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Fossils discovered at B.C.’s Burgess Shale add branch to tree of life

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The tiny remains of an extinct bug-like creature discovered at British Columbia’s 500-million-year-old Burgess Shale fossil deposit add a new branch to the evolutionary tree of life, says a student researcher who tracked down the organism’s development.

The discovery of fossilized soft tissue, including the unique digestive tract, antennae and appendages of extinct agnostids, help solve a long-standing evolutionary riddle about the agnostids’ family tree, says Joe Moysiuk, an ecology and evolutionary biology PhD student at the University of Toronto.

The peer-reviewed study, published Wednesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B in the United Kingdom, links the agnostids to trilobites as distant cousins. Evolutionary researchers have pondered if trilobites were related to agnostids, and the new research proves the connection, Moysiuk said.

The discovery of agnostid fossils like this one that preserve soft tissue, including the unique digestive tract, antennae and appendages, help solve a long-standing evolutionary riddle about the agnostids’ family tree. (Jean-Bernard Caron/Royal Ontario Museum)

“Agnostids appear to be what we call the sister group, sort of like a distant cousin of trilobites,” he said. “They are more closely related to other trilobites than other anthropods, like say, crustaceans or like arachnids, spiders and such.”

Trilobites, which are also extinct, are similar to today’s horseshoe crabs, Moysiuk said.

Moysiuk and paleontologist Jean-Bernard Caron, an associate evolutionary biology professor at University of Toronto and a senior curator at the Royal Ontario Museum, conducted the research.

Moysiuk said their work also helps answer questions about the origins of agnostids, which lived between 520 million and 450 million years ago.

The work emphasizes the importance of continued exploration at Burgess Shale to trace the evolutionary process of other species, Moysiuk said in an interview.

‘Big mystery’ solved

“This is an animal that’s been a big mystery in terms of where it fits into the tree of life for a very long time and so it’s always nice to fit in a little piece of the puzzle.”

Researchers Joe Moysiuk and Jean-Bernard Caron pose for a photo at the new Marble Canyon locality of the Burgess Shale, where the best fossil specimens were found. (Joe Moysiuk)

Agnostids are typically less than a centimetre long, with armour plates on their backs, a circular head shield and a similar looking tail shield, he said.

Moysiuk said finding the agnostids in the Burgess Shale area is important because not only is the hard, shell-like part of the creature preserved, but so are the soft tissues, such its nervous system and digestive tracts, sometimes even containing the last meal of the animal.

“These fossils really give us this unparalleled insight into what life was like back in the Cambrian period.”

He said the discovery of the crustacean-like soft tissue was “even weirder than what we would have imagined.”

They found a pair of sensory antennae at the front of the animal’s body and two pairs of swimming appendages, which it would have used like oars to paddle its way through the water, he said.

“They have lots of segments and these strange sort of club-like outgrowth coming off of them, which we hypothesize may have been used for respiration in these animals. So they were breathing through their legs, potentially.”

Moysiuk said he’s been at the Marble Canyon site at Kootenay National Park where the fossils were found, but spends much of his time at the Royal Ontario Museum, where there’s a huge collection of fossils from the Burgess Shale.

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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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