Archive for February, 2014

Be A Sport

Two of the most over rated jobs in the world must be sports commentator and accountant. I’ll get to the accountants next time but, with the winter Olympics having recently ended, it seems prudent to take a look at the hallowed sports commentator who, presumably, is flown to the relevant sporting venue, put up in a hotel and paid a sum of money for us to hear their learned and informed opinions and, more importantly, predictions about the future. Unfortunately, despite the countless hours spent watching games (disguised as work), researching statistics and interviewing players, coaches and other hangers on they have no better idea about what’s happening than I do.

This was brought home to me in the bronze medal ice hockey game between USA and Finland. Almost no one gave Finland a chance to win this game. The USA would bounce back from their hard fought semi-final defeat against the Canadians and stroll away with the bronze. Easy. In fact, Finland won the game 5-0. I also thought the USA would win. Why aren’t I getting paid to fly to Russia to voice my opinion when it’s certainly no worse than those who are?

I can appreciate the valuable information about trades, injuries and other sporting news commentators impart but, when it comes to making predictions about future winners, be it ice hockey, AFL, soccer (I wonder how many picked Olympiacos to beat Manchester United in their latest Champion’s League game) or any other sport, they don’t seem to be any better at getting it right than anyone else. I suspect if I got my veterinary diagnoses wrong as often as their sporting predictions I would very quickly find myself out of a job.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Needle Free Vaccination

How good would this be? According to a recent TED talk by Mark Kendall it could soon become reality (

Instead of using a needle and syringe the vaccine is applied via a patch that is placed on the skin. The patch contains thousands of projections that release the vaccine into the top layers of the skin. As well as being pain free the administration of the vaccine into the skin, rather than the muscle, also generates a more powerful immune response. This means that much less vaccine is required (up to one hundredth of the traditional dose) lowering the cost and decreasing the possibility of undesirable side effects.

The vaccine that coats the patch is in a dry form. Therefore, it does not need to be refrigerated, unlike traditional vaccines, and will retain its potency at 23 C for up to a year. This makes it much more feasible to use in countries where electricity and refrigeration are difficult to guarantee, such as Papua New Guinea which has only 800 refrigerators. Patch trials are due to start there soon.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Urban Bees Using Plastic To Build Hives


February 11, 2014 – News Release

Once the snow melts, Canada’s bee population will be back in business — pollinating, making honey and keeping busy doing bee things. For at least two urban bee species, that means making nests out of plastic waste.

A new study by a University of Guelph graduate and a U of G scientist reveals that some bees use bits of plastic bags and plastic building materials to construct their nests. The research was published recently in the journal Ecosphere.

The study has been reported on by media outlets around the world, including the Toronto Star, Sun News, CBS News, Yahoo! News, United Press International, and Canoe News.

It’s an important discovery because it shows bees’ resourcefulness and flexibility in adapting to a human-dominated world, says lead author Scott MacIvor, a doctoral student at York University and a 2008 U of G graduate.

“Plastic waste pervades the global landscape,” said MacIvor. Although researchers have shown adverse impacts of the material on species and the ecosystem, few scientists have observed insects adapting to a plastic-rich environment, he said.

“We found two solitary bee species using plastic in place of natural nest-building materials, which suggests innovative use of common urban materials.”

Figuring out that the bees were using plastic in place of natural materials took some detective work by U of G’s Andrew Moore, supervisor of analytical microscopy at Laboratory Services.

Moore analyzed a grey “goo” that MacIvor discovered in the nests of one kind of bee, Megachile campanulae, which uses plant resins to build its nests,

“Scott thought it might be chewing gum originally,” Moore said. His team uses a scanning electron microscope to take highly detailed pictures of items, x-ray microanalysis to determine the elements in the sample and infrared microscopy to identify polymers. They can distinguish the finest detail on the surface of an animal hair.
Turns out that M. campanulae was occasionally replacing plant resins with polyurethane-based exterior building sealant, such as caulking, in its brood cells–created in a nest to rear larvae.

The researchers also discovered another kind of bee, Megachile rotundata, an alfalfa leafcutter, was using pieces of polyethylene-based plastic bags to construct its brood cells. The glossy plastic replaced almost one-quarter of the cut leaves normally used to build each cell.

Markings showed that the bees chewed the plastic differently than they did leaves, suggesting that the insects had not incidentally collected plastic. Nor were leaves hard to find for the bees in the study.

“The plastic materials had been gathered by the bees, and then worked – chewed up and spit out like gum – to form something new that they could use,” Moore said.

In both cases, larvae successfully developed from the plastic-lined nests.  In fact, the bees emerged parasite-free, suggesting plastic nests may physically impede parasites, the study said.

The nests containing plastic were among more than 200 artificial nest boxes monitored by MacIvor as part of a large-scale investigation of the ecology of urban bees and wasps, a project involving numerous citizen scientists.

The nest boxes are located in Toronto and the surrounding region in backyards, community gardens and parks and on green roofs. They are used by a variety of bee species.

“The novel use of plastics in the nests of bees could reflect the ecologically adaptive traits necessary for survival in an increasingly human-dominated environment,” MacIvor said.


Andrew Moore Laboratory Services 519-823-1268, Ext. 57234

Scott MacIvor 416-844-8093

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Unfortunately zoos all over the world generate surplus animals. What they don’t do is kill healthy 18 month old giraffes, like Marius at the Copenhagen zoo (

Organisations such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in North America and the Zoo and Aquarium Association in Australasia develop studbooks for their species to regulate breeding to maximise genetic diversity. If an animal’s genes become over represented in the zoo population that animal can be contracepted. There is nothing unique about giraffes. They can be castrated like any other animal or animals can be separated to avoid inappropriate pairings. The issue with Marius really started over two years ago. If his genes were over represented why were his parents allowed to breed, and why wait until the giraffe is 18 months old before euthanasing him?

