University of Alberta research is helping advance knowledge, improve our
world, and shape the future.
In late 1921 and early 1922, biochemistry professor and alumnus James Collip
played a key role in discovering insulin. He refined the crude pancreatic extract
obtained by Frederick Banting, Charles Best, and John Macleod so it could be used
in humans. U of A researchers picked up Collip's torch and in the 1990s created the revolutionary Edmonton Protocol, a method of implanting pancreatic cells that temporarily enables severe Type 1 diabetics to stop taking insulin. More recently, scientists developed an “under the
skin” islet transplantation technique—an evolution of the Edmonton Protocol that offers less risk and greater
patient benefit, and holds potential for regenerative medicine beyond diabetes.
The team of U of A virologists led by Tom Hobman became one of the first labs in the world to join the battle against the mosquito-transmitted Zika virus. Since entering the fray, Hobman’s team has enlisted the help of the U of A’s Ingenuity Lab—a space that brings together researchers from across campus to solve complex problems—to create an inexpensive, handheld point-of-care Zika virus diagnostic. The Zika research continues a legacy of microbiology excellence at the U of A headlined by Lorne Tyrrell’s 1991 formulation of the first life-saving antiviral therapy for hepatitis B. In 2010, Tyrrell became the inaugural director of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology. The institute was made possible by a $25-million gift from the Li Ka Shing (Canada) Foundation. Researchers at the institute include Michael Houghton, who co-led the discovery of the hepatitis C virus in 1989 and is now testing a vaccine.
Science and Technology
Researchers found that ancient seawater was involved in forming diamonds in Canada's North. The same researchers previously confirmed the presence of massive amounts of
water deep beneath the Earth’s surface, furthering theories that
Earth’s transition zone may contain as much water as all the world’s oceans.
With U of A researchers having already solved checkers and heads-up limit Texas hold 'em, a group of U of A computing science grads working at Google DeepMind developed the first computer Go program capable of professional-level play. The program, AlphaGo, achieved a 99.8 per cent win rate against other Go programs and defeated the 14-time world champion Lee Sedol.
To better understand how forest management affects water supply and quality, the
U of A’s Southern Rockies Watershed Project is the first major effort globally to
examine forest disturbance on water from source to tap.
Internationally, we are exporting our water quality monitoring, treatment, and
transport technology advances through global partnerships, like IC-IMPACTS—a
five-year, $30-million Canada-India research collaboration seeking solutions to
water challenges affecting the quality of life for people in India and Canada.
Energy, the Environment, and Climate Change
In the 1920s, researcher Karl Clark devised the technique for liberating the
175 billion barrels of oil locked up in Alberta’s oilsands. Today, more than
1,000 U of A researchers collaborate on the oilsands and its environmental
impact, looking at carbon-capture sequestration, deep geothermal energy,
emission reduction, land reclamation, and water conservation.
Forest ecologists at the U of A found that the nitrogen and sulphur emissions from oilsands operations are having a positive effect on forest vegetation. Researchers found an increased number of species in the undergrowth, an increased amount of cover, a high abundance of the common lichens, and tree diameter growth up to 30 per cent greater than it had been prior to the oilsands development.
The U of A has long been considered a hotbed of paleontology research thanks in large part to the work of world-renowned dinosaur expert Phil Currie. U of A paleontologists’ discoveries over the past year include:
- an 80-million-year-old species of iguana in Brazil that suggests ancient iguanas roamed the single landmass of Pangaea before its final breakup
- Machimosaurus rex, the largest and the last survivor of crocodiles that lived in oceans 130 million years ago. The crocodile’s skull was more than 1.5 metres long, with its total body measuring nearly 11 metres long.
- an Ornithomimus dinosaur with preserved tail feathers and soft tissue, which sheds light on the convergent evolution of these dinosaurs with ostriches and emus, and tightens the links between dinosaurs and modern birds
- a new species of horned dinosaur found in Alberta’s Badlands that may bridge an evolutionary gap between earlier and later species in the same family, known as ceratopsians