University of Saskatchewan’s VIDO-InterVac facility is on the COVID-19 frontlines
Dr. Jason Rowe seeks life on other planets, & he’s getting closer – thanks to big data
SCIENCE IN THE
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LOOKING TO THE STARS
Dr. Jason Rowe searches for life on distant planets, using cloud-based computing
FIGHTING THE VIRUS AMONG US
On the vaccine frontlines since the 1970s, VIDOIntervac is among the leaders in the fight against COVID-19
AT THE FRONTIER OF THEORETICAL PHYSICS
CANADA’S SUPERCOMPUTERS ARE PUSHING THE LIMITS OF DISCOVERY
Quantum computers and cloud-based research networks are boosting the speed of science
The Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ont., is considered the world’s largest research hub for theoretical physics
5 CANADIAN NEWS 6 SUZUKI MATTERS
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FEATURE: COVID-19 HITS THE CANADIAN FOOD INDUSTRY
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BY POPI BOWMAN
When we decided on a theme for this issue, well before 2020 arrived, little did we anticipate actually living in the cloud for most of this spring – working from home and socializing online only. As many people have commented, just imagine how COVID-19’s impact would have been different before the internet. Our ability to share information is unprecedented at this time in history. Science has long known how connected we are, on a biological level – but these days, because of cloud-based platforms, we are just as connected, or more so, on a digital level. How this impacts science is profound, from widespread information sharing to accelerating the speed of research and analysis. Our ability to know daily, and even hourly, updates as the pandemic moves throughout the world was unimaginable just a couple of decades ago. As we look to the next decade, the shape of the future already has changed dramatically – and regardless of what the next global emergency is, the pace of science will be nipping at its heels. Our connected, worldwide network enables innovation on a scale, and at a speed, that is constantly increasing. In this issue, we look at how science in Canada is moving at the forefront of technology, in supercomputing, space research and hunting for a vaccine for COVID-19. Our next issue will look at Canada’s role in health research, a topic that is now a daily conversation among the general public. (Admittedly, some of the recent changes have been for the best.) In many ways, the sky is no longer the limit – the cloud is. Our computing capacity has allowed us to explore the farthest reaches of the universe and the most miniscule possibilities of atomic structure. And yet, the more we know, the more questions we seem to ask. There is no end point to our understanding of the universe, and we rely on science to answer the most difficult questions. Now, the focus is on the questions that need Popi Bowman to be answered – starting with, how do we stop a pandemic? MANAGING EDITOR
Visit BioLabmag.com to read our guest editorial co-authored by Edward Wilson-Smythe and Robert Brennan Hart, creator of The Canadian Cloud Council and managing partner of Politik (politik.ca). In “Demystifyng the art of digital transformation,” they explain why “the vast majority of digital innovation efforts end in limited or no business impact, aborted efforts and outright failure.”
BY DAVID SUZUKI WITH CONTRIBUTIONS FROM SENIOR EDITOR AND WRITER
EXPOSE SYSTEMIC FLAWS
Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author, and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Ian Hanington is Senior Editor, David Suzuki Foundation. Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.
he coronavirus spreading COVID-19 around the globe isn’t the first disease microbe suspected to have jumped from other animals to humans, nor will it be the last. That we know to a large extent why so many diseases are making that leap should help us resolve the problem. Our constant-growth mindset, which assumes production and human populations will continue to expand, also means many more of us are living in closer quarters, often flying around the world, which contributes to infectious disease spread. We have a lot to learn still, but COVID-19 can teach us ways to address a crisis with many unknowns, whether it’s a disease pandemic, a rapidly heating planet or accelerating biodiversity loss. We’ve seen that decisive action can substantially reduce health risks and contagion, as well as emissions and the activities that cause them – and that by heeding the advice of scientists and experts, business and government leaders can make an immediate difference, with public support. Curtailment of flights, cruise ship tours, major public events and some industrial activity has led to a dramatic drop in greenhouse gas emissions – along with declines in economic activity. A European study found 11,000 fewer people died from pollution-related causes over one month than before the pandemic shutdown, as levels of dangerous pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter declined. Air pollution also has been shown to exacerbate COVID-19’s effects and outcomes. But, as UN secretary general António Guterres
cautioned, “We will not fight climate change with a virus.” He pointed out that “both require a determined response. Both must be defeated.” If people have responded with much more immediacy and urgency to the pandemic than the climate crisis, it’s possibly because it seems more present and resolvable. Although the impacts of climate disruption are accelerating daily, many don’t see it as a direct threat. Those who understand that it’s immediate and worsening often feel there’s little to be done, whereas the personal and institutional actions to limit pandemic spread seem relatively simple, timely and effective. That the world is facing several crises at once is challenging, but maybe it offers an opportunity to reset. Along with the coronavirus and climate disruption, oil prices have also plummeted, partly because of a dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia. An oil-dependent economy like Canada’s can’t escape the impacts – especially in Alberta where successive governments have pinned their hopes on bitumen and gas rather than adequately diversifying. We must continue to take precautions to avoid catching and spreading COVID-19, like washing hands regularly, avoiding touching our faces and practicing distancing. Working to ensure that our medical system is maintained and strengthened is also important. As a society, we must learn to slow down and stop consuming so much. We must get serious about the many threats to human health and wellbeing, including climate disruption, loss of plant and animal species and new diseases. Making the world safer means taking immediate precautions and measures, but it also means looking into ways to alter our behaviours to lessen our destructive impacts on air, water, land, climate and biodiversity. It means conserving and using energy more efficiently and shifting to renewable sources, and preserving and restoring wild spaces. Be healthy. Be safe.
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THE EMERGING ARMY AGAINST COVID-19 NEW RESEARCH TO ACCELERATE DISCOVERY OF ANTIVIRAL COVID-19 MEDICATIONS
As the world transformed with the coronavirus lockdowns of spring 2020, science shifted its focus to a new foe. Many Canadian foundations, companies and researchers are at the forefront of understanding the virus and discovering possible vaccines, while the world grapples with “the new normal.”
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Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, recently issued this statement about COVID-19: “As of the end of the day on Friday, June 19, there were 100,629 confirmed cases including 8,346 deaths and 63,003 or 63% have now recovered. Labs across Canada have tested over 2,339,563 people for COVID-19 to date. Over the past week, we have been testing an average of 36,000 people daily, with just over 1% testing positive. These numbers change quickly and are updated daily in the evenings at Canada.ca/ coronavirus After months of Canadians working together to flatten the curve, many places across the country have reopened in time for the summer. Although sunny days are ahead, we must not let our guard down because there are still areas where COVID-19 is actively spreading. It has been just over 100 days since Canada reported its first 100 people with COVID-19 and this past week we exceeded 100,000 reported cases. Although all indicators of COVID-19 activity have steadily declined in recent weeks, our epidemic curve and cumulative cases are a reminder of how quickly this disease can spread. As we continue to live with COVID-19, we must remain vigilant. Unless we keep public health measures up, we will not be able to keep COVID-19 disease activity down…. Because COVID-19 activity and precautions are not the same everywhere in the country, be sure to consult with and follow the advice of the local public health authority where you are.”
Although all indicators of COVID-19 activity have steadily declined in recent weeks, our epidemic curve and cumulative cases are a reminder of how quickly this disease can spread
A $1-million research project is combining genomics, artificial intelligence and medicinal chemistry to discover new inhibitors of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. This June, Génome Québec announced funding for the partnership with the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) of the Université de Montréal, Université de Montréal, Mila–Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute and McMaster University, spearheaded by professors Michael Tyers (IRIC/Université de Montréal), Yoshua Bengio (Mila/Université de Montréal) and Anne Marinier (IRIC/Université de Montréal). The use of genomic screens will lead to a better understanding of the genetic interactions between the virus and human host cells, and thereby the identification of new targets for drug discovery. Artificial intelligence will be used to design novel chemical inhibitors against viral proteins and human host proteins on which the virus depends. And finally, with advanced medicinal chemistry, the team will be able to synthesize and test these inhibitors. Over the long term, this combined genomics/artificial intelligence approach could help significantly accelerate – when compared to traditional approaches – the discovery of antiviral medications for future pandemics. The approach also can be applied to the development of new treatments for cancer and many other diseases. “This is an exciting project, first because of its potential to discover medications that could have a significant impact on COVID-19, then because the methodology used could be generalized to research into new therapeutic molecules in other areas,” explains Yoshua Bengio, scientific director of Mila. “And finally, because the project raises research questions that are way off the beaten path, which will contribute to advancements in science as a whole.” Selected as part of a joint Genome CanadaGénome Québec program, the project will also receive funding from Mila, IRIC and McMaster University.
Researchers at the University of Toronto’s Donnelly Centre are working on two key projects in the battle against COVID-19: developing neutralizing antibodies to help boost patient immunity to the virus, and designing antiviral medicines that block viral replication. “With our two funded projects, we are working to develop molecules that can target the virus both inside human cells and on the outside to prevent it from getting in,” says Sachdev Sidhu, who is a professor of molecular genetics in the Faculty of Medicine. The latest funded project – headed by James Rini, University of Toronto professor of molecular genetics and biochemistry – aims to produce antibodies that can effectively neutralize the virus before it causes damage. Such antibodies are naturally produced by the body in response to infection, but researchers hope to reduce the duration and severity of the disease by boosting the immune system with injected antibodies. The research team recently received federal funding support through a second round of emergency COVID-19 funding from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research. Other teams in Canada, as well as in the U.K. and U.S., are looking to infuse COVID-19 survivors’ blood plasma containing antibodies into patients to aid their recovery. Plasma transfusion, however, is fraught with challenges, including variability in efficacy between different donors and risk of disease transmission. Synthetic antibodies, on the other hand, represent a defined drug in terms of molecular content, efficacy and dosing regimen. Rini has previously helped to determine how antibodies bind to and inactivate the SARS virus, the coronavirus that caused the outbreak in Asia more than 15 years ago. Also on the team is Alan Cochrane, a professor in the department of molecular genetics and an HIV virologist with expertise in viral RNA processing. The antibodies will be engineered to block the so-called S-protein that forms spikes on the virus’s surface. The spikes lock on to a protein called ACE2 on the surface of human cells to gain entry. Coating viral particles with synthetic antibodies should prevent the spikes from binding to ACE2. Sidhu and Rini also will engineer antibodies that bind ACE2 to make it inaccessible to the virus. This type of engineered immunity surpasses the capacity of the body’s natural immune system since antibodies that react against self-proteins have been filtered out. If successful, the approach may obviate worries about viral mutations that can render drugs ineffective to new emerging
The antibodies will be engineered to block the so-called S-protein that forms spikes on the virus’s surface.
