It has been a distinct honour and privilege to have served you as President of our Academy of Science. My mandate commenced at the Royal Society of Canada Annual General Meeting (AGM) held in picturesque Banff in November of 2013 and finished at our recent AGM which took place in tranquil Victoria in late November 2015. Jamal Deen from McMaster University officially assumed the post of President just before the end of our highly spirited and well-attended Academy of Science Annual Business Meeting which took place during the morning of Saturday, November 28th at the spectacular Fairmont Empress Hotel. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome Jamal as our new President and wish him the best of success at the helm of our ship of scientific scholars as he and his suite of officers steer our ship in innovative directions. I look forward to continuing to actively serve our Academy in my role as Past President during the next year and putting my full support behind ongoing and new initiatives. Moreover, I will undoubtedly be taking lots of photographs at our AGMs for many years to come!
I would like to warmly welcome on board our new Fellows who were officially inducted into the Royal Society of Canada in Victoria as well as our new crew members from the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists whose interests overlap with those of our Academy. I encourage them to become highly immersed in the rich range of exciting activities of our Academy and to participate in our annual RSC meetings, including the next one which will be held at Queen’s University in Kingston in November 2016. Some of the intriguing research that is being executed by our new Fellows was presented at the Innovative Café event in Victoria and explained in articles within this current issue of our Academy of Science Newsletter.
The Academy of Science sponsored Symposium 2015 which was entitled “Canadian Marine Biodiversity: Resources, Opportunities, Responsibilities” and was held at the Empress Hotel on November 26th. Jeff Hutchings, who chaired an expert panel on a similar topic, was Chair of this well-received symposium with assistance from Amelia Zaglul in the RSC Secretariat and me. Congratulations to Jeff for becoming a new Fellow of our Science crew this year.
As you may be aware, three key mandates of the RSC are to Recognize (Reconnaître) academic and artistic excellence, to Promote (Promouvoir) research and learning, and to Advise (Conseiller) all sectors of Canadian Society on matters of public concern. I am glad to report that our Academy has made substantial headway in all three of these domains although much still remains to be accomplished as we sail into unchartered waters. For example, under the category Recognize, the numbers of new female and Francophone Fellows have significantly increased and the Willet G. Miller Medal has been reinstated. Within the realm of Promote, the Partnership Group for Science and Engineering (PAGSE) has continued to be highly active in its various outreach activities such as having Canadian scientists deliver inspiring seminars at its Bacon and Egghead Breakfasts held on Parliament hill multiple times per year with many Members of Parliament and Senators in attendance. I am glad to say that PAGSE’s headquarters is on board our Academy ship. In fact, Lawrence Myzak and Michael Dence are Founders of PAGSE which was launched two decades ago in June 1995. With respect to Advise, David Layzell, who is a Fellow based in our Academy, is Chair of the RSC Committee on Expert Panels, which raised funding to support Expert Panel assessment projects involving Fellows from our Academy. A detailed description of the progress made by our Academy can be found in our recently published Annual Report of the Academy of Science. In this issue of our Newsletter, Jacques Derome has provided an account of the exciting Annual Business Meeting held at the Empress Hotel in November while many articles involving a range of Academy of Science activities have already appeared in our Academy of Science Newsletter.
The admirable achievements of the Academy of Science are a direct result of the creativity, dedication and hard work of its Fellows and others. Accordingly, I would like to take the opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to everyone who contributed to the development of our Academy and its various initiatives and ongoing commitments during my two-year term as President. A special word of gratitude is extended to Jacques Derome, our Academy Secretary, who meticulously prepared the minutes of all Academy teleconferences and face-to-face meetings and continues to spearhead the initiative to have more deserving female and Francophone academics to be nominated as Fellows. In this Newsletter, Jacques has described some of the highlights of our exciting Annual Business meeting held in Victoria on November 28th. A photograph of some of the attendees shows Jacques, yours truly, Jamal Deen, and Andrew Miall sitting in the front row in the third to sixth positions from the left, respectively.
