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Canadian scientists map H1N1 flu's genetic code

Canadian scientists have made a major advance that will aid in the development of a vaccine to battle the worldwide H1N1 swine flu outbreak.

The breakthrough at Winnipeg's National Microbiology Laboratory was the world's first genetic sequencing, essentially a map of the virus' genetic code.

One of the interesting discoveries was the virus samples tested from Nova Scotia and Ontario matched those from Mexico although the Canadian cases of the flu have been much milder.

"Therefore it's not likely the virus itself that's explaining the differential in severity between Mexico and the rest of North America," said Frank Plummer, the lab's scientific director.

Scientists are examining factors such as genetic background of those infected, environmental differences between the regions and the possibility of other infections combining with the virus.

Plummer said the genetic sequencing is an "incredible" discovery and for which Mexican President Felipe Calderon even sent his personal congratulations.

There are about 220 flu cases confirmed across Canada.

Start plants or face fines, U.S. Steel told

The Canadian government is ordering U.S. Steel Corp. to restart operations at two former Stelco Inc. plants in southern Ontario.

If it fails to do so, the company could face fines of $10,000 a day or an "unwinding" of its $1 billion purchase of the Canadian steel company, said Industry Minister Tony Clement.

The temporary closing of the plants in Hamilton and Nanticoke, Ontario, affecting 1,500 workers, violates commitments the Pittsburgh company made when it bought Stelco two years ago, he said.

News in brief

• The Canadian government has given General Motors workers an "ultimatum" to agree to more concessions within a week or the company will close, Canadian Auto Workers president Ken Lewenza says. The deal would have to be similar to one reached with Chrysler but a major hurdle is protecting pensions, he said.

• It was an offer Shaw Communications, Canada's second-largest cable operator, couldn't resist: three television stations offered for 84 cents U.S. ($1 Canadian) each. The CTV Television Network told broadcast regulators it couldn't afford to keep the unprofitable stations in Windsor and Wingham, Ontario, and Brandon, Manitoba, and, in effect, offered to give them away.

• Ontario residents are shopping for natural alternatives for lawns now that the provincial government has banned chemical pesticides over health concerns. It's now illegal to use pesticides for cosmetic purposes on lawns, vegetable and ornamental gardens, patios, driveways, cemeteries, and in parks and school yards.

Facts and figures

There are signs Canada's economy is picking up with new jobs created in April and the Toronto Stock Exchange index again topping 10,000 points.

Statistics Canada reported an unexpected gain of 35,900 jobs last month, keeping the jobless rate at 8 percent.

As a result, Canada's dollar advanced to 86.47 U.S. cents Friday while the U.S. greenback returned $1.1565 Canadian.

The Bank of Canada key interest rate is 0.25 percent and the prime lending rate is 2.25 percent.

Canadian stock markets are higher with Toronto's composite index at 10,084 points and the TSX Venture index 1056 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 1, 4, 9, 20, 30 and 44; bonus 18. (May 2) 8, 15, 17, 22, 30 and 40; bonus 11. Super 7: (May 1) 1, 4, 9, 14, 22, 26 and 34; bonus 3.

Regional briefs

• Leading up to the May 12 election in British Columbia, Green Party Leader Jane Sterk has called for legalizing drugs to end gang wars. Premier Gordon Campbell said his Liberal government will protect the jobs of thousands while New Democratic Party Leader Carole James said he has abandoned forest workers, seniors and the poor.

• Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald promises a tax cut if his Conservatives are re-elected on June 9. The perceived front-runner, New Democratic Party Leader Darrell Dexter says he'll improve access to emergency medical care; Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said he will give loans to small businesses.

• Saad Khalid, 22, a member of the so-called Toronto 18, has pleaded guilty to taking part in a failed terrorist plot to bomb government buildings and storm Parliament. He and other members were arrested in 2006.

• A Montreal couple's decision to give their baby the middle name "Avalanche" has been rejected by Quebec's Registrar of Civil Status. Dad William Azeff is appealing, as he did three years ago when the middle name "Glacier" was at first rejected for his other son. The registrar can reject names "in the best interests of the child."

Jim Fox can be reached at [email protected]

Canadian scientists map H1N1 flu's genetic code 05/09/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 9, 2009 8:12pm]
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