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U of T Entrepreneurship Week: Six startups working on COVID-19 innovations – News@UofT



From speeding up diagnostic testing to streamlining communications between health-care facilities and promoting hand-washing, University of Toronto startups are finding a number of ways to contribute to the fight against COVID-19.

Many U of T entrepreneurs pivoted quickly during the early days of the pandemic to help address a global health threat, demonstrating a capacity for innovation, flexibility and quick-thinking. 

With Entrepreneurship Week underway, here’s a look at six U of T startups whose innovative products and services are helping shape the response to the pandemic.

Structura Biotechnology

U of T PhD candidate Ali Punjani (right) is CEO of the U of T startup Structura Biotechnology, which is built on research he did during his PhD in computer science at U of T. His sister, Saara Virani (left), is the company’s chief operating officer (photo by Chris Sorensen)

Before COVID-19 vaccines could be developed, researchers needed to understand the coronavirus spike protein – the part of the virus that infects human cells. Thanks to software developed by Structura Biotechnology, they were able to do so at warp speed, without a lot of the trial and error that usually characterizes such efforts.

The company’s contribution was a software program called cryoSPARC that can quickly process data of the spike protein and generate 3D images, allowing scientists in academia and pharma alike to understand 3D protein structures.

Using cryoSPARC, which was spun out of research done by Ali Punjani while he was a PhD student in the department of computer science and was designed by alumnus Suhail Dawood, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the U.S. National Institutes of Health were able to quickly go from a raw sample to being able to produce an atomic scale map of the spike, according to research that was published in the journal Science.

“One of their novel algorithms, referred to as 3D Variability Analysis, provided insights into the dynamic motions of the coronavirus spike protein that are important for receptor-binding and membrane fusion,” Jason McLellan, an associate professor in molecular biosciences at UT Austin, told U of T News in February 2020.

“The work by UT Austin and the NIH demonstrates the power of structural biology,” Punjani said at the time. “We can actually look at a new disease that was discovered just a couple of months ago and see how it works at the molecular level. It’s very exciting.”

Structura Biotechnology’s product is already being used by hundreds of institutions worldwide, including the University of California, Berkeley, the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and several large labs.

LSK Technologies

From left to right: Livia Guo, Assistant Professor Keith Pardee and Seray Çiçek of LSK Technologies, which is developing a portable, “lab-in-a-box” technology to diagnose COVID-19 and other diseases (photo courtesy of LSK Technologies)

Founded by alumni Seray Çiçek and Yuxiu (Livia) Guo, along with Assistant Professor Keith Pardee of the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, LSK Technologies has invented a portable diagnostic device that can provide rapid testing for infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

The origins of the device lie in a special paper, invented by Pardee in 2016, that changes colour in reaction to a viral genome. In 2018, Çiçek and Guo – then graduate students in Pardee’s lab – built a portable device that could use the paper to provide test results, and can be used even by people not skilled in medical and lab processes.

Since joining U of T’s UTEST and Health Innovation Hub (H2i) in 2019, the company has gone from strength to strength, creating prototypes, running pilot projects, securing investment and winning a series of awards, including at the RBC Innovation and Entrepreneurship Early Stage Competition.

The first versions of the device, dubbed PLUM, were deployed to remote Latin American communities to tackle the threat of Zika virus. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the company quickly expanded their platform to diagnose SARS-CoV-2.


(photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

Hypercare, a digital app developed by U of T alumnus Albert Tai, enables health-care workers in different facilities and hospitals to streamline their communications, helping to improve the care of COVID-19 patients.

Prior to the app being rolled out, a physician attending to a patient with COVID-19 would typically need to go through multiple phone calls and paged messages to co-ordinate care.

Hypercare simplifies matters by enabling the physician to use an app to alert critical care response teams that can facilitate the transfer of a patient to the intensive care unit while co-ordinating with an intensivist and anesthesiologist over the app.

Launched by Tai alongside Joseph Choi, an emergency physician at the University Health Network and assistant professor in U of T’s department of medicine in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, and software engineer Umar Azhar, Hypercare received support from H2i and UTEST before securing investments from angel investors.

