Program 811,
  November 11, 2003


A. Save the Dirt: Rare and Endangered Soils

Narrator: This is Science Today. Certain soils in the United States, like certain plants and animals, are becoming increasingly rare, with some at risk of becoming extinct. Ronald Amundson, a professor of ecosystem sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, explains.

Amundson: We found that out of these nearly 20,000 different soil types, there's roughly 30 or 40 that we would consider more or less extinct. They've all been either converted to farming or urbanization.

Narrator: In their study, Amundson and his group used a unique map of soil diversity that depicts rare and endangered soils.

Amundson: We produced a map of the United States to show sort of the hot spots of endangered soils lie. In the Great Plains, the Cornbelt, the Great Valley of California were all areas where red colors basically dominated the map, as one might expect, due to the intensity of land use in these areas.

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

B. New Insight in to Why We Crave Comfort Foods When Stressed

Narrator: This is Science Today. If you're chronically stressed out, chances are you will reach for chocolate or other comfort foods. Mary Dallman, a physiology professor at the University of California, San Francisco, found that when chronically stressed, stress hormones in rats prompted them to engage in pleasure-seeking behaviors - like eating high-energy foods.

Dallman: They drank more sucrose, but they ate less chow so that their caloric intake wasn't any more, but their sucrose intake was and the high sucrose in any sort of animal helps to put on abdominal fat.

Narrator: Evolutionarily speaking, Dallman says this kind of weight gain when stressed makes sense. But in the long-term, this kind of fat is not good.

Dallman: This particular fat mass is associated strongly with bad outcome with time. Cardiovascular disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes - and these are major problems in our society and perhaps some of that is a consequence of this comfort food notion - which is still a hypothesis.

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

C. Promoting Combined Heat and Power Among Small Businesses

Narrator: This is Science Today. What if all the mini-malls in the United States joined together to dramatically improve our country's energy situation? It's visions like this that have inspired a collaboration between The U.S. Department of Energy and three California universities that will promote the use of Combined Heat and Power among small businesses. Professor Daniel Kammen of the University of California, Berkeley, explains.

Kammen: Usually the issue is that there is a mini-mall somewhere or a neighborhood that has a little power plant that they're operating already and there is waste heat that is not being captured, but you can also find ways to capture that heat.

Narrator: The Combined Heat and Power mandate will educate local industries on how to capture waste heat and how to install cleaner burning, higher efficiency alternatives.

Kammen: If we could for example convert a quarter of the businesses in California and the Western states that we are responsible for in the Center, to some version of Combined Heat and Power, that's a potential huge savings for the country in terms of energy, for the businesses in terms of power and then very directly a big savings in the amount of green house gases that get emitted from these operations.

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

D. Old Mines are a Major Source of Mercury Contamination

Narrator: This is Science Today. Mercury has recently been recognized as a major environmental concern because concentrations of mercury once considered safe are now known to cause neurological damage. Russ Flegal, an environmental toxicologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, says one of the reasons controlling levels of mercury is so difficult is because mercury is so volatile as a gas.

Flegal: Large amounts of mercury are found in fossil fuel products so when they burn coal, that puts a lot of mercury into the atmosphere. So recently in the United States, they've gone at great lengths to control mercury emissions from coal production.

Narrator: Flegal says it used to be thought that simply plugging up openings to abandoned mercury mines could do this.

Flegal: But when they process mercury, they take the ores out and they heat them - they volatize whatever mercury they can and they push the slag rock over the hill, and that slag is essentially pure mercury sulfite anyway and so when it's exposed to the environment, it continues to release mercury.

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

E. Acute Seizures Demand Medical Attention

Narrator: This is Science Today. Seizures occur when the brain's neurons misfire, frequently causing abnormal movement and behavior in the human body. When a seizure happens, the brain can often return to its normal functions rather quickly - usually in less than a minute. But as Doctor Brian Alldredge, a neurology professor at the University of California at San Francisco points out, sometimes the brain is unable to respond.

Alldredge: In some cases, either when people have epilepsy or people have an insult to the brain that causes their first seizure in their lifetime, the normal brain functions that stop seizures cannot be present, or the extent of the injury is so big that the brain can't stop the injury by itself.

Narrator: If a seizure lasts for much longer than a minute, Alldredge says the situation can be life threatening.

Alldredge: And when it starts to last three, four, five minutes and longer than that, it becomes what we call an acute seizure or an emergent seizure - something that requires emergency medical attention.

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







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