April 11, 2012

Page 3

The california aggie

Science &Technology

wednesday, april 11, 2012 3

Davis researchers find insight into the cause of COPD Too many immune cells cause respiratory problems Medicine and director of the Center for Health and the Environment. “COPD is related to both asthma and emphysema. It is a serious disease that makes it hard to breathe and causes tissue damage in the lungs.” COPD is considered a very deadly disease, killing nearly three million people every year just in the United States. In patients with COPD, tissue inflammation in the lungs skews the delicate balance of cells that line the airways. This leads to increased vulnerability to infection and a reduced ability to remove harmful inhaled particles. Exposure to tobacco smoke, or any other kind of smoke, stimulates the release of a specific type of white blood cell called a neutrophil. The

By HUDSON LOFCHIE Aggie Science Writer

While it has long been known that smoking can cause serious health problems, researchers at UC Davis have been conducting research that shows how smoking causes an immune response that compounds the harm of smoking. The focus of the research has been on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, and the surprising discovery is that COPD arises from excess immune cells entering the lung tissue. “Eighty percent of people with COPD are smokers,” said Kent Pinkerton, a professor in the UC Davis School of

neutrophils move out of the bronchial blood vessels (the blood vessels surrounding the lungs) and accumulate in the lung tissue. In normal circumstances, neutrophils are an important aid in tissue repair, but when they are present in excess, as they are in COPD, they release enzymes that kill healthy cells and accelerate the damage they are meant to repair. Since the body’s natural repair mechanisms have gone haywire, researchers are looking for ways to supplement the body’s natural defense and repair mechanisms to aid in recovery. They also hope to use this understanding to find a treatment.

See COPD, page 5

A look into the world of beer The complexity of the brewing process in Davis By ERIC C. LIPSKY Aggie Science Writer

Beer is a beverage that many college students may be familiar with as a simple refreshing drink, but the complexity of the brewing process is another story. While brewers throughout the world may differ in the types of beers they make, the consistency of the brewing process remains. The complex process of brewing a beer has withstood a long history, so how is a beer made and what are the brewer’s goals? “It’s very difficult to produce a good beer,” said Charles Bamforth, professor at the department of

food and science technology at UC Davis. “It’s confidently the most complicated and demanding process in the food and beverage industry.” According to Bamforth, the process starts out with barley grain being made into malt. After the soaked malt sprouts, it is allowed to dry, when different flavors and colors are produced. The sprouted and dried malt is stored for a month, and then it is ground up and milled to produce smaller particles. These small particles are then mixed with hot water and extracted. Wort, the liquid that contains sugars for fermen-


The cause of, and solution to, all life’s problems.” —Homer Simpson tation, is drained from residual solids and is then boiled with hops. The product is then al-

lowed to cool, and yeast is added. After fermentation,

See BEER, page 5

UC Davis Cancer Center receives ‘comprehensive’ status Designation is the proverbial ‘big deal,’ said program co-leader By BRIAN RILEY Aggie Science Writer

The UC Davis Cancer Center has recently achieved a “comprehensive” designation from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland. The new “comprehensive” designation signifies that the Cancer Center, now called the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, has demonstrated major levels of achievement in research and patient care, according to Ralph de Vere White, the director of the center. The National Cancer Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, was set up to defeat cancer. However, the NCI “can’t do everything to defeat cancer in Bethesda,” de Vere White said. The UC Davis center will receive continued infrastructure funding from NCI to support its comprehensive activities. Funding from NCI for the infrastructure of the UC Davis program has grown from $8.8 million to $35 million in the last 10 years. “Our center crosses the whole campus,” de Vere White said. “We see ourselves as a campus-wide resource.” In addition to the patient services provided by the Comprehensive Cancer Center, there are six programs


Patient Donald Savignano and Dr. Ralph de Vere White, urological oncologist. under which the center’s research work is organized: Molecular Oncology, Population Sciences and Health Disparities, Comparative Oncology, Prostate Cancer, Cancer Therapeutics and Biomedical Technology.