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IN DEVELOPMENT: NEUTRALIZING ANTIBODIES AND MEDICINES THAT BLOCK VIRAL REPLICATION
viral strains because the host protein ACE2 does not change over time. Sidhu’s team has advanced phage display to rapidly create and select human antibodies with desired biological properties, including blocking the virus’s spike protein. Over the last decade, his team has created hundreds of antibodies with therapeutic potential – some of which are in clinical development through spin-off companies and large pharmaceutical firms. The group has demonstrated success with both approaches for inhibiting viral entry, having developed neutralizing antibodies that target the Ebola virus as well as antibodies that target the human host receptor of hantavirus or hepatitis C. Moreover, other research has shown that antibodies targeting SARS, a related virus whose genetic material is over 80 percent identical to the one causing COVID-19, can clear infection in cells and mice. Using phage display, the team will select the antibodies that can kill the virus in human cells before testing them on mice and, eventually, patients. In addition to creating antibodies tailored to the new virus from scratch, the researchers will also modify existing SARS-blocking antibodies so that they attack COVID-19. “Our advances in antibody engineering technologies and access to the complete genomes of the COVID-19 virus and its relatives provides us with an opportunity to create tailored therapeutic antibodies at a scale and speed that was not possible even a few years ago,” says Sidhu. “Ultimately, we aim to optimize methods to the point where the evolution of new drugs will keep pace with the evolution of the virus itself, providing new and effective drugs in response to new outbreaks.” –information provided by the University of Toronto
CHIME TELESCOPE DISCOVERS REPETITIVE RADIO SIGNALS IN SPACE Located in B.C., the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope incorporates four 100-metrelong U-shaped cylinders of metal mesh that resemble snowboard half-pipes, with a total area equivalent to five hockey rinks. CHIME reconstructs the image of the overhead sky by processing the radio signals recorded by over 1,000 antennas; the data is analyzed by a collaboration of more than 50 scientists led by McGill University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto, the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC). A Canadian-led team of astronomers recently discovered a repeating fast radio burst (FRB) originating about three billion light-years from Earth. The repeating radio source, which
was first discovered in 2018 by the same research group, pulsates every 16.35 days. Another radio telescope, the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, UK, also has detected repeating FRBs; one exhibited more than 30 bursts over five years. FRBs were discovered over a decade ago; although the explanation for the mysterious phenomenon remains elusive, new studies are exploring what might be causing FRBs. “One of the most promising possibilities is two stars orbiting around each other, with one of them being a neutron star, a remnant of a massive star that undergoes a supernova explosion,” says Pragya Chawla, a PhD student within Professor Victoria Kaspi’s research group at McGill University.
CHIME reconstructs the image of the overhead sky by processing the radio signals recorded by over 1,000 antennas.
PROTECTIVE BIO-MASK UNDER DEVELOPMENT BIOLAB BUSINESS SPRING 2020
Arylide Life Sciences Inc. and Axcelon Biopolymers Corp., in collaboration with the Office of Applied Research and Innovation (OARI) at Collège La Cité in Ottawa, have secured a research grant from NSERC to develop an advanced, reusable protective bio-mask based on a patented bacterial nanocellulose material embedded in an activated carbon matrix, coated with antimicrobial nanoparticles. Dr. Chandra Panchal, CEO of Axcelon, commented, "The development of an advanced, 3D-printed, effective, antimicrobial and comfortable face mask for use particularly by medical personnel, was deemed to be an essential extension of our capabilities." The project will be conducted by a multidisciplinary team of researchers, part of the OARI, led by Dr. Nathalie Méthot of Collège La Cité.
USING AI TO TACKLE THE PANDEMIC The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) recently announced nearly $300,000 in funding to support “innovative, high-risk, high-reward” ideas and projects that utilize artificial intelligence to fight COVID-19. The program is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Ontario government, Microsoft and Genome Canada. All projects are expected to be completed within a year, with the assistance of collaborators from Mila, the Vector Institute and several Canadian universities. Projects include an open-source deep learning platform for COVID-19 detection and risk stratification, a contact-tracing mobile app and a pandemic prediction tool that uses X-ray based analysis.
CIFAR recently announced nearly $300,000 in funding to support “innovative, high-risk, high-reward” ideas and projects.
CANADA BOLSTERS RESEARCH FUNDING
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada: 2020 Competition Statistics
• Discovery Grants, fiscal year 2020-21 compared to 2016-17: Increased by $69 million, or 19 percent • Average grant, early career researchers: $29,007 (not including first-time Discovery Launch Supplement of $12,500) • Average grant, established researchers: $41,032 • Number of applications, 2020 competition: 3,372 (man, 2,351; woman, 795; other, 226) • Number of awards: 2,209 • Largest share of 2020 funding: $47,945,723 to established researchers (returning) at large universities
A lacewing fossil. Photo from Simon Fraser University.
EXCITING FOSSIL DISCOVERY LEADS TO NEW QUESTIONS The discovery of a tiny insect fossil in Western Canada is unearthing big questions about the global movement of animals across deep time. The fossil, estimated to be 50 million years old, is the latest in a pattern of discoveries that are leading experts to contemplate a Canada-Australia connection. Paleontologists Bruce Archibald of Simon Fraser University and the Royal British Columbia Museum and Vladimir Makarkin of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Vladivostok published their findings in The Canadian Entomologist. According to Makarkin, this rare fossil is part of the “split-footed lacewing” family. Little is known about this group over the 66 million years following the extinction of the dinosaurs. “This is only the fourth one found from this time span worldwide, and it’s the most completely preserved,” says Makarkin. Previous fossil insects of this age found in B.C. and neighbouring Washington have shown connections with Pacific-coastal Russia to the west and with Europe to the east – but the Australian connection is puzzling, as there is no such clear land connection. This lacewing joins other insect fossils from B.C. and Washington whose modern relatives only live in the Australian region. These include bulldog ants, a family of termites and a kind of parasitoid wasp. Archibald says that “a pattern is emerging that we don’t quite understand yet, but has interesting implications.” The researchers suggest that the answer might be connected to climate. “The more we know about these insects, the more we can piece together the history of how climate and the movement of continents have shaped global patterns of the distributions of life that we see in our modern world,” says Makarkin.
RESEARCH NETWORK REQUESTING PARKINSON’S DATA Parkinson Canada invites people living with Parkinson’s disease to join the Canadian Open Parkinson Network (C-OPN), which will create a database and biobank to support large-scale, multidisciplinary research projects that would not be possible at a single site. To ensure this initiative will have the greatest impact, the network needs people with Parkinson’s disease and Parkinson Plus (Atypical) Syndrome across Canada to register and participate in moving science forward at a more rapid pace. C-OPN was created through a $2-million Brain Canada Platform Support Grant. For more information on C-OPN, visit copn-rpco.com.
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In June, the Government of Canada announced more than $492 million in funding by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), through its Discovery research program. This most recent investment is part of a $4-billion increase for research committed in the 2018 federal budget, which included an increase of more than $1.7 billion over five years to support Canadian researchers through granting agencies and research institutes. NSERC invests over $1.2 billion each year in natural sciences and engineering research in Canada.
TEAM OF CANADIAN AND ITALIAN RESEARCHERS BREAKING NEW GROUND IN MATERIALS SCIENCE
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A study by a team of researchers from Canada and Italy – recently published in Nature Materials – could usher in a revolutionary development in materials science, leading to big changes in the way companies create modern electronics. The goal was to develop two-dimensional materials, which are a single atomic layer thick, with added functionality to extend the revolutionary developments in materials science that started with the discovery of graphene in 2004. The Italian/ Canadian team demonstrated the synthesis of large-scale twodimensional conjugated polymers, also thoroughly characterizing their electronic properties. They achieved success by combining the complementary expertise of organic chemists and surface scientists. This work opens exciting new directions, both theoretical and experimental. The integration of this system into a device (e.g. transistors) may lead to outstanding performances. In addition, these results will foster more studies on a wide range of twodimensional conjugated polymers with different lattice symmetries, thereby gaining further insights into the structure versus properties of these systems. Federico Rosei, a professor at the Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications Research Centre of the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS) in Varennes who holds the Canada Research Chair in Nanostructured Materials since 2016, says the research team is excited about the results of this collaboration. “These results provide new insights into mechanisms of surface reactions at a fundamental level and simultaneously yield a novel material with outstanding properties, whose existence had only been predicted theoretically until now,” he said. In total, 19 authors worked on this paper from INRS, McGill, Lakehead, and Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, the national research council in Italy. This research was partially supported by a project Grande Rilevanza Italy-Quebec of the Italian Ministero degli Affari Esteri e della Cooperazione Internazionale, Direzione Generale per la Promozione del Sistema Paese, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Fonds Québécois de la recherche sur la nature et les technologies and the U.S. Army Research Office.
The Italian/Canadian team demonstrated the synthesis of largescale two-dimensional conjugated polymers, also thoroughly characterizing their electronic properties.
ANTIVIRAL TEXTILE PROVES EFFECTIVE AGAINST CORONAVIRUS HeiQ Viroblock NPJ03 is a textile treatment for industrial use, designed to provide textiles with antiviral and antibacterial properties. The combination of silver antimicrobial technology and vesicle technology rapidly destroy enveloped viruses, including coronaviruses. The latest testing with SARSCoV-2 virus was conducted by researchers at the Doherty Institute, a joint venture between the University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital. The research project involved a disinfection test protocol that simulated the real-life interaction of small aerosol droplets contaminating clothing. A known concentration of SARS-CoV-2 virus was contacted with the sample fabric for 30 minutes followed by measurement of remaining infectious SARS-CoV-2 viruses. The fabric sample treated with HeiQ Viroblock NPJ03 had no infective viruses left after 30 minutes. The result indicated a SARS-CoV-2 virus reduction of 99.99 percent relative to the inoculum control.
The combination of silver antimicrobial technology and vesicle technology rapidly destroy enveloped viruses, including coronaviruses.
HeiQ Viroblock mask protection. Photo from heiq.com
A complex, porous lattice structure is created using liquid crystal elastomers; the group 3D-printed several structures, including a prototype of a spinal fusion cage.
University of Colorado Denver researchers are the first to 3D print a complex, porous lattice structure using liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs), creating devices that can mimic cartilage and other biological tissues. Creating synthetic replacements which truly match the properties and behaviours of biological tissues hasn’t been easy. But University of Colorado Denver scientists, led by mechanical engineer professor Chris Yakacki, PhD, are the first to 3D print a complex, porous lattice structure using liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs), creating devices that can finally mimic cartilage and other biological tissues. The soft, multifunctional materials are known for their elasticity and extraordinary ability to dissipate high energy. The Denver team, led by mechanical engineer professor Chris Yakacki, PhD, worked with scientists from the Southern University of Science and Technology in China; their findings were published in Advanced Materials. Yakacki began working with LCEs in 2012; in 2018, Yakacki received an NSF CAREER award to revolutionize the manufacturability of LCEs and several rounds of funding to develop them as a shock absorber for football helmets. Even then, he knew its applications could go further. For their study, Yakacki and his team explored a 3D printing process called digital light processing (DLP). The team developed a honey-like LC resin that, when hit with ultraviolet light, cures – forming new bonds in a succession of thin photopolymer layers. The final cured resin forms a
soft, strong, and compliant elastomer. When printed in lattice structures – levels of patterning akin to a honeycomb – it began to mimic cartilage. The group printed several structures, including a tiny, detailed lotus flower and a prototype of a spinal fusion cage, creating the largest LCE device with the most detail. The combination of the resin and printing process also led to 12 times greater rate-dependence and up to 27 times greater strain-energy dissipation compared to those printed from a commercially available photocurable elastomer resin. Going forward, the structures have several applications, like shock-absorbing football helmet foam or even small biomedical implants for toes. Yakacki is most excited about its possibilities in the spine. “The spine is full of challenges and it’s a hard problem to solve,” said Yakacki. “People have tried making synthetic spinal tissue discs and they haven’t done a good job of it. With 3D printing, and the high resolution we’ve gotten from it, you can match a person’s anatomy exactly. One day, we may be able to grow cells to fix the spine, but for now, we can take a step forward with the next generation of materials. That’s where we’d like to go.” This work is supported by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and U. S. Army Research Office, an NSF CAREER Award, and the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program at Sandia National Laboratories, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.
