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News from the Faculty of Science

Stephen A. Jarislowsky Chair Receives International Environmental Award

KarenKiddKaren Kidd, Biology and Geography & Earth Sciences, has received the 2017 International Environmental Award from Stockholm-based organization, Recipharm, for her ground-breaking research on the impact of pharmaceuticals and other contaminants on the health of aquatic ecosystems.

Kidd joined the Faculty in July 2017 as the Stephen A. Jarislowsky Chair in Environment and Health. She is being honoured for a decade-long, whole-lake experiment conducted in Northern Ontario’s IISD Experimental Lakes Area. That work found that when the synthetic estrogen, such as that used in birth control pills, was added to the lake water, male fathead minnows became feminized – in some cases, even developing eggs. This led to an inability to reproduce, resulting in the near collapse of the minnow population, and creating a fall-out affect that ultimately affected the entire food web.

This research has been instrumental in generating public awareness of the environmental impacts of pharmaceuticals in wastewaters, and has raised important questions about how wastewater treatment can be improved to reduce the presence of these compounds in the effluent from treatment plants that ends up in rivers and streams.

 

McMaster Researchers Win Prize For Exploring Origins of Life on Earth

Ralph Pudritz, Physics & Astronomy, and M.Sc. student at the time, Ben K.D. Pearce, have received the prestigious Cozzarelli Prize from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) for their ground-breaking paper, “Origin of the RNA world: The fate of nucleobases in warm little ponds.”  Working with researchers from Germany, the paper explored meteorites and their role in delivering the essential biomolecules necessary for the start of life on Earth.

The team results suggests that the molecules making up first life appeared 4.2 billion years ago when meteorites splashed down and leached molecules, called nucleobases, into warm little ponds. The ponds were almost ideal locations for chemical reactions to occur, creating the conditions needed to form RNA polymers, the first genetic material and found in all life today.

Though the concept of “warm little ponds” as an environment for first life is not new, Pearce and Pudritz, along with co-authors Dmitry A. Semenov and Thomas K. Henning, are the first to show its plausibility through calculations based on exhaustive research that drew on data from a number of scientific disciplines. Their calculations suggest that wet and dry cycles bonded basic molecular building blocks in the ponds’ nutrient-rich broth into self-replicating RNA molecules that constituted the first genetic code for life on the planet.

“Having our paper selected for the Cozzarelli Prize feels amazing – it’s been such a humbling experience and is very unexpected,” says Pearce.

“This is still sinking in,” says Pudritz. “The NAS [National Academy of Science] is one of the most prestigious scientific bodies in the world and it’s a great honour to receive this prize and to be recognized by one’s peers. Also, I’m particularly pleased that Ben has been recognized in this way so early in his career.” Both are also members of the Origins Institute.

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Protein Supplements Work To A Point

Researchers, led by Stuart Phillips, Kinesiology, have found dietary protein supplements can significantly improve muscle strength and size when taken by healthy adults who lift weights. The study, published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and reported in The New York Times, also found that the effects of protein supplements are not as big as some supplement companies say.

Researchers combed through thousands of studies searching for specific criteria, including randomized controlled trials, human participants and study durations of at least six weeks. In all, they analyzed 49 high-quality individual studies with 1863 participants.

The benefits of protein supplements increase with resistance training experience but become less effective in older adults, pointing to a need for greater supplementation to reach optimal results as we age. And there is a limit to the amount of protein that is beneficial, plateauing at roughly 1.6 grams of dietary protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day.

“There have been mixed messages sent to clinicians, dieticians, and ultimately practitioners about the efficacy of protein supplementation,” says Robert Morton, lead author on the study and a PhD student in the Exercise Metabolism Research Group at McMaster. “This meta-analysis puts that debate to rest.”

Understanding Environmental Adaptation Via The “Elite Athletes” of The Natural World

Yellow-billed pintail duck is one species that Scott and his team are studying in the Andes.Animals that live at high altitudes are among the most resilient in the natural world. Graham Scott, Biology, has spent much of his career trying to understand what it is that makes high altitude animals able to not just survive, but thrive in harsh conditions. In many ways, these animals are the “elite” athletes of the natural world.

As global temperatures and carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, his research can help predict how species that live at both high and low altitudes might fare in the face of climate change. He and his team have been studying deer mice in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and duck species native to the Peruvian Andes to learn more about how the unique physiology of high altitude animals helps them withstand their challenging environments. Understanding more about their adaptions to extreme environments may have important implications – for both human and environmental health as our climate shifts.

Scott, a Canada Research Chair in Comparative and Environmental Physiology, believes that the research can also shed light on high altitude diseases suffered by people around the world. “By trying to understand how animals overcome or avoid suffering these diseases, we’re gaining insight into these conditions,” he says.

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2018 MacData Graduate Fellows Named

Six graduate students, four from the Faculty of Science, have been awarded fellowships from McMaster’s MacData Institute. The Fellows will be working with McMaster faculty on projects that apply data analysis, collection and curation methodologies to a number of areas of research. Projects range from harnessing data to inform earlier diagnosis of brain tumours to analyzing data to better understand infectious disease epidemics.

Paul McNicholas, Mathematics & Statistics and Director of the MacData Institute, explains the program is designed to bring together talented graduate students with expertise in data science and McMaster faculty from a range of disciplines. The program provides funding for fellows to work on a multidisciplinary project involving two or more Faculties. The work will lead to new insights or innovations in a number of research areas, says McNicholas. It also gives students practical experience, and promotes knowledge exchange related to data science across Faculties.

MacData is also looking for new members. The Institute circulated a call for new members in December. Open to all faculty and librarians, it remains open until the end of February. Interested faculty and librarians can join here.  

Burgess wins second Buchalter Cosmology Prize

Cliff Burgess, Physics & Astronomy, has won a second Buchalter Cosmology Prize, placing third for the second time in two years. Working with Physics & Astronomy Ph.D. candidate, Peter Hayman, and collaborators from the University of Illinois, CERN, and the Niels Bohr Institute, the group was recognized for their paper, “Magnon Inflation: Slow Roll With Deep Potentials”. Burgess and Hayman are also both associated with the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo.

The judging committee recognized the 2017 work as “an insightful and systematic treatment of the effective field theory of multiple scalar fields leading to inflationary dynamics dominated by terms with a single time derivative, breaking Lorentz invariance and revealing novel ways to satisfy the relevant slow roll condition.”

Established in 2014, the Buchalter Cosmology Prize recognizes “new ideas or discoveries that have the potential to produce a breakthrough advance in our understanding of the origin, structure, and evolution of the universe”. Burgess won third prize for his paper, “EFT Beyond the Horizon: Stochastic Inflation and How Primordial Quantum Fluctuations Go Classical” in 2016.

McMaster University - Faculty of Science

Mailing Address

Office of the Dean of Science
McMaster University
Burke Science Building (BSB), Room 102
1280 Main Street West
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
L8S 4K1

Contact Information

Business Hours:
8:30AM - 12:00PM + 1:00PM - 4:30PM
Telephone Inquiries:
+1 (905) 525-9140 ext.22616
Fax:
(905) 546-9995
Student Inquiries:
science@mcmaster.ca

McMaster University - Faculty of Science

Mailing Address

Office of the Dean of Science
McMaster University
Burke Science Building (BSB), Room 102
1280 Main Street West
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
L8S 4K1

Contact Information

Business Hours:
8:30AM - 12:00PM + 1:00PM - 4:30PM
Telephone Inquiries:
+1 (905) 525-9140 ext.22616
Fax:
(905) 546-9995
Student Inquiries:
science@mcmaster.ca