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Thoroughbred program grows super trees in central Newfoundland

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Scientists in central Newfoundland are having great success with a thoroughbred breeding program.

It’s not, as you might guess, about race horses or show dogs. These guys are producing super … trees.

Ever since Barry Linehan, who manages the provincial government’s Centre for Agriculture and Forestry Development in Wooddale, was in school, he dreamed of growing a bigger, better version of the trees made by Mother Nature. These days, his dream is coming true.

Linehan checks out a recently planted super seedling. (Leigh Anne Power)

“So, we started in the early ’80s, going out and covering the entire province looking for these super trees,” he said.

“Technical staff combed thousands and thousands of stands looking for these fast-growing trees, large diameter, small branches, which would mean better quality lumber. Trees that had no sign of disease and straight.”

“Almost a thousand different trees were identified as being these super trees. We call them ‘plus trees.'” 

Finding super trees in the wild was just the first step. Linehan and his colleagues then had to figure out how to duplicate them in great numbers.

“First, they were cloned by grafting and brought to the nursery here. Then they were bred and then planted out in tests,” he explained. “So, any improvement program … if you’re working with racehorses, you’re looking to breed the two thoroughbreds, then test the offspring, then select the offspring. It’s the same with trees.” 

One of dozens of greenhouses at Wooddale, filled with super tree seedlings. (Leigh Anne Power)

Once they successfully cloned the best trees, the scientists started cross-breeding them.

“The female part of the tree on a conifer is a cone. So we pull this bag over the tree. It’s got a window in it so you can peek in and see how she’s doing,” he said.

“So if the cone is receptive, she lets you know. Then we collect pollen off another tree that we want to cross it with.”

“And we put that in a little perfume bottle, make a slit in the bag, puff this pollen in and seal it. Then we know that every seed that’s in this bag is of this known pedigree.”

Part of Dean Taylor’s job is the actual breeding of the super trees. He’s the guy who uses that perfume bottle to spray pollen into the cone bags. His colleagues jokingly call him the Sperminator.

Taylor shows off a cooler filled with millions of tree seeds. (Leigh Anne Power)

After the cones produce thoroughbred seeds, he has to get them out of there.

The cones have to be dried, and the seeds shaken out. Then they have to be separated from all the debris that’s shaken out with them. They’re filtered through the several levels of a separator and in the end, millions of super seeds are bagged and stored in the cooler at minus ten degrees until planting time.

Also in the cooler are huge containers of wild seed, ready in case of a major fire or outbreak of disease that would require replanting a lot of trees quickly.

Year-round operation

Taylor says when breeding season is over, it doesn’t mean the work stops. The greenhouses need to be tended and records kept up to date so he knows exactly which trees carry what genes. 

“Never a dull moment here,” he said. “You could be at anything on moment and the next be at something else. There’s that much stuff going on here. Especially in the tree world, you could have insects, disease, parasites. Anything could happen in one day. You’re going around looking at something and things change overnight.” 

Linehan checks out a sack of super tree cones. (Leigh Anne Power)

The vast tree orchards at Wooddale have been decades in the making. Now, though, Linehan and his team are starting to see real results.

“Our first generation is nearing completion. We’re getting about 15 per cent genetic gains in our white spruce. And in a couple of years we’ll have 20 per cent genetic gain,” he said. 

“By genetic gain, I mean more wood volume per hectacre. Twenty per cent, 15 per cent more wood volume today than there was originally, compared to wild tree stands.”

Program already showing success

The goal is to produce 40 per cent more wood. That would mean 40 per cent more viable timber for building, less land use and easier access for harvesters.

And super trees grow faster than those in the wild, so there’s less time to wait before cutting them.  

Trees are both male and female, with the female cones on the upper branches. (Leigh Anne Power)

Barry Linehan says every year when he sees the data that proves his program is working, it’s like Christmas.

He’ll probably have retired from his dream job by the time it reaches its peak. But he believes the work he’s doing now will build a better forest and create new jobs for lots of others.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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