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Scientists find hundreds of new toxins in polar bear blood

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Hundreds of previously unknown contaminants were found in a new study of polar bear blood, published in a German chemical journal this week.

There are many unexplained chemicals in human blood, as well as in wildlife and environmental samples, according to the study’s author, toxicologist Jon Martin.

“This is a polar bear story, but it’s likely a human story as well,” said Martin, with the University of Stockholm in Sweden.

To figure out what exposure to these chemicals means for human and environmental health, researchers first need to know what they are.

The study “Hundreds of Unrecognized Halogenated Contaminants Discovered in Polar Bear Serum,” published in Angewandte Chemie, identifies more than 200 new chemical compounds — 100 of which are brand new, never before reported in science.

Toxins tend to collect in the Arctic because of the cold climate, and polar bears, at the top of the ecosystem’s food chain, are likely to have high concentrations of the toxins, which is why the study focused on bears.  

Jonathan Martin is a toxicologist at the University of Stockholm in Sweden. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

Inuit can still eat polar bears

The new chemicals were found because scientists from Canada and the United States took a different approach to looking at the blood samples.

In the past, Martin said chemicals went through several steps of purification before they were tested.

“We tried not to purify. We left our eyes open to seeing things that were unexpected,” said Martin.

He had been looking for fluorinated contaminants, which are chemicals commonly used in stain-repellents or to make Teflon, but also found in chlorinated toxins and PCBs.

Right now we wouldn’t tell anyone to change anything because of these discoveries.– Jon Martin, toxicologist

PCBs have been known to collect in the Arctic for a while and have documented health effects relating to reproduction and child development. As a result, they are widely banned, though they’re still hanging around in the environment.

Unlike PCBs, fluorinated chemicals are not banned.

“We’re a little concerned about the increasing concentrations of the fluorinated chemicals, which was one finding of our study that these these chemicals are increasing in concentrations still,” Martin said.  

Since they are brand new, the other chemicals have never been studied, and so the health impacts are relatively unknown.

For residents of the Arctic, this doesn’t mean they should stop eating polar bears or other marine mammals.

“Right now we wouldn’t tell anyone to change anything because of these discoveries,” Martin said.

“The polar bears didn’t get more contaminated when we discovered this. They’ve been contaminated like this since the 1980s. We just didn’t know.”

This polar bear on the sea ice of the Beaufort Sea was part of a separate study. In this recent study, the bears from the Beaufort subpopulation had higher concentrations of stain-repellent chemicals than the Hudson bears. (Anthony Pagano, USGS)

Chemicals may be coming from Asia

The study used blood samples provided by Environment Canada from two different polar bear subpopulations: the Beaufort Sea and the Western Hudson Bay bears.

It pooled the blood of 10 bears from each subpopulation to get an average of what chemicals the bears contained. The researchers then looked at similarly pooled blood samples from bears, taken every five years back to the 1980s.

Using the historical data, Martin was able to see the rising trend of fluorinated chemicals.

Interestingly, the bears from the Beaufort subpopulation had higher concentrations of the stain-repellent chemicals than the Hudson bears, which could mean the chemicals are coming from Asia as the sea water flows across the Bering Strait and into the Beaufort Sea.

Martin says the next steps involve research that would pinpoint where and what the chemicals are coming from, so they can be cut off at the source. Future studies should also look at the human effects and concentrations.

“I’m personally trying to push for human studies,” Martin said. He’s encouraging anyone who wants to take part to contact him through Health Canada.

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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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