In the News

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

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.