New method discovered to test for antioxidants in chocolate

UBC food scientists  have come up with a cheaper and faster way to measure the levels of antioxidants in chocolate. They are planning on using this method to recognize when antioxidant levels rise and fall during the manufacturing process, from raw cocoa beans to chocolate bars.

“Our method predicts the antioxidant levels in chocolate in under a minute, compared to the industry standard that can take several hours or even days,” said Xiaonan Lu, an assistant professor in food, nutrition and health in the faculty of land and food systems, who developed the method alongside PhD student Yaxi Hu. “It’s not a substitute for the traditional method used at the moment, but it does show a strong correlation for being just as reliable.”


Antioxidants are beneficial to human health and help contribute to the prevention of cancers, vision loss and heart diseases. They are usually found in foods like pecans, blueberries and chocolate. (Photo courtesy of:

The UBC procedure uses infrared spectroscopy, a technology which illuminates infrared light onto chocolate samples. The infrared spectra record the chemical composition of each sample, including the levels of polyphenols, micronutrients with high antioxidant properties. The conventional method depends on biochemical tests to read absorbance values which are expensive and time consuming.

Hu said testing antioxidant levels will help chocolatiers select better beans, and also to improve their processing parameters.

Chocolate is manufactured through various processing stages from drying, to roasting and to fermentation, from chocolate beans.

UBC food scientists are starting to use their method to measure cocoa beans from different countries in each stage to pin point when antioxidants are at their highest and lowest levels.

“If we identify drying as the step that significantly lowers the bean’s antioxidant properties, for example, we will want to develop a strategy to reduce the drying time, or drying temperature,” said Lu.

Finding the antioxidant level could be valuable information for chocolate companies wanting to make products high in antioxidants, appealing more to health conscious consumers.

Antioxidants are beneficial to human health and help contribute to the prevention of cancers, vision loss and heart diseases. They are usually found in foods like pecans, blueberries and chocolate.

The research is in its early stages as the scientists test hundreds of samples. This new method  used to quantify antioxidant levels was funded by a local chocolatier in Metro Vancouver, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and by the non-profit MITACS.

The UBC food scientists are hoping to receive more funding, specially from a major chocolate company, to advance their studies.

Ocean acidification poses a threat to marine life, habitats

According to research published in Nature Climate Change, the acidification of the world’s oceans could result in a cascading loss of biodiversity in some marine habitats.

Up until now most research in this area focused on the impact of ocean acidification on individual species.  The new research focuses on how acidification will affect living habitats to other species such as corals, seagrasses, and kelp forests.

“Not too surprisingly, species diversity in calcium carbonate-based habitats like coral reefs and mussel beds were projected to decline with increased ocean acidification,” said UBC zoologist and biodiversity researcher Jennifer Sunday, who led the study. Species using calcium carbonate to build their shells and skeletons, like mussels and corals, are expected to be susceptible to acidification.


A new UBC research focuses on how acidification will affect living habitats to other species such as corals, seagrasses, and kelp forests. (Photo courtesy of:

“The more complex responses are those of seagrass beds that are vital to many fisheries species. These showed the potential to increase the number of species they can support, but the real-world evidence so far shows that they’re not reaching this potential “. This underscores the need for more research to evaluate how climate change affects individual species, and more importantly their supportive habitat.

The researchers gathered data and observations from 10 field studies, measuring impacts of underwater volcanic vents. These vents release carbon dioxide and are analogous to the conditions of future ocean acidification, on the density of habitat forming species. The data were combined with 15 other studies analyzing how changes usually impact local species to make their projections.

According to marine ecologist Christopher Harley, senior author on the paper, it has been known for a long time that with climate change there will be some losers and some winners.

Harley further added, his team won’t have time to measure the effects of climate change on each individual species, but said this approach will allow them to make reasonable predictions. He also said, they now have a much clearer vision as to how some species can bring down biodiversity with them while other species might be able to help their habitat mediate a response to acidification.

