endeavors Winter 2010
Research and Creative Activity • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The hands that feed page 6
Howard McAdams, standing in the doorway of a barn at his Orange County farm, helps charity volunteers glean his fields so that food pantries have fresh produce to give to clients. Photo by Donn Young.
my son spent two months in a military training program designed to test his endurance, day and night, over rugged terrain. The rations he carried were scant, just barely enough to keep him alive. He lost twenty-five pounds. In his few, hurried letters, scribbled outdoors in the dark, he described the dire ache in his belly, the weakness in his limbs. He apologized for upsetting me, because he knows how I am about food. (If I miss a feeding, it’s hello Mr. Hyde.) Of all my son’s ordeals, hunger was the hardest for us both. That’s why this issue’s cover story hit me where I live. It’s alarming to realize how
many other people’s sons and daughters, right here in North Carolina, depend on the kindness of strangers for food. A government safety net? Skimpy, with big, gaping holes. If it weren’t for the churches, civic groups, charities, and volunteers who glean and gather tons of food, truck it to warehouses and pantries, and tote it around to the people in need, hunger would sink its sharp teeth into many thousands of North Carolinians each and every day. Will this vast, valiant effort survive? If fuel prices keep climbing and demand keeps rising, food will be ever more costly and scarce. Some of today’s most stalwart
volunteers are children of the Great Depression; they remember how hunger stalked their families, neighbors, and friends. After those oldest volunteers are gone, will a new generation take their place? Will those of us who grew up in times of plenty have the same urge to share with those in need? The morning after he finished his training, I cooked breakfast for my son. He ate it like a man who’d been starving for weeks. We have never been closer. Now he is away again, and I miss him. But here is what he’s helped me learn: when you are worried or lonely, find someone to feed. —The Editor
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Holden Thorp, Chancellor
Winter 2010 • Volume XXVI, Number 2 Endeavors engages its readers in the intellectual life of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by conveying the excitement of creativity, discovery, and the rigors and risks of the quest for new knowledge. Endeavors (ISSN 1933-4338) is published three times a year by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Endeavors Office of Information and Communications CB 4106, 307 Bynum Hall University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC 27599-4106 phone: (919) 962-6136 e-mail: email@example.com
Bruce Carney, Interim Provost Tony Waldrop, Vice Chancellor, Research and Economic Development
Going to the show, doctor trust and cancer risk, making methanol, breastfeeding’s benefits for mom, a gene for the growing brain, nanoplumbing for the pancreas, dissertation haiku, and do-good drama.
cover story 6 The Hands that Feed
In North Carolina, a fragile network of volunteers is keeping hunger at bay—for now. by Mark Derewicz
features 16 Maps, Mosquitoes, and Malaria
If you’re a child in Malawi, where you live can make or break a new vaccine. by Beth Mole
20 Decoding HIV
The whole, twisted picture of its genome. by Susan Hardy
24 Fear in Their Bones
Can tribunals help Cambodia heal? by Margarite Nathe
26 Going Deep
A photographer takes to the caves and countryside. by Margarite Nathe
Editor: Neil Caudle, Associate Vice Chancellor, Research and Economic Development
30 Back to the Future
Mapping the potential for wind power along the North Carolina coast. by Mark Derewicz
35 Goodbye, Fungi
Jan and Brigitte Kohlmeyer send their life’s work to the Big Apple. by Margarite Nathe
38 Unexplained Explosion
Five hundred and forty million years ago, something revved up evolution. What happened? by Mark Derewicz
41 T-cell Mutiny
Giving new immune cells a fighting chance. by Meagen Voss
44 Boots on the Ground
Students fan out to help North Carolina towns fight the recession. by Margarite Nathe
46 in print
The legacy of the Singing Brakeman, and the rebel poets of Zen.
Living in the Galapagos.
On the cover: Thousands of volunteers have joined the fight against hunger in North Carolina. Photo by Donn Young.
Design: Neil Caudle and Jason Smith
Technology development: The Office of Technology Development (OTD) is the only UNC office authorized to execute license agreements with companies. For information on licensing, reporting inventions, and technology transfer at UNC, contact OTD at 919-966-3929.
Print production and website: Jason Smith
Associate Editor: Jason Smith Writers: Mark Derewicz, Susan Hardy, Scott Kelly, Beth Mole, Margarite Nathe, Deborah Neffa, Lauren Russell, Jason Smith, and Meagen Voss
©2010 by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the United States. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the consent of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Use of trade names implies no endorsement by UNC-Chapel Hill.
Above: The ground-floor plan of Chapel Hill’s Carolina Theater, November 1941 (Stillwell Collection, Henderson County Public Library, Hendersonville, N.C.). Many of the maps used in Going to the Show were created by the Sanborn Map Company of Pelham, New York, to help companies set rates and terms for fire insurance.
Off to the movies in the Old North State
n the 1920s, when automobiles started to join horse-drawn wagons on Chapel Hill’s newly paved Franklin Street, people in towns all over North Carolina started going to the movies. Many of the films that theater patrons saw back then no longer exist, and venues have been remodeled or torn down. But newspaper clippings, architectural drawings, and other materials give us glimpses of what going to the movies in those early days was like. Theaters in New Bern and Concord urged mothers to take their daughters to a film called Are You Fit to Marry? A Greensboro theater, normally all-black, showed a reel of a boxing match to white patrons at certain times. In Wilmington, an outdoor screen on stilts let viewers enjoy films against a backdrop of sea and sky. Hundreds of these bits of information, scattered throughout UNC’s North Carolina Collection, are pieced together in Going
to the Show, a website about moviegoing across North Carolina. To study theaters is to study what happened when different segments of society came together. Some theaters advertised segregated seating. Others, such as Chapel Hill’s Carolina, didn’t admit black patrons at all until 1962. Why did the Carolina’s owners decide to desegregate? Perhaps to keep up with the rival Varsity across the street; it had started admitting whites and blacks together three months earlier. —Susan Hardy Explore Going to the Show at http://docsouth.unc.edu/gtts. Natasha Smith of the Carolina Digital Library and Archives led the project. Historical commentaries were written by Robert Allen, the James Logan Godfrey Distinguished Professor of American Studies, History, and Communication Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.
2 endeavors CAROLINA FINDINGS
Prenatal exposure to the chemical bisphenol A may cause increased aggression in young girls. • The longer a married couple
Doctor trust and cancer risk
lack men have a substantially greater risk than white men for developing prostate cancer, and the cancer is 2.5 times more deadly for black men. These differences prompted Carolina researchers to investigate physician trust and the source of patient care among black and white men. “The problem with prostate cancer is that we know so little about the cause of the disease,” William Carpenter says. It’s been difficult to reduce incidence in black men or improve outcomes, he says, and so his study took a different angle. The researchers analyzed interviews of more than a thousand black and white men, all within weeks of their prostate cancer diagnoses.
Black men had lower physician-trust scores, were less likely to receive their regular medical care from a physician’s office, were less likely to have had a history of prostate screening, and had slightly more aggressive cancers. But regardless of race, men who had a regular source of health care and high levels of physician trust were more likely to have a history of prostate screening and less likely to be diagnosed with advanced-stage prostate cancer. “There may be systematic differences in where people get their care or the continuity of their relationships with their providers that preclude them from having discussions regarding screening,” Carpenter says.
Unfortunately, it’s a gas
ethane is plentiful, produces less pollution than other fossil fuels, and is a more efficient energy source than oil. But methane—the main component in natural gas—is usually found in remote places, which makes it difficult, costly, and sometimes dangerous to transport. The gas would be more useful as a liquid. In 2009, UNC chemists Maurice Brookhart and Cindy Schauer made a major breakthrough toward that end when their team managed to bind methane to a metal catalyst, the first direct evidence of a critical step in the conversion process. “We’ve been waiting for this since 1975,” says Robin Perutz, an English chemist who was the first to find indirect evidence of a methane-metal complex. Despite this feat, Brookhart says that creating an efficient method for making methanol out of methane is still a long way off. Methane, he says, just doesn’t like being altered. Other scientists have managed to convert methane into methanol at high temperatures and by using a lot of energy. But using a lot of energy only to wind up with a different substance is counterproductive, so scientists have tried to use various catalysts to turn the gas into a liquid. They’ve had some success, but those conversion methods are too slow, too inefficient, or too expensive for large-scale industrial use. So, in lieu of converting methane, the easiest thing to do is burn it, which breaks methane’s four carbon-hydrogen bonds to produce massive amounts of energy. Brookhart’s team, though, has managed to bind methane to rhodium, a rare metal, without breaking the four carbon-hydrogen bonds that must remain intact until the complex is turned into a liquid and burned to create energy. Brookhart’s team generated the methane complex in a very cold solution: freon. This way they could observe the new complex for several hours using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.
“While prostate cancer screening remains controversial, we may now have an opportunity to better direct people who may be at higher risk to get their health care at sites that are more in tune with delivering preventive care.” —Scott Kelly Scott Kelly is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Genetics in the School of Medicine. William R. Carpenter is a research assistant professor of health policy and management in the Gillings School of Global Public Health and a member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. This study was published online in the journal Cancer on July 27, 2009.
It’s the first time anyone has ever observed this key intermediate step, which is involved in the conversion of methane into methanol. Still, their methane-metal complex survives for only a few microseconds at room temperature. Brookhart, who coauthored a paper that appeared in the October 2009 issue of Science, says that this new compound can serve as a model for the creation of other methane complexes. “This gives us an insight into what these intermediates look like and may give us some handle on exploiting their chemistry,” he says. “But it’s still a long way to converting methane into methanol in a commercially viable and efficient manner.” Wes Bernskoetter, a postdoc in Brookhart’s lab in 2009 and lead author of the Science article, says the next step will be to figure out how to break just one of the carbon-hydrogen bonds instead of all four. “The first step was hard,” Brookhart says. “But the next step will be even harder. If I had to lay odds, I’d say it’s less than fiftyfifty that we can do this. But that’s the nature of this work—it’s high-risk, high-reward.” —Mark Derewicz Maurice Brookhart is the W. R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Chemistry and Cindy Schauer is an associate professor of chemistry, both in the College of Arts and Sciences. Brookhart is part of the Center for Enabling New Technologies Through Catalysis, a collaboration of thirteen universities and research centers funded by the National Science Foundation. Wes Bernskoetter, an assistant professor of chemistry at Brown University, was a postdoctoral fellow in Brookhart’s lab when he conducted the experiments with rhodium. endeavors 3
lives together, the greater is their risk of becoming obese. • Motor vehicle crashes involving deer rose to an all-time high in North Carolina in 2008.
It protects moms, too
The brawn behind the brain
study in the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine found that women who have a family history of breast cancer are 59 percent less likely to develop the illness if they breastfeed their babies. The study is the first to link breast cancer risk-reduction and breastfeeding to women who have a family history of the disease. Alison Stuebe, lead author of study, says she compared women who had breastfed to women who had never breastfed to find out whether the first group had a lower risk of getting breast cancer. The study did not show a difference in risk among women who didn’t have a family history of breast cancer. Stuebe and her colleagues analyzed data from a long-term study of more than sixty thousand women who were pregnant at least once by 1997 and did not have breast cancer at the time. The women were separated into three main groups: those who had breastfed, those who had never breastfed, and those who had never breastfed but used medications to suppress milk production. The authors found that women who breastfed and women who used medications had a lower risk of cancer than women who neither breastfed nor used the suppressive drugs. “Theories suggest that using the breast and expressing milk makes breast tissue more resistant to cancer,” Stuebe says. “We speculated that maybe there’s something about getting really engorged in the postpartum period that’s problematic. If you block the breast’s engorgement by breastfeeding or taking medication, it appears to provide long-term protection.” Taking medication to block milk production is not recommended, Stuebe says, since medication can cause blood clots and other life-threatening side effects, including stroke and heart attack. Another theory proposes that women who are more susceptible to breast cancer have trouble breastfeeding because there is something wrong with their breasts in the first place. But Stuebe says the data don’t support that theory—there was no increased risk among women who breastfed for less than a month. The data also indicated that longer duration of breastfeeding was not more protective. Stuebe says her group’s findings add to the long list of reasons to breastfeed. It reduces the risk of infectious diseases in babies and decreases risks of heart attack, diabetes, and certain cancers in mothers. Breastfeeding also promotes the release of the “love” hormone oxytocin and helps mothers to bond with their babies. Despite the benefits of breastfeeding, Stuebe says, the number of women who are able to breastfeed and actually do so is not as high as it should be. “The list of reasons a women cannot physically breastfeed is very short,” she says. “The problem is that women are not getting the resources and support they need.” —Deborah Neffa Deborah Neffa is a graduate student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Carolina. Alison Stuebe is an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the School of Medicine. Her study was first published in the August 10, 2009, issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.
NC neuroscientist William Snider discovered that a single gene called GKS-3 is central to brain develop-
ment, and that the same gene is associated with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression. As our brains develop during childhood, we need our neural stem cells to proliferate so our brains have enough basic material for the creation of billions of functioning neurons. To learn what role GSK-3 might play in this, Snider’s team created a mouse model without the gene and studied what happened to the mouse brain during embryonic development. “It was really quite striking,” Snider
Left: By deleting the GSK-3 gene from embryonic mouse brains, researchers found that stem cells (here, in green) kept proliferating instead of turning into mature neurons. Image by William Snider and Woo-Yang Kim.
A scientific (hai)coup
ast summer, PLoS Biology published a three-thousandword article that took Mary O’Connor two years of research to develop. But the New Yorker and the New York Times recognized her for a seventeensyllable haiku she wrote in an hour. With John Bruno, O’Connor researched the impacts of climate change on marine food webs. When her friend and department peer Drew Steen created the website Dissertation Haiku, O’Connor wrote a poem about her research to help him get the site off the ground. The New Yorker’s Book Bench blog called Steen’s site a “genius blog” and picked O’Connor’s haiku as their favorite, and the New York Times blog Arts Beat used O’Connor’s poem to represent Steen’s site.
Science NOW, a leading online source for cutting-edge scientific news, then featured O’Connor’s research within two days of her haiku and paper being published. PLoS Biology is read by biologists and scientists in all fields, and articles are picked up by the mainstream press. Publication in the journal is huge for a science graduate student, but recognition from the New Yorker and the New York Times, both of which have circulations of over one million, is a feat even a nonacademic can appreciate. “Never in the history of science has someone’s work been simultaneously covered by Science, PLoS, and the New Yorker,” Bruno jokes. Even though getting into the science publication is bigger for her career, O’Connor was more
It’s warm; feel your tummies growl?
down hot seaweed. —Mary O’Connor’s haiku about the effects of temperature on marine food webs
4 endeavors The HPV vaccine shot is no more painful than other disease-preventing shots. • Ocean warming may increase the abundance of marine consumers and decrease
says. “Without GSK-3, the neural stem cells just kept dividing and dividing. The entire developing brain filled up with these neural stem cells that never turned into mature neurons.” And mature neurons are essential in proper brain development. “I don’t believe anyone would have imagined that deleting GSK-3 would have had such dramatic effects on neural stem cells.” In humans, lithium interferes with GSK-3 function, and scientists think that that’s one of the reasons why lithium works for people with bipolar disorder. But Snider says the drug, as well as other GSK-3 inhibitors, might have unintended side effects for children. Lithium, while inhibiting GSK-3, could also stifle adolescent brain development. Snider says, “People will have to think carefully about whether giving a drug like lithium to children could have negative effects on the underlying structure of the nervous system.” —Mark Derewicz William Snider is a professor of neurology and cell and molecular physiology in the School of Medicine and director of the UNC Neuroscience Center.
excited about her haiku’s recognition. “It was so unexpected,” she says. “I’m not a poet. That was literally the only poem I’d written in my entire life, so it was super exciting.” Steen originally designed Dissertation Haiku as a creative outlet for graduate students who feel frustrated that their dissertations, which represent anywhere from four to seven years of work, will be scrutinized by a five-person dissertation review committee and will probably never be read by anyone else. On the site, grad students can present their abstruse research in a way that’s interesting to people outside their field. Steen says on his site, “Dissertations are long and boring. By contrast, everybody likes haiku. So why not write your dissertation as a haiku?”