I would like to offer a special thank you to the Directors of the four Divisions within our Academy who in 2015 consisted of Vijaya Raghavan (Applied Science and Engineering), Robert Reisz (Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences), Mona Nemer (Life Sciences) and Robert Prud’homme (Mathematical and Physical Sciences). The Members of their New Fellows Selection Committees spent a considerable amount of time in choosing candidates to put forward to become RSC Fellows. In summary, I am thankful to everyone in our Academy who served on a committee within our Academy or at the RSC level. Merci beaucoup!
I would like to express our Academy’s gratitude to Andrew Miall for doing a superb job as the Academy Editor and Editor of its Newsletter. I would also like to thank the personnel at the RSC Secretariat in Ottawa for the many ways in which they assisted in the planning and execution of Academy III initiatives.
By pursuing academic excellence, each Fellow of our Academy renders respect and recognition to all of us and our Academy of Science. I would like to congratulate all Fellows who have received special awards and distinctions from research and professional organizations in Canada and abroad. This year, for example, six people received RSC science medals and Arthur B. McDonald won the Nobel Prize in Physics. Professor McDonald was elected RSC Fellow in 1997 and received the Henry Marshall Tory Medal in 2011.
In conclusion, I would like to extend my best wishes to everyone for contentment, success and good health in the year 2016 and beyond. I fully intend to work alongside you as we continue our noble quest to add real value to what we do in our professional scientific careers for enhancing the lives of Canadians in the process of attaining the strategic objectives of the RSC.
With my very best regards,
Past President, Academy of Science, Royal Society of Canada
There was a lot of sustained, lively discussion at the last Academy of Science Business meeting, to the point that one Fellow remarked to me later that this had been one of the most interesting business meetings he had ever attended – not bad for an Academy business meeting. The interest was due in part to the quality of the interventions, but also to the importance of the topics being discussed, so I hope this summary will also be of interest to the entire Fellowship.
1. Relationship of the Academy to the Canadian Council of Academies (CCA)
The place of the Royal Society of Canada, and hence of the Academy of Science, in the CCA has been a concern to many for quite some time, but the concern is now at a peak with some Academy Fellows who deal with, or are affected by the CCA activities. The member academies of the CCA are the Royal Society of Canada (RSC), the Canadian Academy of Engineering (CAE) and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (CAHS). The CCA was set up in 2005 with funding from the Federal Government for the purpose of providing assessment reports to the government, but without being allowed to make recommendations. For some time now there has been a feeling on the part of RSC Fellows closely connected to the CCA-RSC relationship, that the RSC has insufficient influence on decisions made within the CCA. The RSC has two representatives on the twelve-member Board, currently the President and the Foreign Secretary, who have often found the CCA to be unresponsive to the priorities of the Academies, including the RSC. Another source of friction is the way the CCA will be funded in the future. The federal Government has renewed its funding of the CCA, at a level of $15M over five years, but the CCA will seek additional funding for its assessment reports from the private sector. In doing so it will be competing with the RSC, which needs private sector support and funding for its own assessment reports. It is worth noting that the CCA has a staff of professional writers, but calls upon the experts from the three member academies for the substance of its reports.
Some expressed the hope that, with a change in government in Ottawa and a recent change in the senior management at the CCA, some improvement would be forthcoming in the CCA-RSC relationship. While a few Fellows who have been involved in CCA assessment reports had good words to say about the CCA, others felt strongly that some significant changes will be essential to a continued participation of the RSC in the CCA.
2. Visibility of the Academy
In his report the President praised the quality of the presentations made at the Symposium held on November 26th on the theme “Canadian Marine Biodiversity: Resources, Opportunities, and Responsibilities”. The discussion that followed echoed the praise of the quality, but made an appeal to attract a broader audience in future symposia. It was felt a shame that such a high quality symposium was not attended by more UVic students and staff and a broader public. It was suggested that in the future a good number of free tickets be distributed to students at universities at or close to the symposium site. This generated a number of comments to the effect that the Academy in particular, and the Royal Society of Canada in general, need to become more visible. Too many Canadian have little or no knowledge of the Academy and the RSC. A number of ideas were proposed to raise the profile of the Academy, such as regional public symposia, contacts with students in schools and universities and raising money to support these activities.