For their study, Yakacki and his team explored a 3D printing process called digital light processing (DLP). The team developed a honey-like LC resin that, when hit with ultraviolet light, cures – forming new bonds in a succession of thin photopolymer layers.
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RESEARCHERS DEVELOP 3D-PRINTABLE MATERIAL THAT MIMICS BIOLOGICAL TISSUES
NEW SYSTEM DEVELOPED TO DELIVER VACCINES WITHOUT REFRIGERATION Because they spoil without refrigeration, vaccines are notoriously difficult to transport to remote or dangerous places; as a result, millions of children around the world miss out on life-saving inoculations. However, scientists at the University of Bath have found a way to prevent warmedup vaccines from degrading. By encasing protein molecules in a silica shell, the structure remains intact even when heated to 100°C, or stored at room temperature for up to three years. The technique for tailor-fitting a vaccine with a silica coat – known as ensilication – was developed by a Bath team in collaboration with the University of Newcastle. This pioneering technology was seen to work in the lab two years ago, and now it has demonstrated its effectiveness in the real world, too. In a study published by Scientific Reports, the researchers sent both ensilicated and regular samples of the tetanus vaccine from Bath to Newcastle by mail (a journey time of over 300 miles, which takes a day or two). When doses of the ensilicated vaccine were subsequently injected into mice, an immune response was triggered, showing the vaccine to be active. No immune response was detected in mice injected with unprotected doses of the vaccine, indicating the medicine had been damaged in transit. Dr. Asel Sartbaeva, who led the project from the University of Bath’s Department of Chemistry, says: “This Dr. Asel Sartbaeva with a sample of ensilicated protein
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is really exciting data because it shows us that ensilication preserves not just the structure of the vaccine proteins but also the function – the immunogenicity. This project has focused on tetanus; next, we will be working on developing a thermally-stable vaccine for diphtheria, and then pertussis. Eventually we want to create a silica cage for the whole DTP trivalent vaccine, so that every child in the world can be given DTP without having to rely on cold chain distribution.” Dr. Sartbaeva estimates that ensilicated vaccines could be used for humans within five to 15 years. She hopes the technology to silica-wrap proteins will eventually be adopted to store and transport all childhood vaccines, as well as other protein-based products, such as antibodies and enzymes.
Currently, up to 50 percent of vaccine doses are discarded before use due to exposure to suboptimal temperatures. According to the World Health Organization, 19.4 million infants did not receive routine life-saving vaccinations in 2018.
VOLCANIC GLASS SPRAY SHOWS PROMISE IN CONTROLLING MOSQUITOES
Annually, malaria kills some
people in Africa
The use of insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor residual sprays are the most common and effective methods of reducing mosquito populations, but the insects are becoming increasingly resistant to commonly used insecticides such as pyrethroids.
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An indoor residual spray made by combining a type of volcanic glass with water showed effective control of mosquitoes that carry malaria, according to a new study published in the journal Insects. Annually, malaria kills some 400,000 people in Africa. The use of insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor residual sprays are the most common and effective methods of reducing mosquito populations, but the insects are becoming increasingly resistant to commonly used insecticides such as pyrethroids. The volcanic glass material used in this new intervention is perlite, an industrial mineral most frequently used in building materials and in gardens as a soil additive. The tested insecticide created from perlite, called Imergard WP, can be applied to interior walls and ceilings – and perhaps even inside roofs – as an indoor residual spray. The spray contains no additional chemicals, is not toxic to mammals and will be cost effective. Early results show that mosquitoes do not appear to have resistance to the perlite spray. In the study, North Carolina State University entomologists worked with the Innovative Vector Control Consortium (IVCC) based at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Imerys Filtration Minerals Inc. to test Imergard WP. Researchers used the spray in experimental huts in the Republic of Benin (West Africa) to test the effects of the spray on both wild and more susceptible strains of Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes, the primary malaria vector in subSaharan Africa. Researchers used four different tests to verify the efficacy of Imergard WP. Control study huts had no mosquito-prevention spray. In the second group hut walls were coated with a common pyrethroid. Hut walls were sprayed with Imergard WP in the third group, while in the fourth group hut walls were sprayed with a mixture of Imergard WP and the common pyrethroid. Huts with walls treated with Imergard WP, with and without the pyrethroid, showed the largest mosquito mortality rates. Results showed mortality rates of mosquitos alighting on Imergard WP-treated walls were greater than 80 percent up to five months after treatments, and 78 percent at six months. Huts sprayed with only the common pesticide had mosquito mortality rates of around 40 to 45 percent over five months, with those rates dropping to 25 percent in month six of the study. “The statically transferred perlite particles essentially dehydrate the mosquito,” said Mike Roe, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of Entomology at NC State and the corresponding author of the paper. “Many die within a few hours of contact with the treated surface. Mosquitoes are not repelled from a treated surface because there is no olfactory mechanism to smell rock.”
ARE PUSHING THE LIMITS OF DISCOVERY
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FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS.
THE SPEED AND POWER OF NEXT-GENERATION COMPUTERS WILL BLOW YOUR MIND.
BY JANA MANOLAKOS
The exascale computer joins the race
Meanwhile, as the race for quantum supremacy heats up, an unexpected newcomer – the exascale computer – stepped forward last July. It’s the brainchild of Ewin Tang, a tech prodigy from the University of Texas, who developed an algorithm that enabled classical computers to solve problems at a blistering speed, as much as 60 times faster than the world’s fastest supercomputer, Summit, housed at the Oak Ridge National Lab. Summit processes a quadrillion calculations per second, and may even challenge some quantum computers. Tang’s exascale enables 1018 (a quintillion) operations per second, which still pales in comparison to a quantum computer’s 101,000 (ten trecendotrigintillion) operations per second.
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anada is just beginning to catch up in the global race for the bigger, better computer with the country’s network of academic supercomputers, pushing up the leaderboard of the Top500 supercomputers on the planet. And even now, as the potency of these high-performance machines is being harnessed to find answers that were previously out of reach for Canadian researchers, companies like IBM, Google, Intel and Microsoft are leaping ahead with whole new breeds – quantum and exascale computers. Unlike classical computers, which use bits of code comprising a series of ones and zeros to process information, a quantum computer uses atoms as the bits for code, called qubits. At this quantum level, the speed and power are boosted to astronomical heights. In 2016, IBM was the first company to put a quantum computer on the IBM Cloud. Called the IBM Quantum Experience platform, it now has 18 public and commercial systems with 240,000 registered global users, who have run hundreds of billions of circuit executions (a circuit is the basic unit of work done on a quantum computer), which has led to more than 230 third-party published research papers. IBM went commercial the following year, becoming the first company to offer commercial universal quantum computing systems via the IBM Q Network. The Q Network now connects more than 100 organizations, including Fortune 500s, startups, research labs and education institutions.
So, while quantum and exascale computers – with their exponentially larger storage, memory and computational power – will one day help us understand nature better, create vaccines faster and boost machine learning and artificial intelligence, Canadian researchers are currently making the most of a national network of supercomputers. Modern supercomputers rely on harnessing the computational power of as many as a million processors working in parallel, on the same problem. Today, Canada has five major supercomputers, part of a national advanced research computing infrastructure coordinated by Compute Canada and its regional partners, Compute Ontario, Calcul Québec, ACENET and WestGrid. Launched in 2007, Compute Canada offers a team of more than 200 experts, employed by 37 partner universities and research institutions across the country, supporting researchers with large-scale computation and simulation for artificial intelligence, climate change research, ocean modelling, genomics, astrophysics and other disciplines using big data research.
Canadian supercomputers are pushing the boundaries of knowledge Earlier powerhouse systems – Fire at Queen’s University, McKenzie at the University of Toronto and Glacier at the University of British Columbia (UBC) – have led to today’s behemoths of computational power: Arbutus at University of Victoria, Graham at the University of Waterloo, Cedar at Simon Fraser University (SFU), Niagara at the University of Toronto, and Béluga, the most recent addition in 2019, located at the École de technologie supérieure.
Béluga makes a splash
Calcul Québec’s supercomputer, Béluga, is 300,000 times faster than the average laptop, and with 67,000 times more storage space. Located at the École de technologie supérieure in Montreal, Béluga made a splash last April when it launched with $12.8 million in funding from the Quebec government in addition to funding from the Canada Foundation for Béluga is Innovation and the Fonds de recherche du Québec. It is the main high-performance computing infrastructure than an average in Quebec. Pierre-Étienne laptop Jacques, Chief Science Officer for Calcul Québec, notes, “First used principally in physics and chemistry, advanced research computing is now pivotal in most research areas.”
300,000 times faster
Niagara offers a rush of information
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A powerful research supercomputer, Niagara, roared onto the research scene in 2018. Available to researchers of all disciplines across the country, it’s located at the University of Toronto and supported by the university’s high-performance computing division SciNet, which is open to all Canadian university researchers. According to the university’s theoretical astrophysicist, Dr. Ue-Li Pen, “The large parallel capability of Niagara enables world-leading precision cosmological simulations incorporating neutrinos. This draws talent from across the world, focuses their research strengths and brings visibility to the research results.”
Modern supercomputers rely on harnessing the computational power of as many as a million processors working in parallel, on the same problem.
Launched in 2017, Cedar is housed in a data center on the university’s Burnaby campus. With more than 3.6 petaFLOPS of computing power, Cedar includes a mix of CPUs and GPUs and very fast interconnections for powerful processing and data management. SFU bioinformatics and genomics professor Fiona Brinkman relies on its capacity to lead the Integrated Rapid Infectious Disease Analysis Project, which needs sophisticated and secure computer power to understand disease outbreaks. And SFU physics professor Michel Vetterli leads research which analyzes vast amounts of particle data from CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.
A hefty beast named Graham
Unveiled in 2017 and named after the University of Waterloo’s “father of computing,” Wes Graham, the university’s supercomputer cost $17-million and contains about 16,000 kilograms of computing equipment packed into about 60 refrigerator-sized units. Graham has 50 petabytes Graham cost of memory capacity or 50 billion times more than the and contains about country’s biggest computer in 1967. “It is a hefty beast,” says Scott Hopkins, a University of Waterloo of computing chemistry professor. “If you equipment had a calculation that might take a year to run on your desktop computer, with Graham, you might have it done by lunchtime.”
