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March / April 2004

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UMaine Today Magazine


Understanding protein transport

David Neivandt
David Neivandt

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Knowing how proteins and other compounds move across cell membranes can reveal important details about diseases, ranging from cancer to Alzheimer's disease.

Helping to find answers that could lead to better understanding of the biological process is University of Maine graduate student Andrew Doyle. Doyle is spending six months at the Institute of Physical Chemistry at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, with the research group of Michael Grunze, who directs the UMaine Institute of Molecular Biophysics. The team is studying the use of high-energy laser spectroscopy to probe fundamental questions about protein transport.

At UMaine, Doyle also works with Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering David Neivandt, who is building a new generation laser spectrometer in his Jenness Hall laboratory.

Doyle's work is supported by the Pulp and Paper Foundation and a grant from the National Science Foundation for the UMaine Institute for Molecular Bio-physics. Institute partners include the Maine Medical Center Research Institute in Portland and Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor.

Grounded in greatness

Nineteen landscape horticulture students at the University of Maine worked in the shadow of Olmsted Brothers designer Carl Rust Parker when they developed management plans for the grounds of the Maine governor's mansion, known as the Blaine House.

The suggestion to involve students was made by Blaine House Grounds Committee chairperson Becky Linney and Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture William Mitchell, with support from Gov. John Baldacci and his wife, Karen.

For their senior capstone projects in the Landscape Horticulture Program, the students worked in six groups, each developing a management plan involving the latest techniques to use "from the soil to the tops of the trees." History was a factor, because Blaine House gardens were designed by Parker in 1920.

The Grounds Committee will select the best features of each plan to include in its final manual. The manual will guide future manage- ment decisions, such as native plant selection and location, and integrated pest management.

"The goal was to help the committee develop a manual of proper horticulture standards to use in maintaining the grounds," Mitchell says. "There's renewed interest in using the Olmsted gardens for public education and to showcase gardening in Maine. (This way) whatever happens in the gardens is based on scientific information."

The future on paper

Despite a rocky few years for pulp and paper mills that resulted in shutdowns and layoffs, the industry is on the rebound, according to University of Maine Professor of Wood Science Robert Rice. And that's particularly good news for Maine's largest industry.

Since 1998, more than 250 paper machines have been idled across North America; 105 in 2001 alone. In the 1990s, there were more than $255 billion in mergers and acquisitions.

Nationwide in 2000 and 2002, the paper industry had its greatest drop in sales since the Depression, says Rice. "In the short term, pulp and paper follows business cycles, which have been in a general downturn. But in the long term, the paper production levels follow trends in population."

Last year, the pulp and paper industry in Maine produced more than 5 million tons of paper, up substantially from the previous two years. The state now stands ready to benefit further. Maine has a highly skilled workforce; good-to-excellent forest resources; good access to major markets for paper; and reasonable environmental regulation, says Rice. In addition, state officials are knowledgeable about forest resource issues, and there's relatively good cooperation between industry and government.

To remain competitive, pulp and paper mills require reasonable energy expenses and labor costs, lower taxes on equipment and property, investment and updated technology, says Rice. In Maine, they also have to deal with changing age demographics.

Incentive packages, says Rice, and a concerted effort between manufacturers, timber suppliers and government, will keep Maine mills running and the U.S. pulp and paper industry competitive.

Improve cognitive function, reduce risk of stroke

Personal health factors that contribute to a higher risk of stroke also can lead to reduced cognitive functioning, according to a study published in the February issue of the journal Stroke, and highlighted at a meeting of the American Medical Association in New York.

A Framingham Heart Study research investigation led by Merrill "Pete" Elias of the University of Maine and Boston University has found that the more at-risk a person is for having a stroke within the next 10 years, the lower that person is likely to score on cognitive tests. Those tests include abstract reasoning, visual spatial planning, organization and concentration, scanning and tracking.

"Changes in cognitive function can be a very sensitive indicator of changes in the brain," says Elias. "The bottom line is that people at higher risk for stroke perform less well on cognitive tests. The practical outcome is additional support for prevention of stroke risks in the first place, and then early intervention when changes in cognitive function are detected."

The study is based on data from 2,175 participants of the Framingham Offspring Study (offspring of the Framingham Heart Study participants) who were free from stroke and dementia, and had taken a battery of neuropsychological tests in a series of longitudinal examinations. The subjects ranged in age from 33–88 years old; 54 percent were women.

In addition, the data were controlled for other non-stroke risk factors that are associated with lower cognitive function, such as age, education, depressed mood and alcohol consumption.

The Framingham Heart Studies are supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Institute on Aging.

The Framingham and other studies have established that factors such as smoking, high systolic blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, atrial fibrillation and left ventricular hypertrophy increase the chances of having a stroke in 10 years. The risk factors are included as weighted predictors of stroke in the Framingham Stroke Risk Profile.

"It is important (to know) that it is possible to intervene at early stages of cognitive dysfunction, but prevention of stroke risk factors at as early an age as possible is the best strategy," Elias says.

Since 1974, Elias has led the Maine-Syracuse Studies of Hypertension and Cognitive Functioning, designed to assess changes in mental functioning over time. He has been a Framingham Heart Study investigator since 1990.

