Week In Review: Shutdown

UNC-TV Science Week in Review: October 3, 2013


The biggest news event this week has been the Federal Government shutdown. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the rest stops on the Blue Ridge Parkway are just a few of the services the shutdown has affected in North Carolina (though to be clear, all of North Carolina’s State Parks, zoos and museums are still open).

But to make the most of the situation, North Carolina researchers made advances this week on some shutdowns of their own. Scientists often search for ways to stop things from happening, and this week, they worked on...

The Urge to Overeat
Binge eating disorder may be the most common eating disorder among American adults, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Binge eating involves frequently eating well beyond the point of being full. While some causes of binge eating are thought to be psychological, researchers from UNC Medical Center recently discovered a part of the brain that may contribute to the urge to overeat.

The researchers looked at specific cells called gaba neurons in a small part of the brain called the bed nucleus of stria terminals (BNST). The BNST connects the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotions to the lateral hypothalamus, which scientists have shown triggers the urge to eat.

They stimulated the BNST gaba neurons in mice after the mice had been fed and as soon as those neurons were stimulated, the mice ate more, regardless of how full they were. 

The findings suggest that binge eating may be caused by overstimulation of the BNST gaba neurons. The researchers also say this might go both ways, and understimulation of the BNST gaba neurons could lead to anorexia. Their research was published in the journal Science.

Cancer Reproduction
Researchers from Duke Medical Center recently got a more accurate picture of how cells repair damage to their DNA. 

DNA breaks all the time, usually in the process of replication. But DNA gets stored in a tight coil, wrapped around proteins. The whole DNA-protein complex is called chromatin, and when DNA is packaged within the chromatin, it can be difficult for repair proteins to access DNA breaks.

The Duke researchers used new techniques to get the most accurate picture to date of how a protein called nucleolin unwraps DNA from the chromatin coil.

So how does this help fight cancer? Well the researchers think that by manipulating nucleolin in cancer cells, they can ensure that the cancer DNA is exposed when doctors use radiation and chemotherapy. Both of those methods attack DNA, so modified nucleolin would give cancer treatments a free shot on cancer. The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Pollution from Fracking
One method natural gas companies use to ensure that fracking chemicals don’t end up in water supplies is treating the waste water before releasing it back into streams. A new study from Duke University, however, shows that one such plant in Pennsylvania doesn’t do a great job of filtering out certain radioactive elements and salts.

The researchers found radium, a naturally occurring radioactive metal mainly found buried in the Earth, in large quantities downstream of the treatment plant, located about an hour east of Pittsburgh. They found 200 times as much radium downstream of the plant as upstream. This radioactivity produced by the radium would be a violation for wastewater from a nuclear power plant. The treatment plant did do a good job of filtering out barium, another radioactive metal in the same family as radium.

The plant also didn’t catch bromides and chlorides particularly well. These salts can disrupt micro organisms important to the area habitats. With more companies looking to frack for natural gas in North Carolina, research like this should help companies develop better methods of curbing pollution. The research was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.


Forensic scientists from Western Carolina University recently received a grant from the National Institute of Justice to evaluate new DNA sequencing technology for use in crime labs. 

The grant will fund researchers and students for two years with almost $718,000. The new technology, already in place at WCU, will allow for faster and more accurate DNA sequencing from crime scenes.

- Daniel Lane

Daniel Lane covers science, medicine and the environment as a reporter/writer. He is currently pursuing a master's degree in medical and science journalism at UNC - Chapel Hill.