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UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 12 | Dec. 4, 2003

In the News

Highlights of UBC Media Coverage in November 2003

Compiled by Brian Lin

UBC Researcher Discovers ‘Control Room’ that Regulates Immune Response

The approximately 50 million people in the U.S. who suffer from autoimmune diseases like HIV / AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis, may soon be able to control their immune responses, thanks to a breakthrough discovery by UBC microbiology and immunology professor Wilfred Jefferies.

Jefferies has discovered and characterized the mechanics of a cellular pathway that triggers immune responses, reported the Associated Press. He and his team have also uncovered a specialized cell substructure, or organelle, that dictates exactly how the immune system will be activated.

Jefferies believes that it will take about five years for scientists to use this information to create new therapies such as medication or vaccines to regulate immune responses in humans.

A New Kind of Genome

Some scientists are now sequencing “metagenomes,” the DNA of entire ecosystems. The new efforts seek to read all the DNA in the bacterial communities found in a patch of soil or seawater or even the lining of the human gut.

Extracting DNA fragments from the environment can be difficult, particularly from soil, which contains acids that break down the genetic material.

“When somebody says they are going to sequence all the bacteria in a soil sample, well, that’s rubbish,” UBC microbiology and immunology professor emeritus Julian Davies told The New York Times.

There is still debate about how valuable it will be to reconstruct the genomes of all members of a community. “What you get is a catalogue,” Davies said. “You get unnamed organisms. The question is how can you tell what they do.”

Fish Fart Not Just Hot Air

Biologists have linked a mysterious, underwater farting sound to bubbles coming out of a herring’s anus. No fish had been known to emit sound from its anus nor to be capable of producing such a high-pitched noise.

“It sounds just like a high-pitched raspberry,” UBC fisheries professor Ben Wilson told the New Scientist.

Wilson and his colleagues cannot be sure why herring make this sound, but initial research suggests that it might explain the puzzle of how shoals keep together after dark.

HIV Undertreated Despite Availability of Free Care

Patients continue to die from untreated HIV despite the availability of free health care and drugs in some areas, according to research conducted by UBC professor Evan Wood.

Wood and colleagues used statistical tests to compare patients who had received anti-HIV drugs before death with those who had died without ever receiving treatment. HIV care and antiretroviral drugs are available free of charge in B.C.

Of the 1,094 patients who died from an HIV-related cause, nearly a third had never received treatment, the authors report in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Even among those who received treatment, only 28 percent of aboriginal people and 36 percent of women received anti-HIV drugs at least 75 percent of the time, the report indicates.

Cultural barriers “will need a culturally driven and relevant response,” Wood told Reuters.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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