See CANCER, page 5

coloration, which consumers prefer over the lighter-colored egg yolks and chicken skin without lutein. In people, lutein is Amy mostly concentrated in Stewart the eyes, where it keeps us safe from the stress of high-energy blue light. There’s ongoing research as to whether lutein can help victims of high lightsensitivity or cataracts, but for now, just keep eating your vegetables. Time to complicate o you take multivita- things a little bit. One of the mins? If you do, take ingredients that I found on a look at the back of the bottle was chromium, the bottle at the ingredients which is considered a tranlist. Apart from vitamins A, sition metal on the periodic table; however, there is B, C and E, how many of the ingredients do you rec- actually little research that ognize? Unless you’re a nu- suggests that it does anything beneficial in the hutrition student, I’m guessman diet at all. Though ing many of the names are there isn’t evidence that it unfamiliar. does any harm, there are Most of these compounds are what are called only three cases where its complete removal from the micronutrients. Like the name implies, these are nu- diet caused a deficiency. It is required trients that in trace people only need Essentially all the pantothenic amounts for in tiny acid that you need is in the lipid metabolism, but amounts, foods you eat ... you’ll be fine unlike without supthings like plementing carbohydrates or protein (which are it. called macronutrients). For Bottom line for chromium: If it’s in your multivithe most part, taking more tamin, that’s not a probthan these tiny amounts lem, but don’t waste your usually isn’t necessary and money on dedicated chrocan sometimes be harmmium supplements. ful. Any more than small Similarly, the metalloid amounts of vitamin C, for boron is needed in such tiny example, is usually passed amounts that studies on deharmlessly but pointlessficiency in rats needed to ully through the body into the urine. Overdose of iron, tra-purify the foods and filter the dust in the air. The corhowever, can cause black responding amount needed and/or bloody stool, naufor the human diet is poorly sea, low blood pressure or understood but likely to be even convulsions; this is why iron is often not an in- extremely small (except for a few studies on postmenogredient of multivitamins pausal women with osteomeant for children. porosis, in which boron When I was looking at may help them retain calthe back of a vitamin botcium). Boron is considered tle, many of the ingredients were either unfamiliar, non-toxic, as the dose which causes fatality in 50 percent such as pantothenic acid and lutein, or elements that of animals is about 6 grams per kilogram of body weight I didn’t know people needed, such as chromium, mo- (anything above 2 grams per kilogram of weight is considlybdenum and boron. ered non-toxic). Let’s start with pantothenic acid, also known as vi- Molybdenum, which like chromium is a trantamin B5. Animals need pantothenic acid to make a sition metal, is clearvery important compound er in its health benefits. Molybdenum is a part of called coenzyme A (CoA). the active site of certain enWithout causing flashzymes and is also an inbacks to ninth-grade biology and the TCA cycle, CoA gredient in tooth enamel, which could help preis involved in energy mevent tooth decay. There tabolism of a cell; in esisn’t enough information to sence, it’s part of the reasay whether too much moson you’re alive. Don’t be lybdenum in people could too worried about lacking it, though; people with cause problems, but too little molybdenum leads to a deficiency of pantothan increased risk of esophenic acid are usually only ageal cancer. However, mothe victims of severe starlybdenum is found in high vation. Essentially all the amounts in the soil in the pantothenic acid that you U.S. and is found in foods need is in the foods you as varied as green beans, eat, primarily vegetables, cereals, pork and chickwhole grains and meat. en liver, eggs and sunflow Another ingredient of er seeds, so deficiency isn’t some multivitamins is lutein, which is made only a problem in the U.S. If you eat well and supby green, leafy plants to plement any vitamins and increase their absorption of blue light. Lutein in the minerals your doctor tells you to supplement, then food industry is interestyour diet should have all the ing because the primamicronutrients you need. ry reason that it is found in chicken feed (and thus, the eggs they produce) is AMY STEWART can be reached at science@ theaggie.org. because of its orange-red

Trace nutrients


High nitrate levels in drinking water concerning for rural Californians State looks to UC Davis for solutions By CLAIRE MALDARELLI Aggie Staff Writer

Agriculture and drinking water shouldn’t mix.


The Tulare and Salinas Basins – home to half of California’s cow population and 40 percent of its irrigated agricultural land – are vital assets to the state of California. But the area also possesses a significant threat to its 2.6 million residents, and until now most of them were unaware of it. A recent report compiled by researchers at UC Davis investigated the safety of drinking water in the Tulare and Salinas Basins. The study was performed in response to state legislation passed in 2008 requiring a detailed examination of nitrate levels in the Tulare Lake Basin, which includes Fresno and Bakersfield, and the Salinas Valley, which includes Salinas and areas near Monterey. “These are two areas that have a history of pretty high nitrate contamination in their ground water,” said George Kostyrko, director of the Office of Public Affairs at the California State

Water Resource Control Board. According to the report, “Addressing Nitrate in California’s Drinking Water,” they found that one in 10 people living in these areas were at risk of exposure to harmful levels of nitrate contamination. These people rely on groundwater that may exceed the nitrate standard of 45 milligrams per liter, which was set by the California Department of Public Health for public water works. Jay Lund, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences and co-author of the report, said this problem is likely to continually worsen in the coming decades. “It takes, on average, between five and 30 years for the nitrate that enters the surface to make its way into our drinking water. So, given that long time delay, it would take a very, very long time for that nitration to no longer exist in the groundwater,” Lund said. According to Lund, the study focused on where the nitrates are coming from and what we can do to reduce levels. Researchers examined data from wastewater treatment plants,

septic systems, parks, lawns, golf courses and farms. Significantly, agricultural fertilizers and animal manure applied to cropland are the two largest regional sources of the nitrate that leaks into the ground water, making up more than 90 percent of the total. Since the 1940s, the use of nitrogen in organic and synthetic fertilizers has substantially increased crop production in California but at a considerable cost. Nitrate from the surface nitrogen has continually leaked into groundwater. Although the report did not go into detail about the effects of nitrate consumption on human health, according to the press release, there is an understanding among the medical community that nitrate intake has been linked to thyroid illnesses, some cancers and reproductive problems. As a result, the study looked into finding solutions to reduce nitrate levels in the short term to provide safe drinking water to residents of Tulare and the Salinas Basin. In the long term, the researchers hope to continually reduce nitrate levels by improving and

See NITRATES, page 5