Marine microbes eat
polysaccharides, except that sometimes they don’t.
—Drew Steen’s haiku about the effects of marine microbes on CO2 levels in the Arctic Ocean
The week after the New Yorker and the New York Times wrote about Steen’s blog, the number of hits to the site exploded. Its popularity has leveled off since, but the blog still gets a consistent stream of poem submissions and site hits. Steen is working on a Facebook application to promote the website. His longterm goal is to sell shirts and other paraphernalia online, and he wants to eventually publish a coffee-table book of dissertation haiku. The revenue would fund small grants for grad students who, of course, would submit their grant proposals in haiku form. —Lauren Russell Lauren Russell is an undergraduate majoring in journalism. John Bruno is an associate professor of marine sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences. Steen is now doing postdoctoral research in Denmark, and O’Connor is continuing her ecological research in California. View Steen’s site and add your own haiku at dissertationhaiku.wordpress.com/
Building a cancer killer
hemist Joseph DeSimone and his team of UNC scientists invented a prototype drug-delivery system to help patients who have pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest forms of cancer. Traditional chemotherapy drips into the bloodstream and kills different kinds of cells, including cancerous tumor cells. But some tumors—especially pancreatic tumors—don’t have many blood vessels and so chemotherapy isn’t effective. DeSimone’s prototype, called the endoscopic iontophoretic delivery device, looks like a long, thin cable with a small pipe at the end. His hope is that doctors can insert the cable through the digestive system and into the pancreas. Doctors can send water through channels in the pipe to inflate two balloons, which create a reservoir of chemotherapeutic drugs in the pancreatic duct near the tumor. By sending a flow of negative- and positive-charged molecules through the device, doctors can deliver the drugs using DeSimone’s custom-shaped PRINT nanoparticles. (See Endeavors, Fall 2005, “Tiny Particles Designed to Deliver a Cure.”) DeSimone says this combination approach could make it possible to deliver higher concentrations of chemotherapy specifically to tumors while minimizing the side effects. If the device proves safe and effective in large-animal studies (which are ongoing), DeSimone’s team hopes to then use the device in clinical trials for human patients. —Mark Derewicz Joseph DeSimone is the Chancellor’s Eminent Professor of Chemistry and cofounder of Liquidia Technologies. He received the 2009 North Carolina Award for science. His team includes senior research associate Mary Napier, doctoral candidate James Byrne, and oncologist Joel Tepper.
Acting it out
Interactive Theatre Carolina (ITC) uses role-playing and audience volunteers to promote health, wellness, and social justice. Here, in a skit about homophobia, Krishna Kollu (left) volunteers from the audience to reason with Alyssa Champion, who is playing the part of a student who finds out that her roommate is gay. Any UNC organization can contact the ITC to set up a performance. Photo by Ali Cengiz.
endeavors 5 the overall mass of living creatures in the sea. • The benefits of exercise differ by age and race. • Proteins inside cells can be controlled by shining a light on them.
The Hands that Feed:
A portrait of hunger in North Carolina In 2009, UNC professor Maureen Berner, East Carolina political scientist Sharon Paynter, and photojournalist Donn Young documented the work of nonprofits and volunteers who help feed the working poor. Their work shows a side of the story few have seen. by Mark Derewicz photographs by Donn Young
Left: Harry Jones of Orange County, North Carolina, gathers crops at McAdams Farm to take to the Orange Congregation in Mission in Hillsborough. He does this every week, at his own expense, despite battling leukemia for the past ten years and undergoing several brain operations. He says he is doing everything he can to make sure no crops rot in the fields or on farmers’ stands as long as there are people who desperately need food. Above right: Every Tuesday morning Brenda Johnson travels an hour from Dunn, North Carolina, to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina in Raleigh to buy food. Her nonprofit pantry, Recruiters for Christ, is open every Wednesday. Food bank perishable-food assistant Michael Night forklifts a palette of food from the warehouse floor onto Johnson’s truck. Johnson’s church also donates money to the food bank to make sure her congregation helps others in need who do not live in Dunn.
Tuesday, 8:30 a.m. Brenda Johnson walks
the aisles of Raleigh’s food-bank warehouse, peering up at boxes stacked twenty feet high. She searches for rice, canned goods, produce—any staple she can give to those in need in her hometown of Dunn, North Carolina. She tells her volunteers what she wants. They jot down a list of items and hand it to the food-bank attendant, who then forklifts 6,600 pounds of food into Johnson’s big, yellow truck. Back at the church where she ministers, Johnson helps ten congregants pack grocery bags full of food and then helps deliver the bags to hundreds of people. She does this every week, just like thousands of other North Carolinians who lead soup kitchens, pantries, senior centers, day cares, and shelters—independent nonprofits that operate on small budgets and get little or no government support. No umbrella organization oversees their work. Yet hundreds of thousands of people across the state depend on people like Johnson for the most basic necessity of life. In fact, according to the national nonprofit Feeding America, 12.6 percent of all North Carolinians experience something called food insecurity, which means that they don’t have reliable access to food. endeavors 7
Brenda Johnson and her aunt LiNelle McKoy with the old cast-iron pot they once hauled around Dunn to collect and wash crops before giving them to the poor. Johnson is the minister of a nondenominational church of about sixty congregants, many of whom help package food for the poor. Other churches help her deliver food to shut-ins.
What happens when a volunteer like Brenda Johnson, who has devoted her entire life to aiding the poor, can no longer lug bags of groceries around Dunn? “I question the capacity of these nonprofit pantries to keep this up,” Maureen Berner says.
“That’s an incredible number,” says Maureen Berner, a professor in UNC’s School of Government who researches poverty and hunger trends. That’s more than a million people who might know how they’ll put food on the table tonight or tomorrow but not at the end of the week or month. When Berner and Sharon Paynter first teamed up to study food insecurity, they had two main questions: Who are the people who seek food from pantries? And for how long do they need help? But the answers to these questions raised new, larger ones. If hundreds of thousands of people depend on volunteers like Johnson for food, is the government abandoning its traditional responsibility of helping those in need through welfare programs such as food stamps? And is that a bad thing? For several decades, thousands of dedicated volunteers have operated North Carolina’s food pantries and soup kitchens as part of church charities or independent nonprofits, Berner says. They get their food from different sources, but most of it comes from one of six food banks, also nonprofit. These food banks get nearly all of their products from supermarket chains, food companies, individual donors, and local farms. The state and federal government provide some funding. There are nearly five hundred pantries in the thirty-four counties served by the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. Most are run by faith-based groups of volunteers. Berner
says she’s amazed at the amount of work the volunteers put in, but if donations to food banks and pantries decrease, the volunteers will have to work that much harder to find alternate means to feed the poor. And if they can’t, then food insecurity could turn into hunger and malnutrition. “I question the capacity of these nonprofit pantries to keep this up,” Berner says. What happens when a volunteer such as Brenda Johnson, who has devoted her entire life to aiding the poor, can no longer lug bags of groceries around Dunn? “Whenever I ask that kind of question someone at the church always tells me that another person will fill her shoes. They say that for hundreds of years churches have been doing this kind of work; they’re closest to the people and care the most.” But if nonprofits start struggling, or if demand skyrockets, will the government sustain them? Right now, state and federal governments provide small amounts of funding for food banks. More and more people are relying on pantries stocked by those banks, and most of the pantries are getting larger. In the 1980s, Johnson’s pantry was housed in a backyard shed. Today it’s in a 2,100-square-foot building. And Johnson plans to grow her operation even more. As demand increased, the Second Harvest Food Bank in Winston-Salem watched its food supply plummet from 810,000 pounds of food on June 30, 2009, to 500 pounds three weeks later. Once news of the crisis broke, individuals and supermarkets came to the rescue with donations and food drives. Berner says that it’s easy to think that the current recession and high unemployment caused this crisis. But she points out that increased demand is a symptom of deeper problems, one of which dates back fourteen years—to August 22, 1996.
When President Bill Clinton
signed welfare-reform legislation into law, his goal was to make sure that people couldn’t abuse the system by staying on welfare their entire lives. He wanted people to get jobs, so he made welfare time-bound. Four years later, when grad student Kelley O’Brien interned at the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina in Raleigh, she noticed that more and more people were
coming through the doors. She and Berner decided to study how pantries were using the food bank before and after the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. They found that as the government’s role in providing food stamps decreased, pantries started providing much more food to their clients. In fact, people sought help from food pantries instead of the government even when they did qualify for food stamps. “Welfare reform wasn’t food-stamp reform,” Berner points out. “But a lot of people were scared away from the program. They thought they couldn’t get food stamps anymore or they thought they wouldn’t qualify.” Between 1995 and 2000, the 193 food pantries that Berner studied bought about 100,000 more pounds of food from food banks than they had in the five years before welfare reform. Then, in 2000, use of food stamps began to climb again. Welfare laws hadn’t changed, but other things had: there was more outreach into poorer communities, and people were allowed to stay on food stamps longer. Also, Berner says, the stigma associated with using food stamps waned. Meanwhile, more and more people kept seeking help from pantries. In 2003, Berner’s father grew ill and she moved to Iowa to be closer to him. She taught at the University of Northern Iowa for two years and continued her research at the largest food pantry in the northeastern part of the state. Berner found that people who had jobs did not get off food assistance faster. “In fact, it was slightly more likely that people needed long-term assistance from a food pantry if they did work,” she says. “It seems counterintuitive, I know.” But there’s logic to it. When people are working, Berner says, they have a lot of expenses, such as car payments and day care.
Top: At Recruiters for Christ, a food pantry in Dunn, Nora Hernandez of Newton Grove and her daughter Yurdia Lopez wait in line with about thirty others to receive food on a Wednesday morning during the summer of 2009. Middle: Abigail Ortiz of Newton Grove is one of several thousand people who received a bag of food from Brenda Johnson’s pantry in 2009. Bottom: Volunteers at the Ayden Christian Care Center in Ayden, North Carolina, pack bags of food for clients who came to the center, as well as for people incapable of making the trip.
They pay for these expenses with the idea that income will allow them to make ends meet or eventually get a better-paying job. “But the people going to food pantries often stay stuck in low-wage jobs,” Berner says. “They’re stuck in that low standard of living.” And if they stay at those low-paying jobs long enough, eventually the rising costs of living will catch up with them and they’ll have to sacrifice something—buying groceries, for instance. In 2005, Berner returned to UNC and has been studying poverty and hunger trends here ever since. She teamed with Paynter at East Carolina University to analyze several hundred random client files from forty pantries in central North Carolina. Here’s what they found: • Most clients returned to pantries consistently for more than one year. • The average client returned to pantries for five consecutive years. • 24 percent of clients were married with no children. • 15 percent were elderly and single. • 42 percent were married with kids. • Many pantry clients, but not a majority, received food stamps. • In 2007 the median income of clients was 29 percent lower than that of other North Carolinians. • Only 7.8 percent of clients were living below the federal poverty line. Berner and Paynter also found that most pantries are helping more people. “At one pantry, our grad student Emily Anderson pulled out a drawer full of client files for 2008,” Berner says. “Right next to it was another cabinet that was also full, and those files were from just the first two months of 2009.”
Top: Justino, a migrant worker, holds a Bible, which he says he keeps close to him at all times. He travels an hour and a half to the Catholic Parish Outreach pantry in Raleigh when he can’t find enough work. Middle: Terry Raiter volunteers at the Catholic Parish Outreach. Bottom: Joyce Edwards at her home in Ashton Spring Apartments, an independent living center for seniors in Ayden. She goes to the Ayden Christian Care Center once a month for food. Here, she laughs during a conversation with a personal-care assistant who helps Edwards complete daily tasks.
From 1997 to 2005, food-pantry
demand increased steadily, Berner says. In 2009 demand on the Second Harvest food bank in Winston-Salem rose 76 percent; throughout the rest of North Carolina, demand on food banks increased 30 to 70 percent. These numbers made Berner and Paynter wonder about the supply side of the equation, so they started studying where pantry operators such as Brenda Johnson get their food. In conversations with food bank and pantry operators, they learned that pantries used to be stocked with about 80 percent canned goods or prepackaged, processed food. “The other 20 percent was local farm produce,” Berner says. Today food banks and pantries probably get more produce than they do prepackaged food. The trend toward produce is a precarious one. A lot of crops still rot in the fields. And even if every field were picked clean, many shelters, soup kitchens, and pantries would still lack the capacity to store the vegetables; they’d need refrigerators and freezers. Berner and Paynter say that many pantries do have refrigerators, but not enough to deal with the kinds and amounts of food that pantries now receive. Paynter used to work at a nonprofit that operated one such pantry. One day, two hunters drove up and asked her whether she wanted a deer that they had killed. Paynter didn’t know what to say. She lacked the freezer space to keep the meat and a place for the hunters to butcher the carcass. She wondered about health regulations and if clients would even want venison. But protein-rich foods—whether canned tuna, peanut butter, or red meat—are like gold to pantry operators. The hunters wound up butchering the deer in the parking lot, and they also cleaned the cuts of meat. Paynter then gave the venison to some clients, who were grateful. For Paynter and Berner, the scene highlighted a growing problem: the hardest donations to deal with are the foods that are freshest and most healthful. This is one reason why the food bank in Raleigh used a portion of its 2009 financial donations to buy ninety freezers and refrigerators for member agencies. Still, there are thousands of charities that are underfunded and undersupplied. Some operate out of tobacco barns, and many more out of church
John Freeman unpacks bags of groceries from the Recruiters for Christ pantry in October 2009 as his wife Eunice sneaks a cookie. John is retired and the couple’s only source of income is Social Security. They live in a two-bedroom ranch house near Dunn.
basements. They do what they can—often quite a lot—but statewide it’s not nearly enough. Berner also points out that while eating vegetables is much more healthful, preparing them isn’t always easy. “You have to know what to do with ten pounds of sweet potatoes, for instance,” she says.
Berner and Paynter have presented their find-
ings at conferences across the country, sharing statistics and stories. They show that food insecurity is a better indicator of poverty than traditional barometers such as annual incomes or the unemployment rate, which don’t capture whether people can maintain their households or put food on the table. “The people who go to pantries are not homeless, and most have jobs,” Berner says. “They are the working poor.” Berner and Paynter had a hard time connecting the statistics with real people’s stories until they met Donn Young. A photojournalist from Louisiana, he’d moved to Chapel Hill after documenting the destruction of Hurricane Katrina as the official photographer for the Port of New Orleans. Young wants to help create image libraries for university researchers, especially those working on human rights issues. He contacted Heather Hunt, assistant director of UNC’s poverty center, and she introduced him
“At one pantry, our grad student Emily Anderson pulled out a drawer full of client files for 2008,” Berner says. “Right next to it was another cabinet that was also full, and those files were from just the first two months of 2009.”
Cliff Stang, the past director of the Ayden Christian Care Center, stands in an old jailhouse that has served as the center’s food pantry for many years. Stang still volunteers at the pantry every week.
After Hurricane Floyd flooded eastern North Carolina in 1999, the Raleigh food bank established temporary food assistance agencies down east.“Those agencies never closed,” Berner says. “Demand there has never been close to being met.”
to Berner and Paynter. Young immediately saw the story lines in Berner’s research. “I wanted to document the entire distribution network,” Young says. “This thread that starts with the farms and grocery stores, connects with the food banks and the pantry workers, and then finally with the people who need food. Maureen and Sharon saw the value in this right away.” So did the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, which in May 2010 will feature Berner, Paynter, and Young’s work in photo displays and a presentation for the North Carolina General Assembly. The office will also house the photo essays and research at its Raleigh library. “I was thrilled that I had five thousand lines of data, but I had trouble visualizing it like a story the way Donn could,” Berner says. “He’s really spurred me to think beyond the data sets. I tell Donn that the food pantries are giving people vegetables more now than ever before, and then he wonders where this produce comes from. So he goes to the farms to document the farmers’ lives and the volunteers gleaning the fields. He tells their stories. And then I can go back and research what happens at these farms, how much of their crops go to pantries. This is engaged research. It’s about people.” At McAdams Farm in Efland, Young met Harry Jones, who volunteers with the Orange Congregations in Mission pantry.
