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The top 10 science and environment stories of 2018





A huge Mayan city with pyramids, a perfectly preserved horse from the last ice age and a microbe representing a whole new branch on the tree of life were some of the amazing scientific discoveries announced in 2018.

It was also a year when we saw growing concern about the environment, and when CBC News increased its own focus on environmental issues like recycling and climate change.

Here’s a look back at some of the science and environment stories that connected with readers this year.

Alcohol and the ‘Asian glow’

In January, just as many of us were coming off booze-infused New Year’s celebrations, scientists released a study on mice that appeared to show how alcohol causes cancer — by damaging DNA. The news was extra bad for mice that have the same gene that is responsible for making the faces of many humans flush red after a small amount of alcohol — a phenomenon sometimes known as the “Asian glow,” because more than a third of East Asians have the gene.

More than a third of East Asians have a gene that makes their faces flush red after they drink just a small amount of alcohol. Because of that, the phenomenon is known as the ‘Asian glow’ or ‘Asian flush.’ (Bobby Yip/Reuters)

Doomsday moves closer

In February, atomic scientists issued a dire warning about how close they think we are to the collapse of civilization — represented symbolically by midnight on the “Doomsday Clock.” For the second time in history, the clock’s hands ticked forward to 11:58 p.m. The only other time that happened was during U.S. and Soviet Union nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s. This time, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists cited nuclear threats between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, as well as climate change and technological threats from artificial intelligence and cyberattacks.

Robert Rosner, chairman of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, right, and Lawrence Krauss, moved the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock to 11:58 p.m. in January. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

Huge Mayan city

It wasn’t all bad news, though. Later that month, archeologists announced they had found tens of thousands of Mayan houses and other buildings, including impressive pyramids, hidden under dense jungle. The discovery, made with a high-tech aerial mapping technique, suggests 10 million Mayans may once have lived in Guatemala’s Peten region.

Researchers announced in February that a high-tech aerial mapping technique helped them find tens of thousands of previously undetected Mayan houses, buildings, defense works and roads in the dense jungle of Guatemala’s Peten region. (Canuto & Auld-Thomas/PACUNAM via Associated Press)

Starman and Tesla blast off

One of the year’s big space technology milestones also took place early in the year. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket launched for the first time, carrying CEO Elon Musk’s cherry red Tesla roadster, with a mannequin named “Starman” at the wheel. While the launch was successful, it wasn’t without its glitches. For one thing, the plan was to put Starman in orbit between Earth and Mars, but it overshot, and is now headed to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Starman, the mannequin launched into space by SpaceX, has a front seat view of Earth. A plaque on the dashboard reads ‘Don’t panic!’ – an homage to Douglas Adams’ book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. (SpaceX)

When science is a ‘living hell’

In 2002, a paleontologist named Gerard Gierlinski went to a Greek island for vacation with his girlfriend and stumbled upon an extraordinary discovery — what he believes are the oldest human-like footprints in the world. That wasn’t well-received by many scientists who see Africa as the cradle of humankind. Trying to get the research published took many years and was “a living hell” in the words of one of Gierlinski’s collaborators. We shared an intimate, in-depth look at the fascinating story of the discovery this year and the struggle to make it public, providing a behind-the-scenes look at how science and peer review work, and what happens when conflicts erupt among scientists in response to new ideas.

During a holiday in Crete in 2002, Polish paleontologist Gerard Gierlinski found imprints on a beach that he believes are the oldest human-like footprints in the world. (Submitted by Gerard Gierlinski)

Rethinking recycling

In 2018, China, the biggest market in the world for recyclables, closed its doors to much of the paper and plastic we throw in our blue bins. CBC News decided to take a closer look at the way we recycle, through our series Reduce, Reuse, Rethink. We learned that your lifestyle is making recycling unsustainable. What’s more, many Canadians are recycling wrong, and it’s costing us millions.

This year, CBC News decided to take a closer look at the way we recycle through our series Reduce, Reuse, Rethink. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

We’re continuing the conversation into 2019, and you can still take part through our Reduce, Reuse, Rethink Facebook group. (For those who are interested, we also launched a newsletter in 2018 focused on environmental issues called What on Earth?)

Ice age horse

A two-month old foal that died 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, during the last ice age, was found perfectly preserved in permafrost in Siberia, scientists announced in August. Check out the amazing photos.