“For example, in the Pacific Northwest, the number of medium to large-sized edible saltwater mussels is likely to decrease as the chemistry of our oceans changes, and this is bad news for the hundreds of species that use them for habitat,” added Harley.

Climate change could disrupt volcanoes from cooling earth

New research reveals the cooling effect of volcanic eruptions may be impeded by climate change.

If an eruption is forceful enough, volcanoes spew sulfur gases about 10 to 15 kilometres above the Earth’s atmosphere, reaching a layer called the Stratosphere.

The gases then react with water to form aerosol particles which stick around for one or two years. These particles reflect sunlight and heat from the sun and as a result cool the planet.

On average there are three to five eruptions that make their way to the stratosphere every year.

Previous research has shown that the warming of the planet causes the atmosphere to expand, making it more difficult for the gases to reach the stratosphere.

At lower altitudes, in the troposphere, the gases change into aerosols and clouds and come back to earth as rain or snow.


“Volcanic eruptions tend to counteract global warming but as the planet heats up and our atmosphere changes, we’ve found that fewer eruptions will be able to reflect the sun’s radiation,” said Thomas Aubry, a PhD student studying climate and volcanoes. “It will be harder for the volcanic gasses to reach high enough into atmosphere to help cool the planet.”

Aubry said scientists have noticed a slight drop in the rate of global warming in the last 10 to 15 years while the planet continues to warm. Scientist believe this decline is due to the number of large eruptions over the last decade that have sent sulfur gases high up into the stratosphere.

Aubry and his co-authors found that according to climate model projections and global warming, the amount of volcanic sulfur gases in the stratosphere will decline in the next century some where between two to 12 percent. This could result in reduction of sulfur gas in the atmosphere between 12-25 percent by the 22nd and 23rd centuries

Nonetheless, further studies are needed in order to determine the precise impact on temperature change on the Earth.

To determine the precise impact on the Earth’s surface temperature in the future, further studies are required. It also raises interesting questions about Earth’s history.

“Understanding this positive feedback loop has provocative implications for understanding climate variability in Earth’s past,” said Professor Mark Jellinek, whose lab Aubry works in at the department of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences. “In particular, this mechanism may have contributed to Earth’s entry into a long period of global glaciation around 700 million years ago, a theory known as the Snowball Earth hypothesis.”

Trump’s success was victory of style over substance : UBC study

According to a psychological analysis from the university of British Columbia style and not substance resulted in Donald trump’s US Republican presidential nomination.

When comparing Trump’s speech style and Twitter usage to that of the other top nine republican contenders, Psychology researchers at the university came to an interesting conclusion. The real estate mogul and reality star regularly ranked highest in ratings of grandiosity, “I”-statements, informal language, vocal pitch variation and the use of Twitter.


Delroy L. Paulhus (Photo courtesy of: UBC)

“Trump’s outrageous statements over the course of the campaign led many political pundits to underestimate his chances of success,” said supervising author Delroy L. Paulhus, a personality psychology researcher and professor at UBC. “Contrary to what might be expected, grandiosity, simplistic language and rampant Twitter activity were statistical predictors of success in the Republican primaries. Although Trump’s bombastic communication style was shocking—even detestable to many viewers—our research suggests that this style helped him win the Republican nomination.”

Speech segments from the nine contenders were transcribed and analyzed using a computerized text analysis software. Trained raters also coded the transcriptions for grandiosity after removing all personal information and references to the candidate’s party. In addition, the researchers also carried out an acoustical analysis of the speeches to determine pitch variability, usually promoting an image of dynamism and energy. Finally, they examined each candidate’s Tweet count in the three months leading up to the announcement of their candidacy.

Paulhus said the difficulty of fact-checking everything people tell us may lead us to rely on how they say it. “We’ve shown that this holds true even in political elections.” He further added that this phenomenon not only helps explain how Donald trump gained power but also how questionable political leaders might rise to power  — even in democracies.

