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Strange Bed(rock) Fellows
Too Eager to Please
Popeye Was Right


Strange Bed(rock) Fellows

By Virginia Stuart '75, '80G

Trichloroethylene (TCE) may not sound very tasty, but it's the staff of life for certain bacteria. Bacteria don't actually eat the hazardous chemical -- they sort of breathe it -- but when they are done, the chemical is reduced to carbon dioxide, and once-contaminated water is safe to use.

This natural process is called bioremediation. Scientists hasten it along by identifying microorganisms that are present in contaminated water or soil, determining how fast they are degrading the chemical and giving them the nutrients they need to work faster.

A group of faculty members, headed by Nancy Kinner '80G, professor of civil engineering, has founded the UNH Bedrock Bioremediation Center in hopes of harnessing the chemical-eating bacteria for bioremediation of contaminated bedrock. The civil engineers, microbiologists and earth scientists who make up the team are among the first in the nation to make a systematic study of this process. The project has $1.6 million in federal funding, secured with the help of U.S. Rep. John E. Sununu.

Bioremediation has been used many times to clean up hazardous waste in soil and groundwater, but rarely in bedrock. In fact, it's nearly impossible to clean up bedrock. "Trying to find and remove contaminants from fractured bedrock," explains Kinner, "is like trying to operate a tiny remote-controlled vehicle through a very complex underground maze while you are standing 50 or 100 feet above." Yet a large percentage of the nation's population relies on bedrock aquifers for drinking water, and hazardous waste sites pose a serious threat to those supplies.

Kinner and her team are working at a hazardous waste site at the Pease International Tradeport in Portsmouth, N.H. TCE was used as a degreasing agent at the former air base, and it overflowed from a storage tank and seeped into the ground. The civil engineers are drilling six test wells up to 100 feet into bedrock in areas with varying degrees of contamination. They will monitor the flow of water and contaminants and study fractures and rock surfaces in the cores of bedrock extracted from the wells. Preliminary chemical evidence suggests that the bacteria there are already working, albeit slowly, since the chemical has begun to degrade. UNH microbiologist Frank Caccavo will be identifying the bacteria and determining how the bioremediation process can be accelerated.

Although hazardous man-made substances may seem like an odd choice of diet for bacteria, Caccavo says plants actually manufactured similar compounds long before humans had the idea. So it wasn't much of a stretch for bacteria to evolve with an appetite for TCE.

How could it be that TCE-devouring bacteria just happen to be located at a place where someone just happened to spill TCE? According to Caccavo, many kinds of bacteria survive in unexpected places -- even thousands of feet under the ground -- in a dormant, shrunken state known as "very ultra microbacteria," just waiting for the right meal to appear. As a famous Danish microbiologist, Baas Becking, once said about microbes, "Everything is everywhere. The environment selects." UNH scientists and engineers hope to add their own phrase to the maxim: "The environment selects. Researchers enhance."


Too Eager to Please

By Tracy Manforte '92

Two students, two "A+" term papers, two very different reactions.

A teenage girl is relieved because her teacher likes her work and her parents will be proud. Her male peer is also pleased with his grade, but his first reaction is, "Damn, I'm good."

UNH sociologist Heather Turner believes those stereotypical responses reflect a significant difference in socialization for girls and boys. And that difference could make girls more susceptible to depression when they get older.

Turner's theory, discussed in a recent issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, is one of several current explanations for the fact that women suffer depression at higher rates than men do. She suggests that as girls grow up, they learn to look to others to evaluate how they are doing and how "good" they are. Boys, on the other hand, tend to focus on tangible goals, such as athletic or academic achievement, and to assess themselves on the basis of their performance.

"Scholars have long acknowledged differences in socialization for girls and boys," she says. "These differences include a tendency for girls to be more concerned with external assessments of self and have a greater desire to please and be liked by others." As a result, Turner suggests, girls depend more on the opinions of others to maintain their self-esteem. While this "emotional reliance" appears to emerge at relatively young ages, Turner also believes these gender differences are reinforced in adulthood, putting women at greater risk for depression.

Turner teamed with other researchers to interview 1,393 adults between the ages of 18 and 55 in Toronto, Canada. The researchers were interested not only in gender and measures of emotional reliance, but also in other factors including education, marital status, occupation and household income. They found that the women in the study not only demonstrated higher levels of emotional reliance than the men, but that emotionally reliant women were far more likely to experience depression than emotionally reliant men.

Turner also found that women with limited education, working in low-paying, low-status jobs, are most disadvantaged by emotional reliance and most at risk for experiencing symptoms of depression. She found a shift away from emotional dependence among women with higher levels of education. "This suggests that status in the adult world can offset some of the early socialization that encourages dependency among females."

"I see this as just one piece of the larger puzzle of why women have higher rates of depression than men," says Turner. "It adds to our understanding of the social origins of depression and how roles and statuses affect mental health."

senior citizens

Popeye Was Right

By Ann M. Mozingo

While nutritionists tout the benefits of eating plenty of fruits and vegetables to promote health, there could be one more good reason to eat spinach each day: better eyesight in later life.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of visual impairment and blindness in those over 60. And cataracts afflict roughly one-third of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74. Since America's aging population is growing substantially each year, baby boomers everywhere could benefit from research under way by UNH nutrition and food scientist Joanne Curran Celentano.

Though eyesight often changes with maturity, Celentano's research goal is to determine whether eating certain fruits and vegetables can extend strong vision into old age. Her research focuses on carotenoids: the pigments that give certain fruit and vegetables their color and that also have antioxidant power.

The part of the eye that makes it possible to read, recognize someone's face and differentiate among colors is called the macular region, which is located in the retina. This is the place where AMD affects vision and where macular pigment is deposited. Macular pigment is composed of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Lutein is plentiful in green leafy vegetables, such as collards, kale, spinach and broccoli, while zeaxanthin is prevalent in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables.

"We are looking at dietary and lifestyle factors that enhance pigment deposition. Ultimately the research will try to determine if there is a link between pigment deposition and disease," Celentano says.

Since the late '80s, Celentano has measured the carotenoid levels in the blood and diet of many healthy volunteers. She works in collaboration with UNH professor of psychology Kenneth Fuld, a vision scientist who measures the macular pigment of the research participants.

"While diet is important, it is obviously not the only factor affecting long-term vision health. We are trying to understand what influences macular pigment density and to determine if macular pigment is directly or indirectly related to disease risk," Celentano explains. "This is going to help us to understand the physiological effects of dietary carot-enoids, and it may help us to understand more about the risk of eye disease."

Because more than 13 million Americans have some level of age-related macular degeneration, which has no real cure, it is important to determine if simple lifestyle changes can prolong vision health. Not smoking is one way to do that: scientists have shown a direct link between tobacco use and macular disease and cataracts. It looks as though increasing carotenoid intake from food or supplements may help, too.

"I'm totally comfortable in saying an increased consumption of fruits and vegetables is good advice for maintaining health as we age. In addition, it may actually help prolong long-term vision health," Celentano says. "This is just one more reason to give spinach a try."

Editor's note: Celentano needs volunteers between the ages of 52 and 65 to assist in her research. To volunteer, contact Ph.D. candidate Joanne Burke at or call (603) 862-3182.

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