In the news

Highlights of UBC media coverage in April 2012


Jellyfish on the rise

Jellyfish populations are exploding in the majority of the world’s coastal ecosystems, according to a new UBC study. The jellyfish interfere with human activities by choking seawater intake valves and drainpipes, clogging fishermen’s nets, and stinging swimmers.

“There has been anecdotal evidence that jellyfish were on the rise in recent decades but there hasn’t been a global study that gathered together all the existing data, until now,” Lucas Brotz, a PhD student with the Sea Around Us Project at UBC and lead author of the study, told the Vancouver Sun. The Atantic Wire, the National Post and several other Postmedia News outlets also reported on the story.

New perfume product f rom trees

Secreted by sperm whales to protect their digestive systems, ambergris, often referred to as whale vomit, is used as a fixative agent in high-end perfumes to make fragrances last longer. A team of UBC scientists, led by Joerg Bohlmann, identified a gene that
encodes for cis-abienol, a component of fir trees that can serve the same purpose as ambergris in perfumes, reported the New York Times, the Telegraph, ABC, the Globe and Mail and others. “We’ve now discovered that a gene from balsam fir is much more efficient at producing such natural compounds, which could make production of this bio-product less expensive and more sustainable,” Bohlmann said.

World happiness

The first World Happiness Report was recently completed by UBC’s John Helliwell, Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and Richard Layard of the London School of Economics, reported The Economist, the New York Times, the Guardian, the National Post and others.

The report is based on five important economic predictors of happiness–family, good health, income, sense of freedom and lack of corruption. Helliwell said the goal of the study is to compel governments to consider the happiness of their citizens when making policy decisions.

Detecting liars

The Telegraph, Daily Mail, Sydney Morning Herald, MSNBC, and others reported on a new UBC study that reveals that four different facial muscles may divulge when people are lying. “Our research suggests that muscles of the face are not under complete conscious control and certain muscles are likely to betray the liar, particularly in high-stakes and highly emotional situations,” said study author Leanne ten Brinke of the Centre for the Advancement of Psychological Science and Law at UBC’s
Ok anagan campus.

Breast cancer genes

Using genetics, a group of researchers has identified 10 distinct subtypes of breast cancer–a discovery that could change the way the disease is diagnosed and treated, reported The Independent, the Los Angeles Times, the Globe and Mail, and others.

Scientists at the BC Cancer Agency and UBC, in collaboration with Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute and the Manitoba Institute of Cell Biology at the University of Manitoba, analyzed 2,000 samples of breast-tumour tissue. The study, published in the journal Nature, is the largest global study of breast cancer tissue ever performed.


Irving K. Barber

Prominent Canadian and British Columbian Irving K. Barber passed away on April 13 at the age of 89. Dr. Barber, the founder of Slocan Forest Products Limited, graduated from UBC’s Faculty of Forestry in 1950 and received an honorary degree from UBC in 2002.

Dr. Barber was closely involved with UBC both in Vancouver and in the Okanagan. The Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, to which he donated $20 million in 2006, remains a world-leading facility and a hub of the Vancouver campus. In 2004, he donated $10 million to establish the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences and the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre Interface Program at UBC’s campus in the Okanagan.