The company’s app is now being used by nearly 600 health-care staff throughout Toronto’s Michael Garron Hospital. It’s also being used by inner-city physicians to improve care for people experiencing homelessness.


Co-founded by U of T alumnus Marc Fiume, DNAstack launched a search engine aimed at the global research community that scans and indexes genomic information about the novel coronavirus (photo by Jeff Beardall)

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, DNAstack – a software company that specializes in cloud computing solutions for the biomedical space – quickly adapted its technology to address the public health crisis.

Their solution: COVID-19 Beacon, a search engine that can scan and index genomic information about the SARS-CoV-2 virus shared by scientists from across the globe.

Based on the company’s health-oriented search engine, the COVID-19 Beacon tool enables researchers to use information on the virus’s genome and other biological data to see how the virus evolves as it moves through the global population.

“By sharing this genomic information over a cloud-based global network, there is the potential to improve knowledge of COVID-19 at a speed and scale that isn’t otherwise possible,” said DNAstack co-founder Marc Fiume, who earned his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD from U of T, in an interview with U of T News in May 2020.

“That will contribute to new ways to fight the virus, such as the development of a vaccine.”

DNAstack also leads the COVID Cloud consortium, which is dedicated to expanding development of software platforms for genomics and health data pertinent to COVID-19. In December, the company announced that COVID Cloud secured $5.1 million for the project, which is co-funded by Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster.


Melanie Ratnam (centre, top row) and her team pivoted their startup Indaggo, conceived as a platform to help labs source supplies, when COVID-19 struck. They are now connecting health-care workers with donated equipment (screenshot via Zoom)

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, many labs and research facilities halted operations. For U of T Scarborough startup Indaggo – which was preparing to launch a platform to help labs source research supplies – that meant having to put its launch and business plan on hold.

But it wasn’t long before the company decided to refocus its efforts on helping front-line medical workers and organizations access health and medical supplies such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand sanitizer. How? By developing a platform called RESPOND to connect organizations in need of the supplies to willing donors.

“If an organization is in need of something – say, 500 bottles of hand sanitizer, they can log into the app and put out a call,” said Indaggo’s founder Melanie Ratnam in a May 2020 interview.

“Volunteers can then respond by donating toward the goal.”

Among the organizations that have used the application is Services and Housing in the Province (SHIP), a non-profit that provides housing and supports to vulnerable populations in the Greater Toronto Area.

“During these uncertain times, many doors have been closed to those most in need. Individuals who are homeless, precariously housed or living with a mental health issue may face increased challenges in practicing measures essential to keeping them safe,” said Laurie Ridler, CEO of SHIP.

“Indaggo has supported SHIP in working toward these efforts through a generous donation of 500 hand-sewn masks. We are thankful of the support for our community, especially at a time like this.”

Hygienic Echo

U of T and UHN researcher Geoff Fernie’s startup makes a wearable device that reminds health-care workers to wash their hands, helping to reduce hospital-acquired COVID-19 infections (photo courtesy of The Kite Research Institute at UHN)

A wearable device developed by Hygienic Echo – a startup founded by Professor Geoff Fernie of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering and the Temerty Faculty of Medicine – is helping reduce the spread of hospital-acquired COVID-19 infections by reminding health-care workers to wash their hands.

The “Buddy Badge” comprises an array of sensors that are connected to hand-washing stations, doorways and paths to patient wards. If a worker hasn’t washed their hands before passing through a doorway to a patient’s room, for example, it will vibrate to remind them to do so.

“Studies in some hospitals showed that our device has doubled the hand hygiene rate, which should reduce the infection rates,” said Fernie, a senior scientist and former director of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, in an April 2020 interview. “We hope this system helps change the habits of health-care workers, making it safer for everyone.”

Hygienic Echo was formed in 2018 with the goal of creating products that help reduce infections. The company’s technology was the product of 17 years of wearable technology research by Fernie and his team.

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Breathtaking NASA Image Shows a Magical ‘Sea of Dunes’ on Mars



On Thursday, NASA released a stunning photo of a sea of dunes on Mars.

It also shows wind-sculpted lines surrounding Mars’ frosty northern polar cap.

