Study reveals mechanism in spruce tree that causes growth

While it’s common knowledge that trees grow when days start to become longer in the springtime and stop growing when days become shorter in the fall, exactly how this happens has not been well understood.

Now, scientists using the Canadian Light Source are offering insights into the mechanisms of how certain cells in the winter buds of Norway spruce respond to changes in seasonal light, affecting growth. The research was published in Frontiers in Plant Science.

Such knowledge allows for better predictions of how trees might respond to climate change, which could bring freezing temperatures while daylight is still long or warmer temperatures when daylight is short.

Professor Jorunn E. Olsen and YeonKyeong Lee, plant scientists at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, along with colleagues from the University of Saskatchewan investigated winter bud cells from Norway spruce and how they differ with respect to the amount of daylight to which they were exposed.

>Read more on the Candian Light Source website

Image (from left to right, extract): plant with terminal winter bud after short day exposure for three weeks; plant with brown bud scales after short day exposure for eight weeks; plant showing bud break and new growth three weeks after re-transfer to long days following eight weeks under short days. Entire picture here.

A first look at how miniscule bubbles affect the texture of noodles

The texture of a noodle is a remarkably complicated thing. When you bite into a spoonful of ramen noodles, you expect a bit of springiness (or a resistance to your bite) on the outside and a pleasantly soft give on the interior. These variations are so tiny as to be often overlooked, but they matter to noodle quality.

There are many factors in play in making a good noodle. For a wheat noodle, the structure of the gluten affects the overall quality. How a noodle dough is stretched, folded, and rolled out matters. And in between all of this, there are miniscule air bubbles that are part of the mix and influence texture.

Until recently, no one had ever looked at the bubbles in noodle dough.

“There was absolutely nothing in the literature indicating that the bubbles were there or that they were important at all. We did have some indirect evidence for bubbles from our ultrasonic experiments, but CLS (Canadian Light Source) microtomography was in some ways a hail Mary experiment: OK, let’s just sheet some dough and see what we find,” said Martin Scanlon, U of M professor in the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences, and the project’s lead researcher.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

 

The future of energy storage with novel metal-oxide magnesium battery

Move over, lithium-ion; now, there’s a better battery on the horizon.

A multi-institution team of scientists led by Texas A&M University chemist Sarbajit Banerjee has discovered an exceptional metal-oxide magnesium battery cathode material, moving researchers one step closer to delivering batteries that promise higher density of energy storage on top of transformative advances in safety, cost and performance in comparison to their ubiquitous lithium-ion (Li-ion) counterparts.

“The worldwide push to advance renewable energy is limited by the availability of energy storage vectors,” says Banerjee in the team’s paper, published Feb. 1 in the journal Chem, a new chemistry-focused journal by Cell Press. “Currently, lithium-ion technology dominates; however, the safety and long-term supply of lithium remain serious concerns. By contrast, magnesium is much more abundant than lithium, has a higher melting point, forms smooth surfaces when recharging, and has the potential to deliver more than a five-fold increase in energy density if an appropriate cathode can be identified.”

Ironically, the team’s futuristic solution hinges on a redesigned form of an old Li-ion cathode material, vanadium pentoxide, which they proved is capable of reversibly inserting magnesium ions.

“We’ve essentially reconfigured the atoms to provide a different pathway for magnesium ions to travel along, thereby obtaining a viable cathode material in which they can readily be inserted and extracted during discharging and charging of the battery,” Banerjee says.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

 

Scientists develop process to produce higher quality fuel from biowaste

Researchers have found a way to produce a higher quality, more stable fuel from biowaste, such as sewage, that is simpler and cleaner than existing methods.

“This puts biofuel closer to being a good substitute for fossil fuels,” said Hua Song (picture), an associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Calgary. Song and his research team recently published the results of their research conducted at the Canadian Light Source in the journal Fuel.
“The world energy market is currently dominated by fossil fuels. With increasing concern surrounding climate change and dwindling resources that are associated with the use of fossil fuels, renewable energy sources are becoming increasingly desirable and are currently the fast growing energy source,” wrote Song in the research paper.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

 

From greenhouse gases to plastics

New catalyst for recycling carbon dioxide discovered

Imagine if we could take CO2, that most notorious of greenhouse gases, and convert it into something useful. Something like plastic, for example. The positive effects could be dramatic, both diverting CO2 from the atmosphere and reducing the need for fossil fuels to make products.

A group of researchers, led by the University of Toronto Ted Sargent group, just published results that bring this possibility a lot closer.

