Highlights of UBC media coverage in January 2011

UBC Research

Shrinking glaciers

Glaciers in the European Alps could shrink by 75 per cent by the end of the century, according to new research conducted by scientists from UBC that was picked up by The Guardian, Agence France Presse, the Vancouver Sun and others.

The study concludes thatmountain glaciers and ice caps are projected to lose 15-27 per cent of their volume by 2100. The researchers argue this will result in “substantial impacts” on regional water availability, as well as a rise in sea levels.

“Many small glaciers will actually disappear by the end of 21st century,” says glaciologist Valentina Radic, a professor at UBC and the lead researcher of the study. She noted that small glaciers are responsible for a substantial portion of sea level rise.

Gene discovery

The Vancouver Sun, the Province, News 1130 and others reported that researchers at UBC and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute have identified the gene that destroys brain cells in both Alzheimer’s patients and people with Down syndrome.
Dr. Weihong Song, the Canada Research Chair in Alzheimer’s disease and UBC professor of psychiatry who led the team, said the discovery opens the way to find a drug that could forestall dementia in people with either condition.
“It will likely take years to find a therapy or drug that could block the spread of the disease, and that’s our next target,” he said.

Mysterious salmon infection

Large numbers of sockeye salmon are dying in the Fraser River before spawning because of a mysterious virus, suggests new research from UBC and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans that appeared in stories by Wired, Reuters, the Globe and Mail, Postmedia News and others.
The new study suggests that the fish that die en route to their spawning beds have a common “genomic signature”—or a pattern that shows changes have taken place in an array of genes activated to fight infection.
“It may not be a virus … but the hypothesis is that it is,” said Tony Farrell, research chair at UBC’s Department of Zoology.

Photograph“We need to find out if it is a virus – and if it is picked up somewhere, we need to find out where.”
Scott Hinch, of the Department of Forest Sciences at UBC, said work is already under way to try to determine where in their life stage the fish get the infection.

Scientific debate

Game changer

CBC wrote that a blog post by UBC microbiologist Rosmary Redfield, critiquing a paper by NASA scientists claiming they’d found a bacteria that could live off arsenic, was the biggest Canadian Science story of the year in 2010.

Redfield criticized the paper’s methodologies on her blog, bringing the scientific debate to the public.

CNN, the New York Times, the Independent, MSNBC and others reported on Redfield’s blog posting and her doubts about the results described in the NASA paper, which had been published in the journal Science.

Planetary doubt

Wired, Scientific American, Canadian Press, CTV, CBC and others picked up on a debate about the existence of a planet found orbiting in the habitable zone of another star. Using the exact same data that identified the small planet, UBC professor emeritus and astronomer Phil Gregory found no significant sign of the planet.

Using Bayesian statistics, Gregory questions last year’s discovery of a planet known as Gliese 581g.
“I decided that I would have a go at the Gliese 58 g data because I bring to the table the unique system of Bayesian statistics,’’ he said.