México & Canada Get A+ in Google Transparency Report

Good news for my adoptive country, Canada (see details below) & ¡Muy buenas noticias para mi país natal, México!

Earth & the Moon image taken from www.opefs.com

I found out yesterday (via The Daily Planet program of the Discovery channel) that Google has published a Transparency Report. In this report, Google informs the public of the number of requests government agencies have made to them to either remove content from their services or to provide information about users of their services and products. It was so good to find out that Canadian government agencies have only made these types of requests to Google less than 10 times during the first six months of 2010. As I wanted to find out more information on this topic and see how other countries, including Mexico, were doing, I was so happy and relieved to learn that Mexico, like Canada, has also only made this request LESS THAN 10 TIMES.

Just as a point of comparison on the significance of this number (<10), Google reports that the U.S.A. has asked this 4,287 times! That was really unexpected (at least for me). Now, regarding China, there is not even ANY number that can be reported, as they consider this statistic a "state secret" (not very surprising there). The next countries that follow the USA in the number of requests were Brazil, with 2,435 petitions, while the U.K. and India came very close to each other with approximately 1,400 requests. For the complete world map and the corresponding figures, Google has a chart where it shows the breakdown for each country. If you are interested in censorship and freedom of information, this could be a very good resource for getting a global view.


New bee discovered in Toronto - Nueva clase de abeja en Toronto

New bees discovered by York researcher triggers buzz - They had me just with the title (article published by The Toronto Star on Sep. 1, 2010). 

At last, finally, some positive news about bees, my favourite insect, not just news about their mysterious and worrisome disappearance. Turns out, there is a new type of "sweat" bee, discovered right downtown in Toronto (near the College subway station), by the researcher Jason Gibbs, known to some as the "bee guru" (what a cool nickname to have). The photo below is not the one of the newly discovered species, but it is one of the same family of "sweat bees".

Lasioglossum Dialictus Pilosum - Sweat bee - Copyright © 2009 Ted Kropiewnicki

After following links from the news article, I find out that his thesis has been published in a single issue of the publication Zootaxa, titled: "Revision of the metallic species of Lasioglossum (Dialictus) in Canada (Hymenoptera, Halictidae, Halictini)". But the newspaper article does not do justice to his findings. As the paper abstract mentions, 19 new species are described, 16 of which have been discovered by him! (if my counting is right). His thesis identifies and describes 84 species of sweat bees.

Some of the interesting facts mentioned in his thesis:

    "The bee family Halictidae has been called 'the despair of taxonomists'" due to the large number of species and the subtle differences between them (there are 274 species just in North America, out of a total 630 species)."

    "The bee subgenus Dialictus has "the most diverse social systems of any equivalent group of insects."

    "They are known as "sweat bees" due to their attraction to perspiration."

    And finally, these bees are also known for not stinging!

The name of the new bee discovered in Toronto? Lasioglossum ephialtum. I'm not sure I will be able to remember it, but I will keep in mind that a new species was discovered right downtown!

P.S. On a final related note, after searching for an image to use in this post, I found a couple of very useful and interesting sites: The Tree of Life Web Project, which is a collaborative effort of biologists and nature enthusiasts around the world. They have more than 10,000 web pages, each for a particular group in the tree of life, all ordered hierarchically and giving their characteristics and evolutionary history. I would highly recommend it to those interested in nature. The other site, the Bug Guide, is a resource for naturalists from the U.S.A. and Canada, who are interested in bugs and want to learn about and share their observations on many types of insects found in North America.


Development of bio-synthetic corneas by Canadian scientist Dr. Griffith

A very positive achievement was announced on the journal Science Translational Medicine on Aug. 25 regarding the creation of bio-synthetic corneas. These corneas were developed by Dr. May Griffith, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (O.H.R.I.) in collaboration with Dr. Per Fagerholm, an eye surgeon at Linköping University in Sweden. 

Dr. May Griffith with bio-synthetic cornea

The article published in the journal reports that 10 patients had their eyes operated on by the surgeon in Sweden to transplant the synthetic corneas (in one of their two eyes) two years ago. The patients' eyes have shown no signs of rejection and most importantly, the sight in 6 of these 10 patients has been helped significantly, with one of them actually achieving 20/20 vision.

More details on this great development can be found in the news release provided by the OHRI page: "Seeing the world with new eyes: Biosynthetic corneas restore vision in humans".

It should be noted that less than 3 years ago, the OHRI announced that Dr. Griffith would start the study of artificial corneas which has produced these incredible results. In addition to this achievement by Dr. Griffith, she was hailed as one of Canada's Top 40 under 40 (in 2007), she holds at least 3 patents (possibly 10 by now), has authored more than 50 articles and has published six refereed book chapters.

To finalize this brief note and to top it all off, what is most remarkable about Dr. Griffith is that, as it is mentioned in the OHRI news release: "her accomplishments came during a period when she ... underwent treatment for cancer and adopted a baby.". In my view, she is someone who truly deserves all our appreciation and respect. Here's wishing her every success in a long and illustrious career.