A foal that lived more than 30,000 years ago was found perfectly preserved in Siberian permafrost in Yakutia, Russia, scientists announced in August. (Associated Press)

Deadly Hurricane Florence

In September, Hurricane Florence hit the U.S. east coast, killing 53 people in North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina. We took a look at some of the factors that make storms like Florence so damaging — including the fact that it slowed almost to a halt when it hit land.

In this NOAA satellite image from Sept. 11, Hurricane Florence is seen just northeast of the Turks and Caicos Islands. (NOAA/National Hurricane Center)

Evidence for Planet X?

The discovery of a distant dwarf planet nicknamed “The Goblin” was announced just before Halloween. But what made the discovery particularly exciting was its strange orbit, which supports the idea that there is a Super-Earth seven times the mass of our own planet waiting to be detected at the outer edge of our solar system.

An artist’s conception shows Planet X, a super-Earth that may be waiting to be discovered at the outer edge of our solar system. (Roberto Molar Candanosa and Scott Sheppard, courtesy of Carnegie Institution for Science)

New branch on the tree of life

A graduate student out for a hike with some friends in Nova Scotia decided to scoop some soil from the side of the trail. When she examined the contents under a microscope a few weeks later, she spotted some very unusual microbes. A DNA analysis showed that these “hemimastigotes” belong to a completely new branch on the evolutionary tree of life, and are less closely related to any other know organisms than animals are to fungi.

This is an electron microscope image of Hemimastix kukwesjijk, named after Kukwes, a greedy, hairy ogre from Mi’kmaq mythology. (Submitted by Yana Eglit)

Keep reading for more extraordinary science in 2019!


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The 3 Best Canadian Tech Stocks I Would Buy With $3,000 for 2021





The majority of the Canadian tech stocks went through the roof in 2020 and delivered outsized returns. However, tech stocks witnessed sharp selling in the past 10 days, reflecting valuation concerns and expected normalization in demand. 

As these high-growth tech stocks shed some of their gains, I believe it’s time to accumulate them at current price levels to outperform the broader markets by a significant margin in 2021. Let’s dive into three tech stocks that have witnessed a pullback and are looking attractive bets. 

Lightspeed POS

Lightspeed POS (TSX:LSPD)(NYSE:LSPD) stock witnessed strong selling and is down about 33% in the last 10 days. I believe the selloff in Lightspeed presents an excellent opportunity for investors to invest in a high-growth and fundamentally strong company. 

Lightspeed witnessed an acceleration in demand for its digital products and services amid the pandemic. However, with the easing of lockdown measures and economic reopening, the demand for its products and services could normalize. Further, it faces tough year-over-year comparisons. 

Despite the normalization in demand, I believe the ongoing shift toward the omnichannel payment platform could continue to drive Lightspeed’s revenues and customer base. Besides, its accretive acquisitions, growing scale, and geographic expansion are likely to accelerate its growth and support the uptrend in its stock. Lightspeed stock is also expected to benefit from its growing average revenue per user, innovation, and up-selling initiatives.     


Like Lightspeed, Shopify (TSX:SHOP)(NYSE:SHOP) stock has also witnessed increased selling and has corrected by about 22% in the past 10 days. Notably, during the most recent quarter, Shopify said that it expects the vaccination and reopening of the economy to drive some of the consumer spending back to offline retail and services. Further, Shopify expects the pace of shift toward the e-commerce platform to return to the normal levels in 2021, which accelerated in 2020.

Despite the normalization in the pace of growth, a strong secular shift towards online commerce could continue to bring ample growth opportunities for Shopify, and the recent correction in its stock can be seen as a good buying opportunity. 

Shopify’s initiatives to ramp up its fulfillment network, international expansion and growing adoption of its payment platform are likely to drive strong growth in revenues and GMVs. Moreover, its strong new sales and marketing channels bode well for future growth. I remain upbeat on Shopify’s growth prospects and expect the company to continue to multiply investors’ wealth with each passing year. 


Docebo (TSX:DCBO)(NASDAQ:DCBO) stock is down about 21% in the last 10 days despite sustained momentum in its base business. The enterprise learning platform provider’s key performance metrics remain strong, implying that investors should capitalize on its low stock price and start accumulating its stock at the current levels. 