3. Women and Francophones among new Fellows
The Secretary reported that this year, out of the 41 new Academy Fellows, eight are women, a number higher than in any of the previous five years and seven are Francophones, compared to only one the previous year (no reliable data available for the previous years). It is not clear whether or not these increases are related to the fact that the President and he had taken steps to encourage more nominations of women and Francophones (an email message to Fellows and letters to heads of some French-language universities), but they were encouraged enough to take similar steps this past summer. Time will tell if the increases are maintained in the future. One comment pointed out that we should be concerned also about other under-represented groups in the Academy.
4. Willet G. Miller Medal reinstated
The Secretary also reported that the Willet G. Miller Medal had been reinstated, after being put in abeyance in 2012 on the basis that there were too few nominations and that that there was insufficient funding to cover the costs of offering the medal every two years. At last year’s Academy Annual Business Meeting a motion was adopted to have the Miller Medal reinstated with a broader scope, i.e., making it a recognition of work done not only in geology as in the past, but in any of the disciplines in the purview of the Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences Division. It was subsequently ascertained by the RSC Comptroller and the Chair of the RSC Awards and Recognition Committee that there was indeed sufficient funding to offer the medal. The broader scope and the available funding cleared the way to have the medal reinstated by the RSC Council in April 2015 and to be offered again every two years starting in 2016.
Jacques Derome, Secretary, Academy of science
Over 20 years ago, Dr. John Sutton and I started thinking about using managed pollinators (honeybees and bumblebees) to carry microbiological control agents from hive mounted dispensers to flowering crops where the agents might suppress pestiferous fungi, such as grey mould. He had isolated strains of the common and native fungus Chlonostachys rosea which is not a pest but is a natural antagonist to other fungi, including crop pathogens.
We did that successfully using honeybees to carry spores of C. rosea to the flowers of strawberries and using bumblebees to carry them to the flowers of raspberries. The spores of C. rosea germinate on the developing fruit but are otherwise benign. Once the fruit ripen and grey mould (Botrytis cinerea) would be expected to colonize and develop, the effect of C. rosea was evident, grey mould was suppressed.
Our work continued and expanded over the years to bring about suppression of Sclerotinia (a hugely detrimental and generalist crop pathogen) on organically grown sunflowers, to help suppress grey mould and several other diseases on other small and tender fruits and for use for the control of crop pathogens on greenhouse crops, such as tomatoes and bell peppers. During those developments, Mohammad Al Mazra’awi joined my team from Jordan for his Doctoral studies. We had reasoned that if we could use the system to suppress fungal pest, why not see if we could suppress insect pests with different microbial agents. We pushed ahead with work to protect canola from Tarnished Plant Bug with the insect pathogen, Beauveria bassiana. Again, success. Tarnished Plant Bug had devastated the canola crop in Alberta two years earlier.
Mohammad’s success in the field took us back into greenhouses. With Dr. Les Shipp’s collaboration at the AAFC research facilities for greenhouse crops in Harrow, Ontario, and with another doctoral student, Jean-Pierre Kapongo, we were able to effect control of several serious insect pests, including Tarnished Plant Bug, Whitefly, Peach Aphid and Thrips. More recently, Cabbage Loopers have been controlled by the same technology, but using a different entomopathogen.
We have continued to work with a view to simultaneously pollinating and protecting other crops that depend entirely or partly on managed pollinators for pollination and yield. Those include orchards (apples, pears, some cherries and plums) for suppression of fire blight and other diseases such as brown rot and perhaps some insect pests. Vine crops (pumpkins, squash and cucumbers) depend on pollinators for fruit set and suffer from an array of fungal and insect pests that our technology might help control. We have a pilot project in progress on coffee running in Brazil and Mexico with hopes that the coffee borer may be susceptible to microbial pathogens that we can deliver on the bodies of pollinating honeybees.
To take the technology from the research bench to innovation and commercialization, we have had to demonstrate that the microbiological agents are safe for the managed pollinators. It has been a matter of getting the dose right so that pest control would be accomplished and the bees not, or minimally, harmed. We also needed to develop on-hive dispensers that would be practical, inexpensive, and easy to use by growers or beekeepers. We have tried only a few of the potentially useful biological control agents known. Those that we have used against insect pests are already registered for use in agriculture and on crops destined for the human food market.