The section captured in the shot represents an area that is 31 kilometers (19 miles) wide, NASA said. The sea of dunes, however, actually covers an area as large as Texas.

The photo is a false color image, meaning that the colors are representative of temperatures. Blue represents cooler climes, and the shades of yellow mark out “sun-warmed dunes,” the US space agency wrote.

Sea of dark dunes surrounds Mars’ northern polar cap.(NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU)

The photo is made of a combination of images captured by the Thermal Emission Imaging System instrument on the Mars Odyssey orbiter, NASA wrote.

Captured during the period from December 2002 to November 2004, the breathtaking images have been released to mark the 20th anniversary of Odyssey.

The Mars Odyssey orbiter is a robotic spacecraft circling Mars that uses a thermal imager to detect evidence of water and ice on the planet.

It was launched in 2001, making it the longest-working Mars spacecraft in history.

Source:- ScienceAlert

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Humans actually hunted large animals and ate mostly meat for 2 millions years: study – CTV News



Despite a widespread belief that humans owe their evolution to the dietary flexibility in eating both meat and vegetables, researchers in Israel suggest that early humans were actually apex predators who hunted large animals for two million years before they sought vegetables to supplement their diet.

In a study recently published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, academics from Tel Aviv University in Israel and the University of Minho in Portugal examined modern biology to determine if stone-age humans were specialized carnivores or generalist omnivores.

“So far, attempts to reconstruct the diet of Stone-Age humans were mostly based on comparisons to 20th century hunter-gatherer societies,” one of the study’s authors, Miki Ben-Dor, a researcher at Tel Aviv University, said in a press release.

“This comparison is futile, however, because two million years ago hunter-gatherer societies could hunt and consume elephants and other large animals – while today’s hunter gatherers do not have access to such bounty.”

Instead, the researchers looked at approximately 400 previous scientific studies on human anatomy and physiology as well as archeological evidence from the Pleistocene period, or “Ice Age” period, which began about 2.6 million years ago, and lasted until 11,700 years ago.

“We decided to use other methods to reconstruct the diet of Stone-Age humans: to examine the memory preserved in our own bodies, our metabolism, genetics and physical build,” Ben-Dor said.

“Human behaviour changes rapidly, but evolution is slow. The body remembers.”

They discovered 25 lines of evidence from the studied papers on human biology that seem to show that earlier Homo sapiens were apex predators at the top of the food chain.

For example, the academics explained that humans have a high acidity in their stomachs when compared to omnivores or even other predators, which is important for consuming animal products.

“Strong acidity provides protection from harmful bacteria found in meat, and prehistoric humans, hunting large animals whose meat sufficed for days or even weeks, often consumed old meat containing large quantities of bacteria, and thus needed to maintain a high level of acidity,” Ben-Dor said.

Another piece of evidence, according to the study, is the structure of human fat cells.

“In the bodies of omnivores, fat is stored in a relatively small number of large fat cells, while in predators, including humans, it’s the other way around: we have a much larger number of smaller fat cells,” Ben-Dor said.


In addition to the evidence they collected by studying human biology, the researchers said archeological evidence from the Pleistocene period supports their theory.

In one example, the study’s authors examined stable isotopes in the bones of prehistoric humans as well as their hunting practices and concluded these early humans specialized in hunting large and medium-sized animals with high fat content.

“Comparing humans to large social predators of today, all of whom hunt large animals and obtain more than 70% of their energy from animal sources, reinforced the conclusion that humans specialized in hunting large animals and were in fact hypercarnivores,” the academics noted.

Ben-Dor said Stone-Age humans’ expertise in hunting large animals played a major role in the extinction of certain large animals, such as mammoths, mastodons, and giant sloths.

“Most probably, like in current-day predators, hunting itself was a focal human activity throughout most of human evolution. Other archeological evidence – like the fact that specialized tools for obtaining and processing vegetable foods only appeared in the later stages of human evolution – also supports the centrality of large animals in the human diet, throughout most of human history,” he said.

This is not to say, however, that humans during this period didn’t eat any plants. Ben-Dor said they also consumed plants, but they weren’t a major component of their diet until the end of the era when the decline of animal food sources led humans to increase their vegetable intake.

