Saturday January 11, 2014

The Mental Health Toll of Climate Change * Ancient Flower Pressed in Amber * Dinosaur's Fleshy Crest * Cancer Immunotherapy Breaks Through

Listen to Full Episode 52:16
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On today's show, we'll hear how recent advances in Cancer Immunotherapy have earned the title of "Breakthrough of the Year." Plus - we'll hear about the discovery of the oldest example of a fossilised flowering plant, preserved in amber for millions of years; we'll find out about a curious duck-billed dinosaur that appears to have had a fleshy comb on its head, like a giant rooster; and we'll learn about the impacts of climate change on mental health in the North.

The Mental Health Toll of Climate Change

The Inuit of Labrador's Nunatsiavut region have had first hand experience with the effects of climate change for several decades now. Rising temperatures have resulted in changes in ice conditions and snow levels, and this, in turn, is limiting their ability to hunt. But a new study by Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Healthy Communities and an Assistant Professor of Community Health at Cape Breton University in Sydney, has found that climate change is also having an impact on the mental and emotional health of the people there. Because they cannot go out on the dangerously thin ice, or even inland by snowmobile, they feel trapped in their communities. Many have also described feeling depressed, anxious, stressed, and even angry. Some have also reported feeling a loss of their ancestral identity.             

Related Links

  • Paper in Climate Change
  • The Tyee story
  • The Changing Climate, Changing Health, Changing Stories project
  • Video: Rigolet Storytelling and Digital Media Lab:  Have We Waited Too Long?
  • Video: Rigolet Storytelling and Digital Media Lab:  Who Am I?

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Ancient Flower Pressed in Amber

A tiny sprig of a flowering plant, perfectly preserved in amber 100-million- years ago, has been found in Burma. The unknown species includes a cluster of 18 flowers, each just 1 millimetre in diametre. In fact, one of the flowers was in the process of generating new seeds when it fell into the tree sap, later to be fossilized. Microscopic tubes from two grains of pollen were in the process of penetrating the flower's stigma, to begin the reproductive cycle. Dr. George Poinar, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Integrative Biology at Oregon State University, studied the fossil and found that the grains of pollen are sticky, an indication the pollinator was an insect. It is hoped this fossil can add further insight into the biodiversity and biology of life during the Cretaceous period.

Related Links

  • Paper in The Journal of The Botanical Research Institute of Texas
  • Oregon State University release
  • CBC News story
  • National Geographic story
  • Dr. Poinar previously on Quirks & Quarks
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Dinosaur's Fleshy Crest

It's not just the feathers that make dinosaurs similar to birds. A new find suggests some might have had fleshy combs like a rooster. A new discovery of a fossil of an Edmonotonosaurus, a duck-billed dinosaur that lived in Alberta about 70 million years ago, preserved the skin impression of the dinosaur, as well as its bones. And the skin revealed a semi-circular fin on the animal's head that was not supported by bone. This is the first discovery of such an ornament, and Victoria Arbour, a paleontologist in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta, who was part of the team, thinks it suggests other dinosaurs might have had similar ornaments.


Related Links

  • Paper in Current Biology
  • Release from the University of Alberta
  • CBC News story
  • Scientific American blog
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Cancer Immunotherapy Breaks Through

In the last year or so, experiments with a new family of cancer treatments -based on the body's natural immune response to cancer - have had unprecedented success. Many cancer researchers are extremely excited about this work, and Science magazine, one of the world's most influential journals, highlighted this as their "Breakthrough of the Year."  Cancer immunotherapy is not a new idea, but it's one that has had more promise than success in the past. New advances in understanding the immune system, in genetics, and in synthetic biology, however, have allowed the development of new strategies for stimulating the immune system to fight cancer. The strategies are diverse, and include clever ways of removing the "brakes" that some cancers put on the immune system; engineering cancer-fighting immune cells to supercharge them against tumours; and doing genetic sequencing of tumours to develop customized vaccines to help the immune system recognize cancerous cells. These new successes are still in the very early stages of development, but there is great hope that, in coming years, they may become successful treatments for a wide range of difficult-to-treat cancers. 

For this segment, Quirks Producer Jim Lebans spoke to Dr. Brad Nelson, Director of the BC Cancer Agency's Deeley Research Centre in Victoria, BC, and to Dr Michel Sadelain, a Canadian researcher and Director for Cell Engineering at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Related Links

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Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein, Creative Commons License by-nc-nd-2.0