$17-million 16,000 kg
Arbutus offers cloud cover
Located at the University of Victoria, Arbutus provides
Canada’s academic community with cloud computing services. Its powerful storage and computing capabilities are designed to support researchers processing, sharing and storing massive data sets. Arbutus can store the equivalent of 10 Arbutus can store million eight-drawer filing cabinets of text and process the equivalent of calculations thousands of times faster than a desktop computer. Researchers can eight-drawer filing use Arbutus to build online cabinets of text portals or platforms, handle data scraped from the web, run on-demand visualizations or share work with other devices, team members or external collaborators.
Here’s how some Canadian researchers are advancing their work through Compute Canada’s advanced research computing services and infrastructure: Harnessing the power of scientific cloud computing to fight COVID-19
The University of Victoria and Compute Canada are using the power of Arbutus, Canada’s largest scientific cloud, to analyze the protein structure of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as part of an international effort to develop drug therapies for COVID-19. The Folding@home project runs protein folding simulations to better understand the disease and find a treatment. Folding@home is the first scientific computing system to break the exascale barrier and is now more powerful than all the Top500 supercomputers in the world combined.
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Powerful computation takes root at UBC with Cedar
Arbutus is currently the fourth highest individual contributor to the global initiative. At SFU, Cedar is also contributing with preemptible batch jobs. Arbutus is a purpose-built research cloud for Canadian researchers, the largest of its kind in the country and can be accessed free of charge for academic research through Compute Canada.
Searching for extraterrestrial lifeforms
BIOLAB BUSINESS SPRING 2020
Canadian researcher Jason Rowe (interviewed for this issue`s Newsmaker) grabbed headlines in 2014 when he discovered an Earth-like planet using the Kepler Space Telescope. For Rowe, who is now an assistant professor at Bishop’s University and the Canada Research Chair in Exoplanet Astrophysics, discovering and characterizing exoplanets which inhabit distant solar systems has been his life’s work. So far, he’s contributed to the discovery of hundreds of planets. Kepler, which has computers on board that collect transmissions and send them back to Earth, produces an enormous amount of data. And people like Rowe do most of the heavy-duty computation on Earth. To do this math and analysis, they use Canada’s advanced research computing platform coordinated collectively by Compute Canada and its regional partners and member institutions.
Marine microbes reveal the effects of climate change
For Julie LaRoche, microbes represent an important indicator
of the effects of climate change on ocean life. LaRoche is a biology professor and ocean scientist at Dalhousie University and the Canada Research Chair in Marine Microbial Genomics and Biogeochemistry. These tiny single-celled organisms live in the atmosphere, Earth’s crust, the ocean and our own bodies. LaRoche uses genomics and next-generation sequencing techniques to study the diversity and function of ocean microbes, noting how they are affected by environmental changes. Sequences are entered into a huge database where they are analyzed. “These are big files that take up a lot of memory. We can’t do it on a normal computer, so we have to use ACENET and Compute Canada.”
model systems under conditions that are relevant to recent experiments using DNA,” he says. As part of his research, Polson uses ACENET and Compute Canada systems to create virtual polymer molecules and simulate their behaviour under different conditions. “For each calculation I need 100 to 200 processors for one to two days, and dozens of such calculations are needed for any given project.”
Monitoring forest health
Jason Masuda is building substances that have never been seen on Earth before. Masuda is a chemistry professor at Saint Mary’s University, where he is constructing new molecules. To predetermine how these new substances will react, Masuda uses computing resources from ACENET and Compute Canada to conduct electronic structure calculations using software called Gaussian09. The program helps him predict their volatility. “Gaussian09 is a great tool to save us time. Because we’re pushing the boundaries of what nature allows, quite often I will generate a molecule and get it to optimize on ACENET and then, if it looks promising, we’ll make it in the lab,” Masuda explains. “There’s a saying that two hours in the library saves you two months in the lab. It’s the same with ACENET. Sometimes a couple of hours with Gaussian09 will save you weeks or months in the lab.”
Understanding the mechanisms of life
James Polson spends much of his time trying to understand the mechanisms that make life possible. Polson is an associate professor of physics with the University of Prince Edward Island. He studies polymers, a group of long chainlike molecules composed of many repeated chemical subunits. Polson uses computer simulations and analytical theoretical methods to study the physical properties of polymers in confined and crowded environments. “We’re carrying out numerically intensive calculations to study
Branching out in apple production
Sean Myles studies the genetic composition of apples and runs a program that tries to accelerate apple breeding. Currently the Canada Research Chair in Agricultural Genetic Diversity and assistant professor in the Faculty of Agriculture at Dalhousie University, Myles’ lab seeks out parts of the apple genome that will lead to winning varieties, helping breeders to screen the offspring of their cross-breeds and boost production. “It’s the same principle as screening for genetic diseases in humans,” Myles says. With a genome that’s 750 million letters long and 1,000 varieties, “You can see how the numbers are starting to climb,” he points out. “And you can’t only sequence each letter once — you have to do it multiple times. That results in a huge amount of data. We have about 10 terabytes of data on the Compute Canada cluster. And that’s just the DNA sequence data.”
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Designing new molecules in less time
At the Canadian Forest Service, Senior Research Scientist Mike Wulder and his colleagues have been working with imagery from the Landsat series of satellites – covering almost 1 billion hectares of land, represented by about 10 billion Landsat pixels. Using WestGrid and Compute Canada systems, they have been able to undertake research to capture and label three decades of change in Canada’s forests and are now generating annual maps of land cover for the same 30-year period. Wulder explains, “No longer limited by computing considerations, the algorithms we are developing are increasingly sophisticated, providing new and otherwise unavailable information on Canada’s forested land cover and the disturbances and recovery occurring over the forested land base. Canadian science, monitoring and reporting activities are strengthened by the computing capacity offered by WestGrid, as well as by the cross-institutional collaborative work environment.”
LOOKING TO THE DR. JASON ROWE SEARCHES FOR LIFE ON DISTANT PLANETS, USING CLOUD-BASED COMPUTING
BIOLAB BUSINESS SPRING 2020
BY TIMOTHY FOWLER
B I O L A B M AG.C O M
“I hope we find that there is some data for some distant atmosphere that is going to show water oxygen and ozone – the things we call biomarkers – and not just in small amounts.”
t 12 years old, Dr. Jason Rowe remembers seeing images of distant planets captured by NASA’s Voyager spacecraft. He was enthralled by the details of planets we had never seen before. Now, Rowe spends his life in pursuit of an answer to the question: Could there be another planet like ours? After completing his PhD at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Rowe joined the Kepler team as a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow, and was awarded the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement medal for his work on measuring fundamental parameters of exoplanets; he then joined the SETI Institute as a research scientist, where he received his second NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement medal. He has authored and co-authored over 200 publications with over 16,000 total citations. Now, Rowe is an assistant professor at Bishop’s University and the Canada Research Chair in Exoplanet Astrophysics. Using cloud-enabled computers to analyze data, he has discovered more than 800 planets, but most notably, Rowe discovered one the size of Earth that might hold water, and therefore could host biological growth.
SEARCHING FOR LIFE
“Are there other earthlike planets out there that are able to foster life? I hope we find that there is some data for some distant atmosphere that is going to show water, oxygen
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and ozone – the things we call biomarkers – and not just in small amounts,” says Rowe. “If we see large amounts of something like ozone present in the atmosphere, there will be immediate conclusions drawn that this must be due to biology. There will be a counter argument that this will be due to some natural geological process but that's OK, it's just part of the scientific method.” We are closer than ever to finding life on other planets in part because Canadian scientists and researchers have access to Compute Canada’s Advanced Research Computing (ARC) cloud-based computer system. ARC is operated by regional partners across the country, providing massive data storage, systems and software solutions. Canada’s investment in cloud-based computer research will be accelerated by the New Digital Research Infrastructure Organization (NDRIO), created by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, which has set aside $375-million for investment in digital research infrastructure over the next five years. This investment will fund expansion of research-focused cloud computing capability in Canada. Dr. J.J. Kavelaars, the head of the Canadian Astronomy Centre, explains that Compute Canada and its regional partners are currently in transition to form a coordinated national organization. When the transition is complete, NDRIO will provide oversight, expansion and maintenance of what was the Compute Canada system. The goal is to provide world-class cloud computing access for Canadian researchers. Astronomers need massive computing capacity in their search for planets. An observation telescope in space and a specialized camera are used to capture multiple images of the area of focus. All those captured images of planets create a massive amount of data to be analyzed. With the viewer and the star aligned, when a planet transits in front of the star, it blocks a portion of the star’s light; over time, the captured images are compared to identify a dip in light, indicating a transiting planet. Orbits can take as
“My big goal was to answer that question: ‘Are we alone in the universe? Is there life beyond Earth?’ I think it’s a tough question,” Rowe admits. “I want people to know that within the next decade, we have our first opportunity of really answering that question. There are some exciting big telescopes that are coming online in the next couple of years that have the capability of observing what the atmospheres of these distant planets are made of. We’re going to be using that information to ask, ‘Is there a biology that is present and driving the compilation of these atmospheres?’ There is the potential to have a direct answer to the question, are we alone in the universe?” The 12-year-old kid would be astounded by his future accomplishments and the exciting discoveries that lie ahead. And Dr. Rowe’s younger self would be mesmerized by the computational power of Canada’s cloud-based computing capability.
Advanced Research Computing (ARC) Canada’s national ARC platform is delivered through the Compute Canada Federation (CCF), which is a partnership of Compute Canada, regional organizations (WestGrid, Compute Ontario, Calcul Québec and ACENET) and institutions across Canada. Providing researchers with access to the infrastructure and expertise they need to accomplish globally competitive, data-driven, transformative research, it serves the needs of nearly 16,000 users, including over 4,400 faculty based at Canadian institutions (as of January 2020). 2018: The Canadian government announces a five-year investment of $572.5M with the goal of increasing processing power by 50 percent and doubling graphics capability. • $375M to develop national New Digital Research Infrastructure Organization, a national non-profit organization • $50M to expand the five existing ARC sites at: University of Victoria, Simon Fraser University, University of Waterloo, University of Toronto and McGill University (with other partners contributing another $40M, for a total of $90M) • $145M investment in CANARIE, Canada’s ultrahigh-speed network manager (includes $8M for Northern Connectivity program, and $137M for cyber security) Current hardware summary and capacity • Funding from the federal government has increased the capacity of the national ARC platform on Cedar (Simon Fraser University), Graham (University of Waterloo), Niagara (University of Toronto), Béluga (Calcul Québec) and Arbutus (University of Victoria) to 238,144 CPU cores, 43,472 cloud CPUs (vCPUs), 2,706 GPUs and 347.7 PB (petabyte is 1015 bytes, equivalent to 1,000 terabytes) of storage as of March 31, 2020.