“Explaining Trump via Communication Style: Grandiosity, Informality, and Dynamism” appears today in Personality and Individual Differences.  Co-authors are Sara Ahmadian and Sara Azarshahi.

Six Canadian universities partner on game-changing health promotion movement

Canadian universities are initiating an international effort in creating campuses, which will emphasize on health improvement and the well-being of students, faculty and staff.

The first universities to formally adopt the Okanagan Charter – An International Charter for Health Promoting Universities and Colleges –  are the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, Memorial University, Mount Royal University, the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge.

“We are committing an additional $1 million to support well-being initiatives because people who study, work and live in environments that make healthy living a priority are happier, more successful and better equipped to handle challenges,” said UBC President Prof. Santa Ono. “I am proud of UBC and our partner universities for taking steps to strengthen our communities, both on and off campus.”

UBC and SFU were the two universities leading the development of the charter along with international partners from post-secondary institutions, the Pan American Health Organization and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

In order to inspire other universities, six Canadian universities adopted the charter and highlighted the fact that universities and colleges can set an example for other communities to promote health.

“The Okanagan Charter places well-being at the forefront of a wide range of programs and initiatives to support our university community,” said SFU President Andrew Petter. “SFU is proud to be a leader in the development of the Okanagan Charter, realizing our vision of being Canada’s most engaged university.”

Research shows that well-being is important to retention, productivity, learning, satisfaction and establishing a sense of community.

Universities and colleges are unique in their position in that they can promote well-being through research, education, practices and policies which can be developed on campuses.

The Okanagan Charter provides common framework for colleges and universities to lead this significant mission.

Each institution has made commitment to enact the Okanagan Charter on their campuses in different ways from campus spaces supporting connection and community to campus-wide mental health strategies.

UBC will invest an additional $1 million to promote well-being on its Vancouver and Okanagan campus as part of its commitment to the charter.

The funding will go towards efforts already underway such as increasing mental health literacy through routine mental first aid courses for staff members and faculty.

It will also go to initiatives to support well-being in classrooms and workspaces as well as supporting active lifestyles with a stationary bike study space at UBC’s okanagan campus library and movement breaks during lectures.

SFU’s Healthy Campus Community initiative will also be advanced with the help of the charter. SFU has been a leader in designing more supportive campus communities by building new spaces and re-designing courses focusing on well-being. SFU is also offering a new resilience program helping students take ownership over their emotional and social well-being.

The week of oct. 31 Presidents from the six universities will undertake the Okanagon Charter.

UBC will sign the charter during Thrive, a week-long series of events focusing on promoting mental health. Thrive originated at UBC in 2009, and is celebrated at various campuses across Canada.

The optimal walking and cycling speeds minimizing air pollution inhalation

To minimize inhalation of air pollution while walking and cycling and still reaping the benefits of exercising, UBC researches say cyclist should be riding at speeds between 12 to 20 km/h, while pedestrians should be walking at two to six km/h. “The faster you move, the harder you breathe and the more pollution you could potentially inhale, but you also are exposed to traffic for a shorter period of time. This analysis shows where the sweet spot is,” said Alex Bigazzi, a UBC transportation expert in the department of civil engineering and school of community and regional planning who conducted this analysis.


Alex Bigazzi. (Photo courtesy of: UBC)

Using a US Census-based computer model of 10,000 people, Bigazzi calculated ideal travel speeds, called the minimum-dose speeds (MDS) for different age and sex groups. The ideal speed linked to the least pollution risk for female and male cyclists under 20, on a flat road was calculated to be at 12.5 and 13.3  kilometres per hour, respectively. For pedestrian in the same age group, a walking speed around 3 kilometres per hour was determined to be associated with least pollution risk. Their older counterparts on the other hand should aim at reaching at least four kilometres per hour in order to breath in the least amount of pollution over a distance. Ideal travel speeds for other road grades were also computed by Bigazzi. “If you move at much faster speeds than the MDS—say, cycling around 10 kilometres faster than the optimal range—your inhalation of air pollution is significantly higher,” said Bigazzi. “The good news is, the MDS numbers align pretty closely with how fast most people actually travel.” A recently published paper in the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation describes the findings from Bigazzi’s research on the amount of toxic chemicals absorbed by cyclist on busy street. More research is needed to further assess the minimum-dose speed estimates with on-road data.