Using the Canadian Light Source and a new technique exclusive to the facility, they were able to pinpoint the conditions that convert CO2 to ethylene most efficiently. Ethylene, in turn, is used to make polyethylene—the most common plastic used today—whose annual global production is around 80 million tonnes.

 

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

 

Scientists discover why biochar fertilizers work so well

It’s a process that is as old as humankind taming fire and growing crops. The practice of returning carbon to the soil through charcoal (called “biochar” when put into the ground) from fires has been known for centuries to have a positive effect on plant growth.

Now, thanks to some work done at the Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon, advocates of using biochar know the reason why charcoal works so well in capturing and releasing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus slowly into the soil to improve crop yields over an entire growing season and beyond. The findings could lead to the creation of an organic slow release fertilizer with significantly better performance than current agricultural management practices.

The answer researchers from Europe got in a trip to the CLS beamlines was not the one that everyone had previously presumed.  Instead of the old assumption that oxidization of biochar enabled the storage and release of nutrients for crops, team leader Nikolas Hagemann says the CLS allowed researchers to see the actual pathway.  Martin Obst, one of Hagemann’s collaborators and frequent user of the CLS, used the soft X-ray spectromicroscopy beamline to get a picture at the molecular level so they could see how other nutrients such as composted manure clung to the biochar due to size and shape of the carbon molecules. Incorporated into soil, the biochar is slow to give up the nutrients clinging to it.

 

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Bright light allows researchers to see bone as well as tissue

Getting good images of the middle ear and all its parts is tricky. But it’s needed for scientists who want to do things like repair damage or make devices to help aging middle ears function better.

According to the Canadian Health Measures Survey, about 20 per cent of adults aged 19 to 79 years have at least mild hearing loss in at one or both ears, while close to 47 per cent of adults aged 60 to 79 years have some level of hearing loss. Damage to the middle ear is a common contributor to hearing loss.

There are several challenges to getting good images of the middle ear, especially 3D images, according to Hanif Ladak, a professor of biomedical engineering at Western University.

 

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

 

‘Quantum material’ has shark-like ability to detect small electrical signals

A “quantum material” that mimics a shark’s ability to detect the minute electric fields of small prey has been shown to perform well in ocean-like conditions, with potential applications from defence to marine biology.

The material maintains its functional stability and does not corrode after being immersed in saltwater, a prerequisite for ocean sensing. Surprisingly, it also functions well in the cold, ambient temperatures typical of seawater, said Shriram Ramanathan, a professor of materials engineering at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.

Such a technology might be used to study ocean organisms and ecosystems and to monitor the movement of ships for military and commercial maritime applications.

 

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

 

U of S scientist describes fundamental process when ice is compressed

Water.

Almost three-quarters of the earth’s surface is covered by it. Almost two-thirds of the human body is made up of it. We drink it. We use it in our homes and in industry. As a solid, it’s ice. As a gas, it’s steam.

“Nobody understands water, the structure of water. Water has a lot of anomalies,” says John Tse, University of Saskatchewan physics professor and Canada Research Chair in Materials Science.

Tse has committed decades to learning more about what so many of us take for granted. In the process, he has refuted a long-standing fundamental hypothesis about water. The results were published this fall in Physical Review Letters.

 

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

 

U of S researchers discover vampire bugs’ fatal flaw

University of Saskatchewan researchers have found a unique blood-cooling system in the head of “kissing bugs” that transmit life-threatening Chagas disease—a finding that may help develop next-generation pest control tools to thwart these blood-sucking critters.

“These insects are developing resistance to insecticides, so we need to better understand their biology to find new ways for killing them and limit the spread of Chagas disease,” said U of S physiology professor Juan Ianowski.

Untreatable and often undetected, Chagas disease affects six to seven million people, mostly in Latin America where it spreads mainly through Rhodnius prolixus, known as the “kissing bug” for its habit of biting around its victim’s mouth.

 

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

 

New screening technique will allow crop breeders to develop drought resistant varieties faster

Scientists from the Canadian Light Source (CLS) have teamed up with researchers from the University of Saskatchewan to develop a new technique to examine drought tolerance in wheat.

Chithra Karunakaran and Karen Tanino’s team developed a simple non-destructive method to screen hundreds of wheat leaf samples in a day, reducing the time and cost associated with traditional breeding programs to select varieties for drought tolerance. Their findings were published in the November issue of Physiologia Plantarum.

“Developing these types of tools better enables physiologists to complement breeding programs,” says Tanino, Professor of Plant Sciences at the U of S.

 

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

 

Crystallographers identify 1,000 protein structures

The Canadian Light Source is celebrating two milestones reached by scientists who have conducted research at the national facility at the University of Saskatchewan.

