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Campus Research at Work
New Discoveries Advance Science, Enrich Lives

By Tamara Keith, Public Affairs

UC Berkeley is a cornucopia of research and discovery. Scientific breakthroughs regularly occur in campus laboratories and classrooms, improving our lives and understanding. For example:

Growing Better Brains
Professor Marian Diamond knows brains. As a Berkeley researcher and professor in integrative biology, she has spent more than three decades studying the complicated gray mass. In her latest book she's letting the world in on a significant discovery about the way a child's brain develops and how parents can help the process.

Diamond's new book, co-authored by Janet Hopson, "Magic Trees of the Mind: How to Nurture Your Child's Intelligence, Creativity, and Healthy Emotions from Birth through Adolescence" (E P Dutton, 1998), surveys studies of human and animal brain development and draws inferences about the best way to enrich a child's brain.

"We have to catch the brain while it's growing rapidly after birth," said Diamond. "If you provide early enrichment while the brain is growing rapidly you can get larger changes than after it has reached its peak of growth." This informative guide on how to get the most out of a child's mind from fetus to teen includes more than 100 pages of learning resources for the parent and educator, including suggested computer software.

Diamond's research is just one of many scientific breakthroughs that occur on campus almost daily. A significant number of them have wide-ranging impact. In the last year alone Berkeley faculty and researchers have made many discoveries that are already affecting the average citizen in countless ways.

Pollution Busters
UC Berkeley researchers recently discovered that cattails and other wetland vegetation are more than just pretty plants; they actually work as pollution busters, cleaning contaminated water and soil. Wetland vegetation planted around a Bay Area Chevron oil refinery for cosmetic reasons was found to remove 89 percent of the toxic chemical selenium from the refinery's waste water (which flows through the plants on its way to the Bay).

The investigation revealed that 10 to 30 percent of the selenium is broken down and then released harmlessly into the air through a process called volatilization. The rest is stored in the plants' roots, shoots and sediments. Researchers are now looking at ways to get the most out of the plants' natural filtering system.

"This approach will revolutionize water treatment in the Western U.S.," said Professor Norman Terry, a UC Berkeley plant biologist and principal investigator on the study of this natural filtration system. "There will be thousands of acres of constructed wetlands put in."

Lizards and Lyme Disease
A recent UC Berkeley study of ticks in the East Bay Hills explains why Lyme disease is less common in California than in the northeastern United States. Ticks carrying the Lyme disease bacterium can be cleansed of the infection when they feed on the blood of a common western fence lizard.

"Lizards are doing humanity a great service here," said Robert Lane, professor of insect biology in Berkeley's College of Natural Resources. "The lizard's blood contains a substance -- probably a heat-sensitive protein -- that kills the Lyme disease spirochete, a kind of bacterium."

Lane's study of ticks in Tilden Park showed that only 1.3 percent of adult ticks and 5.7 percent of nymphal ticks carry the Lyme disease bacterium. These rates are much lower than those in northeastern states where approximately 50 percent of adult ticks and 25 percent of nymphal ticks carry the disease.

Lane collaborated with Berkeley researcher Gary Quistad on the recent work, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health. .



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