“Harry’s had eight brain surgeries,” Young says. “He’s got leukemia. And yet he gets up every morning, fills up his truck with gas at his own expense, and takes whatever’s left over in the fields to food pantries.” “This is the stuff my research can’t capture,” Berner says. “This man’s dedication is typical of the whole network of pantries.” Most of the people who run pantries are white, older, and part of a Christian charity, Berner says. For many of them, feeding the poor is their calling. Brenda Johnson was twenty-eight when she and her aunt started a mission called Recruiters for Christ. With a large, cast-iron washtub in hand, they’d pick crops that were about to rot in neighborhood gardens and on local farms. They’d gather fallen fruit from under trees. Then they’d wash and package the crops and take them to neighbors in need. “We had this car with a door that would fly open when we’d turn a corner,” Johnson laughs. “There was a hole in the floor and the tires were bald. But we never had a problem. It only got a flat when my husband drove it.”
Thirty years later, Johnson’s
mission now includes a nondenominational church with about sixty members. Many of them help her buy tons of food from the food bank in Raleigh. The church also
donates two hundred dollars each month to the food bank. “This way, we not only help people in Dunn but help others who need it, too,” Johnson says. “That’s a great blessing. To be able to do this work is a blessing.” Berner and Paynter don’t doubt that others would step up if such a dedicated woman were no longer able make her rounds. But Berner says that charities, no matter how well-organized, have never been able to keep up with food demand. Hundreds of pantries have popped up in the past two de-
Below left: Betty Deems, 80, runs the Ministries of the Bread of Life, a charity in Farmville. The pantry has been in an old tobacco shed for nearly twenty years. This year, it’s being remodeled: it will now have insulation. Deems delivers food to twenty-six homebound senior citizens and to the local senior center, which relies heavily on donated food. Top right: Julius Colbert works full-time as the warehouse manager for the Raleigh branch of the Food Bank for Central and Eastern North Carolina. His office, which has no walls, is stationed next to the loading docks where pantry operators line up their trucks to haul away tons of food to those in need. Middle right: Cabbage rotting in a field. Each year in the United States, billions of pounds of food rot or are thrown away instead of going to the millions of people who experience food insecurity. This head of cabbage became compost for next year’s plantings. Bottom right: Containers of various Nutrisystem prepackaged products at the Raleigh food bank. The warehouse is full of bins like these, often stacked with products from charity food drives. The food from drives is free to pantry operators, who purchase other goods for pennies on the dollar.
cades, while existing pantries have gotten larger. Such increases have merely created more access points for pent-up demand, Berner says. For example, after Hurricane Floyd flooded eastern North Carolina in 1999, the Raleigh food bank established temporary food-assistance agencies down east. “Those agencies never closed,” Berner says. “Demand there has never been close to being met.” Berner says it’s tempting for the government to try to solve the deep-rooted problems that beset people who seek help with food. But a simpler and more practical approach, she says, might involve attention to supply-side issues, such as providing refrigerators, freezers, and other resources to food banks and pantries. “If we really want to address hunger,” she says, “maybe we should focus on the barriers that limit pantries and other food providers, rather than on the seemingly intractable problems of individuals.” e
graphics by Jason Smith
36,000,000 people in the United States experience food insecurity, meaning that their lack of money and other resources limits their access to food
Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina: 480,000
people within the food bank’s service area struggle to put food on the table
total square feet of floor space at the headquarters on Tar Heel Drive in Raleigh
5 branches of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern N.C. (Raleigh, Durham, Greenville, Southern Pines, Wilmington)
support 34 counties in North Carolina From left: Sharon Paynter, Maureen Berner, and Donn Young. Photo by Katie Bowler.
Maureen Berner is a professor in the School of Government at UNC and Sharon Paynter is an assistant professor of political science at East Carolina University. Donn Young is an awardwinning photojournalist whose work has appeared in nine books and national publications such as Time, Newsweek, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and USA Today. Brenda Johnson is the minister of Recruiters for Christ, a nondenominational church and mission in Dunn, North Carolina. Kelley O’Brien is now the director of the North Carolina Civic Education Consortium in UNC’s School of Government. The School of Law’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity gave Berner a ten-thousand dollar grant to hire grad student Emily Anderson to collect data from pantries in central and eastern North Carolina. 14 endeavors
(Brunswick, Carteret, Chatham, Columbus, Craven, Duplin, Durham, Edgecombe, Franklin, Granville, Greene, Halifax, Harnett, Johnston, Jones, Lee, Lenoir, Moore, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Orange, Pamlico, Pender, Person, Pitt, Richmond, Sampson, Scotland, Vance, Wake, Warren, Wayne, Wilson)
and 870 member agencies
(soup kitchens, senior centers, day cares, pantries, etc.)
Number of pantries served by the Food Bank of Central and Eastern N.C. (by zip code)
1–6 7–11 12–18
Berner and Paynter found that many pantries: • have no (or very few) professional staff • do not have computerized records • rely on donated space • depend on the support of a single individual, often an older, female volunteer • depend on the support of a religious institution
Backgrounds of clients at the food banks Berner and Paynter studied: married with kids married with no kids elderly and single below poverty line
42% 5 years
2.57 Average number of people per household of food-bank clients
Average duration of a person’s relationship with a food pantry (based on number of days between first and final visits)
38 percent of food bank clients are the working poor: people who work hard and
Pantries and other agencies pay the food bank
still have to choose between eating and other necessities such as medicine and housing
per pound of food
donated to a food bank
$7 / $4
Amount spent by Americans per day on food: Average person / Average low-income person
Number of U.S. households that used a food pantry at least one time in 2007
Number of food banks in North Carolina before 1980
Number of times the Food Bank of Central and Eastern N.C. has outgrown warehouse space Total pounds of food distributed by the Food Bank of Central and Eastern N.C. since 1980
Pounds of food distributed by the Food Bank of Central and Eastern N.C., growth over selected years
1980: 1985: 1996: 1999: 2003: 2008:
= 1 million pounds
100,000 1,000,000 6,500,000 18,800,000 25,000,000 37,000,000
Hurricane Floyd hit eastern N.C. in 1999. The temporary pantries established in Floyd’s wake are still operating.
In 2003, the food bank’s Raleigh branch distributed over $10 million worth of food.
In 2008 alone, the food bank distributed almost 16% of the total amount distributed since 1980, or 370 times the amount of food distributed in 1980.
Food security status of U.S. households, 2007 Low security
36.2 million National Insecurity Average prevalence of food insecurity, 2005–2007 Below U.S. average Near U.S. average Above U.S. average
Very low security
Number of Americans in food-insecure households, 2007
Number of Americans in food-insecure households, 2008
36% Increase in number of food-insecure Americans, 2007 to 2008 10–15% Amount by which donations to food banks increased over the past year
50–100% Amount by which food-bank demand increased over the past year
2,000,000,000 Pounds of food distributed nationally in 2005 by nonprofit group Feeding America
= 1 billion pounds SOURCES: MAUREEN BERNER AND SHARON PAYNTER; FOOD BANK OF CENTRAL AND EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA; FEEDING AMERICA; UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE; NEW YORK TIMES
96,000,000,000 Pounds of food wasted each year in the United States (USDA estimate)
Typical housing in the Mtandire village outside of Lilongwe, Malawi. Trenches near houses collect water during the rainy season and create a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Photo by Cameron Taylor.
Maps, mosquitoes, and malaria A team goes house to house to learn precisely where a new vaccine works best. by Beth Mole
Undergraduate Cameron Taylor spent two summers in Malawi collecting data for a malaria vaccine trial. Each week, she took time out to play soccer with the neighborhood boys. Photo courtesy of Cameron Taylor.
All Cameron Taylor needed was a place to sit.
The nurses of the Area 18 clinic in Lilongwe, Malawi, rummaged through a closet. They brought back a metal frame with an attached bowl and a plastic toilet seat—a potty chair. Taylor perched on the potty with her laptop and got to work sifting through years of medical records. Taylor, a UNC undergrad, went to Lilongwe in the summer of 2008 to help lay the groundwork for a Phase III clinical trial of the most promising malaria vaccine to date. Like most other subSaharan countries, Malawi is hard-hit by malaria, and the vaccine trial is gaining popularity among Malawians. But this isn’t your standard clinical trial. Run by the Malaria Vaccine Initiative and pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, it’s a double-blind trial with sixteen thousand kids—and a bunch of geographers.
A trial trial Years ago researchers noticed that in different trials the same vaccine could give completely different results. In one trial a typhoid vaccine protected 80 percent of people; in another it only protected 20 percent. “Some vaccines just work, like the smallpox vaccine,” Michael Emch says. “A no-brainer, right? Use it. And then some don’t work at all and you know you shouldn’t use them. But then there’s everything else.” Vaccine trials usually compare how many people get the disease in a vaccinated group to a group given a placebo. But Emch thinks researchers should consider more factors, such as where the participants live, whether they’re exposed to the disease, and how
Malaria is endemic in Malawi, especially in the areas around Lake Malawi, the 350-mile-long lake that sits between Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania. Malawi has a high infant mortality rate, declining life expectancy, and an estimated one million orphans, mostly because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In Lilongwe, UNC researchers have been researching HIV prevention and treatment, sexually transmitted disease management, and malaria vaccine development. Map by Cameron Taylor.
frequently they’re exposed. “Maybe there’s some sort of pattern to the communities where a vaccine doesn’t work well and where it works really well,” Emch says. What if those patterns could be changed to make the vaccine work better? Emch and his team of medical geographers have been developing new clinical-trial methods in a field called spatial epidemiology, which he hopes will lead to a better understanding of vaccine efficacy. After years of successful work on cholera vaccine trials in Bangladesh he was called to work on a huge malaria vaccine trial going on in Africa. GlaxoSmithKline and other researchers reported encouraging Phase II clinical-trial results in 2007 for their malaria vaccine. It was given to two thousand infants and young children—the people most vulnerable to the disease—and it protected 53 and 65 percent of them, respectively, against malaria. This past summer, a Phase III clinical trial began at eleven African sites, one of which is the UNC site in Lilongwe. Carolina has a good track record of trials in Malawi, Irving Hoffman says. Hoffman, the director of international operations for UNC’s Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, set up a clinic for sexually transmitted diseases there in 1989 and is now helping oversee the malaria trial. “Our research there started really small, and then we wrote more and more grants and got more broad-based,” Hoffman says. Emch and Hoffman have their work cut out for them. Recruiting, screening, vaccinating, and keeping track of sixteen thousand children in a developing country isn’t easy.
A community-health worker records environmental information during a house visit. He’ll collect GPS data and details about the area around the house, such as vegetation types and whether there is any standing water. Photo by Cameron Taylor.
Worldwide, malaria kills between one million and three million people per year. The majority are children in sub-Saharan Africa. Photo by Cameron Taylor.
Welcome to Malawi; pull up a seat In that first summer of 2008, Taylor’s goals were to help establish which villages would take part in the trial and then train community-health workers to use GPS devices. The trial is centered on the Area 18 clinic, named after its census designation. “It’s a little clinic where they do vaccinations and primary care stuff,” Taylor says. She set out to go through the clinic’s record books and find out where its patients were coming from. Her first day, she asked the nurses for their books. “They went into a cabinet in the maternity ward and started digging through these big books, not organized, just crammed full of binders,” Taylor says. They brought out the shabby pile of records and pointed her to an empty receptionist area at the entrance to the maternity ward.
There, on the potty chair, Taylor read through patient files. “What was interesting was that women were coming from a lot farther away than we expected,” Taylor says. “Most of these women are pregnant, they have a sick baby on their back, and they’re walking here at five in the morning to see a doctor.” But knowing which villages the women were coming from wasn’t enough. “Places don’t have simple addresses in Malawi,” Taylor says. When patients come into the clinic they don’t list their street address; they draw a map to their house on the back of a medical form. “And the directions are pretty much, ‘Go down this street, find so-and-so and then they’ll tell you how to get to me,’” Taylor says. Since hundreds of children in the trial would need to be carefully monitored, hand-drawn maps and convoluted directions wouldn’t be good enough. “We have to know about every single illness they have and then test them for malaria, so we have to have clear access to them,” Hoffman says. So Emch and Taylor handed out tracking devices to the field workers. “They’re little hundred-dollar GPS devices you use to mark a point—and, what’s really great, you can navigate back to that point,” Taylor explains. “That’s great for the field team because in the past they used to spend hours and hours asking people, ‘Where’s so-and-so?’” The Malawian community-health workers had trouble at first with the GPS devices. “It’s a new idea and they’re so dependent on paper,” Taylor says. To help the workers practice, Taylor set up scavenger hunts around the clinic with secret locations that they’d have to find with their GPS devices. By the end of the summer the field workers had embraced the technology and Taylor left hoping that they would continue to collect coordinates.
Let’s rock and roll In June 2009, Taylor and graduate student Sophia Giebultowicz headed back to Lilongwe to help with recruitment for the beginning of the trial. “I don’t know if it was their plan to get me involved in Malawi as a sophomore with the intention of bringing me back my junior year, but if it was, I definitely took the bait,” Taylor says. The real enticement came around February, when she found out that the community-health workers had kept up with using the GPS devices, and coordinates were coming in.
About the malaria vaccine It’s been two decades and $300 million in the making. The breakthrough came when researchers fused a critical surface protein from the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum to a protein in an already-effective hepatitis B vaccine. The trial will be carried out at eleven sites in seven countries: Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania. Each site will enroll sixteen thousand children: eight hundred between five and seventeen months and eight hundred between six and twelve weeks. Every child will get three vaccine doses on a monthly basis and will be followed for a year; then
they’ll get a fourth vaccine. To determine whether a booster is useful, the age groups are broken into three sections: one group will get four doses of the malaria vaccine, a second will get three doses of the malaria vaccine and one control vaccine, and a third will get four doses of a control vaccine. The control vaccines are either the meningitis C vaccine or a rabies vaccine. The trial is double-blind: neither the researchers nor the clinicians know who gets the malaria vaccine and who gets a control vaccine. Throughout the trial, all the children will receive complete primary care through their vaccination clinic.
Researchers started to spread the word about the trial around the community. “We collaborate with the Ministry of Health in Malawi and the Malaria Control Program, which helps us talk to women in the clinic, put up fliers, and set up sensitization talks,” Hoffman explains. Emch and Taylor went with the head community-health worker, Mercy Tsidya, to one of the sensitization talks used to recruit mothers into the trial. “There are actually these public health songs that they sing. I mean, they are rocking out: there’s clapping and singing, and everybody knows these songs,” Emch says. “Then Mercy gives her spiel about the malaria trial.” “The community-health workers are just amazing,” Taylor says. “They really know how to explain what a vaccine is so people will understand.” Soon, women in the villages started recognizing the malaria field workers. “Women would hold their babies up and say, ‘Choose mine, mine wants to be in the trial!’” Taylor says. “It just shows how much of a burden malaria is there.”
Some homes in Malawi are more vulnerable to mosquitoes than others. Community-health workers note housing conditions to understand the environments of the children in the trial and the efficacy of the vaccine. Photo by Cameron Taylor.
They designed a questionnaire for the families of vaccinated children. The first part asked simple questions for the head of the household, such as, “Does your child sleep under a bed net?” and “Has anyone in the household traveled outside of Lilongwe in the past month?” The second part of the questionnaire, completed by the field workers, was about things around the house, such as stagnant water, nearby vegetation, and the building materials of the house. Hoffman explains that they ask about housing materials not only to determine whether mosquitoes can get into the house, but also to collect information about socioeconomic status. “If you live in a really nice brick home with screens and windows, you’re probably richer than a person with a thatched roof, no screens, and open windows,” Hoffman says. Your socioeconomic status and that of your neighbors could be a risk factor for malaria infection as well. “At the same time, there are transmission-intensity studies going on,” Hoffman adds. “We’ll be collecting mosquitoes and then looking at the type and percentage that have malaria in order to determine a bite rate at different sites.” And then they wait. Emch and Giebultowicz hope to have environmental data to analyze in the spring of 2010. In the meantime, Taylor and Giebultowicz have been layering satellite images onto geographic databases. “They’ve mapped out things about the local environment such as where swamps are and where bodies of water are,” Emch says. Taylor has also compiled trial-participant information into a free, interactive mapping program called ArcReader. Now the field workers can plan their daily home visits by clicking on a map and pulling up information about any child in the trial. “I’m writing an article right now on the software and how amazing it is for developing countries because it’s free and easy to use,” Taylor says. Hoffman can already see the benefit of having the spatialepidemiology data in the trial and is looking forward to seeing the results. “A lot of things in research go round and round and have little impact. You just keep trudging along,” he says. “But this is really an opportunity. If this vaccine continues to show the efficacy that it did in the Phase II and leads to licensure, then it’ll save a lot of lives.” e
Would you like to take a survey?