The research and development has been funded over the years by various agencies, notably NSERC, AAFC, OMAFRA, grower organizations, private companies, and by farmers. It has be a huge problem to obtain sufficient funds regularly enough to accomplish Research, Development and Innovation under the present national and provincial granting policies. Progress has been by fits and starts over the years. Nevertheless, recently the technology has obtained major support from investors to the extent that a new company, BVT Inc., has been formed and is now publicly traded on the Toronto Venture Stock Exchange under the apt symbol “BEE”. The major injection of funds is allowing rapid progress towards globally expanding the market for the technology.
Need for Micro-Bridging: As per Nobel Laureate Philip Sharp, the third revolution  in life sciences that can tackle the existing challenges in studying Brain and nervous systems, cardiovascular systems, cancer diagnosis, commercializing of ideas from lab to clinics or training of personnel can happen only through collaboration of life scientists, physical scientists and engineers as seen in Figure 1, which could explore the synergy that exists at the fundamental level between life sciences, physical sciences and engineering. The newly emerging fields of nano-bio technology, synthetic biology, bio-informatics, genetic engineering and tissue engineering are examples of this fundamental convergence of these fields.
Micro-bridging, which is the bridging through micro and nano technologies, is one of the ways of implementing this convergence or collaboration across these fields. Micro-bridging is possible because of the scaling synergy that exists between biosciences and micro engineering. When we consider biological elements, proteins and viruses are in nm dimensions while bacteria and cells are in micron dimensions. Similarly, the field of micro-nano engineering has elements in nm to micron to mm dimensions, has fabrication and inspection methods for realizing nm to mm level devices. This synergy in geometrical scaling is the great motivation for micro-bridging.
We could explore this synergy through the development of micro platforms such as Lab on Chip and micro-nano integration. Lab on Chip is a technology in which many functionalities and equipment for sample preparation, chemical synthesis, analysis, detection and data analysis that we see in a standard laboratory can be miniaturized, and made into a small chip of few cm in size, that is cheap and disposable. Micro-nano integration is another technology to enhance the performance these lab on chips by integrating nano features with them.
Micro Homes for Cells: We will see a few example of implementing the micro-bridging. Lab on chip, can be a cozy home for plant or animal cells. The chip can have micro channels and micro chambers of dimensions similar to that of cells so that the cells could be trapped and cultured in these chambers, as seen in Figure 2. We can supply these cells with nutrients, oxygen, carbon-di-oxide, heat and air-conditioning as in our macro cozy home. In these chips, we can also create environmental conditions that are close to the living in-vivo conditions of these cells in terms of mechanical cues or electrical cues or chemical cues. Thus, the lab on chips will enable micro ex-vivo platforms to trap, culture, diagnose and manipulate single cell, opening up many application possibilities in drug development, personalized medicine, micro and cellular biology.
Micro Dancing Platform: Another good example of micro-bridging is the use of very thin micro-cantilevers of sizes similar to bio elements, on which the cells or other bio elements like protein or enzymes are allowed to interact. Bio interactions with mechanical surfaces result in movement of those very tiny cantilevers. This is like, watching the dancing of cells on micro-stage. The pattern and movement of the dancing can be used to diagnose different cancer cells, enzymes, protein and even chemical molecules.
Micro-Nano Integration: Bio interactions with microchip surfaces can be enhanced by integrating microfluidic surfaces with nano structures as this produces more areas with high affinity for bio or chemical elements. We can integrate, gold nano particles of around 100nm in size that have high affinity for antibodies, onto the polymer surface. When solution with antibodies are passed through them, they are immobilized onto the gold surface. These fixed antibodies can be used to capture specific antigen or disease creating pathogens. In another technique, gold nano particles can be integrated onto Carbon Nanotubes of 100s of nm in size . Antibodies and hence selective antigens can be captured on these nano structures. Type of antigens present are indicative of diseases or pathogens present. These antigen-antibody platforms have many applications in disease diagnosis and sensing. This method was used for detecting growth hormones in milk.