Sounds of percussion and violin

Some Maine teenagers followed the beat of a different drummer when Percussion Continents — percussionist Stuart Marrs and violinist Jan Dobrzelewski — presented "informances" at three high schools in February.

The performances were dubbed informances because they were "more than music," says Marrs, a University of Maine professor of music. "We played something they have never heard before, but we hope they will hear again in the future. The Marrs/Dobrzelewski duo commissioned these new works."

The duo performed selected works for violin and percussion from six composers, including University of Maine composer Beth Wiemann. Marrs and Dobrzelewski, a Swiss conductor and violinist living in Costa Rica, also discussed the origins of the music and the dozens of percussion instruments Marrs uses in every performance.

Marrs and Dobrzelewski first collaborated in 1972 when both were in the National Symphony of Costa Rica. Their most recent CD is Percussion Continents I; they hope to produce Percussion Continents II in 2005 under the Swiss label AMIE in its "les Helvétiques" collection.

Field experience in Honduras

Nearly 30 University of Maine students headed to a warmer climate for spring break, but rest and relaxation were not on the agenda.

Students in a course, Field Work in Modern Languages, led by Professor of Spanish Kathleen March, went to Honduras, where some helped build an education center near San Pedro Sula. Others worked with the elderly, and in orphanages and schools in Santa Rosa de Copán. They were accompanied by other UMaine students who volunteered for the service-learning experience.

The travelers took with them items such as basic medical supplies, clothing, small toys and school materials.

The trip was coordinated by the university, the student organization REACH (Respect, Education, Action, Community and Hope) and the Maine chapter of Sustainable Harvest International (SHI). It demonstrated student dedication to being involved in international relief efforts and the university's support of diverse learning methods, March says.

In Maine, students Sarah Kennedy and Julia Monley lead SHI and REACH, respectively, and have participated in similar volunteer projects. Both worked in Nicaragua last year, where they helped to build a library at a small rural school with money raised by REACH.

Dairy's First Responders

A new Dairy Task Force Response Team at the University of Maine is supporting Maine dairy farmers trying to persevere in challenging economic times.

UMaine's Agricultural Center created the team to develop and deliver educational programs that dairy farmers need most. The recent Governor's Task Force on the Sustainability of the Dairy Industry in Maine identified the need for the university to provide a broad-based level of support in a wide variety of management areas.

The 10-member Dairy Task Force Response Team will include representatives from the university's research and public outreach divisions, including Cooperative Extension. They will work with the Maine Department of Agriculture, the Maine Dairy Industry Association and several agribusinesses.

A number of programs are already planned for this year: seminars in estate planning and transfer, and implementation of the dairy farm business summary for management accounting.

Team members are working with farmers on alternatives through the Farms for Maine's Future Program, implementing farm biosecurity and disease risk assessment to improve food safety, and supporting the growing organic dairy industry in Maine.

Taking inventory

Understanding the characteristics of Maine's estuaries and bays has the potential to aid marine resource management. To compile such a marine inventory, coastal professionals are hoping to enlist the help of citizens.

Tracy Hart of University of Maine Marine Extension has teamed up with the Quebec Labrador Foundation/Atlantic Center for the Environment to coordinate the development of a guidebook for citizens conducting marine inventories. Experts in marine-related issues in Maine are making recommendations on purposes and processes for such monitoring.

With the guidebook, people can provide pertinent new information about the areas' unique features, history, and physical, chemical, biological and geological attributes.

A new spud in town

The University of Maine has licensed a new potato variety to the McCain Corp., for potential production as french fry and table stock. Known to researchers as potato 1753-16, the new spud was developed at UMaine's Aroostook Farm in Presque Isle, largely through the efforts of the late Alvin Reeves.

"This is an early-maturing variety," says Steve Reiling, director of the Maine Agricultural Center at UMaine. "It has good yield, high quality, and the right sugar content and specific gravity for french fry stock."

Propagation work remains to be done to generate enough seed potatoes for planting. Making the variety available to McCain will benefit Maine farmers, Reiling adds, since they won't have to pay royalties for planting it, as would farmers in other states.

Other promising potato varieties are being studied, Reiling says, under the guidance of Zenaida Ganga at the Aroostook Farm.

Tree fans unite

In one of the most heavily forested states in the country, there's now a club for tree lovers.

The Maine Tree Club is for people of all ages who want to learn about and identify the 50 kinds of coniferous and deciduous species around them. Each month, club participants receive mailings highlighting two species of Maine trees. They also receive a pocket guide to trees and the Maine Big Trees Register that lists the largest trees by species and their locations in the state.

Much of the knowledge gained by Maine Tree Club members can be easily applied in their own yards and communities.

In addition, outings are scheduled throughout the state to get people into the woods for practical, hands-on learning and enjoyment, says Richard Brzozowski, University of Maine Cooperative Extension educator. The outings are guided by experts and planned for the mountains, coastal regions and other parts of Maine.

Maine Tree Club is sponsored by UMaine Cooperative Extension, the Maine Forest Service and the Pine Tree Arboretum.


UMaine Today Magazine
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