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long as a year, or longer, and observations can only happen at night and in good weather. Three transits recorded will confirm there is a planet orbiting the star. This data, once refined, is stored and accessed on Canada’s ARC system. Then Rowe and his team of astrophysicists apply algorithms to sort and verify possibilities for planets that fit the criteria of potentially supporting biology. The results of these calculations forms a list of candidate planets. “There is no reason for one researcher to go out and buy their own specialized supercomputer. Instead it becomes this cloud computing service, where there is a central platform that is available to researchers so they can access [computer service] readily,” Rowe explains. “That becomes a shared resource instead. It significantly reduces the overall cost and, in a lot of cases, actually makes it more efficient for researchers to get access to state-of-the-art facilities.” Canada is leading the way in this research, in part because of our cloud computing capability. “Canadians have driven exoplanet research for the last 30 years,” Rowe says. “Canadians developed the technology that led to the first discovery of extra solar planets. Canadians working in the U.S. were the first to discover transiting exoplanets. Canadians were the ones that developed the capabilities for doing imaging of planets close to their host star for the first time, and now Canadians are on the forefront of mapping out atmospheres of distant planets to ask if there is any type of biology present.”
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Fighting the Virus Among Us O N T H E VAC C I N E F R O N T L I N E S S I N C E T H E 1970 s , V I D O - I N T E RVAC I S A M O N G T H E LEADERS IN THE FIGHT AGAINST COVID-19 BY ABIGAIL CUKIER
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n January, within 24 hours of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring COVID-19 a health emergency of international concern, the Public Health Agency of Canada gave researchers at the University of Saskatchewan’s VIDO-InterVac Centre permission to work with the virus. VIDO-InterVac (Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine) houses one of the largest and most advanced Containment Level 3 facilities in the world, with seven laboratories, including select agent and aerobiology labs, a clinical pathology lab with tissue processing and automated histology and hematology suites and 18 animal isolation rooms. The organization also includes Containment Level 2 facilities with 19 labs, a surgical suite and a 160-acre research farm for large animal studies. In 1975, VIDO (originally, the Veterinary Infections Disease Organization) was created with a couple of employees, two trailers and a $200,000 budget. Research focused on infectious diseases in food animals and development of livestock vaccines. In 1978, staff moved into the first permanent facility on the University of Saskatchewan campus. In 2003, the organization opened a 50,000-sq.ft. expansion of its Level 2 laboratories and offices, and extended its research focus to infectious diseases affecting both animals and humans. VIDO was renamed the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization; after the Level 3 facility was added in 2010, the name became VIDO-InterVac. Today, VIDO-InterVac has about 170 researchers, technicians, trainees and administrative staff and a $20-million annual budget. The organization has spun off four companies, holds more than 100 Canadian and U.S. patents and has developed and commercialized eight vaccines, six of which were world firsts. Two more vaccines are in commercial development, one for porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) and one for
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contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP). VIDO-InterVac’s director and CEO, Dr. Volker Gerdts, says the organization follows the One Health approach, which recognizes that the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and the environment. “Serving the livestock and poultry industry has been, and will always be, an important part of our mandate,” Dr. Gerdts explains. “Due to an increasing globalization and urbanization, however, the interface between humans and animals has become more and more important, as new diseases continue to emerge between the two. To remain successful, our research needs to continue to focus on both human and animal health, and the boundary between them.” Dr. Gerdts completed his post-doctoral studies at VIDOInterVac and was hired to stay on as a scientist. He was associate director of research for 11 years before taking over as director last year. Dr. Gerdts says the focus on emerging diseases and threat of pandemics is the biggest change he has seen in his 20 years at the organization. “We realized we needed high-containment facilities that allow us to work with emerging pathogens,” he says. “The vision was that we needed an organization to translate discovery knowledge into real products. Solutions through research became our mandate.” Even before the WHO declared the Zika virus a global public health emergency in February 2016, VIDO-InterVac had begun to develop a novel animal model for the disease and to establish if there is a link between fetal infection and microcephaly. This January, the organization became the first non-government facility in Canada to gain regulatory approval to work with African swine fever. This deadly and fast-spreading viral disease is killing millions of pigs worldwide, and could devastate Canada's pork industry. With COVID-19, VIDO-InterVac was the first lab in Canada
With COVID-19, VIDO-InterVac was the first lab in Canada to isolate the SARS-CoV-2 virus, using a clinical sample obtained from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.
to isolate the SARS-CoV-2 virus, using a clinical sample obtained from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. It was also the first in the country to establish an animal model for testing of vaccines, antivirals and therapeutics. By the end of February, VIDO-InterVac researchers had created a vaccine candidate and were the first in Canada to develop and test a COVID-19 vaccine in ferrets. Due to their susceptibility to human respiratory viruses, ferrets were thought to be a potential model for SARS-CoV-2. For this project, ferrets receive two immunizations and then researchers expose them to the virus and measure whether they develop the disease. They will also study whether they transmit the virus to other animals, to test the ability of the vaccine to reduce transmission to other animals. Manufacturing and safety testing in animal models is expected to be completed this summer, with clinical testing in humans planned for the fall. In April, the federal government announced a $23-million investment to support VIDO-InterVac’s preclinical testing and two phases of clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccine. A month earlier, the government had announced $12 million towards the organization’s construction of its own vaccine manufacturing facility to Good Manufacturing Practices standards as required for human vaccine production, as well as $11.3 million for operational funding for high-containment laboratories. Dr. Gerdts says that generating interest in funding research into a pan-coronavirus vaccine for humans has been a challenge. “We have wanted this facility for a very long time, as Canada does not have enough capacity to manufacture vaccines,” he admits. “We need to be ready for the next pandemic. To ensure Canadians have access to these life-saving vaccines, it’s important that we develop timely vaccines here in Canada.”
Zika virus VIDO-InterVac developed the first animal models in neonatal and fetal pigs to study the Zika virus. “Pigs are immunologically, physiologically and anatomically similar to humans,” explains research scientist Dr. Vladi Karniychuk. The lab was the first in the world to show in animal models that Zika infection in the womb produces altered immune responses and sex-specific brain abnormalities in apparently healthy pig offspring. Zika virus can cause severe abnormalities in fetuses, such as brain lesions and life-long developmental and cognitive impairment in children. However, most infections in pregnant women are not associated with developmental abnormalities in fetuses and newborns. “The study found that children affected in utero, even by mild Zika virus infection, can appear healthy at birth but develop immune dysfunction and brain abnormalities later,” says Dr. Karniychuk. Researchers inoculated selected fetuses at the mid-stage of development, which resulted in trans-fetal virus spread and persistent infection in the placenta and fetal membranes for two months. Offspring did not show congenital Zika syndrome or other visible birth defects. However, a month after birth, some offspring exhibited excessive interferon alpha (IFN-α) levels in blood plasma in a regular environment. Most affected offspring also showed dramatic IFN-α shutdown during social stress, providing the first evidence of the impact of prenatal Zika virus exposure and postnatal environmental insult. The lab is now using the animal models to understand the pathogenesis of congenital Zika virus infection and the long-term health effects in offspring, and to test novel interventions to prevent fetal infection and disease outcomes.
Current and past research highlights
Bovine tuberculosis Caused by Mycobacterium bovis, this debilitating disease can spread to humans and other domestic and wild animals. In fact, Dr. Gerdts says up to 10 percent of human TB is transmitted from cattle in some countries. To develop a vaccine, researchers used a genomics-based approach termed reverse vaccinology to identify candidate proteins that could stimulate a protective immune response in cattle. These proteins are being screened to determine which are expressed during infection and which can cause an immune response, and therefore are potential antigens for a vaccine.
African swine fever This virus is estimated to kill every third pig in the world, says Dr. Gerdts. “North America is so far free of it, but it is a big concern and threat,” he explains. African swine fever leads to haemorrhagic fever and death of infected animals. Endemic in many parts of Africa, the disease is caused by infection with a large DNA virus. Vaccines are currently not available. The first non-government facility in Canada to gain regulatory approval to study the virus, VIDO-InterVac is working with collaborators to develop a viral vector vaccine that incorporates several African swine fever genes.
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It was also the first in the country to establish an animal model for testing of vaccines, antivirals and therapeutics.
The Perimeter Institute puts Canada at the
of theoretical physics
Andre Renard, Dunlap Institute; CHIME
BY JANA MANOLAKOS BIOLAB BUSINESS SPRING 2020
hen he took the helm as Director of the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario, last year, Robert Myers urged his team of intrepid theoretical physicists to “be bold, be adventurous, be audacious in our aspirations to advance humanity through exceptional science.” And they took up the call. At the Institute, considered the world’s largest research hub for theoretical physics, they ask big questions – and gather big data. It’s no longer just about chalk marks on a blackboard. As computers advance and numbers grow with the emergence of new algorithms, information and ideas, so does the need for computational power to manage the onslaught of data. It’s a problem that theoretical physicists at Perimeter are facing head on. Foundational theoretical physics is a cornerstone of modern quantitative science, on which so much else rests. The field advances the fundamental understanding of the universe, and triggers new technologies. Solar cells, machine learning and artificial intelligence, GPS,
REELING IN DATA A deluge of data was gathered by 50 scientists from Perimeter, McGill, the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia and the National Research Council of Canada, through their work on the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME). Located in BC’s Okanagan Valley, CHIME is the first new Canadian telescope in decades. Last year, its powerful scans helped scientists get a better handle on detecting fast radio bursts (FRBs) – a mysterious cosmic phenomenon. In the course of scanning the universe for these barely detectable bursts, CHIME unleashed a tsunami of information for researchers to sift through. “It’s too much to save to disk, so you only get to look at it during a little window of time when it’s in memory,” explains Kendrick Smith, a leading cosmologist on the Perimeter team. “You need big supercomputers on site, doing real-time processing for every analysis we want to do – including FRBs.” With a first PhD in math, a second in cosmology and a stint as a software engineer in between, Smith applied physics, data analysis, statistics and pure mathematics to find the signals in the wave of data generated by CHIME. He developed several
In 2019, Perimeter’s research community included:
365 scientists 512 scientific visitors
Buchalter Cosmology Prize awarded to Perimeter Institute for sixth consecutive year The Buchalter Cosmology Prize is an annual prize that supports the development of new theories, observations or methods to help illuminate the puzzle of cosmic expansion. It recognizes groundbreaking theoretical, observational or experimental work in cosmology. Researchers at the Perimeter Institute have won the prize annually since its launch in 2014. This year, it went to Perimeter Associate Faculty member Niayesh Afshordi for his paper, “Echoes from the Abyss,” which examines a black hole created by the merger of two neutron stars. The Buchalter judging panel called it “a bold and innovative step towards understanding quantum gravitational phenomena.” In the classical version of Einstein’s general relativity, black holes are surrounded by event horizons – the famous “points of no return” from which nothing, not even light, can escape. However, many aspects of these mysterious phenomena appear not to mesh with quantum mechanics, which describes physics at the particle level. This is why black holes have become “labs,” in a sense, for finding ways to reconcile general relativity and quantum mechanics, the two pillars of modern physics. The quantum nature of event horizons (which appear to contain all of the information within black holes) is still shrouded in mystery. One branch of research aims to unravel the mystery by studying how ripples of spacetime, called gravitational waves, might scatter off this quantum structure, leading to delayed repeating “echoes” during the creation of black holes, which can happen after two neutron stars collide. Afshordi and his co-author Jahed Abedi (Albert Einstein Institute) found the first statistically significant detection of these echoes in gravitational wave data by LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory). The data were obtained one second after LIGO’s first detected merger of two neutron stars on August 17, 2017. “If correct, this would radically alter the classical picture of black holes and will be the first direct signature of quantum effects in gravity,” said Afshordi in a news release issued by the Perimeter Institute. Afshordi says he had his colleagues dedicate their work to the memories of late scientists Stephen Hawking and Joe Polchinski, both of whom championed the black hole information paradox “and much of theoretical physics as we know it.” The annual prize was created in 2014 by Dr. Ari Buchalter, an entrepreneur with a background in astrophysics.