Beth Mole is a doctoral student in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the School of Medicine.
In August of 2009 the research team gave out the first round of vaccine. Giebultowicz and Taylor planned how to collect data about factors in the children’s environments that could affect the vaccine’s performance. There are a lot of things that influence how well the vaccine works for a given person: how often she gets bitten by mosquitoes that carry the malaria bug, how many people in her village have malaria, how many mosquitoes can get into her house because of its design or building materials, and whether people from her village visit other villages where a lot of people are sick with malaria. “We approached this,” Giebultowicz explains, “by saying there needs to be some sort of method to compare a child who has been vaccinated but sleeps without a mosquito net in a house that doesn’t have secure walls with another vaccinated child who does sleep under a net and lives in a cement house with glass windows.”
Irving Hoffman is an associate professor in the School of Medicine and director of international operations for UNC’s Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases. Funding for the trial comes from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative. Michael Emch is an associate professor in the Department of Geography in the College of Arts and Sciences. He is funded through the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Science Foundation. Cameron Taylor is a senior majoring in geography. She is funded by a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship through the Office for Undergraduate Research at UNC. Sophia Giebultowicz is a graduate student in geography. She is funded by an Integrated Geography and Ecological Research Training Grant through the Carolina Population Center. endeavors 19
Why would a chemist take on the worldâ€™s toughest virus? In a back room of Kevin Weeksâ€™s lab, a section of wall is covered with results from his early HIV experiments. The printouts look like electrocardiogram readings gone wrong: a series of spikes and dips without any rhythm or pattern. But Weeks and his lab took these zigzagging figures and turned them into the first-ever model of an entire HIV-1 genome. by Susan Hardy
About five years ago, Weeks and his collabora-
tors came up with a technique to map the structure of short pieces of ribonucleic acid (RNA) down to the level of nucleotides, the smallest pieces of a genome. Weeks is a chemist, not a virologist— his main interest was in solving the puzzle of how RNA genomes are put together. But he also decided to put his research to practical use as soon as he could. “We wanted to apply it to a problem that would really matter,” Weeks says. He set out to decode the genome of HIV, an RNA-based virus. But when he went looking for funding for the project, he found skeptics. Other researchers were structurally mapping only short pieces of RNA; HIV’s genome is more than nine thousand nucleotides long. If he had written five years ago that they wanted to model an entire HIV genome, he says, “it’s fair to say we’d have been laughed out of the study section.” Instead, the lab kept trying to improve their new technique, and by 2006 they’d made enough progress to get National Institutes of Health funding for a crack at the HIV-1 genome. To see what makes HIV’s genome—or any long piece of RNA—so difficult to figure out, compare it with the better-understood genetic molecule DNA. “We’re all familiar with DNA’s structure—that double-stranded helix,” Weeks says. Not every piece of DNA looks like that, but most do: a twisting ladder made up of orderly base pairs of nucleotides. “So when you know a sequence of nucleotides,” Weeks says, “you usually know the DNA’s structure, too.” RNA is different. It’s made up of a long chain of nucleotides, but it’s usually single-stranded. Even when—as in the HIV genome—RNA strands come in pairs, they aren’t linked up nucleotide by nucleotide like DNA. Instead, each strand folds to create tiny structures of its own. An RNA strand folds so closely in places that its nucleotides pair up with each other, making little double helices and loops scattered throughout the genome.
Scientists have had a hard time interpreting this structured jumble of genetic code, mostly because the chemical processes they used to map what individual nucleotides were doing didn’t give consistent results. But Weeks’s lab developed a new method for measuring nucleotide flexibility: how likely nucleotides are to form single-stranded loops and curves, or, if they’re less flexible, rigid helices and base pairs. The technique is based on a simple idea, Weeks says. “It’s in the chemistry we teach our second-year undergraduates.” Each nucleotide of a piece of RNA is treated with an organic compound. If the nucleotide contains chemical bonds that hold it in a rigid formation, it doesn’t react much to the compound. These are the nucleotides that are more likely to pair up with each other. If there are fewer of those bonds, the nucleotide reacts more strongly, showing that it’s free to form a looping structure. The zigzagging lines on Weeks’s wall are measurements of how strongly nucleotides reacted. “If you know enough about what parts of an RNA are flexible, you can use that information to make hypotheses about how it looks,” Weeks says. To help do this, they run a computer program that translates the reactivity data into complete pictures. Weeks and Joe Watts, a postdoc in the lab, did this with RNA from HIV-1 particles grown specially for them at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland. They saw a genome that was full of loops and double helices that no one had ever identified before. “I was shocked that we found so much structure,” Watts says. “I thought we’d see a few islands of structure in a mostly unstructured genome.” They compared their model with an analysis done by Kristen Dang, a grad student in biomedical engineering. She used genetic variation among virus particles to find pieces of the genome that evolve slowly because they’re in stable base pairs. She saw many of the same highly structured areas in the genome that Weeks and Watts had found.
HIV, mapped Above left: Scientists have
sequenced the genetic code of HIV-1 many times, but this map is their first complete look at the genome’s intricate structure. Each dot represents one nucleotide. Black dots are the nucleotides most likely to arrange themselves in base pairs, creating the hairpin formations that separate sections of the code from the rest of the genome. Image by Kevin Weeks and Joseph Watts. Above right: When Pollom mutated an RNA structure in HIV’s Env protein, the resulting mutant virus did not grow as well in cells as the wild type virus. Chart by Elizabeth Pollom.
So what do these never-before-seen structures
actually do? Researchers will spend years answering that question, Weeks says. But he thinks it’s a fair bet that the virus needs many of the structures to survive, because they show up in every version of the fast-mutating HIV genome. Some could be targets for new HIV therapies, although that’s a long way off: scientists have only started to test drugs that target RNA genomes in the past few years. Still, the way the genome structures interact with the virus’s host cell could give us new ideas for therapies, says Ron Swanstrom, a virologist and an author of the study. “The virus is completely dependent upon the human cells it’s in,” he says. “If we find that there’s a piece of the cell that does something with an RNA structure, and that piece is critical to the virus but not so critical to the cell, we could target that part of the cell to control the virus.” Weeks and Watts already have an idea that two of the genome structures may set the pace for building viral proteins. HIV grows inside hijacked human cells, using their protein-making machinery to build more of the virus. A cell’s ribosomes read RNA and translate it into chains of amino acids. If these chains come out of the ribosome too quickly, they can interfere with each other as they’re folding into three-dimensional protein shapes. Structures in the HIV genome seem to act like speed bumps, Weeks says, slowing the progress of a ribosome as it reads the RNA sequence. “We think of it as another level of the genetic code,” Swanstrom says. “You’re encoding protein structure, and it’s a level of complexity that we don’t know much about yet.” In Swanstrom’s lab, grad student Elizabeth Pollom is testing the speed-bump hypothesis. Her early results show that when two structures Weeks and Watts found are mutated, the virus doesn’t grow as quickly. Next the lab will try to find out whether messy protein folding is what makes the virus grow slower. Weeks’s lab is still working on its structure-modeling technology. He wants to make it more sensitive: this first HIV study needed trillions of virus particles, and that’s not the kind of thing you can send away for whenever you want it. “The National Cancer Institute is probably the only place in the world that can hand out enough virus to do a study like this one,” Swanstrom says. And Weeks does want to do more studies. The published model is a snapshot of the HIV-1 genome at one stage of its complicated replication cycle. “We think there are a lot more structures to find as it goes through all the steps of the cycle,” he says. He wants to decode the HIV-1 genome structure at different stages to make a movie of how it looks over its replication cycle. Like his ambition to decode a whole RNA genome not so long ago, this idea isn’t quite practical yet: it’ll take who-knows-how-many virus particles and whole-genome snapshots to complete. “But in my head,” Weeks says, “I’ve got that next five-year plan.” e Kevin Weeks is a professor of chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences. Joseph Watts finished his postdoctoral work in December 2008 and is now a research scientist at Syngenta Biotechnology. Ron Swanstrom is director of Carolina’s Center for AIDS Research. The study was the cover story of the August 6, 2009, issue of Nature. Funding came from the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute. Other UNC authors were Christina Burch, an associate professor of biology in the College of Arts and Sciences; Kristen Dang, then a graduate student in biomedical engineering; and Christopher Leonard, a research specialist in the Department of Chemistry.
Finding a killer
n HIV diagnosis used to mean full-blown AIDS and death within a decade. Then, in 1996, scientists developed highly active antiretroviral drugs, which are allowing otherwise healthy people with HIV to survive long after contracting the virus. But getting lifelong antiretroviral treatment to all of the estimated thirty-three million people worldwide with HIV would be expensive and difficult, says HIV clinician and virologist David Margolis. And preventing HIV infection, either by coming up with a vaccine or by stopping the behaviors that spread HIV, is also hard to do. “A few years ago, a lot of people realized that we have to shift more focus to other possibilities, including a way to eradicate the virus from the body,” he says. The cure isn’t going to be a wonder drug like penicillin, Margolis says. Instead, a new treatment for HIV would have two essential parts: antiretroviral therapy and ways to eradicate the bits of the virus’s genetic code that hide inside human DNA. The first part is mostly done; modern antiretrovirals can stop almost all virus replication in the body. Margolis is working on the second part with a new $2.7 million National Institutes of Health grant in collaboration with another UNC researcher, Victor Garcia-Martinez, and the pharmaceutical company Merck. In 2005, Margolis published a study about a promising way to find cells containing HIV genes so they can be killed off (see Endeavors, Winter 2007, “An Evil Disease”). In later studies the drug he’d used, valproic acid, didn’t do as well as researchers had hoped, but Margolis’s basic approach has held up: a drug can uncover infected immune cells by signaling the cells to turn on their HIV genes. Merck has already found compounds that do this with cells engineered to behave like they’re infected with HIV. But to narrow down the choices to a few that might be turned into effective drugs, Margolis and Garcia-Martinez will need to test them in a new animal model and in real human cells. If most of the inactive cells with HIV genes could be killed off, the virus could be reduced to levels that the body can manage without ongoing therapy—or even eliminated completely. “As with cancer, we want to see drug-free remission, where you’re healthy and off treatment and we can’t detect the virus anymore,” Margolis says. —Susan Hardy David Margolis is a professor of medicine, microbiology, and immunology in the School of Medicine, and of epidemiology in the School of Public Health. Victor Garcia-Martinez is a professor of medicine in the School of Medicine.
“I am Huo, aged thirteen,” the boy
said. “I saw the Khmer Rouge take two children and another child who was as young as me but was a little smaller than me to kill, cutting off their flesh for eating. One day, Khmer Rouge took me, sprinkling hot water on my head and sawing my neck, intending to kill me and to eat my flesh. At the time, I was screaming out, prompting the neighbors to be panic-stricken. After that, they set me free, so I ran away. My neck wound has left a scar there until now.”
his is a translation of a little boy’s testimony in 1979, when the People’s Revolutionary Tribunal tried Pol Pot and Ieng Sery for the war crimes of the Khmer Rouge, the radical communist group that wiped out nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s population. Huo was one of thirty-nine survivors who gave testimony during the five-day trial. The witnesses, 24 endeavors
along with many of the five hundred courtroom spectators, broke down and cried again and again during the proceedings. “Cambodia suffered one of the worst genocides of the twentieth century from 1975 to 1979,” says Jeffrey Sonis, a professor of social medicine and family medicine. The Khmer Rouge’s attempt to exterminate educated Cambodians and create an agricultural utopia led to the deaths of some 1.7 million people in the countryside from starvation, disease, overwork, and murder. And for the past twenty-five years, most of the Khmer Rouge’s leaders have enjoyed complete freedom. Most legal authorities consider the 1979 trials to be a sham—the defendants weren’t even present. Even though Ieng Sery and Pol Pot were sentenced to death, their sentences were never carried out. Ieng Sery, now eighty-three, was granted a pardon. Pol Pot died of natural
causes in 1998. But now the United Nations and Cambodia have begun a joint trial of the still-living senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge (including Ieng Sery), and Cambodians are once again standing up to testify about the executions, forced labor, torture, and rapes they and their families suffered. Sonis, who’s leading a study of the trial’s effects on Cambodians, says that many countries struggle with how to move forward after periods of cataclysmic violence or war. Most societies seek out some form of justice for the survivors, and they use one of two methods to get it: truth commissions, which reveal crimes but don’t mete out punishment, or trials. “But the big question is, ‘What is the effect of these tribunals or truth commissions?’” Sonis says. “And can attempts to provide justice help people and countries move forward?”
Facing page: The Khmer Rouge sought to banish all Cambodians who allegedly embraced Western ideas, including artists, academics, intellectuals, and many people who wore glasses. Thousands of prisoners were tortured and killed at Tuol Sleng, a suburban high school that was taken over and converted into a prison by the Khmer Rouge. Makeshift brick walls were erected to make crude cells and torture chambers, like the one seen here. Tuol Sleng is now a museum. Photo by Katie O’Brien.
n the early 1990s, during a trip to former Yugoslavia, Sonis began trying to answer those questions. He and several other doctors from Physicians for Human Rights were on a fact-finding mission, sent to interview victims of the Bosnian War at a refugee camp. “The people in one room in this camp were all from one small town, Ljubija,” Sonis says. “They had just come out of the very worst of the concentration camps in northern Bosnia, the places that people described as the Twilight Zone.” When the doctors arrived, the refugees were gathered together, smoking cigarettes in silence. The doctors introduced themselves, and an elderly woman stood up and spoke for the group. “We don’t want to talk to you,” she said. “We have fear into our bones.” The doctors were disappointed. As they prepared to leave, though, the refugees slowly began to talk. And for the next four hours, they wept and told about the executions, the torture, the mass graves, and, Sonis says, “the kind of atrocities that are just otherworldly.” The next day, another woman told them, “At first, we didn’t want to talk to you. But it felt good to have someone listen to us. We’re so glad that you came.” “Those words have stuck with me ever since then,” Sonis says. Talking about what
Photos of victims cover the walls at the Tuol Sleng museum. “If you can make people feel that justice has been done, what impact does that have upon mental health?” Sonis asks. “Does that make people less likely to be prisoners of the past?” Photo by Katie O’Brien.
had happened to them had been therapeutic for the refugees, and possibly a step toward the beginning of recovery, he says. “And I wanted to know—after such trauma, what can be done to help people and societies move forward?” For the next several years, Sonis conducted studies of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in postapartheid South Africa and the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission in North Carolina (see inset, this page) to find out what effects they had on those communities. Now he and his colleagues are well into their work on the Cambodia study; they’ll collect data from the participants before, during, and after the tribunals. Right now, only the first of five Khmer Rouge trials has begun. (Kaing Guek Eav was the first; his charges include the torture and murder of thousands of people, including by medical experimentation and “live autopsies.” The court is scheduled to announce its judgment in early 2010.) But Sonis’s initial findings have revealed some interesting things about mental health in Cambodia. Surveyors fanned out across the country— on foot, by motorcycle taxi, by boat—to collect data from randomly chosen participants. So far they have found that Cambodians who believe that the trials will bring justice for the victims of the Khmer Rouge are less likely to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. And those who don’t believe the trials will bring justice, as well as Cambodians who have a great desire for revenge, are more likely to have PTSD. In Cambodia, PTSD is five times more common than in the United States, Sonis says, and the rate is particularly high in those who lived through the Khmer Rouge era. PTSD is a mental disorder, but it’s also a precursor to some physical disabilities; it’s associated with stress-related chronic illnesses and with autonomic system arousal, or increased heart rate, which can be a sign of heart disease. There are only thirty-two psychiatrists for Cambodia’s population of eleven million, Sonis says, and there’s no way to treat everyone who suffers from the disorder. They also found that many older Cambodians felt the trials were a good step for the country, but worried that the matter would bring up bad memories for the survivors. Those memories, Sonis says, could
make things worse for those with PTSD. Then again, if the trials help those same participants feel that justice has been done, it could reduce their symptoms. Sonis and his research team won’t know until the trials are complete. “It’s really remarkable, the transformation that’s taken place since the Khmer Rouge era,” he says. Cambodia now has a soaring economic-growth rate and a population famous for friendliness; the whole country is eager to move into the future. “But there’ll never be closure,” Sonis says. “With something that painful, there will never be closure. But will there be moving on? We hope so.” e Jeffrey Sonis is an assistant professor in the Departments of Social Medicine and Family Medicine in the School of Medicine. He collaborated with an international team of researchers including James Gibson, the Sidney Souers Professor of Government at Washington University in St. Louis, and Sokhom Hean at the Center for Advanced Study, Cambodia. Their research results were published in the August 5, 2009, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Their next round of data collection will take place when the tribunal issues its judgment on the first Khmer Rouge trial in early 2010. Huo’s full testimony, along with other testimonials, is available at http://www.krtrial. info/vwords/?language=english.
Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission On November 3, 1979, members of the Ku Klux Klan opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators at a policeapproved antiracism rally and march in Greensboro, North Carolina, killing and injuring several demonstrators. The police did not intervene, even as the shooters jumped back in their cars and sped away. Despite the fact that news cameras caught every detail, the shooters were later acquitted and freed. Sonis studied the effects of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was charged with examining the divisive events of November 3 and helping the community mend. Sonis’s results will be published in 2010.
Going Deep From the caves of Tennessee to the farms of the Midwest, Jeff Whetstone aims his lens at what lies beneath. photos by Jeff Whetstone text by Margarite Nathe
Post Pleistocene When Jeff Whetstone was growing up, he spent a lot of his time exploring the old saltpeter cave near his family’s house in Ooltewah, Tennessee. Inside, there were names and dates carved everywhere, some a hundred years old. In some places, the bacteria growing on manganese oxide formations had formed their own letters and shapes over time. Years later, he went back to the caves of the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee and Alabama, this time with a crew of assistants, an 8x10 camera, and some powerful, battery-operated strobe lights. His team wriggled through cracks and narrow crevices, equipment in tow, before reaching huge rooms with fluted walls and cathedral ceilings (facing page). The entrance to the enormous complex, which runs for hundreds of miles, is a crack in the earth (below, facing page). It’s the gateway to the eighth-largest cave system in the United States. And most of it is still unmapped, Whetstone says. He and his team set up their equipment by the light of headlamps and flashlights, but they never knew what exactly would be in each photograph until it was developed. “Caves are a very confusing, disorienting place to be,” he says. “There’s no horizon, no floor, no light, no sound. It’s utterly dark.” There are hundreds of years of graffiti layered on each other, including tally marks that slaves made by candlelight while mining for saltpeter (the main ingredient of gunpowder). In the upper left photo, tally marks from the 1860s record how much saltpeter was taken out of the cave by one group of slaves.
The New Wilderness In a collection called the New Wilderness, Whetstone photographs hunters, farmers, deer stands, fishing tournaments, ATV conventions. Left: A young man named Bub poses for a photograph. Below: The Eno River Festival in full swing in Durham, North Carolina.
Turkey Hunt Whetstone joined turkey hunters in the field and took photographs while they waited for prey. Above: A hunter takes a nap in the grass. Right: Brandon Smith in full camouflage.
Grasshopper Infestation In 2009, Whetstone began traveling to Utah, Wyoming, and Nebraska to photograph the grasshopper infestation that has destroyed crops and farmland. Above: A Utah farmer. “This is what happens to the landscape,” Whetstone says. “These guys were sick of battling those grasshoppers.” The American West was the site of the largest conglomeration of terrestrial animals in history, Whetstone says—that of the Rocky Mountain Locust, which hit peak numbers in the 1850s and 1870s. “They were incredibly devastating,” he says. “An immense, awesome power. And then they went extinct. In 1903, they mysteriously vanished from the planet.” Right: Biologists count grasshoppers by the square yard, Whetstone says. But counting isn’t easy. Whetstone is developing a simple method for getting accurate numbers: “I basically laid a white sheet out on this giant field, and just waited,” he says. “After a while, the grasshoppers occupied the sheet with the same consistency as they did the rest of the field.” An infestation is defined as eight grasshoppers per square yard. Some one to two hundred grasshoppers wandered onto Whetstone’s square yard of white sheet. “That’s all-out craziness,” he says. Scientists predict that next year’s infestation will be much worse. e Jeff Whetstone, an assistant professor of studio art in the College of Arts and Sciences, is one of the 2009 Hettleman Prize winners at Carolina. The New Wilderness was funded by a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship. endeavors 29
Back to the Future A team sizes up the potential for wind power along North Carolinaâ€™s coast. By Mark Derewicz
COURTESY OF THE NORTH CAROLINA STATE ARCHIVES
This corn-grinding windmill on Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, was one of many coastal windmills at the turn of the twentieth century.
n 1715 the North Carolina General Assembly passed “An Act to Encourage the Building of Mills,” which granted half an acre of land to anyone who would build a windmill. The owners of these contraptions were awarded small portions of the wheat and corn crops that farmers and traders ground at the windmills. By the time the Civil War began, German-style wooden windmills dotted eastern North Carolina from the Virginia border down to Cape Fear. Across the rural United States in the late nineteenth century, about one million families depended on small windmills to power their homes, and some six million windmills powered irrigation systems. But after Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act in 1936, utility companies began extending the electrical grid onto farms. People could wire their houses and hook into the grid. Power companies, leery of independent energy sources, made sure that their new customers destroyed the windmills. Some folks actually got out their guns and shot their wind generators. Today the United States gets only 1.3 percent of its energy from wind power. But interest in the source is growing again as domestic oil supplies dwindle and concern about global warming spreads. Wind turbines have speckled the hills and plateaus of California and other states for many years, and in west Texas, the world’s largest wind farm came on-line in October 2009. The United States is home to the strongest, most consistent winds on Earth, and some of them are found in coastal waters. So far, these powerful winds haven’t been harnessed to produce electricity—but that’s going to change. Several energy companies are eying the waters off North Carolina’s coast, though development is several years away. In the realm of state policy, things are moving faster. The N.C. General Assembly passed a provision to let the University of North Carolina contract with a third party to build a pilot wind-power plant in state waters. In September 2009, UNC signed a contract with Duke Energy. The provision stipulates that up to three turbines will be installed by September 2010. If that happens, North Carolina, which lags behind many other states in alternative-energy production, will become the first state to generate wind power from in-water tur-
bines. And if the pilot plant proves successful, the state may add more turbines, which would help North Carolina meet its stated goal of getting 12.5 percent of its power from renewable energy sources by 2021. But first the General Assembly had to figure out where to put the turbines—if there were any suitable places at all. So the legislature asked UNC to size things up at the coast and report back. After nine months researchers handed lawmakers a 378-page coastal-wind report about everything from the likelihood of migratory birds and bats banging into turbine blades to the legal issues surrounding the creation of an in-water power plant (see “Wind Law Needs Work,” page 34). On the final page of the report is a multicolored map of eastern North Carolina overlaid with dots, circles, lines, and gray strips that look like highways connecting the Outer Banks to all points west. This messy patchwork of shapes and colors covers many areas that researchers say are offlimits for wind-power development. But offshore in federal waters there are 2,800 square miles of ocean that researchers say have great potential for wind power. And in the middle of the map—slightly northwest of Cape Hatteras in the Pamlico Sound— there’s a little green area that represents twenty-five square miles of state waters that look favorable for wind turbines. It’s too small for major development but big enough for a pilot study to show what might be possible in federal waters.
“I was surprised there was any area that looked favorable for wind turbines in state waters,” says Pete Peterson, a marine ecologist who wrote part of the report. “The waters of our sounds and coastal lakes are the winter homes of entire species of water birds. They carpet the sounds.” Throw in dozens of other ecological, geological, social, political, legal, and military concerns, and it really is a wonder that a pilot windpower plant will be built in coastal North Carolina waters. So, why Pamlico?
hen the N.C. General Assembly asked the state university system to conduct the study, the task fell to UNC-Chapel Hill and, in particular, to Carolyn Elfland, associate vice chancellor for campus services, who was already leading an alternative energy study to explore the use of renewable fuels on campus. “We added the coastal-wind study to that bigger energy study,” Elfland says. “I looked at the factors we were requested to study, contacted faculty researchers, and filled in gaps in the expertise available on campus with consultants already on board for the larger study.” These experts, including some she tracked down in Denmark where wind power is king, addressed issues such as wind-speed estimation, ecological and geological concerns, energy transmission infrastructure, and turbine designs. Two of the first people Elfland called were UNC marine scientists Harvey Seim
Credit to come
These turbines off the coast of Denmark are the kind planned for a pilot study in the Pamlico Sound.
This map shows all the limitations posed to wind-power development along North Carolina’s coast. The detail at right shows how far the UNC-Duke Energy pilot plant will be from Outer Banks towns.
and Pete Peterson. They led research teams to figure out where winds are strong enough to warrant a wind farm and what ecological concerns could bar such a development project. First, Seim searched for historical wind records to validate previous estimates of the wind resource in North Carolina. The State Energy Office in 2004 had purchased estimated wind-resource maps from a company called AWS Truewind. Those maps were widely used to tout the strength of North Carolina’s winds but had never been independently verified. Seim set out to do so. He and his staff worked with four undergraduates who searched for historical wind records at airports, coastal and offshore weather stations, and research installations, including Seim’s own. He also purchased historical data from Weatherflow, a firm that caters to windsurfers and that had measured winds in and around the Pamlico and Albemarle sounds. But the historical records show wind measurements at ten meters above the surface, while wind turbines are powered by winds that reach eighty meters. So Seim had to extrapolate the historical measurements to a higher elevation. He did find some places along the coast where other people had measured winds at multiple heights simultaneously. He used these measure32 endeavors
ments to test his extrapolation techniques. He also used a device called a wind profiler to measure wind speeds vertically through a two-hundred-meter column of air. The wind profiler, stationed at the Billy Mitchell Airport on Cape Hatteras, sends very loud blips and chirps—like a Star Wars R2 unit—into the atmosphere in all directions and measures wind speeds by listening to how these frequencies shift. The profiler helped Seim create models of wind speeds at other locations. “We wound up with three hundred years of hourly data—sixty records of five years each,” Seim says. “Our students put eyeballs on each data point to make sure the information was accurate. They weeded out anomalies such as two-hundred-mileper-hour wind days or windless months— both are proof that a sensor was broken. We cleaned up the data set, got average wind speeds, and they wrote a report. That’s how far the students got us, which was a big help.” He found that AWS Truewind overestimated wind speeds over land but was more accurate with its estimates at the coastline and over water. North Carolina does have some of the best wind speeds in the country, perfect for a standard 3.6-megawatt wind turbine. “I think our wind speeds are related to the presence of the Gulf Stream,”
Seim says. North Carolina juts into the Atlantic Ocean and is closer to the Gulf Stream than any other state except Florida, where winds are weak partly because it’s so far from the polar jet stream. North Carolina is dominated by the Bermuda highpressure system during summer months, which limits storms, Seim says. In winter, though, the polar jet stream plays a large role in our weather, and the North Carolina coast becomes the breeding ground for storms that batter the Northeast. “It’s those winter storms that form every five to ten days and produce a lot of wind,” Seim says. He found that the strongest winds are offshore, over federal waters. And the best places for wind development, he says, are in Onslow Bay and Raleigh Bay, twenty miles from the coastline. In state waters the best winds are in the eastern part of the Pamlico Sound.
eanwhile, down in Morehead City, Peterson was leading a team to study potential ecological impacts of installing wind turbines. Peterson has worked closely with many state and federal conservation and management commissions and has been studying
coastal ecology for thirty years. “I thought it would be exceptionally unlikely that we could identify a place in state waters with low enough risk to pursue wind power,” he says. Peterson leaned on his network of friendships and working relationships to gather information about the ecology of eastern North Carolina. He also relied on research assistant Joan Meiners and two undergraduates, who traveled throughout coastal areas to talk to experts on birds, bats, turtles, fish, butterflies, and sea mammals. They also spoke to duck hunters, ecotourism professionals, whale watchers, park service workers, academics, and fishermen. Meiners conducted seventy interviews and came away with stacks of information. Two other undergrads were charged with finding every environmental-impact study for wind-farm development, whether on land, over water, or from other countries. Then Peterson and research associate professor Steve Fegley sorted through all of it. As Peterson suspected, great portions of coastal estuaries and sounds are home to too many species with fragile habitats that would be disrupted or even destroyed if wind turbines were installed. But he also found that the farther you get from land and the farther east you get from the barrier islands, the less risk there is to animals— until you approach the Gulf Stream, a river of animal diversity. “One of the things I found most interesting is the behavior of songbirds,” Peterson says. “These migratory birds typically fly higher than windmills, but they drop to lower levels during stormy weather, putting them well within range of windmills. And these birds are in great decline—bluebirds, warblers, sparrows, the birds in our backyards that we love.” Peterson also found that insects are attracted to white windmill blades. And these insects attract bats, which have been known to chase insects toward turbines. The blades don’t always turn very fast but they do create drastic air-pressure differences in the vortices behind the turbines. And these varying pressures have caused bats to explode. Peterson points out that some bat species eat the insects that attack our crops. “Like the bees that pollinate our crops, the bat is one of these organisms that we kind of take for granted. But we shouldn’t.”
Peterson does point to solutions: painting the turbine blades black, for instance. Also, if bats become a problem during a pilot study, researchers could attach devices to the turbines that emit ultrasonic sounds that humans wouldn’t hear but would keep bats away. According to the impact studies from Denmark, most birds maneuver with ease between turbines or completely around wind farms. Still, Peterson says that some parts of North Carolina’s sounds are blanketed with birds during migration season. These areas—from the shoreline to two miles out—are the same places that proved to be off-limits because of fisheries. Peterson also studied the benefits that wind turbines could bring to marine life, such as the creation of artificial oyster reefs where turbine bases would sit on the ocean floor. There are two ways to anchor a 465-foottall wind turbine in water, according to the Danish firm Ramboll Wind, which was on Elfland’s project team and designed about 65 percent of the water-based turbine foundations in use around the world. One way is to place the turbine on a two-hundred-meter-wide concrete slab that sits on the ocean floor. This gravity-based system would be covered with thousands of tons of rocks that could serve as reefs for marine life. To use the gravity-based system, though, the ocean floor has to be relatively flat and very stable. North Carolina’s sounds are known to be kind of shifty. One day there’s a channel to the shoreline; the next day it’s a sandbar.
