Program 809,
  October 28, 2003

 

A. Scientists Discover a Way to Synthesize Coenzyme Q10

Narrator: This is Science Today. Most people don't think about taking a compound called Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ, as part of their daily nutrition. But according to biochemist Bruce Lipshutz of the University of California, Santa Barbara, although our bodies produce it, it's just as important a supplement as Vitamin C.

Lipshutz: The more people understand how important this is, I think it will catch on further. Without CoQ10 in our cells, we would have no life as we know it. It's responsible for respiration. It's part of the respiratory chain that brings energy to our cells, the currency of life.

Narrator: Today CoQ is only manufactured in Japan, but Lipshutz has discovered a way to synthesize the coenzyme that would make it readily available to Americans in a cheaper, more purified form.

Lipshutz: Much of the chemistry surrounding this process is pretty inexpensive. And if we can get the raw materials to be processed and purified for an economically attractive number, then we can get this to the point where it becomes viable.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.

B. A Study of Fear May Lead to New Behavior Therapies

Narrator: This is Science Today. Fear is a primal response and because of this, it's one of the hardest senses for people with fear anxiety to control. But behavioral scientists at UCLA have discovered repeated exposure to a fear trigger with few breaks in between is more effective than shorter exposures over a longer period of time. Dr. Mark Barad co-led the study.

Barad: We use a model in which we make mice mildly afraid by giving them a mild foot shock paired with a tone, a sound, and then we get rid of that fear by playing the sound repeatedly to the mice and so as they hear the sound without getting any more shocks, they become less fearful of that sound.

Narrator: This finding is part of a range of studies being conducted on fear extinction.

Barad: We're interested in how people ultimately get over their fears and we study a model for the kind of psychotherapy that's done to get animals over their fear called extinction and fear conditioning. In fact, this is the model that inspired behavior therapy.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.

C. A Neutron Star Theory Gains NASA Support

Narrator: This is Science Today. Neutron stars are the spinning, very compact remains of a more massive, exploded star. Physics professor Lars Bildsten of the University of California, Santa Barbara, developed a theory about the rotation rates of a neutron star, which recently received NASA support.

Bildsten: Many of these neutron stars are actually in binaries, where they are orbiting if you will, another star - much like the Sun. And those two stars orbiting each other are orbiting so close, the neutron star and a star like the Sun - that matter from the normal star is pulled off by the tidal field, forms a disc of matter around the neutron star and when that matter hits the neutron star, it forces it to spin up.

Narrator: The question left is what halts that spin up? Bildsten theorized the matter around the star causes it to slightly deform and send out ripples, or gravitational waves and these essentially set a 'speed limit' on the neutron star's rotation rate. While NASA supports the theory, the definitive test is about six years away. For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.

D. A Handheld Nuclear Detector Soon Available

Narrator: This is Science Today. Portable devices and other advanced technologies used to detect nuclear materials are under development at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Radiation Detection Center. Simon Labov, who directs the center, says they've adapted astrophysics technologies used at the Lab and applied them to these portable nuclear detectors.

Labov: That's the great thing about having a science laboratory like this where it's not just - the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory is not just a weapons laboratory, just a national security laboratory - we have all kinds of scientific things going on here and it makes a huge difference.

Narrator: The Radiation Detection Center is working on a whole suite of portable devices that use germanium - a detecting material that needs to be cooled by liquid nitrogen.

Labov: You don't want to be carrying this big heavy thing with liquid nitrogen pouring out. So we developed several versions of an instrument that uses an electromechanical cooler - basically a little refrigerator.

Narrator: Labov says this instrument is now being commercialized and will soon be available. For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.

E. A Call for More Testing of Mercury in Commercial Fish

Narrator: This is Science Today. Mercury is a toxic metal that is released into the air from power plants and certain industrial processes. It stays in the air for quite a while, giving it a chance to precipitate out into the water with the rain, where it then builds up in fish. Amy Kyle, an environmental health researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, says this process is called bioaccumulation.

Kyle: Once it gets into fish, it just stays there. It's not eliminated very fast, so fish can have concentrations of mercury in their tissue that can be hundreds of thousands or a million times higher than in the water. And people are exposed to mercury, particularly methyl mercury, which is the type we're concerned about here - by eating fish.

Narrator: Kyle conducted a study that found that 8 percent of American women of childbearing age have levels of blood mercury that are higher than recommended by the EPA.

Kyle: So it is a public health need to do some more testing of commercial fish and give women some good advice about what are the lower mercury fishes in their area. It will also vary from area to area.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.

 

 

 

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