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wireless technologies and diagnostic imagery – they are all rooted in physics. Housed in a 120,000-sq.ft. ultramodern building on the shore of Silver Lake, the Institute – which was founded in 1999 – has added training and outreach to its research mission. With costs covered by a public-private sector arrangement that includes funding from both the Ontario and federal governments, the nonprofit ran on a budget of $33 million last year. Myers admits, “It’s astonishing how much of the research conducted at Perimeter today would have been impossible, even unthinkable, 20 or 10 or even five years ago.” By all accounts, the numbers are impressive. Last year, Perimeter’s research community included 365 scientists and 512 scientific visitors. In the last 13 years, 1,000 young scientists received training and last year alone, 459 papers were published. “Perimeter is an environment unlike any other, in which researchers from around the globe collaborate across disciplines in search of profound new truths,” Myers adds. From exploring the infinitesimal to seeing the infinite, this work generates vast amounts of data; but storing and analyzing it has challenges.
Medical researchers might test a cancer drug and find high rates of recovery for women over the age of 60. Is that because the drug works, or because women over 60 have a higher likelihood of spontaneous remission?
game-changing algorithms for sorting and analyzing the data, then implemented this new mathematics as software. The result was an FRB search that ran 100 times faster than anyone expected, and turned the CHIME telescope into the world’s best FRB hunter. Smith says, “We basically turned high-precision radio astronomy into a software problem.” His work on this project earned him the 2020 New Horizons in Physics prize. In another project, Perimeter faculty member Robert Spekkens and postdoctoral researchers Elie Wolfe and Tobias Fritz have used approaches inspired by fundamental quantum physics to create a new tool for identifying cause and effect. It’s central to the work of researchers, and it’s not as easy as it sounds. Take health data, for example. Medical researchers might test a cancer drug and find high rates of recovery for women over the age of 60. Is that because the drug works, or because women over 60 have a higher likelihood of spontaneous remission? Without careful analysis, the data can’t tell you which explanation is the right one. Dr. Spekkens and his colleagues have introduced a new framework that helps researchers drill down to the minutiae of cause and effect to gain greater accuracy. This type of thinking, some of it algorithmic in nature, has contributed to artificial intelligence (AI) and the understanding of complex systems. BIOLAB BUSINESS SPRING 2020
It’s something that Roger Melko, the Director of the Perimeter Institute Quantum Intelligence Lab (PIQuIL, affectionately pronounced “Pickle”) and his team are taking forward as they explore the use of AI algorithms in quantum physics. Researchers at the lab – located off-site in Waterloo’s Quantum Valley – routinely work with real data from quantum computing laboratories and collaborate with colleagues in such institutions as the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence, the University of Waterloo, the National Research Council and Canadian startup 1Qbit. Melko, who also holds the Canada Research Chair in Computational Many-Body Physics, explains, “What makes this lab so unique is its focus on fundamental research and quantum technologies. We perform scientific research at the intersection of quantum physics and artificial intelligence, and produce open-source codes that can be used by groups, labs and industries around the world.” It is at this very point of convergence between physics and quantum technology that the race to build quantum computers has heated up. A quantum computer harnesses quantum mechanics to deliver huge leaps forward in processing power, even beyond that of today’s supercomputers. Quantum computers and the data they generate, using subatomic particles, are capable of untold discoveries, from new materials to new vaccines. As computers advance, so does the need for safety, according to Perimeter’s Michele Mosca, a leading cryptologist who specializes in cyber-immunity for high-performance computers. In addressing the federal government’s Public Safety Committee last year, he warned that current means of encrypting data would not withstand attacks by quantum computers. “Canada is actually a world leader in quantum science, in cryptography, in quantum-safe cryptography – by which I mean, cryptography designed to be safe against quantum attacks in cybersecurity,” he explains. While large-scale quantum computers are still several years into the future, Mosca sees value in preparing for when they dawn. And when they do, the Perimeter Institute will be there.
Life Sciences Ontario (LSO) announces the launch of Year 2 of the Life Sciences Ontario Scholarship Program.
This scholarship program awards students studying in fields linked to the life sciences sector with a $4000 award and a unique one-on-one mentorship with an experienced professional. According to “Accelerating Prosperity: The Life Sciences Sector in Ontario”, a report commissioned by LSO and conducted by Deloitte, Ontario’s life sciences sector faces challenges sustained to its growth, despite its notable economic contribution. Ontario’s science graduates face an unemployment rate of 17.9%. To help address this gap, LSO launched the Life Sciences Ontario Scholarship Program, where undergraduate students in Ontario will receive an award and are paired with an experience professional from a sponsoring company. Through this mentorship, students will have an opportunity to develop leadership, communication and receive coaching from experienced professionals within the life sciences sector. Students will be able to stay up to date on current developments and trends and will have exposure to multiple areas within a company, offering insight and knowledge.
“Applying to the LSO Scholarship has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in my undergraduate experience so far. The scholarship has not only helped me financially, but more importantly, the mentorship component has allowed me to form invaluable connections in the Life Sciences community. I have been able to develop a good relationship with my mentor from GSK, who has helped expose me to various careers in the industry. This scholarship has enriched my education by expanding my network and exposing me to various careers that may lie ahead.” - Emily Panousis, LSO Award Recipient 2019. “The LSO scholarship program allows us to Invest in future Life Sciences leaders while at the same time providing mentorship to students passionate about health and making a difference for Ontarians.” – John Haslam, Vice President & General Manager, Horizon Therapeutics Canada
If you are a life sciences company that would like to participate as a sponsoring company in this program, please contact: CHARLINI NICHOLAPILLAI firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW DEVICE HELPS DETECT COVID-19 STATE OF THE ART LAB CHAIR KEEPS STAFF HAPPY AND PRODUCTIVE There’s a lot to be said about a good lab chair and Bimos, one of Europe’s leading manufacturer of the industrial and laboratory chairs, knows this well. Among an array of sophisticated laboratory chairs, Bimos’ Labsit offers several bells and whistles. Boasting a hygienic design, compact dimensions, ergonomic construction and user comfort, the Labsit masters all the challenges faced by the modern laboratory chair. In addition to being suitable for cleanrooms in air purity class 3, acc. to EN ISO 14644-1, it is GMP compatible, has a flexible backrest with a handle and comes in several colours. www.bimos.com
Thermo Scientific recently introduced its AcroMetrix Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) RNA Control (RUO). Its the company’s latest quality control product to monitor and validate COVID-19 molecular diagnostic tests in research. The control is prepared by formulating synthetic RNA transcripts that contain highly unique N, S, E and Orf1ab regions of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) genome into a proprietary buffer. Two vials of SARS-CoV-2 specific RNA are included in the kit at concentrations that will result low positive and ultra-low positive in most commonly used Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) based Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) nucleic acid testing methods. The RNA is ready for reverse transcription, PCR amplification and detection. www.thermofisher.com/covid-19-contro
IMPROVING RESEARCH PRODUCTIVITY IN THE LAB PROMOCHROM’S SYSTEM BOOSTS TRACE ANALYSIS BIOLAB BUSINESS SPRING 2020
The latest addition to the PromoChrom family of extraction systems, the SPE-04, offers multi-functional solid phase extraction (SPE) through a flexible and versatile sample preparation platform. It’s designed for automatic cleanup of biological, food and environmental samples. This online SPE system is fast and uses much less sample and organic solvents; it can achieve similar detection limits as its offline counterpart, but with just one to two percent of the sample volume. The SPE04 can perform offline/online solid phase extraction, normal sample injection, and online derivatization with controlled temperature. www.promochrom.com
MilliporeSigma recently launched a new cloud-based digital laboratory informatics solution designed to save time and improve data quality and traceability. The LANEXO Lab Inventory, Safety and Compliance Management System, uses radio-frequency identification labels which autoregister open dates and calculate expiry dates. Through this digital data capture, the LANEXO™ System rapidly documents lab reagent data in real time. Digitalized inventory, expiration and storage monitoring reduces human error and safety risks and improves the reliability and traceability of compliance documentation. Each reagent, including in-house preparations, can be instantly matched to a full audit report. The system, which includes both mobile and web applications, allows for easy reagent identity checks and provides automatic alerts, helping scientists to avoid using expired reagents and minimizing experimentation error. www.sigmaaldrich.com/Lanexo
NEW GAS ANALYZER DEBUTS This spring, Bruker unveiled its new analytical systems for biopharma and forensics applications, as well as for industrial process control and materials science research. Among these devices, the Bruker OMEGA 5 FTIR Gas Analyzer is a new Fourier Transform Infrare analyzer that allows for automated, high-precision and real-time monitoring of gas concentrations even in complex gas mixtures. It is designed for various applications like process surveillance in production lines, investigation of catalytic processes, determination of gas impurities and scientific research. OMEGA 5 is equipped with a thermoelectrically cooled detector to measure concentrations even in the ppb range without the need for liquid nitrogen. www.bruker.com/omega5
Analytik Jena has introduced its new elemental analyzer, the multi EA 5100, for sulfur, nitrogen, chlorine and carbon in liquid, solid or gaseous samples. The device relies on a new universal sample feed system to analyze varied samples more quickly and precisely, even without pre-treatment. With just a few clicks, ready-made methods can be selected in the software that comply with the regulations and standards of the oil and gas and chemical industries. The new analyzer is mainly used in quality and control laboratories in industrial environments as well as in research and contract laboratories. www.analytik-jena.com
Agilent Technologies Inc. has announced the launch of its Vaya Raman raw material identity verification system. Itâ€™s a handheld instrument that accelerates quality control testing in the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industries. Vaya verifies raw material identity through unopened transparent and non-transparent packaging, testing more containers for the same cost by reducing the need for sampling. Incoming goods can be tested quickly in the warehouse on receipt, reducing operator time and sample-handling booth usage. Testing through sealed containers also avoids handler exposure to high potency APIs and maintains the shelf life of sterile contents, helping to prevent unnecessary waste. www.agilent.com
FLOW WORKSTATION ENSURES ANAEROBIC CONDITIONS The A135 Anaerobic Workstation is the latest innovation in workstation technology from Don Whitley Scientific. It is specifically designed to maintain strict anaerobic conditions within a controlled environment and provides excellent conditions for the processing, incubation and examination of samples without exposure to atmospheric oxygen. The workstation operates from two gas supplies for the most cost-effective running conditions. A large internal working area can easily house equipment such as centrifuges and homogenisers. The company carried out tests to confirm the integral HEPA filtered laminar flow system meets accepted standards in protecting the working area from particulate and microbial contamination. www.bruker.com/omega5
LIST OF ADVERTISERS & WEBSITES Eppendorf Page 2.................................................www.eppendorf.com/sciencecounts CPDN Page 24............................................................................................ www.cpdn.ca LSO Page 30...................................................www.lifesciencesontario.ca/scholarship/
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Editor's Note Keeping up with the waves of change caused by COVID-19 could be a full-time job – but one that few people would want. The impact of the virus has been eye-opening, especially for those who rarely considered the issue of food security. Typical concerns such as extreme weather and crop disease usually occur on a regional or sometimes national scale; instead, the entire world was forced to confront its collective vulnerabilities, especially as essential services and the international supply Popi Bowman chain were strained by the sudden halt of life as we knew it. The reality hit home in mid-March as MANAGING EDITOR grocery stores in Canada, and throughout the world, showed that public awareness had shifted to a sense of panic. Staples such as flour, pasta and beans were sold out. Many people were surprised to discover how quickly our way of life could be disrupted. Now, hopefully the worst is behind us, but what COVID-19 has taught many people (among many things) is they should never take food for granted. The upside is a new wave of interest in community gardens and other food security programs that will ensure we can weather the next storm, virus or otherwise. Watch for our next issue, with an expanded Canadian Food Business section that will look into the current state of the industry, and how it is rapidly changing with our changing world.
