The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

Science spotlight: The research breakthroughs and historical celebrations of 2019

By in News

The University of Saskatchewan belongs to the prestigious U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities, a collection of top research-focused universities from around the country and is home to several world class research facilities, making it a little powerhouse of science on the prairies. 

With 2019 drawing to a close, the U of S has celebrated some historical milestones and finished a year rich in discovery and innovation. Here is a look at a small sample of this past year’s science stories selected by the Sheaf.

Insight into new Alzheimer’s drugs

The role that heavy metals play in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease has been the focus of a collaboration between several U of S professors and chemistry PhD student Kelly Summers. 

Using the beamlines at the Canadian Light Source, the team investigated elevated copper levels and plaque accumulation in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. They focused on how drugs could bind to the toxic metal and isolate the copper. 

Their research has shown that copper-binding drugs may be a promising therapeutic strategy in the future and has opened the door for further testing.

A piece of X-ray history

The U of S is home to a rich history of science and the Physics Building holds some unique scientific artifacts, including an early X-ray machine that was brought to Saskatchewan in 1906. 

On Dec. 22, 1895, Wilhelm Röntgen produced the first X-ray image: a radiograph of his wife’s hand. Röntgen would go on to win the first Nobel prize for physics in 1901. 

The once groundbreaking machine that now calls the university home works by hand crank and illustrates basic concepts that are still taught in physics lectures today. 

The health effects of toxic algae

Every year, blue-green algae blooms invade bodies of water and threaten the health of people and wildlife. Research conducted by USask Global Water Futures investigated different tools that could monitor future blooms and steps to curtail outbreaks of the algae in provincial lakes. 

The changing climate and water contamination from farmland runoff is fueling the increase in toxic algae. The blooms are comprised of cyanobacteria that release lethal toxins if ingested, posing a risk to humans and pets that may frequent bodies of water for summer recreation. 

The research conducted by the U of S is focusing on mitigation strategies that will help protect drinking water.

Unlocking the genome of wheat

A collaboration between scientists at the U of S and the University of Alberta has led to the identification of an important gene in durum wheat, a key grain used in pasta production.

This information can help plant breeders increase yields and improve the quality of the crop. The researchers identified how durum wheat accumulates cadmium, a toxic metal found in contaminated soils, and are able to use this knowledge to help reduce the levels of this heavy metal in the plants.

The entire genome sequencing is a monolithic project that involved the collaboration of scientists from seven countries and opens up a view of the evolutionary history of this popular grain.

The Observatory turned 90

Ana Cristina Camacho/ News Editor

One of the most recognizable buildings on campus turned 90 in April 2019. The observatory opened its dome in 1929, and its three meter long telescope has been used to explore the Prairie skies ever since. 

As the third building built on campus, the observatory is a testament to the historical scientific legacy of the U of S. In 1945, a wooden sundial was added to the brick face of the building but was removed during the 1990s after being eroded by the elements. 

A metal replica of the original custom sundial was installed in August by the department of physics and engineering physics, restoring a missing piece of the observatory’s history.

Erin Matthews/ Opinions Editor

Graphic: Ana Cristina Camacho/ News Editor

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