The second way to anchor a turbine foundation is to pile drive something called a monopile into the sea floor. The turbine sits on this cylindrical monopile. This system is less expensive and will be used in the Pamlico Sound pilot study. When Elfland needed someone to figure out where wind turbines could be anchored, Peterson and Seim recommended Stanley Riggs, a geologist at East Carolina University who has spent much of his career mapping the ocean floor off the North Carolina coast and researching the geology of the Pamlico Sound. Like the other researchers, Riggs found many coastal regions ill-suited for wind-turbine installation. But large areas near the Virginia border, south of Cape Lookout, and surrounding Cape Hatteras are well-suited for wind development. One of these areas is northwest of Hatteras Island in the Pamlico Sound. Seim says that ecological risks and oceanbottom geology are two of the three main things that limit coastal wind-farm development. The third is military use. “Coastal areas are very popular with the military,” he says. “They’ve lost a lot of operating space since the 1950s, and they don’t want to lose any more because it’s becoming increasingly hard to find training areas. Eastern North Carolina is one of their favorites.” Elfland met with the U.S. Marine Corps and her team also made sure that the U.S. Navy’s training grounds were excluded from lists of possible wind-farm locations. When all was said and done, the researchers concluded that there was one place in MARGARITE NATHE
Pete Peterson: “I thought it would be exceptionally unlikely that we could identify a place in state waters with low enough risk to pursue wind power.” endeavors 33
North Carolina waters that looked suitable for a pilot study: a twenty-five-square-mile area in the Pamlico Sound. “We were working independently, so when we came together it was like a revelation,” Peterson says. “Where the wind is best there is also the most favorable bottom for anchoring these things. And on top of that, this area avoids most of the conflicts.” He uses the word “most” because it’s difficult to predict every conflict. Cables will be buried under the ocean floor to run electricity from the turbines to the onshore power grid. The cables will produce an electromagnetic field. Sea turtles, among many other creatures, have internal guidance systems that depend on Earth’s natural magnetic field. Electromagnetic fields could screw up their radars and could even pose a problem for migratory fish. “We’re concerned about that,” Peterson says. “It doesn’t seem to me that there would be a response to the buried cable. But it wouldn’t be too hard to generate those sorts of fields in the lab and have fish swim by to see if they behave normally.” And, he says, a small pilot study in the Pamlico
Sound would go a long way toward addressing this concern and most others. One thing that’s easier to measure is how a wind farm affects people. No one wants to harm the fishing or seafood industries, and the UNC study indicates that such harm can be avoided. But a lot of people also don’t want gigantic wind turbines looming over the picturesque landscape. The pilot study will be located ten miles north of Hatteras Island and eight miles west of Avon. The turbines would be visible on the horizon but would appear to be about one inch tall. If there were subsequent wind-farm development in the prime federal-lease blocks identified by Seim, then those turbines would be about twenty miles offshore and not visible from the coast. When Elfland, Seim, Peterson, and Riggs presented the UNC study at a public meeting in Buxton, about 250 residents filled a high school auditorium to hear them out and ask questions. A few people opposed the idea of wind turbines in the sounds. But then former UNC-Wilmington chancellor James Leutze asked for a show of hands: who preferred oil drilling and who pre-
ferred wind development? The response was quite loud. By a nine-to-one ratio, the people preferred wind. Seim says, “We concluded that you could generate enough electricity from wind turbines off the coast to power the entire state. You’d have to put up a tremendous number of turbines, and the power grid infrastructure would need to be upgraded. But even if you developed one-sixth of the offshore region suitable for wind farms, you could generate twenty percent of the state’s power needs.” e Harvey Seim is a professor in the Department of Marine Sciences, and Pete Peterson is a distinguished professor in the Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City, both in the College of Arts and Sciences. Rachel Noble, who directs the Institute for the Environment Morehead City Field Site, led the group of undergraduates who conducted research as part of the institute’s Capstone Research Project. Stanley Riggs is a distinguished professor of geology at East Carolina University. The Renaissance Computing Institute used its Weather Research and Forecasting Model to make models for Seim’s work on wind-power estimation.
Wind Law Needs Work
mit process for renewable-energy projects. To do that, the state should clarify which agency—the Utilities Commission, the Coastal Resources Commission, or the Environmental Management Commission— would have primary jurisdiction over coastal energy projects. Also, they suggest that the state amend certain laws to better address issues that are likely to arise when private companies propose coastal wind-energy projects. For instance, the state should draft an explicit exception to the water-dependent rule for water-based wind turbines. Kalo and Schiavinato also recommend that the Coastal Resources Commission review its policies that apply only to projects that produce more than 300 megawatts of electricity. Adopted in the 1990s, these policies were aimed at potential large-scale oil and gas drilling operations. But commercial wind projects could be smaller than 300 megawatts and so, as the law stands, would not be subject to coastal energy rules. The state should lower that 300-megawatt threshold, Kalo says.
Lastly, he says, “We suggest that the state develop a comprehensive wind-energy, submerged-lands lease process now instead of waiting until a project comes along.” One small project that has already come along is a pilot plant that Duke Energy and UNC have contracted to build in the Pamlico Sound. Because it’s an experiment intended to gather data about wind-energy impacts on coastal resources, the N.C. General Assembly exempted the project from potentially restrictive state rules. Although the project has a state exemption, Kalo says it is still subject to federal permit requirements, which may take many months to fulfill, whether or not the General Assembly wants the Pamlico Sound Pilot Plant up and running by fall 2010. —Mark Derewicz
There’s a state act that prohibits building any structure in North Carolina waters unless it requires water to function. No houses on stilts. No hotels on piers. And no wind turbines. That law is not the only one that could create unintended barriers to waterbased, wind-energy projects. With this in mind, legislators asked UNC to research all state statutes pertaining to coastal waters. Carolyn Elfland, who coordinated the UNC coastal wind study, called Joe Kalo at the School of Law. “No one was thinking about wind power when these state regulations were written,” Kalo says. “And we don’t recommend getting rid of them. But you want a balance. If you want wind power, then you want it to be done in an environmentally sound way.” Kalo, Lisa Schiavinato of NC State University, and Carolina law students studied state statutes and wrote a report recommending changes to state law. They suggest that North Carolina enact a new comprehensive environmental-per34 endeavors
Joe Kalo is the Graham Kenan Professor of Law in the School of Law, and Lisa Schiavinato is a law, policy, and community-development specialist with NC State University’s Sea Grant Program. They codirect the N.C. Coastal Resources Law, Planning, and Policy Center.
bye-bye, fungi B
ack when he was a scientist at the Botanical Museum in Berlin in the 1960s, Jan Kohlmeyer’s job was to help local mushroom hunters identify edible species from what they gathered in Germany’s forests. “When I got the job, I had no idea,” he says. “When I was not sure whether they were edible, I said, ‘No, don’t eat them!’ But finally, I learned.” It wasn’t long before he realized that mushrooms weren’t really his thing—they were too big. That’s why he spent his vacations knee-deep in the Mediterranean Sea, happily collecting microscopic fungi and publishing papers on them for fun. He had discovered marine mycology, a tiny scientific field that has since grown—but only a little. “It was a completely new field then,” he says. “There were so many new organisms. It was like living at the time of the first botanist who described plants, Linnaeus.” A few years later, he moved to the United States and met a brilliant zoologist named Brigitte Volkmann at Duke’s marine lab. Eventually they married, became research partners, and set off to collect fungi from intertidal zones around the world. They did all their work on foot and over the years built the largest herbarium of marine fungi in the world, one sample at a time. “Incredibly tedious!” Brigitte says, shaking her head. “Standing in the heat, collecting corals or mangroves, searching for a black dot—the fungal fruiting body—that’s as big as a pinhead. Going cross-eyed. Who wants to do that?” They loved it.
After five decades of sloshing around in marshes and mangrove swamps, wading along beaches and coral reefs, and staring into microscopes, Jan and Brigitte Kohlmeyer packed up their life’s work and sent it rolling away in a U-Haul truck. by Margarite Nathe
oon after Jan arrived in Morehead City, North Carolina, at UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences (then called the Institute for Fisheries Research), he set to work on a marine mycology textbook that’s still a common reference source in the field. And he wanted to be thorough. So he knew he had to get his hands on the very first sample of marine fungus that was ever described and study it. It turned out to be a huge task, one that made Jan and Brigitte determined
The Kohlmeyers’ slide collection was the basis for a key for the identification of the marine fungi. The key is unique, as all the drawings of spores were made by Brigitte at the microscope with a drawing tube. Images courtesy of Jan and Brigitte Kohlmeyer.
Right: Brigitte and Jan Kohlmeyer with their slide collection (in the wooden file boxes behind them) shortly before shipping it off to New York. Below: The Kohlmeyers carefully mounted and labeled each tiny sample on a glass slide and sealed it with a process they invented. “Jan and Brigitte Kohlmeyer are pioneers,” says Rick Luettich, director of the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences. “They’re very humble, unassuming people who have contributed to—and perhaps even defined—the entire field of marine mycology.” PHOTOS BY NEIL CAUDLE
to guide the fate of their own samples very carefully. In the 1850s, Jan says, two pharmacist brothers in Brittany (whose hobbies, like Jan’s, included studying and documenting fungi and plants) collected some of the first samples of marine fungi. When the brothers died, they left the samples to a laboratory herbarium in their hometown. Almost a hundred and twenty years later, Jan tracked the lab down and asked to borrow the samples. But the lab did not loan their herbarium materials, they told him. He would have to go to them. So in 1970, Jan flew to Paris, sat on a train for several hours, and finally arrived in a small fishing town “very much like Morehead City,” he says. There he found the herbarium: a drawer full of jumbled, 36 endeavors
crumpled paper capsules, all full of specimens. Jan examined them for weeks, and found that one of the brothers’ samples was a genus that modern marine mycology had never documented. “It would have been lost if I had not been able to go by train to that fishing town,” he says. “So Jan said, ‘That’s not going to happen with ours!’” Brigitte says. Brigitte took steps early on to make sure their own original samples would be permanently mounted and intact. Slide preparation that is careless or outdated makes for samples that simply won’t last, she says. “They last for a few years, if at all, and then they dry out. And then you get them from the museum or somewhere, and they’re useless. There’s nothing on them.” She and Jan developed their own method
by improving on an obscure technique they read about in a scientific paper from 1929. “The process is tedious, it’s time-consuming, it’s long,” Brigitte says. “But if you have valuable things you want to preserve, then it’s the only way to go.” First, Brigitte sandwiches the sample and a drop of water between two pieces of glass—one large, and the other a small covering. Then she adds a drop or two of concentrated glycerin, stores the slide in a dustproof container until the water has evaporated, and outlines the small piece of glass with clear nail polish to seal the sample inside. (Using clear nail polish is a standard part of slide prep, although if it’s used by itself, it eventually cracks and flakes away.) After the ring of polish dries, she covers the whole thing with a transparent mounting
medium, turns it upside down, and drops it on a microscope slide. It takes days to finish a single slide, but after that, Brigitte says, “it’s permanent. They are perfectly preserved that way.” The second step the Kohlmeyers took to ensure their herbarium would not end up in a drawer somewhere was a phone call to the New York Botanical Garden.
ver the past forty years, Jan and Brigitte Kohlmeyer have described over one hundred and sixty new species and fifty genera, including many rare ones that haven’t been seen again since the Kohlmeyers documented them. Twenty years ago, they discovered the first members of a new family of fungi that turned out to belong to an entirely new order (Koralionastetales—from the Latin meaning “to live in corals”) that was growing beneath a yellow, spongy crust on coral rocks on the coasts of Belize, Australia, and Fiji. “We knew right away that they were something very special,” Brigitte says. “When you look in the microscope, you just—” She gasps and throws her hands up. “These spores, they are so unusual and they are so big. I mean, everything usually is so small, but their fruiting bodies can get to be one millimeter, or even bigger.” One of their most exciting discoveries, though, was of fungi that grow on the needlerush plants, or Juncus, in their swampy back yard in Morehead City. From one patch of needlerush alone, they found a hundred and twenty new species, including one called Glomerobolus gelineus (Latin for “throws a ball of jelly”). Glomerobolus, they found, squirts its propagule—a piece of itself that can then grow like a shoot—more than a foot away whenever a raindrop falls on it. They had studied the fungus and searched for its spores for a year until one day, out of curiosity, Jan squeezed a drop of water onto a sample slide. Glomerobolus responded by squirting its insides straight into the microscope lens. Dozens of scientific journals and high school science magazines ran stories about the “fungus that spits.” “Some of those we found on Juncus were rather rare; we found them only one time,” Brigitte says. “Then came the hurricanes and the needlerush was flattened. And then we didn’t find them anymore.” Despite the huge numbers of new species the Kohlmeyers and other scientists have
found during the last fifty years, researchers think that only about 1 percent of Earth’s marine fungi have been discovered. For example, Brigitte says, scientists have barely touched on marine fungi from the deep sea. Yet the field of marine mycology—already small to begin with—is now shrinking, at least in the United States. (It’s much more popular in Asia, the Kohlmeyers say, where it’s easier to find funding for the work.) “Here in the United States, there is only one other lady, Dr. Jinx Campbell in Mississippi, working in this field,” Jan says. “And maybe two others who do it on the side.” “Very much on the side,” Brigitte says. It’s tough to find funding for the work, they say, but marine mycology could have huge benefits for the scientific world, particularly for the medical industry. Many marine fungi have excellent antibiotic properties, Brigitte says. She and Jan have sent cultures to pharmaceutical agencies for testing; they’re still waiting to hear about the results. Marine fungi also provide clues to help scientists as they investigate changes in the Earth’s landscape and climate over time. “For instance, pollen can tell you the age of certain layers of peat,” Jan says. “Juncus pollen doesn’t preserve in the fossil sediments, but the fungal spores do. Certain kinds of fungi occur only on Juncus, and their spores are preserved in the sediment, so you can say that Juncus occurred here at an earlier time.” The walls of the spores can be preserved in the peat for thousands of years (or until a peat fire, like the one that burned forty thousand acres of North Carolina swamp in 2008, destroys them). Aside from serving as a fossil record, marine fungi have the same job as terrestrial fungi: decomposing dead plant matter. “They’re responsible for the breakdown of cellulose and lignin in the marshes, substances that can’t be digested by the animals,” Jan says. “Crabs and fish can eat the debris after the fungi have decomposed the cellulose. Then it becomes digestible and nutritious.”
s the Kohlmeyers’ collection of unique samples grew and they spent more and more time traveling, they worried about what would happen to their herbarium if, for some reason, they didn’t make it back from a trip. So they wrote up brief instructions for the fate of their mate-
rials and posted them around the lab. “We always kept the signs on the cabinets, every time when we traveled—” Jan says. “You never know!” Brigitte says. “ —because you never know whether you’ll come back or not,” Jan says. But the signs were temporary. The Kohlmeyers first contacted the New York Botanical Garden years ago when they began to consider retirement, to find out if their collection could eventually find a home there. “We were very enthusiastic about that,” says Barbara Thiers, director of the Steere Herbarium at the New York Botanical Garden. “Jan Kohlmeyer more or less invented the field of marine mycology, and their herbarium is the definitive reference collection for anybody who wants to study fungi in marine and estuarine environments. And they’re the model for meticulous slide preparation.” In the summer of 2009, Thiers and her crew rented a truck and drove down to Morehead City to meet with the Kohlmeyers. They loaded some 6,000 dried samples and 17,500 microscope slides into the truck, each tray wrapped in a layer of foam to protect against road bumps. The New York Botanical Garden will eventually digitize the herbarium and make it available online, where scientists around the world can search for specific contents, see photographs of each sample, and compare the samples to their own. A few days after the Kohlmeyers waved goodbye to their herbarium, Thiers sent them an email: the collection had arrived in New York, not a single slide broken. “Incredible,” Brigitte says. Although they’ve taken the signs down from the cabinets, Jan and Brigitte still work in their lab every day. Right now, they’re building a key for the 120 new fungi from their needlerush plants. So far, they’ve described a third of them. “It was sad to say goodbye to the herbarium, on the one hand, but it’s a good feeling on the other,” Brigitte says. “It got a good home. And it’s good to do these things while you still can.” e Jan and Brigitte Kohlmeyer are professors emeritus at UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City, North Carolina. They previously received funding for their work from the National Science Foundation. endeavors 37
D. GORDON E. ROBERTSON
Deep in baboon territory, a geochemist reopens one of evolution’s great mysteries. By Mark Derewicz
Five hundred and forty million
years ago, a few groups of simple creatures began rapidly evolving into thousands of highly complex species. This Cambrian explosion, as it’s called, happened over the course of five million years—a blip on the evolutionary timeline. But what sparked the explosion? The evidence that geochemist Justin Ries unearthed could change the way scientists think about the greatest evolutionary event in the history of animal life. u Decades ago, scientists believed that a sudden increase in atmospheric oxygen had triggered the Cambrian explosion. This was the going theory until scientists in the 1990s figured out how to use chemical signatures in ancient rocks to reconstruct the composition of the atmosphere. They found that oxygen levels had begun to rise about 38 endeavors
2.5 billion years ago and seemed to increase gradually until modern times. That meant the level of oxygen would’ve been high enough to spur evolution long before the Cambrian explosion. So scientists rejected the idea that oxygen had driven diversification, and several other theories emerged, including one about jawed fish and other predators forcing sea animals to evolve more sophisticated defenses. “For nearly every person in the field there’s a different theory for what caused the Cambrian explosion,” Ries says. “And most of them emerged only after the simple oxygen theory had been rejected.” But a few years ago, a team of researchers uncovered peculiarly high sulfate-isotope levels in the Precambrian limestone formations of Oman—levels high enough to cast doubt on what scientists had believed about ancient oxygen levels.