Growth hormones can be injected to cows for various reasons even though it is banned in Canada. The present equipment and techniques are very expensive and time consuming. They can take up to weeks and cost thousands of dollars. Hence, it is very important to develop portable, cheap and sensitive devices for detecting growth hormones in milk so that the farmers can use at the farm itself, which is the point of need, before it is shipped to the factories.
Figure 3 shows a silicon based Lab on Chip of size smaller than a Canadian quarter in which many big equipment have been miniaturized and implemented. This chip does the functions of meters long spectrometer, glass tubes, optical fibers, sample preparation of milk, etc. These are cheap and disposable . They might cost one hundredth of a present device. This chip can essentially replace the entire laboratory and equipment into a tiny chip so that a farmer can carry a few in his/her pocket. We can see a huge potential for this chip in Point of Need applications.
Microphotosynthetic Power Cell: Solar energy is abundant with big hope for our future. We propose indirect power generation from photosynthesis of algae which is greener than photovoltaic cells or solar cells. Whenever the plants or algae undergo photosynthesis in day time or respiration in night, they release electrons that can be captured with microelectrodes that surround these algae and routed through an external circuit to produce electricity out of these tiny algae. This can only happen at the micro level. In these micro-chips, algae are allowed to swim in micro-lake surrounded by electrodes . The really green micro photosynthetic power devices produce significant power that is scalable. We can increase the power output by stacking 1000s of them and power devices like cell phones and computers. They can be made into complex shapes as they are flexible and made to fit shapes like computers. They do not need very sunny conditions as solar cells so they can be kept inside our home. Solar cells can prodce power only under bright sun, while photosynthetic cell can produce power both in day and night.
Tactile sensing: In minimally invasive surgeries like endoscopic or laparoscopic surgery, the surgeon at present does not have the tactile feedback. The micro tactile sensors produced with micro technologies can provide the tactile feedback to the surgeons. This is like extending the finger inside the body and having the feeling of touch. This an example of tissue level micro-bridging.
Conclusions: The concept of micro-bridging, that can miniaturize big facilities and laboratories into tiny chips and hand held devices that are cheap, rugged, portable and disposable, has huge potential for Point-of-care and Point-of–need applications. This is like miniaturizing an elephant into a bee. In future, we would be able to miniaturize entire hospital into a chip and bring it to home for diagnosis, prognosis and patient care. As we have seen, the concept of micro bridging from protein to cellular to tissue level will have huge impact on the convergence of physical sciences, biological sciences and engineering and improving the quality of life for Canadians.
1.B.He, et. al. “Grand Challenges in Interfacing Engineering With Life Sciences and Medicine” IEEE Trans Bio Med Eng., 60(3), 2013, 589-598.
2.J. Ozhikandathil, S. Badilescu and M.Packirisamy "Plasmonic Gold Decorated MWCNT Nanocomposite for Localized Plasmon Resonance Sensing" Nature Scientific report, 5, 13181, 2015.
3.J. Ozhikandathil and M. Packirisamy “Monolithically Integrated Optical Microfluidic Chip by Single Step Lithography and Etching for Detection of Fluorophore Tagged Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rbST)”, Journal of Electrochemical Society, 161 (2) B3155-B3159, 2014.
4.M. Shahparnia, M. Packirisamy, P. Juneau and V. Zazubovich, “Micro photosynthetic power cell for power generation from photosynthesis of algae”, Technology, 3 (2&3), 2015, 119-126.
Before I will describe my current research I would like to state that I am absolutely flattered by being elected as a fellow of the RSC.