(Photo courtesy of: UBC)

(Photo courtesy of: UBC)

Efficient batteries could use blood molecule

The next generation of batteries could function on a molecule that transports oxygen in blood and could also work in an environmentally friendly way.

These batteries have recently emerged and are called Lithium-oxygen  (Li-O2) batteries. They could be a possible successor to lithium-ion batteries -the industry standard for consumer electronics- as they can function for a longer time period.

Once these batteries substitute the lithium-ion batteries electronic devices can run for weeks. For example electric cars could function four to five times longer than the current rate.

However, before this transition is made possible, scientists should find ways to make the Li-O2 batteries efficient for commercial use and stop the formation of lithium peroxide, a solid precipitate that coats the surface of the batteries’ oxygen electrodes. In order to make this possible a catalyst should be found which could efficiently aid a process known as oxygen evolution reaction, in which lithium oxide products decompose back into lithium ions and oxygen gas.

The Yale lab of Andre Taylor, associate producer of chemical and environmental engineering, has recognized the heme molecule as a better catalyst. The heme molecule was shown to improve the Li-O2 cell function by reducing the amount of energy needed to better the battery’s charge/discharge cycle times.

“When you breathe in air, the heme molecule absorbs oxygen from the air to your lungs and when you exhale, it transports carbon dioxide back out,” Taylor said. “So it has a good binding with oxygen, and we saw this as a way to enhance these promising lithium-air batteries.”

The lead author of the research Won-Hee Ryu a former postdoctoral researcher in Taylor’s lab said the the heme molecule makes up one of the two parts of hemoglobin, which is a carrier of blood in animal blood. Ryu also said in an Li-O2 battery, the molecule would lower the energy needed by the battery for the electrochemical reaction to take place.

The researchers said their discovery could help in the reduction  amount of animal waste disposal.

“We’re using a biomolecule that traditionally is just wasted,” said Taylor. “In the animal products industry, they have to figure out some way to dispose of the blood. Here, we can take the heme molecules from these waste products and use it for renewable energy storage.”

Friedman foundation makes huge donation for health scholarships

Sydney Friedman and his wife Constance donated $3.3-million to fund scholarships for students studying  in the broad area of health. This donation comes after the recent sale of the late couple’s home.

They both dedicated their professional lives to UBC and their legacy of generosity will live on with this huge donation.

The Friedmans were the first appointment to UBC’s new Faculty of Medicine in 1950, teaching the first graduating class of 1954.

They founded the department of anatomy, where Sydney Friedman lead from 1950-1981.

Constance researched and taught at UBC until retiring in 1985. She and her husband published over 200 papers together. Sydney Friedman passed away in February 2015 while Constance passed away in June 2011.

“The Friedmans were instrumental in making the UBC Faculty of Medicine the exceptional medical school that it is today,” said UBC President Prof. Santa Ono. “The university is grateful for everything they did and the endowment that allows that good work to continue.”

The Constance Livingstone Friedman and Sydney Friedman Foundation fund scholarships, following the sale of the couple’s former home this summer. The donation funds two awards — the Friedman Scholars in Health Award and the Friedman Travel Award.

The objective of the Friedman Travel Award is to provide the recipient with the chance to experience different cultures in order to enrich their global viewpoint with patients.

In 2016, four Friedman Scholars in Health (graduate students in the broad field of health) were granted $25,000 to $50,000 each to further their work through studying outside of Canada.