Scientists have solved 1,000 protein structures using data collected at CLS’s CMCF beamlines. These have been added to the Protein Data Bank – a collection of structures solved by researchers globally. Researchers have also published 500 scientific papers based on their work using the crystallography beamlines.

Proteins are the building blocks of life and are described as the body’s workhorses. The body is made of trillions of cells. Cells produce proteins, which do the work of breaking down food, sending messages to other cells, and fighting bacteria, viruses and parasites. The discoveries at the CLS range from how the malaria parasite invades red blood cells to why superbugs are resistant to certain antibiotics and how parkin protein mutations result in some types of Parkinson’s disease. Understanding how these and other such proteins work can potentially save millions of lives.

 

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

 

Crystallographers identify 1,000 protein structures

The Canadian Light Source is celebrating two milestones reached by scientists

… who have conducted research at the national facility at the University of Saskatchewan. Scientists have solved 1,000 protein structures using data collected at CLS’s CMCF beamlines. These have been added to the Protein Data Bank – a collection of structures solved by researchers globally. Researchers have also published 500 scientific papers based on their work using the crystallography beamlines.

Proteins are the building blocks of life and are described as the body’s workhorses. The body is made of trillions of cells. Cells produce proteins, which do the work of breaking down food, sending messages to other cells, and fighting bacteria, viruses and parasites. The discoveries at the CLS range from how the malaria parasite invades red blood cells to why superbugs are resistant to certain antibiotics and how parkin protein mutations result in some types of Parkinson’s disease. Understanding how these and other such proteins work can potentially save millions of lives.

“Each of these protein structures that have been solved at the CLS represents a significant contribution to the global body of knowledge in the areas of biology and biochemistry, advancing health research,” says CEO Rob Lamb.

Artificial photosynthesis gets big boost from new catalyst

A new catalyst created by University of Toronto engineering researchers brings them one step closer to artificial photosynthesis — a system that, just like plants, would use renewable energy to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into stored chemical energy. By both capturing carbon emissions and storing energy from solar or wind power, the invention provides a one-two punch in the fight against climate change.

“Carbon capture and renewable energy are two promising technologies, but there are problems,” says Phil De Luna (Department of Materials Science and Engineering PhD candidate), one of the lead authors of a paper published today in Nature Chemistry. “Carbon capture technology is expensive, and solar and wind power are intermittent. You can use batteries to store energy, but a battery isn’t going to power an airplane across the Atlantic or heat a home all winter: for that you need fuels.”

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

 

Research on soil acidity could lead to new wheat varieties

Food production will need to double by the time Earth’s population grows to nine billion people by 2050.

This is a challenge that motivates scientists the world over and Australian crop scientist and plant nutritionist Peter Kopittke is no exception.

The young scientist spent a few days this past summer in the heart of Canada’s wheat belt working on the problem of aluminum toxicity in acidic soil. It’s a problem that affects wheat growers in many parts of the world although not in Saskatchewan, home to the CLS, where Kopittke spent an intense 36 hours earlier this year.

Globally, it is estimated that acid soils result in more than US$129 billion in lost production annually. In Western Australia, farmers lose A$1.5 billion annually because the aluminum in the soil destroys the root system, killing the plant.

Kopittke, associate professor in soil and environmental sciences at The University of Queensland, explains that few Saskatchewan wheat farmers will have ever heard of the aluminum toxicity problem as arable land in Saskatchewan is mostly alkaline, a pH condition that does result in any uptake of the element in plant roots. But Kopittke points out that 30 to 40 per cent of all the arable land in the world is acidic and aluminum is the third most common element in the world.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Wheat seedlings grown in soils containing increasing levels of soluble aluminum. Roots at high aluminum are stunted with few branches.
Image courtesy of Steve Carr, Aglime Australia.

 

Researchers explore ways to remove antibiotics polluting lakes and rivers

Pre-treated barley straw is showing promise as an environmentally-friendly material.

Pre-treated barley straw could be used to help soak up certain types of antibiotics polluting waterways. Pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics, are an increasingly common pollutant in water systems, says Catherine Hui Niu, associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan.

After pharmaceuticals are used in humans and animals, traces are excreted and end up in sewage and, from there, into the environment. Their presence in waterways has raised concerns about potential risks to human health and ecosystems. To date there has been no effective way to remove them from water sources.

There are some materials that attract pharmaceutical pollutants to them in a process called adsorption, and could hypothetically be used to help remove them from water, says Niu. But their adsorption capacities need to be enhanced to make them useful for large scale clean-up efforts.