Plant protein production gets a big boost A recent survey of 1,505 Canadians by Angus Reid and Dalhousie University reveals that, during the pandemic lockdown:
ordered food from their favourite restaurant: 64 percent ordered food at least every two weeks, and about 29 percent ordered from restaurants at least once a week
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In June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced almost $100 million of funding towards the new Winnipeg facility for Merit Functional Foods, a company that was established last year in a joint venture by Burcon NutraScience and three veteran food industry executives. The new company’s high-tech, 94,000-sq.ft. facility is expected to be functional by the end of 2020, becoming the first and only commercial operation that is capable of producing food-grade canola and pea protein. Merit Functional Foods and Burcon NutraScience announced an agreement with Nestlé in January this year, indicating that Merit would supply novel proteins for use in plant-based foods and beverages. Burcon uses a proprietary, patented extraction and purification technology to produce plant protein, backed by more than two decades of development; the company holds more than 270 patents. For more information about these companies, visit meritfoods.com and burcon.ca.
of respondents between the ages of 18 to 34 years old ordered from restaurants, the highest rate among age groups Depending on the province, a range of
37% 56% (Saskatchewan) to
(B.C.) percent of respondents intend to avoid restaurants due to public health concerns
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Featured in the recent Canadian Food Business enewsletter (visit the website to sign up) Heart & Stroke predicts that over the next 25 years, sugary drink consumption in Canada will be responsible for: • More than four million cases of overweight and obesity • Up to 1 million cases of type 2 diabetes • 300,000 Canadians with ischemic heart disease • 100,000 cases of cancer • Almost 40,000 strokes • Over 63,000 deaths
Surplus Food Rescue Program launched to support local initiatives
Responsible agriculture meets innovative greenhouse technology
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visiting Lufa Farms Anjou, 2017
Lufa Farms is set to unveil the world’s largest urban rooftop farm – the size of three football fields. Located in St-Laurent near Montreal, the greenhouse is Lufa’s fourth commercial rooftop farm. Built on an existing industrial building, the greenhouse features double-paned glass, two energy-saving screens, on-site composting and a process for capturing rainwater in a closed-loop irrigation system. “This rooftop greenhouse will double our growing capacity and allow us to feed two percent of Montreal with fresh, local vegetables. It’s an unbelievable step forward for hyper-local, sustainable urban farming,” says Mohamed Hage, cofounder and CEO.
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• Over $77 million in funding for the Emergency Processing COVID-19 caused significant disruptions to areas of Canada’s Fund (EPF), whose objectives include helping companies food system, as it forced the near closure of the restaurant and implement changes to safeguard the health and safety of hospitality industry in Canada and the United States. Some workers and their families producers across Canada are left with surpluses of quality • $100 million for food banks and local food organizations to food, while increased demand from grocery stores alone is help Canadians experiencing food insecurity not expected to clear the inventory before it spoils. At the • $25 million through Nutrition North to ensure food security same time, the pandemic has increased the demand for food for Canada’s most vulnerable from food banks and other food security organizations in • Travel exemptions for all temporary foreign workers, communities across Canada. including seasonal agricultural workers and fish/seafood To help remedy this food supply crisis, the Honourable workers Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, • $50 million in funding for the Mandatory Isolation Support recently announced the $50 million Surplus Food Rescue Program for Temporary Foreign Workers to help cover the Program, which aims to move surplus food commodities such incremental costs associated with the mandatory 14-day as potatoes, seafood and meat through the food system as isolation period imposed on visitors to Canada. efficiently as possible to help vulnerable Canadians. Eligible applicants for program funding include for-profit and not-for-profit organizations (industry groups, processors, distributors, food serving agencies, regional and municipal governments and agencies, including schools or school boards) that can demonstrate an ability to handle the full logistical requirements for acquiring, processing, transporting and ensuring shelf-life stability of surplus commodities and delivery to organizations serving vulnerable populations. Applications are being accepted until July 31 or until all funds are committed, whichever “The Government of Canada is working around the comes first; first priority will be given clock to respond to the impacts of the COVID-19 on to products that require immediate farmers, agri-food businesses and all Canadians. The attention due to their high perishability pandemic has caused significant fluctuations in food (potatoes, fresh fish, eggs, etc.). For more information, visit: agr.gc.ca. demand and supply, resulting in surplus food across This funding announcement builds on our country. We are working hard to help manage other measures the federal government and redirect this surplus food to those who need it recently introduced to keep Canada’s during this difficult time.” agri-workforce strong, including: – The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
Avocado-based nutraceutical comes to market
Fungal pathogens pose great risk to crops
Metavo is a new product created by SP Nutraceuticals and researcher Dr. Paul Spagnuolo, in collaboration with a team of nutritional scientists from the University of Guelph, who identified and isolated a powerful bioactive in avocados. Avocatin B (AvoB) helps maintain normal blood glucose levels and supports healthy metabolism. It is particularly beneficial for those who are looking to manage blood sugar levels, and those who are pre-diabetic, obese or overweight. “AvoB has been scientifically proven to target a root cause of ineffective metabolism which leads to high blood sugar,” says Dr. Spagnuolo. Metavo is available in convenient onthe-go powder sachets and soon-to-be-released capsules. Each lot of avocado powder used to formulate Metavo is tested to ensure a standardized dose of AvoB. metavo.com. Dr. Will Kay (co-author) with Prof. Sarah Gurr, establishing banana plants for the group's work at Exeter on Panama disease
Dr. Spagnuolo in the lab CANADIAN FOOD BUSINESS SPRING 2020
Research at the University of Exeter in the U.K. has a strong emphasis on understanding fungal plant disease and in developing new ways to protect crops. In an article published by Nature Food this spring, a consortium of world-leading Exeter-based fungal researchers, led by Professor Sarah Gurr and Dr. Helen Fones (UKRI Fellow), has merged their expertise to highlight the threat of fungal disease for food security. “Over the past centuries, crop diseases have led to the starvation of the people, the ruination of economies and the downfall of governments,” Professor Gurr says. “Today, the threat to plants of fungal infection outstrips that posed by bacterial and viral diseases combined. Indeed, fungal and oomycete diseases have been increasing in severity and … now pose a very serious threat to global food security.”
World Economic Forum: Class of 2020 Young Scientists In 2008, the World Economic Forum (WEF) created the Young Scientists Community, to engage leaders with science and the role it plays in society. This year, WEF recognized 25 exceptional researchers from 14 countries, for being at the forefront of scientific discovery. One Canadian was included: Jennifer Ronholm, an assistant professor at McGill University, is working to strengthen the microbiome of agricultural animals to resist infections in the absence of antibiotics, with the aim of reducing the spread of antimicrobial resistance. She is among 14 women recognized by the WEF in this year's cohort.
COVID-19 hits the Canadian food industry
the coronavirus pandemic swept across the world in the first few months of 2020, an unprecedented shutdown impacted shops, restaurants and agricultural businesses, along with transport. By March 21, every province in Canada was called into a state of emergency. During this period, restaurants were ordered to pivot to takeout and delivery only or close completely, leaving business owners scrambling for survival and thousands of restaurant workers facing unemployment. Grocery stores quickly went into the first phase of pandemic pandemonium: shelves were cleared of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, while shoppers wandered aisles filling their carts, unsure of how long to stockpile for. While the country slowly reopens, shops are seeing shortages of yeast and flour, but not much more. The food supply chain has proven itself remarkably resilient. Many restaurants kept themselves afloat through contactless delivery and curbside pickup, some even adding pantry essentials and delivery food boxes to their offerings. Society has settled into a â€œnew normal,â€? but uncertainty remains close ahead of us: The agricultural sector is reeling from a shortage of temporary foreign workers, while outbreaks are impacting both large-scale meat-packing facilities and small family greenhouse operators. Across the country, the unemployment rate continues to balloon while the death toll increases daily, and healthcare workers continue to bravely plant themselves in the line of fire and are paying with their lives. Moreover, the larger question of just how much society will have changed from this global pandemic remains unanswerable.
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By Jessica Wei
As the lockdowns continued to stretch into May, restaurants had to think creatively.
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According to 2017 figures from Statistics Canada, the average Canadian household spent around $2,593 (or just over 30 percent) of its annual food budget for meals outside the home, in restaurants, cafeterias and cafes. As nationwide lockdowns have decimated the restaurant industry, that money was rerouted back to the grocery stores, which were scrambling to keep up with demand – particularly in that early period, when consumers were panic-buying across the country. “Holy cow, the supply chains had to adapt fast to restaurants and cafeterias and food courts closing, and all that extra food being purchased through grocery stores,” says Evan Fraser, the director of the Arrell Food Institute and Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security. “And it has revealed that actually our dining habits are very different at grocery stores than in restaurants.” Potatoes, usually a reliably popular commodity, have seen a massive hit. Two-thirds of the potatoes purchased in Canada are usually eaten at restaurants, and this year, potato farmers in Manitoba alone are sitting on a reported 254 million kilograms of potatoes that are unsold. Meanwhile, yeast and flour have been flying off the shelves, due to more time spent at home and an increased appetite for comfort carbs. “There’s a fundamental shift going on, not only where we’re buying our food but also in some key ingredients of what we’re buying,” says Fraser.
