By: Nathaniel Tok, Peak Associate


Fighting chronic disease with a database

Molecular biology and biochemistry professor Fiona Brinkman and her team of genomics and bioinformatics researchers are creating a database to help to prevent allergies, asthma, and other chronic diseases. As part of the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) study, Brinkman and her team of researchers use the CHILDdb database to understand how genes and environment interact to cause chronic diseases such as asthma in children.

The database has compiled data for more than 3,500 Canadian children from birth to age eight. Researchers in this project will look for indicators in the genetic, socioeconomic, and environmental data collected for each child in the database to find indicators of allergic and chronic disease in children, which can then be used to develop methods of early diagnosis and prevention. These methods might include precision medicine, which are treatments specifically tailored to each patient.

Asthma affects one out of seven Canadian children, costing about $2 billion per year. It is one of the most common childhood diseases, and one of the main reasons of child admissions to the hospital and absenteeism in school. “Treating disease very early . . . is key to avoiding costly disease management, including hospital visits,” commented Brinkman. “Canada is poised to provide key leadership in this area, translating this research into a significant reduction in health-care costs.”


A family tree to rank priority of shark conservation efforts

SFU researchers have developed a fully resolved shark, ray, and chimaera family tree, ranking every species according to how much unique evolutionary history they contributed to and biogeography. Ultimately, these rankings will be used to help identify conservation priorities.

One of the factors used to determine rankings was evolutionary distinctness, which is how much unique evolutionary history each species contributed to. In the process of evaluating evolutionary distinctness for the shark and ray species, researchers found that extinction of just one species could prune about 26 million years of evolutionary history.

Another factor used in the rankings was biogeography, evaluated using range maps to examine how how evolutionary history was distributed in the world’s oceans. Five priority areas were identified for shark and ray conservation efforts: the southwest Atlantic Ocean, western Africa, the southwest Indian Ocean, the northwest Pacific Ocean, and the southwest Pacific Ocean.

The information organized in the resulting family trees will be used by the Zoological Society of London for their evolutionary distinct and globally endangered shark conservation plan. The plan aims to build local expertise which can then be used to combat the threat of extinction of shark and ray species.

Up to 242 shark and ray species are endangered due to overfishing. SFU biodiversity professor Arne Mooers says their main goal was to produce a tool that could be used by conservationists to help conserve as many species as possible.