“Something interesting was going on with sulfur and oxygen at that period in time, but it was unclear whether the trend was global,” Ries says. “That’s why I went to Namibia—to look at limestones that are the same age as those in Oman.”
here aren’t many places to study well-preserved limestone from the time immediately before the Cambrian explosion. One of the best is southwestern Namibia, where canyons have left pristine limestones exposed for hundreds of miles in all directions. German and Dutch expatriate ranchers own millions of acres in this region, including the canyons of the Zebra River Valley, and they rarely see outsiders. They’ve been known to shoot first and ask questions later, Ries says. “It’s like the American West of Germany over there,” he says. “Abandoned pickup
Justin Ries sampled ancient rocks from four different sites in Namibia, including the Fish River Canyon. Only the Grand Canyon is larger. Photo by Daleen Loest.
trucks. Country music. The northern part of Namibia is lush like Tanzania, but where we were was more like Arizona or, in some places, the surface of the moon.” Fortunately, Ries was there with the right sort of guide: John Grotzinger, a geologist from the California Institute of Technology who is friends with several Namibian geologists and ranchers. Grotzinger has spent thirty years mapping and dating several rock formations in the Zebra River Basin and other sites. “He’s kind of a legend in the field,” Ries says. So when Grotzinger invited Ries to accompany him to Namibia, Ries gladly accepted. Before dawn each day, Ries, Grotzinger, and UC Riverside professor Gordon Love would strike out from the Zebra River Lodge, a no-frills outpost built into stony hills, and drive as far as they could until the terrain became impassable by SUV.
One morning, during the first mile on foot, Ries heard a bloodcurdling shriek. He sprinted through the high, bristly grass, and didn’t look back until he caught up with Grotzinger and Love. “The sound was like a mix of a snarling leopard and screaming hyena,” Ries says. He turned and saw a lone baboon, madder than hell, strutting back and forth while pounding his chest and slapping the ground. Grotzinger told Ries that the baboon had been the alpha male of a tribe. According to the locals, a younger and burlier baboon deposed the graying dictator and forced him into a nomadic life in the canyon lands. Three miles down the river valley, the canyon walls grew taller and the landscape morphed into a scene from The Planet of the Apes. On the rocky mounds, fifteen baboons appeared—none happy to see the humans.
“They walk on two feet and have very expressive faces,” Ries says. “They resemble people—small, hairy, and very angry people. And they get right up in your face.” Grotzinger reassured Ries that the baboons were harmless: they might bark a good game, but they weren’t likely to attack humans. The animals followed them for several miles, all the way to one of the cliffs that Grotzinger had previously mapped and dated. The rocks there were 545 million years old. The researchers began climbing and chiseling out samples, but it wasn’t long before the baboons figured out Ries’s path up the slope. They relieved themselves on the rocks that the researchers were sampling, and when that didn’t deter the humans, the baboons kicked rocks down the slope. “We threw rocks back at them and they eventually went away,” Ries says. “But they always came back.” endeavors 39
Justin Ries stands at the base of a rock formation in the Zebra River Valley where he and his team chiseled out rocks that five hundred million years ago were under ocean water. Photo by Gordon Love.
The baboons would’ve been more bearable had Ries needed only a few samples. But he was determined to conduct the most detailed sampling of limestone from the Precambrian period that anyone had ever done. So his team chiseled out rock every ten feet until they reached the top of the twelve-hundred-foot cliff. Then the team climbed down the slope at dusk and navigated the dark canyon, each man carrying sixty to eighty pounds of rock. The baboons followed them all the way out of the canyon, prowling just out of flashlight range and hissing through the darkness. They never attacked—but the elements did. One afternoon, a storm swept in, stranding the men atop a mesa and turning their rocky pathway into a torrent of rainwater. They had to scramble down a more dangerous slope, where the wet, sandy rock ripped their fingertips to shreds. “You don’t realize how much you need your fingertips until they’re gone,” Ries says. “We bandaged them with duct tape for the rest of the trip.” Back at the lodge, the team packed up the rocks, and after two weeks in the field they returned home to study the chemical signature of the limestones. Using a mass spectrometer—the standard way to measure sulfur-isotope levels in ancient rock—Ries found that the sulfur-isotope signal in the ocean before the Cambrian explosion was much higher than he had expected. Surprisingly, it was even higher than the sulfate-isotope signal. That meant the sulfate levels in the oceans—and by extension, the oxygen levels in the atmo40 endeavors
sphere—must have been much lower than they are today, and probably much too low to support complex animal life. “At first, I was skeptical of the data,” Ries says. The findings clearly contested the accepted theory that the atmosphere’s oxygen level had been high enough to support complex animal life before the Cambrian explosion. “We kept redoing our extractions and rerunning the analyses, but we got the same results each time.”
ies then decided to see what other researchers had found when they studied sulfur isotopes in limestone from other formations around the world. Some studies had similar findings, but most of these results had been rejected as anomalies. Even the researchers who had conducted the studies thought that their results were off-base. Here’s why. If you only sample two or three rocks from a cliff face, there’s a chance you’ll sample a vein of pyrite or an area that’s been contaminated by groundwater. These dense pyrite formations and contaminated rocks no longer contain original chemical signatures from the ocean. They can distort results and lead researchers to misinterpret the geological record. But when Ries read the other studies, he saw that the presence of heavy sulfide isotopes between 543 million and 549 million years ago was a global phenomenon. And he knew that he hadn’t sampled pyrite veins or contaminated rocks, because he’d collected samples every ten feet up the slopes of four separate limestone formations.
“We knew we were looking at a global seawater signal because the carbon-isotope signatures in our rocks were identical to those in marine limestone from other continents, deposited across the same period of time,” he says. And geologists agree that the limestone formation in southwest Namibia is one of the most pristine in the world. Ries asked David Fike, then a graduate student in Grotzinger’s lab, to run more tests of his samples. Fike validated the findings: oceans before the Cambrian explosion contained sulfide that was isotopically heavier than sulfate, which meant that low sulfate and oxygen levels persisted much longer than previously thought. Such low oxygen levels would have kept a damper on the diversification of animal life in the years immediately preceding the explosion. Then Ries went a step further. He plotted the results of every study of sulfide and sulfate isotopes in ancient limestones dating back 2.5 billion years, including his own work and the studies that had been tossed out because they were anomalous to the accepted theory. Ries saw an amazing trend. Atmospheric oxygen levels did rise 2.5 billion years ago, as scientists in the 1990s had discovered. But later, these levels decreased. Then, about 1.25 billion years ago, oxygen levels increased again before dropping one more time right before the Cambrian explosion. Finally, about 540 million years ago, oxygen levels increased dramatically to nearmodern levels. Ries says that such an increase could have been just what anatomically simple species needed to become more complex. “This doesn’t prove that oxygen was the driving force behind the Cambrian explosion,” he cautions. “But it undoes the rejection of that theory.” The simplest explanation for the Cambrian explosion might be the right one after all. e Justin Ries is an assistant professor of marine sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences. His work in Namibia was supported by John Grotzinger’s grants from the Agouron Institute and the California Institute of Technology. The mass spectrometer analysis was performed at the University of Indiana and the University of California, Riverside, with funding from NASA. Ries’s paper on this research appeared in the August 2009 issue of Geology.
Replacing a human immune system is like swapping a standing army for mercenaries. Sturdy, reliable cells trained to fight numerous diseases are traded for new cells, unfamiliar and untested. These mercenaries can turn on their leader— the human body they’re supposed to protect. An organ transplant always comes with a risk that the recipient’s immune system will reject it. But after a bone marrow transplant—in which immune cells are transferred from a healthy donor to a sick patient—the new cells can reject the patient. “That’s called graft-versus-host disease,” says immunologist Jon Serody. Transplanted cells invade the patient’s organs and bore holes in the tissue. How exactly this happens has been a mystery for years. But now Serody and his team have shed some light on the immune cells that cause graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). They found that T-helper 17 cells (TH17), a newly discovered type of T-helper cell, may contribute to the symptoms of GVHD. Immune cells, red blood cells, and platelets are all made from hematopoietic stem cells, which live in bone marrow and produce a steady stream of blood cells throughout a healthy person’s life. But when the stem cells are damaged by disease or injury, the cells have to be replaced or the patient will die. When Anna (not her real name) was a sophomore at UNC she had a routine blood test with unexpected results. “My platelets were critically low,” she says. Anna began to get regular blood tests to monitor her platelets. Her platelet count returned to normal, but after a year it suddenly began to drop. Soon her white and red blood-cell counts dropped as well.
T-Cell Mutiny Anna was dangerously anemic and getting worse. Blood transfusions weren’t enough. Could anyone help? by Meagen Voss MIKE CARLSON
To determine which tissues TH17 cells are attacking, Serody’s lab made cells containing a green fluorescent protein and then injected them into mice. Here, a mouse lung shows intensity of fluorescence (white areas are high intensity; blue areas are low intensity).
Left panel: Standard image of an inguinal lymph node from a mouse. Middle panel: The same lymph node showing fluorescence. Right panel: Intensity of fluorescence (white areas are high intensity; blue areas are low intensity).
She was referred to UNC’s bone marrow
clinic, where she became one of Serody’s patients. Eventually she was found to have aplastic anemia, a condition in which stem cells don’t produce enough blood cells to meet the body’s needs. Some patients with conditions like Anna’s are treated with blood and platelet transfusions alone, but Anna’s condition was too severe. And having a lot of transfusions can close the door on other treatments. “If the transfusions didn’t work, then a bone marrow transplant would be less likely to work,” Anna says. “The more transfusions you get, the more likely that your body will attack foreign cells.” Serody and the transplant team decided that Anna’s best chance of survival would be a bone marrow transplant. Fortunately, Anna’s brother had a bone marrow type that was nearly identical to hers. Before the transplant Anna was admitted to the hospital to receive chemotherapy. The chemotherapy kills the patient’s bone marrow cells so that the patient’s immune system won’t attack the transplanted cells. Soon after receiving cells from her brother,
Anna developed a really high fever—one of the first signs that a transplant is working. Even though she felt awful, Anna was ecstatic. Despite the fever, tests a few days later showed that the transplant was not working. Her body was rejecting her brother’s cells. The doctors confirmed that some of Anna’s bone marrow cells had survived the chemotherapy and killed the transplanted cells. “Sitting in the hospital with no white count at all—with only blood cells and platelets from transfusions and being told that my transplant didn’t work,” she says. “There are no words for that feeling.”
he next plan was for her brother to return for another donation. It was possible that the doctors had mistyped Anna’s brother, so they decided to test her parents. The odds that either parent had her bone marrow type were slim. Human leukocyte antigen markers, the molecules that determine bone marrow type, are inherited genetically. Siblings have a 25 percent chance of matching, but parents usually don’t have the same markers as their
children. Anna’s family was not typical—her father was a perfect match. Anna received a second transplant with her father’s cells, and this time it was a success. After spending seven weeks in the hospital she was healthy enough to go home. Despite the change of scenery, Anna’s ordeal was far from over. “I was finally home after being in the hospital for so long and looking forward to home-cooked meals,” Anna says. “But I was throwing up everything I ate.” Plagued by nausea and a constantly upset stomach, she lost fifteen pounds in two weeks. Rashes sprang up all over her body. Anna’s immune system wasn’t rejecting the transplanted cells—this time, the transplants were rejecting Anna. She had contracted GVHD.
According to Serody, the symptoms of GVHD depend on which tissues the patient’s
new immune system attacks. The most commonly targeted organs include the skin, gastrointestinal tract, liver, and lungs. “No one’s a hundred percent sure why those organs are targeted,” he says. “The hypothesis is that those organs have to have good immunity to prevent pathogens from infecting you.” MIKE CARLSON
Left to right: Standard, fluorescent, and intensity images of a mouse spleen.
The managers of the immune system, T-helper cells, direct other immune cells to generate antibodies and find cells afflicted with pathogens and destroy them. To accomplish these tasks, T-helper cells release molecules called cytokines that tell the other cells what to do. GVHD patients have excess amounts of a cytokine associated with TH1 cells, so scientists thought that the disease was caused primarily by TH1 cells. Serody’s team removed the TH1 cytokine from immune cells and then used the cells to perform bone marrow transplants on mice. They expected the mice to stay healthy. Instead, the mice still contracted GVHD and it was worse than before. At that point, Serody suspected that TH1 cells were a red herring. One other possibility was a newly discovered type of T-helper cell: TH17 cells. TH17 cells produce a cytokine that’s been implicated in autoimmune disorders. The problem was that no one had figured out how to isolate the cells. Postdoctoral researcher Mike Carlson developed a method to grow a pure population of TH17 cells. Serody’s team used these to perform more bone marrow transplants on mice and monitored the animals for symptoms of GVHD. All of the hallmark symptoms appeared, including skin rashes and hair loss. These mice were the first animal models of GVHD to develop severe skin problems like those found in human patients. Serody’s team had not only uncovered a potential source of symptoms, but also created a better model to study the disease. Serody hopes the discovery that TH17 cells lead to GVHD will help researchers develop better treatments for the disease. “Right now we treat GVHD patients with global immunosuppressant drugs that just wipe everything out,” he says. “If we could figure out which types of cells need to be removed, then we might get around having to block all immune cells.” The drugs reduce a patient’s ability to fight infection. Common pathogens that are innocuous to people with healthy immune systems can be deadly to a person with GVHD. Serody points to a construction site outside his window and says, “If I were a transplant patient, I couldn’t work in my office, because the digging stirs up a lot of potentially harmful mold spores.” Now Serody and his team are working on
methods to target and inactivate TH17 cells. All of their experiments are done in mice, but most results using the mouse bone marrow transplant model have been replicated in humans, Serody says. Treatment for GVHD has made Anna’s life more complicated. Following her transplant she was forced to spend most of her time indoors. And even when her condition improved enough for her to venture out of the house, she had to avoid crowds and take
GVHD but her immune system is strong
enough now that she can work a full-time job. Anna hopes to be off most of her medications within a year. A strong believer in social justice, she’s interested in violence prevention and helping victims of trauma. She’s especially looking forward to returning to volunteer work. “I’m glad I can finally help other people again,” she says. e Meagen Voss is a doctoral student in neuroscience in the School of Medicine.