In addition, two MD program graduates were awarded with $5,000 each to travel in the course of their first year out of school.

More than 60 years later, the Friedman house and its gardens stand as an example of the mid century modern artistic taste.

Many feared the house would be knocked down, but following media coverage a buyer was found who was happy to preserve the property.

“Everyone at the foundation was relieved the home would be preserved. It’s what Sydney and Constance wanted. They would be thrilled to know that the medical school they helped to build and the students they so cherished will be able to benefit,” said Dr. Al Boggie, co-president of the Friedman Foundation.

Insulin resistance could be explained by gene

New study finds the mechanism for insulin resistance leading to type 2 diabetes.

Earlier work by  Joshua Knowles, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford, and his team showed the connection of a human gene, NAT2, variant with insulin resistance in humans.

The fact that type 2 diabetes was caused by insulin resistance was known to researchers for decades. However, the cause for this phenomenon was a mystery.

Insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas, helps fat and muscle cells take up glucose from the blood. Insulin resistance is caused when human cells don’t respond to insulin, resulting in the build up of glucose in the blood and subsequently leading to the production of even more insulin.


The cause of insulin resistance is starting to be untangled by a team led by Joshua Knowles. (Photo courtesy of: Stanford University)

“We’ve identified a mechanism for insulin resistance that involves a gene that ties insulin resistance to mitochondrial function, “ said Knowles.

Scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of Wisconsin have begun to find the connections between a gene, mitochondria, insulin resistance, and how well the body’s metabolism functions in causing diabetes.

Suppressing a similar gene in mice called Nat1, causes metabolic dysfunction, such as lower insulin sensitivity and higher levels of blood sugar, insulin and triglycerides. In addition, mice without the Nat1 gene gained more weight and showed a decreased ability to use fat for energy.

This new study reveals that suppressing the expression of the Nat1 gene in mice hinders the function of mitochondria. These cell structures make ATP, the energy of cells, without which the cells cannot survive.

Individuals with Insulin resistance don’t necessarily develop type 2 diabetes. However, the condition will result in decreased uptake of sugar by muscle and fat cells leading to cardiovascular disease, inflammation, polycystic ovary syndrome, fatty liver diseases and other health conditions.

Severe Insulin resistance leading to damaged body tissues is common. A study in 2015 estimated that close to 35 percent of US adults are insulin-resistant to a degree to be at a higher risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Knowles said, the reasons for this skyrocketing increase in the US are poor diet and  sedentary habits.

Within two decades COPD epidemic could strain health care systems

According to a new UBC study, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) will become an epidemic over the next two decades despite a decline in smoking rates.

COPD is a progressive disease associated with smoking, air pollution and age.

Researchers have concluded, the number of COPD cases will increase by more than 150 percent between 2010 and 20130, in the province. COPD rates will be more than triple hiking up by 220 percent, even surprising the researchers.


Researchers have concluded, the number of COPD cases will increase by more than 150 percent between 2010 and 20130, in the province. (Photo courtesy of: UBC press release)

“Everyone who has seen the results has been surprised,” said senior author Dr. Mohsen Sadatsafavi, assistant professor in the faculties of pharmaceutical sciences and medicine. “Many people think that COPD will soon be a problem of the past, because smoking is declining in the industrialized world. But aging is playing a much bigger role, and this is often ignored. We expect these B.C.-based predictions to be applicable to Canada and many other industrialized countries.”

Researchers say COPD will overtake all other age related diseases even though they are also expected to increase over the next decades. The study foresees annual inpatients days related to COPD to increase by 185 percent.

Co-author Dr. Don Sin, professor in UBC department of medicine’s division of respiratory medicine and head of respiratory medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital said this situation is a burden the health-care system is not equipped to handle. “Our only hope of changing this trajectory is to find new therapeutic and biomarker solutions to prevent and treat COPD, and this can only happen through research and innovation,” said Sin. “Our UBC team is poised to make these breakthroughs.”