Eventually, the researchers said humans had no choice but to domesticate both plants and animals and become farmers.

Ran Barkai, one of the study’s authors and a professor at Tel Aviv University, said their findings have modern-day implications.

“For many people today, the Paleolithic diet is a critical issue, not only with regard to the past, but also concerning the present and future. It is hard to convince a devout vegetarian that his/her ancestors were not vegetarians, and people tend to confuse personal beliefs with scientific reality,” he said. 

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Marimaca Copper: First Drill Hole Intersects Broad Zone of Sulphide Copper Mineralization at Marimaca – Junior Mining Network



VANCOUVER, British Columbia, April 07, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Marimaca Copper Corp. (“Marimaca Copper” or the “Company”) (TSX: MARI) is pleased to announce the assay results of the first drill hole of a five-hole program targeting extensions of sulphide mineralization below the Company’s flagship Marimaca Oxide Deposit (“MOD”). Drilling encountered a broad zone of chalcopyrite and minor chalcocite, indicating potential for economic sulphide mineralization.


  • Drill hole MAR-125 intersected 116m (expected approximate true width) at an average grade of 0.51% CuT from 162m, including two higher grade zones of:
    • 20m with an average grade of 0.77% CuT from 162m; and
    • 42m with an average grade of 0.92% CuT from 236m.
  • Intersection represents a significantly broader zone of mineralization than anticipated from earlier, nearby, sulphide drilling intersections
  • First drill hole of an initial five-hole campaign to test for extensions of mineralization at depth
    • First hole designed to extend mineralization closer to sulphide zones identified in historical drilling
    • Remaining four holes designed to test the limits of mineralization with step outs of approximately 300m at depth and between 400m and 700m along strike to the north and south of the first hole
  • Sulphide drilling to be completed shortly, with assay results on remaining holes expected by the end of April 2021
  • In response to escalating COVID situation in Chile, the Company has initiated a break in drilling which is not expected to impact the original target of testing all identified targets by the end of 1H 2021.

Sergio Rivera, VP Exploration of Marimaca Copper, commented:

“The results of the first hole of this initial campaign are extremely pleasing, exceeding both the widths and grades we had projected for this zone based on earlier drilling completed nearby. The broad intercept of chalcopyrite mineralization shows good continuity downhole, with potentially economic grades, especially at the bottom of the intercept.

“The drilling has also provided additional geological information, which we are using to refine our understanding of the controls of mineralization and to inform future drillhole locations, targeting mineralized extensions at depth and along strike.

“The next four holes are significant step outs from the known mineralized zones outside of the Mineral Resource Estimate area and are designed to test the limits of the mineralized body, both at depth and along strike. The second hole will be collared approximately 350m to the east of MAR-125, targeting mineralization up to 300m below the current deepest mineralization. The third, fourth and fifth holes will be located between 400m and 700m to the north and south of MAR-125, aiming to test for extensions along strike.

“This first hole has provided encouragement that there is potential for economically interesting sulphide mineralization at Marimaca, while the next four drill holes are designed to better delineate the tonnage potential of this.”

Discussion of Campaign Objectives and Results

The current five-hole drilling campaign at the Marimaca Copper Project is designed to test for extensions to mineralization below the MOD. Based on the structural controls of the mineralization, the results of previous geophysical campaigns and earlier drilling, which extended beyond the current Mineral Resource Estimate (“MRE”) area, the Company believes there is the potential for extensions of the mineralized body at depth across the full strike length of the MOD. All drill holes will be drilled at an azimuth of 270o and at -60o, roughly perpendicular to the north-south striking, easterly dipping mineralizing structures. Intercepts should, therefore, be relatively close to the true width of the mineralization.