Before COVID-19, commercial food service in Canada was a $93-billion industry and on the rise. But after the government-
mandated lockdowns were announced, 800,000 restaurant workers were laid off across the country throughout March, and business owners themselves were facing the uncertainty of how long these closures would last. As the lockdowns continued to stretch into May, restaurants had to think creatively. Some expanded their offerings from take-out and delivery to offering pantry essentials, prepackaged goods, hard-to-find wines and even produce and specialty meats. Guy Rawlings, the owner of Montgomery’s Restaurant in Toronto, maintained his relationships with suppliers and producers by pivoting to a delivery food box model. Rawlings and his wife Kim, the restaurant coowner, had always wanted to offer a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box, and the lockdowns shifted the plan into high gear. “When we realized it was going to be a much longer break, we just went for it immediately,” Rawlings explains. The Grassroots Box is a customizable box with goods from producers that the restaurant has maintained long-standing relationships with. The food box was met with immediate demand, and a growing waiting list. But there’s also a learning curve to such a dramatic pivot. “Little things that nobody ever thinks about, like the packaging of the boxes and how much space it takes,” says Rawlings. “We’re reorganizing our restaurant, moving fridges, moving shelving, so each process is way more efficient.” They plan on continuing the delivery food box even after reopening. But other businesses have not been able to weather the transition as nimbly as the Rawlings. Paul DiGiammateo owns a wholesale food distribution company, primarily servicing
Over the course of an ordinary May in Ontario, harvesting asparagus would begin, and vegetable crops would be planted in fields across the province. While that was underway this year (during an unseasonably cold spring), farmers were reducing their planting acreage, guarding themselves against a growing season that will see a vastly reduced labour force, new social distancing measures and the creeping fear of an outbreak of COVID-19 in their operations. “I think growers are looking at it and thinking it may be a bigger risk to plant a full crop this year, we might try to do 50 or 70 percent of the crop,” says Bill George, chair of the Ontario Fruits and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA). “[There’s] lots of anxiety and stress put on the producer.” The shortage of temporary foreign workers stemmed from an announcement made on March 16 by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that barred all foreign nationals from entering Canada. By March 24, that ban was lifted to allow temporary foreign workers, provided that they follow quarantine measures for 14 days following arrival. After the ban was lifted, about 20
percent less temporary foreign workers arrived at the beginning of the planting season. “We made good strides, but we are concerned about Visa processing delays in Mexico especially, which could lead to a shortfall of workers ahead of fall harvest,” says Stefan Larass, the policy adviser for the OFVGA. Another well-known problem is the issue of COVID-19 outbreaks at food processing facilities. Meat processing plants have been severely impacted; in Alberta, Cargill Inc.’s processing plant in High River and the JBS plant in Brooks were both temporarily shut down due to hundreds of confirmed cases. These two plants account for 70 percent of the country’s meat processing operations. According to a statement from the Canadian Cattlemen's Association (CCA), the outbreaks and reduction in operations created a backlog of 100,000 head of cattle waiting for processing. Economic forecast figures from the CCA estimated that the revenue losses could surpass $500 million by the end of June, impacting 60,000 beef operations across the country.
The shortage of temporary foreign workers stemmed from an announcement made on March 16 by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that barred all foreign nationals from entering Canada. By March 24, that ban was lifted to allow temporary foreign workers, provided that they follow quarantine measures for 14 days following arrival. After the ban was lifted, about 20 percent less temporary foreign workers arrived at the beginning of the planting season.
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restaurant clients. His business also specializes in imported goods from Italy. (The country’s lockdowns called into question the crucial promotion and distribution season for imported gourmet goods.) DiGiammateo says his business as a distributor dropped by about 70 percent, with the remaining 30 percent coming from restaurants offering take-out and delivery. Much of his business was from large event banquet halls, ramping up orders for the upcoming wedding season – which was effectively cancelled. He cut his staff of about 20 people to six employees. And as the restaurants they supply to close, the unpaid invoices continue to mount. “They’re just saying, look, they were working on a monthto-month, week-to-week basis, and once their revenue stream stopped, they just sort of froze,” DiGiammateo says. “So we’re just not getting paid right now.”
The post-pandemic future is hard to predict for many industries, including food supply and demand. In the coming months, Bill George of the OFVGA anticipates higher produce prices due to reduced crop output, and limited vegetable selection on the shelves. Evan Fraser also predicts higher prices in meat due to the backlog and limited operating capacity of the meat processing plants. “There, you’ve got an effect on the people who are on the plant floors, you’ve got an effect on the farmers, and then ultimately, you’ve got an effect on the consumers,” he says. However, food producers and advocates believe that COVID-19 has revealed holes in the food supply system that could lead to a significant correction. In light of unreliable global systems, there’s a renewed urgency for solutions to shorten and localize the supply chain. “I think there will be tremendous interest in technologies and processes to shorten supply chains,” says Fraser. “I have no doubt at all that there will be an increase in that alternative food movement – the buy-local movement, community-supported
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agriculture, the farmer’s market, the direct marketing thing – and it will be enabled and amplified by technology e-commerce platforms, which are suddenly becoming more acceptable.” One solution may be in vertical farming and indoor growing, a market that was steadily increasing in the last few years but is predicted to shoot into a $12.77-billion-dollar market by 2026, according to Statista records. The pandemic’s impact on meat processing plants also is likely to impact meat consumption. Over the last few years, Canada already was seeing a decrease in meat consumption due to broader availability of meat alternatives and concerns over climate change. Evan Fraser is predicting an even faster decline due to rising prices of beef and skepticism over safety. “One of the things I’m anticipating is that COVID isn’t creating new trends, it’s actually accelerating trends that we’re on,” says Fraser. “Trends towards increased automation, trends towards increased transparency technology, trends towards increased alternative protein products. My expectation, or anticipation, is that COVID will push the pedal on those.”
Building on increased consumer interest in plantbased products and plant proteins, Roquette has introduced Nutralys L85M, a new specialty ingredient that expands the company’s existing line of Nutralys pea proteins. Beyond tastes and new textures that allow for delicious culinary experiences, Nutralys L85M enables food developers to create plant-based meats with less salt in order to meet consumers’ demands and expectations when managing their daily sodium intake. roquette.com
Tingley has introduced a new line of knee boots for workers in the food industry. The CSA Green Patch Pulsar Safety Toe PVC boot features a grade-one protective toe cap, a puncture-resistant midsole and is ESR hazard rated, with excellent slip-resistance on both wet-clean and wet-contaminated surfaces. Pulsar boots are 100 percent liquid-proof and provide resistance to a wide range of chemicals, including acids, alkalies, fats and oils. Patent-pending innovations include a calf-relief expansion gusset for more calf comfort than ordinary boots. Tread wear indicators show when half the treads have worn away. A contoured, cushioned insole absorbs shock and enhances comfort. tingleyrubber.ca
GASTROGRAPH AI USES ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE TO SAVE TIME IN FOOD AND BEVERAGE MARKET RESEARCH Gastrograph AI is the first artificial intelligence platform to understand human sensory perception. It was designed by Analytical Flavor Systems to help food and beverage companies create better, more targeted and healthy offerings for consumers. Now, these companies can quickly make sense of critical aspects of their products to make important decisions in the products’ development. With Gastrograph AI, product developers no longer have to wait days or weeks for consumer panels or market research to complete because the platform quickly predicts which cohorts of consumers will like their product and how it compares to other products on the market. gastrograph.com
INNOVATIVE HAND-WASHING REMINDER AND TIMER Kitchen Brains has introduced the Scrub Buddy timer to support foodservice operators, food processing plants and other businesses that require frequent hand washing. Easy to use, each Scrub Buddy alerts up to eight employees every 30 minutes, or at a preferred interval, to wash their hands. It then times each hand wash for 20 seconds, as recommended by health experts, after which it automatically resets for the next 30-minute reminder. Employees receive both audio and visual alerts displayed on Scrub Buddy’s LCD screen. It’s durable, needs no installation and runs on four AA batteries. Magnetic backing will attach to most metal surfaces or the unit can be affixed permanently with an optional bracket. kitchenbrains.com
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NEW INGREDIENT HELPS MEAT ALTERNATIVES RETAIN TASTE AND TEXTURE, WHILE REDUCING SODIUM
A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION WITH NEW SAFETY BOOT
MOMENTS IN TIME
CANARIE connects Canadian researchers BY JANA MANOLAKOS
In 1993, the Canadian Government and the private sector launched a national network, the Canadian Network for the Advancement of Research, Industry and Education (CANARIE), designed to help scientists and academics link vast amounts of research data across Canada and the world. A year later in 1994, the World Wide Web followed, bringing internet to the masses. CANARIE aimed to play a key role in Canada’s emerging and evolving internet, and it continues to this day, across an impressive 31,000 kilometres of coast-tocoast ultra-high-speed research and education network. One million researchers, scientists and students at over 2,000 Canadian institutions, including universities, colleges, research institutes, hospitals and government laboratories, have access to CANARIE’s high-speed network. Twelve provincial and territorial network partners, together with CANARIE, collectively form Canada’s National Research and Education Network. In addition to its network, which operates at speeds up to 100 Gigabits per second (enough to download a twohour HD video in 4/10 of a second), CANARIE’s research software service supports and funds the development of software tools. Through its Digital Accelerator for Innovation and Research (DAIR) program, small businesses and entrepreneurs gain access to its free cloud-computing resources and advanced networking to boost commercialization. CANARIE also manages and operates the Canadian Access Federation, an access management environment that provides users with local and international WiFi connectivity and content. It also supports research data management (RDM) workflow – data creation, storage, access and reuse,
BIOLAB BUSINESS SPRING 2020
with different software components and tools. In 2016 the network was expected to transmit close to 258,000 terabytes of data, or the equivalent of 67,500,000 HD movies that would take over 15,000 years to watch. Two short years later, that number grew to 313,000 terabytes. Last year, the Canadian government announced an additional $137 million to support CANARIE’s activities for the next four years, with a mandate to focus on network evolution and initiatives that ensure Canada’s researchers and entrepreneurs realize the benefits of cloud technology, big data and global research collaborations. “This is an exciting new chapter for CANARIE,” says Jim Ghadbane, president and CEO. “Over the course of our 26-year history, we have evolved to meet the changing needs of Canadians, and we look forward to the next stage of our evolution. Going forward, we will continue to learn from and build on the successful collaborations of our current mandate to deliver worldclass infrastructure and services to the Canadians that are pushing the boundaries of discovery and innovation.” The renewal of CANARIE’s mandate is a key part of the Government of Canada’s Digital Research Infrastructure (DRI) Strategy, and is the result of a community effort to highlight the need for continued investment in Canada’s essential digital research infrastructure – high-speed networks, advanced research computing, software tools and research data management – that enable Canada to lead in a wide range of scientific domains.
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