The Cross-Border Biotech Blog

Biotechnology, Health and Business in Canada, the United States and Worldwide

Friday Science Review: December 24, 2010

Given that the UN Climate Change Conference has just wrapped up in Mexico, I thought for the Christmas edition of the FSR I would lay out some articles from Nature focused on global warming and its impact on one of Canada’s most iconic animals — the polar bear. University of Alberta’s Andrew Derocher reports on recent findings that suggest we can curb the polar bear’s extinction, but only if policy-makers move quickly. Steven Amstrup of the Alaska Science Center created a number of greenhouse gas emission scenarios and examined them within a projection model of sea-ice loss. The results indicated that mitigation has the potential to greatly improve the polar bear’s situation in the snowy north. Amstrup believes that reducing emissions by sufficient amounts could increase the abundance of polar bears and broaden their distribution.

Melting ice also places the genetic diversity of Arctic animals at risk. A recent Nature commentary piece describes how the loss of habitat forces Arctic animals into environmental niches they would otherwise remain clear of, which can lead to interbreeding with different species. Brendan Kelly of the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Alaska refers to this effect as a “melting pot”. In 2006, a white bear with brown patches was shot and killed by hunters in the Arctic. Genetic analysis would later show what many feared, that the animal was a hybrid between a polar bear and a grizzly (the polar bear in the photo above hasn’t been rolling in the mud, it’s a suspected hybrid). This year an even more unlikely event occurred when hunters in the Canadian north shot and killed a 2nd generation hybrid bear — its mother was a hybrid and its father a grizzly.

The outcome of the recent UN climate talks was positive, with unanimous adoption of the Cancún agreement. Developing countries will also be required to take heed to global warming policy and act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Steps are being made in the right direction but execution and adherence will be essential to seeing results that benefit the earth and its animal populations in the coming decades.

As we approach year end I thought I would also reference you Nature’s “2010 Gallery: Images of the year“, which provides a fascinating look at some of the natural wonders that amazed (and scared) us over last 12 months. I should also point you towards an excellent article on nanomedicine recently published in NEJM; written by Dr. Betty Kim of the Institute for Biomaterials and Biomedical Research and the Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research in Toronto, the review covers the properties of nanomaterials and the myriad in vivo and  in vitro applications of these tiny tools.

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