a Kate Maher’s research group.

The natural fluxes of soil organic carbon, the exchange of carbon moving from vegetation to the soil and recycled by microorganisms before being stabilized in the soil or returned to the atmosphere, is 10 to 20 times higher than human emissions. Even the smallest change in the flux of soil organic carbon would have a huge impact on the climate.

Soil organic carbon occurs naturally and is part of the carbon cycle. Through photosynthesis, plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As plants and their roots decompose, they deposit organic carbon in the soil. Microorganisms, decomposing animals, animal feces and minerals also contribute to the organic carbon in the soil. In turn, plants and microorganisms “eat” that carbon, which is an essential nutrient.

All of this results in different “flavours” or compounds within the soil, say Hsu and Maher, who is also a faculty member of the Stanford Center for Carbon Storage.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Members of the research team at the East River, Colorado, field site (left to right): Hsiao-Tieh Hsu; Grace Rainaldi, Stanford undergraduate; Corey Lawrence, research geologist at United States Geological Survey; Kate Maher; Matthew Winnick, Stanford postdoctoral fellow.
Credit: Kate Maher.

Scientists explore how slow release fertilizer behaves in soil

Testing soil samples at the Canadian Light Source has helped a University of Saskatchewan soil scientist understand how tripolyphosphate (TPP), a slow release form of phosphorus fertilizer, works in the soil as a plant nutrient for much longer periods than previously thought.

Jordan Hamilton says the research also has implications for ongoing efforts by U of S soil scientists to use phosphorous-rich materials to clean up contaminated petroleum sites.

Hamilton, now a post-doctoral fellow working within U of S professor Derek Peak’s Environmental Soil Chemistry group, had a chapter of his PhD thesis, “Chemical speciation and fate of tripolyphosphate after application to a calcareous soil,” published earlier this year in the online journal Geochemical Transactions.

TPP needs to break down into a simpler form of phosphate in order to be used as a nutrient by plants. In most types of soil, the belief was that TPP would break down right away, says Hamilton.

“I would definitely say the biggest surprise is how quickly the TPP adsorbed (attached itself) to mineral sources, especially in these calcium-rich soils,” he said. “For the longer term, it was surprising to see it persist.”

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

 

Tungsten accumulation in bone raises health concerns

McGill University scientists have identified exposure to tungsten as problematic after they determined how and where high levels of the metal accumulate and remain in bone.

“Our research provides further evidence against the long-standing perception that tungsten is inert and non-toxic,” said Cassidy VanderSchee, a PhD student and a member of a McGill research group headed by chemistry professor Scott Bohle.

Tungsten is a hard metal with a high melting point and, when combined with other metals and used as an alloy, it’s also very flexible.

Because of these properties and under the assumption that tungsten is non-toxic, it has been tested for use in medical implants, including arterial stents and hip replacements, in radiation shields to protect tissue during radiation therapy, and in some drugs. Tungsten is found in ammunition as well as in tools used for machining and cutting other metals.

Tungsten also occurs naturally in groundwater where deposits of the mineral are found. Exposure to high levels of tungsten in drinking water in Fallon, Nevada, was investigated for a possible link with childhood leukemia in the early 2000s. This investigation lead scientists to question the long-held belief that exposure to tungsten is safe and prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. to nominate tungsten for toxicology and carcinogenesis studies.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Cassidy VenderSchee

Gold protein clusters could be used as environmental and health detectors

Peng Zhang and his collaborators study remarkable, tiny self-assembling clusters of gold and protein that glow a bold red. And they’re useful: protein-gold nanoclusters could be used to detect harmful metals in water or to identify cancer cells in the body.
“These structures are very exciting but are very, very hard to study. We tried many different tools, but none worked,” says Zhang, a Dalhousie University professor.

Peng Zhang and his collaborators study remarkable, tiny self-assembling clusters of gold and protein that glow a bold red. And they’re useful: protein-gold nanoclusters could be used to detect harmful metals in water or to identify cancer cells in the body.

“These structures are very exciting but are very, very hard to study. We tried many different tools, but none worked,” says Zhang, a Dalhousie University professor.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: The protein-gold structure. The protein, which both builds and holds in place the gold cluster, is shown in grey.

Climate change and its effects on Rocky Mountain alpine lakes

Alpine lakes in the Rocky Mountains are important biological hot spots of that ecosystem. These lakes do not have enough nutrients to support large amounts of aquatic life because of the cold climate in the surrounding watershed. Rather, the lakes are home to oligotrophs, organisms that grow slowly and can survive in harsh aquatic environments. The lakes also host a variety of cold-water fish, such as trout, that are preyed upon by birds, including osprey and bald eagles.

Researchers from University of Wyoming, U.S. Geological Survey, and the Canadian Light Source conducted experiments at the CLS on the fine dust that is deposited to the Rocky Mountains to learn more about how the alpine lakes could be affected by climate change. They looked specifically at phosphorus in dust and how it is made available to the organisms in the cold lakes and streams, because phosphorus is one of the major limiting nutrients, and its availability could affect the functions and properties of alpine lake ecosystems.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website