Program 931,
  February 27 , 2006

 

A. A Study Finds Anthrax Toxins are Also Harmful to Fruit Flies

Narrator:        This is Science Today. Anthrax toxins that cause disease and death in mammals have been found to have similar toxic effects in fruit flies. Biologist Ethan Bier of the University of California , San Diego says his labs findings will give researchers insight into how these toxins function at a molecular level, which may lead to new therapies to neutralize the effects of anthrax in humans. 
 
Bier:    The bacterium produces two toxins, one called lethal factor and one called edema factor, that contribute to the virulence of the bacterium.
 
Narrator:        Fruit flies lack components required for toxin entry into the cells, so they can't actually contract anthrax, but the researchers discovered that fruit flies can be used to test the effects of lethal factor or edema factor toxins on the signaling pathways shared by flies and humans.
 
Bier: So we can put these toxins into flies and just say “what do they do?” And then go back to people who are studying these toxins and providing them with a hypothesis as to what it might be doing and they can try to test that out.

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

B. Researchers Say Cellulosic Technology Has a Bright Future

Narrator: This is Science Today. A new study has found that using ethanol produced by corn in your gasoline tank saves oil and is probably no worse for the environment than burning gasoline. But Dan Kammen of the University of California , Berkeley 's Energy & Resources Group, says the transition would be worth it especially if the ethanol was produced not from corn, but from woody, fibrous plants, or cellulose.

Kammen: If you switch from corn to so-called cellulosic sources using waste from sawmills, using switch grass, landfill waste, all the kinds of other materials that you can put in, this starchier material that you can make ethanol from, then you win on both fronts. You can displace lots of gasoline and you can do it with much, much less greenhouse gases.

Narrator: More research is needed, especially on the enzymes needed to breakdown and ultimately convert cellulosic materials to ethanol, but Kammen says their studies indicate it's a real winner.

Kammen: So, corn looks pretty good to OK, but cellulosic looks like an absolute slam dunk. You really will get some big benefits if you make that switch.

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

C. A Basic Understanding of Memory Receptors in the Brain

Narrator: This is Science Today. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco used a novel approach in neurobiology to understand how crucial receptors in brain neurons, called AMPA receptors, communicate with other neurons to form memory. Dr. Pam England says they used a combination of pharmacology and using light to irreversibly inactivate receptors.

England : We inactivated them on certain parts of the cell, so in that way we could now measure how long does it take for new receptors to get to that part of the cell. The molecule we made is a molecule that will bind to the receptor and when you shine light on the molecule bound to the receptor, it forms an irreversible bond with the receptor and inactivates it. We were the first ones to make that type of molecule for an AMPA receptor.

Narrator: The study offers a basic understanding of how these receptors move.

England : That doesn't directly tell us how to improve memory, but it's fine tuning exactly what the targets should be for pharmaceutical industry that could treat memory disorders.

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

D. Overeating is Not the Only Cause of Childhood Obesity

Narrator: This is Science Today. It's not just overeating that's causing childhood obesity; it's changes in society that we often don't realize. Patricia Crawford, co-director of the center for Weight and Health at the University of California , Berkeley says the way neighborhoods are organized today only add to the problem.

Crawford: We have an environment where children sit during the day; they sit on the way to school, the way home from school, we have children at home by themselves and the parents don't want them to go out where it may not be as safe. We have other situations where parents are home and they still want to supervise their children when they're out and they don't have time.

Narrator: Crawford says marketing is another huge factor contributing to childhood obesity.

Crawford: The television shows, the video games, the computers, all of the ways in which kids can be inactive have really been promoted. And the ways in which kids could be active have actually been deemphasized in our society because it's harder for the children to take part in those.

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

E. Pay Attention to the Early Signs of Depression

Narrator: This is Science Today. Even with medicine like Prozac available to treat depression, a new study by Dr. Lewis Judd of the University of California , San Diego School of Medicine, found that many people do not seek help.

Judd : I think there are a lot of reasons why people do not identify it in themselves and report it. The first is that people are not aware that they have an illness. They think it's just a phase of life that will go away. But it is “I can fix myself, I'm strong, I just have to pull myself up on my boot straps, there's nothing really wrong with me.

 Narrator: Judd says some physicians are still not able to recognize the early signs of depression and write it off as the patient just feeling down.

 Judd : People with depression, a significant component of it are suicidal ideation and suicidal behavior, and if not treated it can be potentially lethal. So these are the issues, but really what is most encouraging is that we've entered a scientific era in which we know a great deal about this illness and we have many different ways to treat it that are quite effective.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For comments or more information about Science Today, contact Larissa Branin at larissa.branin@ucop.edu