Zoos are too small to be treated individually. Instead they form part of a global collective that constantly moves animals around to maximise breeding effectiveness. Zoos regularly release lists of animals that they want and that they have on surplus. The zoos I have worked for frequently move their surplus animals to other zoos that want them. I do not understand why this could not have been done with Marius as a British zoo made a place available to him.

Many animals become surplus because of their advancing years. The other members of the group kick them out or they are no longer reproductively viable and so are removed to live out the rest of their years in isolation off display. In the wild they would be killed by predators. The zoos I have worked for no longer have a policy of management euthanasia, unless animal welfare is at stake. This does, however, raise a difficult point when it comes to herd animals. Is it better to keep them in social isolation for the rest of their lives, or is it better to euthanase them?

This was hardly the case with Marius and a more enlightened solution to the “problem” caused by a young healthy giraffe could surely have been found.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Black Saturday V

The fifth anniversary of Black Saturday is upon us. Clichéd as it sounds; I do find it hard to believe that five years have passed since a fire storm engulfed the state of Victoria, killing 173 people. We are currently labouring through a particularly hot summer but, with all the rain we had throughout the year and after half a decade spent clearing burnt timber, it is hard to envisage another day being as bad as that one. Still, when the temperature soars past 400C, the wind comes howling down from the north and smoke is visible in the distance the logical part of my brain goes on vacation and my amygdala takes over, sending my heart rate and blood pressure up, and fixating my attention either out the window, on the fire scanner or on the fire brigade website looking for signs of trouble in my area. And so it will probably always be, until we retire to that cottage by the sea.

Having never experienced a bushfire firsthand I really did not know what to expect. I had been told about the roaring noise the fire makes, like a train or jet engine, but stupidly did not expect all that smoke. I thought that smoke rises, creating an image of flames flickering under a thick cloud. Instead the smoke was everywhere right down to ground level, reducing visibility to almost zero. My eyes watered, my throat burned and I was gifted with a cough that stayed with me for a month. Still, it was probably better not to see what was going on around me. When, for a brief moment, the smoke did clear and I saw the fifty foot flames off to my left I edged just a little closer to panic. After the smoke closed back in I pulled myself together and continued putting out the surrounding grass and bush fires and hosing down the house.

We had always planned for this day, hoping it would never happen. I would stay and defend the house with my trusty fire hose, while my wife would take the kids to her mother’s place in the city. When we saw the smoke and flames in the distance she bundled them in the car and took off, leaving me to do my bit. I tried unsuccessfully to call 000, in case the emergency services were unaware of the situation, and continued about my business thinking, as the fire front passed, that my wife and kids, sitting safely in the city, would not believe what had happened here.

Instead it was I who listened with disbelief, as my wife told me over the mobile about their narrow escape. As they left, embers must have ignited the grass around the dirt road leading from our house. While I thought they had safely escaped they were in fact stuck on the road surrounded by flames and smoke. My wife initially pulled off the road to a clear area and covered everyone with blankets. As the situation got worse she decided to make a break for it (which was very fortunate as I saw the next day that the road was blocked by several large, burnt fallen trees), driving slowly through the smoke until she reached the bitumen road. Trying to put the crashed car they saw burning by the roadside out of their minds, they covered the ten kilometres into town, but could get no further as it was now almost surrounded by fire. Everyone was herded into the local supermarket, which had only just opened, as it was the coolest and safest place in town. It was from here that I talked with her, not the expected refuge of her mother’s house.

There they all sat for four hours while the fire brigade mopped up the fires around town until it was safe enough to leave. Once they knew I was alright, I don’t think the kids were too fussed as the supermarket allowed them free reign through the lolly aisle.

I wandered around our place for nine days putting out spot fires before we decided it was safe for everyone to come home again. I am so incredibly proud of my wife for her clear thinking and cool headedness that saved both her and our kids from certain death. I also feel grateful to the supermarket that sheltered my family from the fire storm and, even though they are more expensive, have a smaller range of goods and terrible bananas, I shop there still.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Run For Your Life

It does strike me as vaguely incongruous the amount of time, effort and money I spend exerting myself, whether it be plain running, obstacle running or lifting heavy things at the gym. As all of these activities are now big business I am obviously not alone in my desire to raise a sweat for no good reason.

I have been watching an interesting series called “Blood, Sweat and Luxuries”. The program takes a group of young, rich, spoiled British men and women and shows them exactly what is involved to bring them the luxuries they take for granted. They travel to a sapphire mine in Madagascar, a coffee plantation in Ethiopia, a gold mine in Ghana and an electronics factory in the Philippines. For a day or two they must participate in the same work as the locals and are then paid a corresponding pittance. Needless to say the work is unbelievably difficult and mind numbingly repetitive, and it certainly sheds light on the hard lives that people lead in order to deliver us the things that complement our soft lives.

It is hard to imagine any of these people going for a 10 km run after work or paying to crawl through mud under strands of barbed wire. I would think that, at the end of their working day, they would like nothing better than to have a nice sit down and watch a bit of tellie. If only they had a tellie, or electricity for that matter.

Still, this need to exert ourselves must obviously be hard wired into our DNA. Otherwise, why would people lucky enough to lead lives of physical ease pay big bucks to put themselves through intense physical challenges when they don’t have to?

Dr. F. Bunny

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