The first drill hole (MAR-125) encountered a broad zone of dominantly chalcopyrite mineralization with some pyrite and minor chalcocite over a down hole width (expected to be equivalent to approximate true width) of 116m with an average grade of 0.51% CuT. This includes two zones of higher-grade mineralization including 20m with an average grade of 0.77% CuT and 42m with an average grade of 0.92% CuT at the end of the mineralized intercept. The hole was collared to test mineralization approximately 100m to the east of the earlier hole ATR-82, which intersected 44m of sulphide copper mineralization with an average grade of 1.05% CuT, and 200m and 300m east of holes ATR-93 and ATR-94 respectively, which both intersected mineralization with true widths of around 40m with average grades above 1.0% CuT. MAR-125 has demonstrated an extension to this higher-grade mineralization and provides further areas to target for follow up drilling.

MAR-125 is located in the center of the current MRE area, proximal to a zone of relatively high-grade sulphide mineralization intercepted in several drill holes over widths of between 30m and 50m. The remaining four drill holes have been located to test the limits of the mineralization by stepping out significantly at depth and along strike beyond the current MRE area. The collar of the second hole, MAS-03, is located approximately 100m to the south and 350m to the east of MAR-125 and is aimed to intersect mineralization approximately 300m below MAR-125. MAS-02 and MAS-04, located approximately 400m and 700m, respectively, south of MAR-125, and are planned as significant step outs along strike, targeting the conductivity high noted in the IP survey completed across the MOD

Figure 2

Sampling and Assay Protocol

True widths cannot be determined with the information available at this time. Marimaca Copper RC holes were sampled on a 2-metre continuous basis, with dry samples riffle split on site and one quarter sent to the Andes Analytical Assay preparation laboratory in Calama and the pulps then sent to the same company laboratory in Santiago for assaying. A second quarter was stored on site for reference. Samples were prepared using the following standard protocol: drying; crushing to better than 85% passing -10#; homogenizing; splitting; pulverizing a 500-700g subsample to 95% passing -150#; and a 125g split of this sent for assaying. All samples were assayed for CuT (total copper), CuS (acid soluble copper) by AAS. A full QA/QC program, involving insertion of appropriate blanks, standards and duplicates was employed with acceptable results. Pulps and sample rejects are stored by Marimaca Copper for future reference.

Qualified Person

The technical information in this news release, including the information that relates to geology, drilling and mineralization was prepared under the supervision of, or has been reviewed by Sergio Rivera, Vice President of Exploration, Marimaca Copper Corp, a geologist with more than 36 years of experience and a member of the Colegio de Geólogos de Chile and of the Institute of Mining Engineers of Chile, and who is the Qualified Person for the purposes of NI 43-101 responsible for the design and execution of the drilling program.

Mr. Rivera confirms that he has visited the Marimaca Project on numerous occasions, is responsible for the information contained in this news release and consents to its publication.

Contact Information
For further information please visit or contact:

+44 (0) 207 920 3150
Jos Simson/Emily Moss 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Forward Looking Statements

This news release includes certain “forward-looking statements” under applicable Canadian securities legislation. These statements relate to future events or the Company’s future performance, business prospects or opportunities. Forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, the impact of a rebranding of the Company, the future development and exploration potential of the Marimaca Project. Actual future results may differ materially. There can be no assurance that such statements will prove to be accurate, and actual results and future events could differ materially from those anticipated in such statements. Forward-looking statements reflect the beliefs, opinions and projections on the date the statements are made and are based upon a number of assumptions and estimates that, while considered reasonable by Marimaca Copper, are inherently subject to significant business, economic, competitive, political and social uncertainties and contingencies. Many factors, both known and unknown, could cause actual results, performance or achievements to be materially different from the results, performance or achievements that are or may be expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements and the parties have made assumptions and estimates based on or related to many of these factors. Such factors include, without limitation: risks related to share price and market conditions, the inherent risks involved in the mining, exploration and development of mineral properties, the uncertainties involved in interpreting drilling results and other geological data, fluctuating metal prices, the possibility of project delays or cost overruns or unanticipated excessive operating costs and expenses, uncertainties related to the necessity of financing, the availability of and costs of financing needed in the future as well as those factors disclosed in the Company’s documents filed from time to time with the securities regulators in the Provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. Accordingly, readers should not place undue reliance on forward-looking statements. Marimaca Copper undertakes no obligation to update publicly or otherwise revise any forward-looking statements contained herein whether as a result of new information or future events or otherwise, except as may be required by law.

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