Berkeleyan

Research Roundup

Discoveries and insights from Berkeley faculty

26 February 2009

Exposure to pollen, mold increases infants’ odds of developing asthma

Newborns whose first few months of life coincide with high pollen and mold seasons are at increased risk of developing early symptoms of asthma, suggests a new study led by Berkeley researchers. The team found that children born in the high mold season, which generally encompasses the fall and winter months, have three times the odds of developing wheezing — often an early sign of asthma — by age 2, compared with those born at other times of the year.

High concentrations of two groups of fungal spores, basidiospores and ascospores — emitted from such sources as mushrooms, molds, and rusts on plants — had a significant association with early wheezing among the study sample, 514 children born in the Salinas Valley — a region with mild, rainy winters and dry summers — in 1999 and 2000. As many as 40 percent of children who wheeze early in life may go on to have childhood asthma, especially if they have other allergic symptoms. The researchers are continuing to follow the children in the study, and expect to have findings from lung-function tests in another year or two.

Project documents salamander decline in Central America

By comparing the numbers of tropical salamanders in Central America today with those counted in surveys conducted between 1969 and 1978, Berkeley researchers have found that populations of many of the commonest salamanders have steeply declined.

Declines in frog populations worldwide, which have drawn wide attention, have been attributed to a variety of causes ranging from habitat destruction, pesticide use, and introduced fish predators to a fungus that causes an often-fatal disease. But these do not appear to be responsible for the decline of Central American salamanders, which researchers are attributing to the effects of global warming.

Because the “missing” salamanders tend to be those living in narrow altitude bands, global warming may be pushing them to higher, less hospitable elevations. And because several of the sampled salamander populations were in protected reserves, one message is that threatened species cannot be protected merely by putting a fence around their habitat.

Most Cambodians want trials of the Khmer Rouge

Nearly 30 years after the end of the Khmer Rouge regime, many Cambodians vividly recall the killings, torture, and starvation they suffered and witnessed. Ninety-three percent of older Cambodians consider themselves victims of the Khmer Rouge, according to a new national survey conducted by the campus Human Rights Center, with nine out of 10 respondents saying that members of the Khmer Rouge should be held accountable for the crimes they committed.

Yet 85 percent of those surveyed had little or no knowledge about the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), a joint Cambodian-international tribunal established in 2006 to try top Khmer Rouge leaders. Pre-trial proceedings commenced last week.

Respondents who were aware of the tribunal gave it very high marks, with two-thirds of them expressing belief that the ECCC judges would be fair and that it would have a positive effect on the victims of the Khmer Rouge and their families. Still, 33 percent felt the court was not neutral and 37 percent did not know exactly what the ECCC would accomplish.