Docebo’s annual recurring revenue or ARR (a measure of future revenues) continues to grow at a brisk pace. Its ARR is expected to mark 55-57% growth in Q4. Meanwhile, its top line could increase by 48-52% during the same period. The company’s average contract value is growing at a healthy rate and is likely to increase by 22-24% during Q4. 

With the continued expansion of its customer base, geographical expansion, innovation, and opportunistic acquisitions, Docebo could deliver strong returns in 2021 and beyond.

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Manitoba to invest $6.5 million in new systems





WINNIPEG – The province of Manitoba is investing $6.5 million over three years to replace technical systems used in healthcare facilities, including replacing current voice dictation and transcription services with more modern systems and upgrading the Provincial Health Contact Centre (PHCC)’s triage, call-recording and telephone systems, Health and Seniors Care Minister Heather Stefanson (pictured) announced.

“Our government is investing in the proper maintenance of information and communications technology to ensure digital health information can be safely stored and shared as needed,” said Stefanson. “These systems will ensure healthcare facilities can continue to provide high-quality services and allow Manitobans to get faster access to healthcare resources and information.”

Dictation, transcription and voice-recognition services are used by healthcare providers to write reports. There are currently approximately 80 healthcare sites across Manitoba using some combination of dictation, transcription and voice-recognition services. Many of these systems are nearing the end of their usable lifespans.

“Across our health system, radiologists and nuclear medicine physicians use voice-dictation services to help create diagnostic reports when reading imaging studies like ultrasound, nuclear medicine studies, X-rays, angiography, MRI and CT scans,” said Dr. Marco Essig, provincial specialty lead, diagnostic imaging, Shared Health. “Enhanced dictation and voice-recognition services will enable us to work more efficiently and provide healthcare providers with quicker access to these reports that support the diagnoses and treatment of Manitobans every day.”

The project will replace telephone-based dictation and transcription with voice-recognition functions, upgrade voice-recognition services for diagnostic imaging and enhance voice-recognition tools for mobile devices.

“Investing in more modern voice-transcription services will help our health-care workers do the administrative part of their jobs more quickly and effectively so they can get back to the most important part of their work – providing top-level healthcare and protecting Manitobans,” said Stefanson. “The transition to the new system will be made seamlessly so that services disruptions, which can lead to patient care safety risks, will not occur.”

The new systems will be compatible with other existing systems, will decrease turnaround times to improve patient care and will be standardized across the province to reduce ongoing costs and allow regional facilities to share resources as needed, Stefanson added.

The PHCC is a one-stop shop for incoming and outgoing citizen contact and supports programs such as Health Links–Info Santé, TeleCARE TeleSOINS and After-Hours Physician Access, as well as after-hours support services to public health, medical officers of health, home care and Manitoba Families.

The current vendor that supplies communications support to the PHCC is no longer providing service, making it an opportune time to invest in an upgraded system that will provide better service to Manitobans, the minister said, adding the project will provide the required systems and network infrastructure to continue providing essential services now and for the near future.

“The PHCC makes more than 650,000 customer service calls to Manitobans per year to a broad spectrum of clients with varied health issues. This reduces the need for people to visit a physician, urgent care or emergency departments,” said Stefanson. “The upgrade will also allow Manitobans in many communities to continue accessing the support they need from their home or local health centre, reducing the need for unnecessary travel.”

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Telus and UHN deliver services to the marginalized





Telus’s Health for Good program has launched the latest of its specially equipped vans to provide medical services to the homeless and underserved, this time to the population of Toronto’s west end. The project relies not only on the hardware and software – the vans and technology – but on the care delivered by trained and socially sensitive medical professionals.

For the Toronto project, those professionals are working at the University Health Network’s Social Medicine program and the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre. The city’s Parkdale community, in the west end, has a high concentration of homeless and marginalized people.

First launched in 2014, Telus’s Health for Good program has delivered mobile clinics to 13 Canadian cities, from Victoria to Halifax. Originally designed to deliver primary care, the program pivoted to meet the needs of patients in the COVID-19 pandemic, said Nimtaz Kanji, Calgary-based director of Telus Social Purpose Programs.

Angela Robertson of the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre (CHC) asserted that marginalized people are particularly susceptible to the spread of COVID-19, as they don’t have access to the basic precautions that prevent its spread.