The symptoms of GVHD depend on which tissues are attacked by the patient’s new immune system. The most commonly targeted organs include the skin, gastrointestinal tract, liver, and lungs. These mouse tissues show damage caused by TH17 cells. Top: Skin tissue. Bottom: Lung tissue. Images by Angela Mortari.
extra precautions to prevent herself from getting sick. “I think I should have bought stock in hand sanitizer,” she says. “I’ve used a lot of it.” Anna hopes that someday Serody’s work will give GVHD patients more freedom. After being forced to live such a sheltered life, a treatment that could reduce the time a patient has to be isolated is very appealing to her. Anna’s blood cell counts are finally beginning to stabilize, which means that her father’s immune cells are adapting to her body. She is still receiving treatment for
Jon Serody is the Elizabeth Thomas Professor of Medicine, Microbiology, and Immunology in the School of Medicine. He is a clinician in the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation Program and in the Division of Hematology and Oncology in the North Carolina Cancer Hospital. Mike Carlson is the primary author of the TH17 study. This work was the cover story for the February 5, 2009, issue of Blood. Funding for the research came from the National Institutes of Health and the Mary Elizabeth Thomas Endowment Fund. endeavors 43
Charessa Sawyer researched
grants for homelessness prevention, broadband infrastructure, and energy conservation. School of Social Work, Mid-East Commission Area Agency on Aging
Meredith Ritchie reviewed Rural
Center and Clean Water grant applications that were filed by the Town of Calabash and Brunswick County. School of Law, Cape Fear Council of Governments
Wilson: Ashley Yingling researched broadband grants for the Upper Coastal Plain and helped Elm City preserve and reuse a historic train depot. Department of City and Regional Planning, Upper Coast Plain Council of Governments
Raleigh: Brian Taylor helped develop an inventory
Boots on the Ground The Carolina Economic Recovery Corps sends qualified, passionate workers to North Carolina councils of government—for free. by Margarite Nathe
of all N.C. towns and municipalities that are applying or have applied for federal funding. Department of City and Regional Planning, N.C. League of Municipalities
Christian Brill reviewed Morrisville’s grant
application for a new fire station and researched funding for police equipment and personnel. School of Law, Triangle J Council of Governments
Greensboro: Carynne Hardy helped develop an inventory of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding opportunities. School of Social Work, Piedmont Triad Council of Governments
Andrew Spiliotis helped develop a
guide to explain how local governments can work with electric utilities on renewable-energy projects. Department of City and Regional Planning, Centralina Council of Governments
Rutherfordton: Alison Gillette helped apply for Clean Water Fund grants and other funding for towns with water and sewer needs. Department of City and Regional Planning, Isothermal Planning and Development Commission
Asheville: Julie Lawhorn researched and helped write an EPA Climate Showcase Communities grant for Buncombe County and Asheville City Schools. Department of City and Regional Planning, Land of Sky Regional Commission
A dying septic system and lack of public sewer are slowly putting Woods Diner and Store out of business. Woods has been serving up sandwiches, burgers, and live bluegrass music in Polkville, North Carolina (population 535), for the past forty years. But the diner couldn’t afford to repair its septic tank. The lumber company across the street had the same kind of problem—it had been relying on a portable toilet for twenty-five years. “Even though there was a trunk line for sewer less than a quarter-mile from both of these businesses’ doorsteps, it would take a couple hundred thousand dollars to hook them up to it,” Alison Gillette says. “Cleveland County has the second-highest number of incorporated municipalities in the state, many of which are too small to fund their own water and sewer systems.” So Gillette went to work helping the town find and apply for the funding it needed to help the businesses. Gillette is one of nine members of the Carolina Economic Recovery Corps, a group of Carolina graduate students and fresh-out-of-grad-school professionals who fanned out across the state in the summer of 2009 to help communities research and apply for federal stimulus funding. When the federal government announced the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, says Jesse White, director of the Office of Economic and Business Development (OEBD), his office and other people from around campus got together to find out what the act could mean for North Carolina’s small towns. And what they found, after talking with officials from around the state, was that most wouldn’t have a chance of getting funding without what White calls “boots on the ground.”
“What we heard was, ‘Send somebody to help us,’” he says. Applying for Recovery Act funding— even just understanding the regulations— requires hundreds of staff hours, White says. And many of the most impoverished towns in North Carolina also have the least infrastructure. “Some of them don’t have town managers, some of them don’t have staffs,” he says. “Some of them may have a part-time clerk.” So even if they were able to win a federal grant, they’d have a hard time complying with all the regulations and monitoring their progress. Within weeks, the Carolina Economic Recovery Corps was fully formed, and OEBD had dispatched interns to eight different councils of government around the state—many to North Carolina’s most distressed areas. Gillette was stationed with the Isothermal Planning and Development Commission, the council of government in nearby Rutherfordton, a quiet town of about four thousand people. (Councils of government are associations of county and municipal governments that provide planning and other services for their regions.) She spent
the summer researching and applying for grants, knocking on doors to collect survey information, and making friends with the locals. One of her projects was to help Woods Diner and Store get funding to connect to public sewer so the owners could stay in business, expand, and create more jobs. Brian Taylor, a student in the Department of City and Regional Planning, interned at the N.C. League of Municipalities in Raleigh. He created an inventory of all 550 municipalities and 100 counties in the state to show which ones are applying (or have applied) for federal funding. No one in any state had ever built a system to track applicants, although most state governments track grant recipients. In the future, it’ll serve as a measure of how effective the stimulus act has been in reaching small towns such as Polkville. But the inventory will also help the state provide better support for those who’ve applied for funding, including help with technical matters, compliance, and reporting—all of which are part of Gillette’s new job in the N.C. Office of Economic Recovery and Investment. In fact, she and three other Carolina Economic Recovery Corps interns who’d
already graduated from their programs at UNC were hired for full-time positions, either by the state or with the councils of government they had worked with over the summer. Several others are continuing their work part-time now that their classes at UNC are back in session. And OEBD plans to continue the program for at least the next two years. Gillette’s still waiting to find out whether the Polkville businesses will get the funding they need. But she’s excited to keep working with the towns around Rutherfordton. The chance to work with local communities is exactly why she wanted to study city and regional planning in the first place, she says. “I was hoping to put all of my studies to work in a practical setting. And it’s been fascinating. I really like it out here.” e Jesse White is director of the Office of Economic and Business Development. Joshua Levy, assistant director of OEBD, also provided information for this story. The Carolina Economic Recovery Corps was sponsored by OEBD and funded by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development at Carolina. For more information, visit http://research. unc.edu/oebd/.
Number of N.C. municipalities expecting to need help with stimulus funding requirements Population more than 100,000 35,000–100,000 20,000–35,000 10,000–20,000 5,000–10,000 2,500–5,000 1,000–2,500 less than 1,000
Do not need help
The situation on the ground: Almost all N.C. municipalities that have a population greater than 5,000 are applying for some type of stimulus funding. Smaller towns are less likely to apply, but at least 140 municipalities that have a population below 5,000 are applying. Many of these towns lack the staff capacity and experience to apply for these grants or meet their compliance requirements.
Example: The Isothermal Planning and Development Commission is part of a fourcounty region containing 28 municipalities ranging in population from 184 to nearly 21,000. Seventeen of the municipalities have fewer than 1,000 people, and eight municipalities have fewer than 500. All of these smaller municipalities are served by a part-time mayor and part-time clerk, who are employed by the Town of Rutherfordton. GRAPHICS BY JASON SMITH
in print The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers: A Legacy in Country Music. By Jocelyn R. Neal. Indiana University Press, 344 pages, $55.00 (cloth); $21.95 (paper).
SOUTHERN FOLKLIFE COLLECTION, WILSON LIBRARY, THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL
T for Texas, T for Tennessee: Will Jimmie Rodgers’ songs live forever? Jerry, My record company… is doing a Jimmie Rodgers tribute record—you don’t have to yodel (there’s plenty of songs where he doesn’t yodel) but if you want to yodel, that’s ok too… Anyway if it’s not too much to ask, think about a Jimmie song—let me know something in some kind of incalculated amount of time… All the best, Bob
he Bob here was Dylan; the Jerry was Garcia. Dylan scratched out the letter on a Beverly Hills entertainment manager’s stationery. When he finished the album in 1997, he called it The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers—A Tribute. Bono was on it. So were Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, and Aaron Neville. John Mellencamp did a song. Jerry Garcia, undaunted, yodeled through “Standin’ on the Corner,” better known as “Blue Yodel No. 9.” Way before Dylan, Gene Autry covered Jimmie Rodgers. Harry Belafonte did, too. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Cash. Merle Haggard released an entire album of Jimmie Rodgers songs. Dolly Parton’s cover of “Muleskinner Blues” made her a superstar and redefined what it meant to be a woman in country music. Rodgers, long dead by the time these stars picked his songs, was tubercular, sickly but swaggering, a traveling medicine-show runaway and sometime railroad worker who, by most accounts, failed at pretty much everything he set out to do. In the 1920s he hopped from one train job to another, shuffling around between tracks and towns until the TB made him too weak. He wanted to be a singing star, but he couldn’t read music, could barely keep time, and, the night before he was supposed to record for big-city talent scout Ralph Peer, argued with his band and then broke up the group. He showed up to the Peer session alone. “All right, George,” he said. (Rodgers called everyone George.) “I’ll just sing one by myself.” He’d told Peer he had dozens of songs, but he could only muster two: one maudlin nineteenth-century ballad and another old vaudeville tune that Rodgers biographer Nolan Porterfield calls “a much-worked-over moldy fig.” Neither became much of a hit. A few months later, in late 1927, he traveled to New York and checked himself into a posh hotel (telling the clerk to bill it to Peer’s record company). He called Peer and somehow talked him into another recording session. But something about Rodgers had changed. His guitar was now driving and lively; his voice was confident and infectious. In early 1928—back when selling a hundred thousand records could make you a star—Peer released “Blue Yodel.” It sold more than a million. Rodgers lived only five
HOW TO YODEL, IN ONE EASY LESSON:
more years before the TB did him in, but he recorded often and sold out shows wherever he went. Many people now consider his songs country music’s headwaters. Why does Rodgers’ music still resound? Will the Singing Brakeman’s songs live forever, despite his yodeling, despite his adenoidal voice, and despite the way his seventy-five-year-old recordings wheeze and hiss and pop?
oday, first-time Jimmie Rodgers listeners tend to really like or really dislike what they’re hearing, Jocelyn Neal says. There’s not much middle ground. And often, Neal says, people have two reactions to Rodgers: they say that the song they’re hearing sounds familiar, and they seem compelled to add that it either is or isn’t real country music. Neal has wondered about those reactions for a long time. She studies country music and American popular music, and in her new book, The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers, she traces the lineage of some of Rodgers’ most well-known tunes and takes a careful look at his history and legacy to explain why so many of us still relate to his music. Rodgers was a generalist, an opportunist, working at a time when the term “country music” didn’t exist. His songs became the core of country, Neal says, simply because so many generations of musicians and fans that came after Rodgers decided to define them that way. Decades after Rodgers died, Neal says, “Johnny Cash walked out on stage and used just a brakeman’s hat and a train lantern as a way of summoning the father of country music from beyond the grave.” Rodgers’ songs tend to resurface at pivotal moments in the history of country: when Elvis brought rock ‘n’ roll to the suburbs, when Dolly Parton declared that she wouldn’t be a demure female sidekick, when Urban Cowboy brought crossover pop to Nashville, and when O Brother Where Art Thou? turned a generation of late-twentieth-century fans on to the old stuff. Neal explains that Rodgers had a knack for understanding his audience. He adapted his yodel from vaudeville, cadged some lyrics and melodies from black bluesmen, and even reworked sentimental old pop songs that people knew well. He carefully managed his image, dressing in railroad duds, or a cowboy getup, JASON SMITH
Jocelyn Neal: “Jimmie Rodgers never shied away from a pop-crossover song, he was a master of stagecraft, and he cultivated a signature yodel that served him well—all of which imply that he has the makings of a modern country star.”
“Technically a yodel is the rapid and repeated transition in vocal technique from chest voice to head voice or ‘whistle’ voice or, more specifically, a shift from using the thyroartenoid muscles to using the cicothyroid muscles, with abrupt glottal stops and a noticeable change in timbre accentuating the difference between the upper and lower tones.”—The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers, Jocelyn Neal
or a slick suit and tie. “From the time he was a young teenager,” Neal says, “Rodgers knew that his job as an entertainer was to give the audience what they wanted, whatever that may be.” He intuitively grasped the music business in a way that many of his contemporaries couldn’t: he understood that songs were commercial commodities, and Peer used those songs in a business scheme to maximize profits from rights and royalties. More than anything, Rodgers’ songs endure because of what Neal calls their “irreconcilable dualities.” They’re built with borrowed phrases and techniques, yet they seem autobiographical. They’re a reference to country music’s idealized past, but from the get-go they’ve been a heavily promoted, moneymaking enterprise. “They’re the essence of traditional country music, yet they’re simultaneously claimed as pop, folk, and rock,” Neal says. When Bob Dylan picked up a Jimmie Rodgers song, he instantly aligned himself with Southern, rural, working-class American roots; he evoked an idyllic, mythological past; and he reshaped his own public image, if only slightly, by borrowing the image that Rodgers had created for himself eighty-some years earlier. And he had no trouble convincing a whole CD’s worth of stars to do the same. That’s as good a measure as any for the power of a Rodgers song. Not bad for a run-down railroad drifter who could never do anything right. —Jason Smith Jocelyn Neal is an associate professor of music in the College of Arts and Sciences. Neal’s research for this book was supported in part by the David E. Pardue, Jr., and Rebecca S. Pardue faculty fellowship at the Institute for the Arts and Humanities, and by a research and study assignment from the College of Arts and Sciences.
How blue is your yodel? T for 1 , T for 2 T for 3 , that gal that made a wreck out of me If you don’t want me mama, you 4 ‘Cause I can get more women 5 I’m gonna buy me a pistol 6 I’m gonna shoot poor Thelma 7 I’m going where the water drinks like 8 ‘Cause the Georgia water tastes like 9 I’m gonna buy me a shotgun 10 I’m gonna shoot 11 Rather drink 12 , sleep in a 13 Than to be in Atlanta, treated like a 14
A. dirty dog B. turpentine C. Tennessee D. with a great long shiny barrel E. that rounder that stole away my gal F. sure don’t have to stall G. Thelma H. hollow log I. just as long as I am tall J. Texas K. cherry wine L. than a passenger train can haul M. muddy water N. just to see her jump and fall ANSWERS: 1J, 2C, 3G, 4F, 5L, 6I, 7N, 8K, 9B, 10D, 11E, 12M, 13H, 14A.
The Rebel Poets of Zen Cold Mountain Poems. By J.P. Seaton. Shambhala Publications Inc., 126 pages, $18.95.
he common story is that Han Shan and his sidekick Shih Te were renowned Zen poets who roamed the mountains of southeastern China, scrawling verse on rocks, trees, and sixth-century monasteries. And that myth is probably true. Just not the whole truth. In Cold Mountain Poems, translator J.P. Seaton shares his favorite works of Han Shan and Shih Te while unraveling their ancient tale and eternal appeal. Han Shan and Shih Te, Seaton points out, are actually pseudonyms for several people who wrote short, sometimes humorous, and often down-to-earth poems over the course of t hree cent u ries. They appealed to many people, including religious leaders. “I believe that the high monks and abbots in China saw the poetry of Han Shan and Shih Te for one of the things it certainly was—an outstanding tool for teaching t he basic pr i nc iples of Buddhism,” Seaton says. These religious leaders probably used the power of their church to publish a collection of poems attributed to Han Shan and Shih Te, while adding a few poems of generic Buddhist doctrine and dogma for good measure. This monastic seal of approval is probably why poems that had been written on tree trunks and farmers’ houses survived the ages, all the way down to the Beat Generation, when poet Gary Snyder translated some of Han Shan’s works into English for the first time in 1958. Whatever the case, the poets put simple Zen concepts, such as sitting in certain poses to achieve meditation, into beautiful verse—even when it’s translated into twenty-firstcentury English. Han Shan writes: I sit beneath the cliff, quiet and alone. Round moon in the middle of the sky’s a bird ablaze: All things are seen mere shadows in its brilliance, That single wheel of perfect light… Alone, its spirit naturally comes clear. Swallowed in emptiness in this cave of darkest mystery, Because of the finger pointing, I saw the moon. That moon became the pivot of my heart. —Mark Derewicz J.P. Seaton is a professor emeritus of Asian studies who taught
Chinese in the College of Arts and Sciences.
At www.livinggalapagos.org youâ€™ll find in-depth documentaries about the animals, places, and people of the Galapagos Islands. Made famous by Charles Darwinâ€™s visit, the archipelago is rich with stories that Carolina journalism students are now telling. Stories about how invasive species, increased tourism, and a steady influx of residents from mainland Ecuador have fundamentally altered these once-pristine islands. Stories about men and women struggling to make ends meet while trying to preserve the unique identity of the Galapagos. The photo above was taken by Elias Sinkus, a senior in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Sinkus spoke with and photographed people in the tourism industry and others who guard the islands from overfishing. Pat Davison, an associate professor of journalism, led the Living Galapagos project. endeavors 49
Office of Information & Communications Research & Economic Development CB 4106, 307 Bynum Hall Chapel Hill, NC 27599-4106
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Page 26: Armed with zoology and photography
Page 16: Malaria is widespread in Malawi. To
Page 30: The North Carolina coast has some
degrees, Jeff Whetstone documents underground caves, grasshopper plagues, and our relationship with the land. Photo by Jeff Whetstone.
run an effective vaccine trial there, it really helps to bring along a team of geographers. Photo by Cameron Taylor.
of the strongest winds in the United States. Is offshore wind power the key to our energy future? Photo by Tore Johannesen.
Published on Jan 25, 2010