My current research deals with nanoparticles that act as contrast agents for MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) of cancer. The prime reason for me to work on this is to provide oncologists and surgeons with better information of the exact location of the tumour and its shape. The location and exact shape are both important for radiation therapy because the (external) X-ray radiation must be localized in the tumour, so as to spare healthy tissue (50% of all cancer treatment involve ionising radiation). This information is also important for a surgeon because the resection should remove the whole tumour, so in practise the surgeon would cut a little bit larger than the tumour, but of course the surgeon doesn’t want to make a big hole. The surgeon also want to avoid cutting through tumorous tissue because it leads to lose cells which may go on the move and metastasize. It is also important to establish if the tumour has metastasized. MRI is an imaging modality using magnetic fields and radio waves and it doesn’t involve ionisation radiation, form e.g. X-rays, or radio-isotopes and has the highest spatial resolution, but is not very sensitive. In essence it looks at changes in water, but often the inherent contrast is not sufficient for accurate diagnosis and that is where the contrast agent come in. The contrast agents changes the properties of the protons of water in a subtle way which is measured by MRI. It is thus not the contrast agent that is measured but the effect it has on the nearby water.
So, there are many good reason to try to develop better contrast agents both for clinical and small animal MRI. The former is typically done at magnetic fields of smaller than 3 Tesla, whereas the latter is done at magnetic fields larger than 7 Tesla, because MRI is more sensitive at higher magnetic fields but also gives a higher spatial resolution. There are important constraints on the type of contrast agent: 1) it has to be potent, so minimal amounts can be injected; 2) it has to be selective, so only the tumour(s) shows up; 3) it has to non-toxic; 4) it has to stable in blood; 5) it has to clear effectively and fast from the body “after use”; 6) in case of brain tumour they have to cross the blood-brain barrier.
Most of my work related to cancer diagnostics with MRI is based on the properties of the rare earth elements, which comprise lanthanum to lutetium in the Periodic Table of the Elements with yttrium and often scandium included. Most of these elements have optical and magnetic properties that make them highly relevant to our modern society. They can be found as clinically approved MRI contrast agents, in particular gadolinium, in ultrastrong magnets, in optical amplifiers for the telecommunication, in small amounts in many electronic devices, and even in catalysts for the petrochemical industry. The term rare earth is actually a misnomer, for these elements are not rare and they are not earth. For a long time they were considered rare because they were difficult to separate from each other, so one didn’t know what one was dealing with, and only in 20th century did the purification become sophisticated enough. They are not earth either in the sense that they are not a constituent of the oxides that make up the bulk of the crust of our planet. A better term is lanthanide which comes from a Greek word that means “to lie hidden”. I’d like to stress here that although the lanthanides are chemically similar there optical and magnetic properties are very distinct. Besides my focus on the lanthanide we also work on metallic nanoparticle, such as iron, as contrast agent for MRI.
So, now to the nanoscale for my contrast agents are in the range of 2 to 40 nanometer in diameter. One nanometer is one billionth of a meter or 10-9 m. A nanometer relates to a meter as the size of a small apple seed to the north-south length of British Columbia. If we take this ratio on a ping pong ball we get a “planet” about three times the size of the earth. This is an incredible small length scale, but advanced scientific instrumentation and facilities, such as electron microscopes and synchrotrons, are able to provide the details required to understand the properties of these nanoparticles. My co-workers spend most of their time on the synthesis, subsequent surface modification (for instance to impart selectivity for a specific tumour) and full characterisation of the nanoparticles. After this stage, it is mostly out of our hands for the MRI studies are done in collaboration and collaborators who study the pharmacokinetics and clearance from the body. The current state of the art is that we have fairly potent contrast agents that show no toxic effects in the short term and are stable in blood. We have measured significant contrast in mouse models for brain, breast, and prostate cancer. In these studies the nanoparticles localise preferentially in the tumour, but are not yet specifically modified to enhance their selectivity. Clearance from the body has yet to be studied, but based on published research I am very hopeful that we can tackle this hurdle as well. One important current step is to increase the selectivity for a specific tumour by adding tumour-specific antibodies or short peptides to the surface of the nanoparticles. The diagnosis of brain tumour with MRI is especially challenging because the blood-brain barrier prevents in general the uptake of the contrast agent. We have some hints that we have been able to cross this barrier.
In conclusion, I think we are on our way to make MRI contrast agents that will give the oncologist and surgeon better information, but it is still a long way from use in humans. I do hope to be a first clinical trial within 5-10 years. The next steps also aim at making nanoparticles to treat cancer, but these ideas are exactly what they are, namely ideas.