The clinic is located near a Pizza Pizza franchise; homeless people shelter under its overhang on the weekends, she said. Some have encampments under nearby bridges.

“The public health guidelines and requirements call for things that individuals who are homeless don’t have,” Robertson said. “If the response calls for isolation, that suggests people have places to isolate in.”

And in the shelter system, pre-COVID, the environment was very congregate, with many people in the same physical space, said Robertson. Some homeless persons, in order to keep themselves safe, have created encampments, and the city has opened up some hotel rooms across the city to create spaces for physical distancing.

Even proper hand-washing and hygiene becomes a challenge for the homeless.

“COVID calls for individuals to practice constant hand-washing. Oftentimes, individuals who are homeless use public washroom facilities that may be in restaurants or coffee shops, and many of those spaces are now closed. So there are limitations to accessing those facilities. It’s not like they’re in a community where there are public hand-washing facilities for people who are homeless.”

The mobile health clinic allows the CHC to take “pop-up testing” into communities where there is high positivity and where additional COVID testing is needed. The CHC can take testing into congregate sites and congregate housing to provide more testing, Robertson said.

“The other piece that we will use the van to do is, when the vaccine supply gets back online, and when the health system gets to doing community vaccinations … we hope that we can be part of that effort.”

COVID has contributed to a spike in cases of Toronto’s other pandemic: opioid overdoses. Some community members are reluctant to seek care because of the stigma attached to substance abuse; and COVID has a one-two punch for users.

The first rule of substance abuse is, don’t use alone; always be with someone who can respond to a potential overdose, ideally someone who can administer Nalaxone to reverse the effects of the overdose, Robertson said. “It’s substance abuse 101,” and the need for social distancing makes this impossible.

Secondly, COVID has affected the supply chain of street drugs. As a result, they’re being mixed increasingly with “toxic” impurities like Fentanyl that can be deadly.

The van itself is a Mercedes Sprinter, modified by architectural firm éKM architecture et aménagement and builder Zone Technologie, both based in Montréal. According to Car and Driver magazine, the Sprinter line – with 21 cargo models and 10 passenger versions – is “considered by many to be the king of cargo and passenger vans.”

Kanji said the platform was chosen for its reputation for reliability and robustness.

While the configuration is customized for each mobile clinic, it generally consists of two sections: A practitioner’s workstation and a more spacious and private examination room, so patients can receive treatment with privacy and dignity, Kanji said. The Parkdale clinic is 92 square feet.

“While the layouts vary across regions, they typically include an examination table and health practitioners’ workstation, including equipment necessary to provide primary healthcare,” the Telus vice-president of provider solutions wrote in an e-mail interview. The Parkdale Queen West mobile clinic is designed for primary medical services, including wound care, mobile COVID-19 testing and vaccination efforts, harm reduction services, mental healthcare and counseling.

The clinic equipped with an electronic medical record (EMR) from TELUS Health and TELUS LTE Wi-Fi network technology.

Practitioners will be able to collect and store patient data, examine a patient’s results over time, and provide better continuity of care to those marginalized citizens who often would have had undocumented medical histories.

The EMR system is Telus Health’s PS Suite (formerly Practice Solutions). It is an easy-to-use, customizable solution for general and specialty practices that captures, organizes, and displays patient information in a user-friendly way. The solution allows for the electronic management of patient charts and scheduling, receipt of labs and hospital reports directly into the EMR, and personalization of workflows with customizable templates, toolbars, and encounter assistants.

But like others tested for COVID, it’s a 24-48 hour wait for results. Pop-up or not, how does the mobile team get results to patients who have no fixed address?

The CHC set up a centre for testing in a tent at the Waterfront Community Centre. Swabs are sent to the lab. “We are responsible for connecting back with community members and their results,” Robertson said.

“This is the value of having Parkdale Queen West being in front of the testing, because many of the community members who are homeless we know through our other services, and there is some trust in folks either coming to us to make arrangements to collect their results, or we know where they are.”

This is a key element of the program, said Kanji – leveraging community trust. In Vancouver downtown east side, for example, where there is a high concentration of marginalized members of the indigenous community, nurse practitioners are accompanied by native elders in a partnership with the Kilala Lelum Health Centre.

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