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BioBriefs

ELIA T. BEN-ARI
BioScience
Vol. 50, No. 8 (August 2000), p. 728
DOI: 10.1641/0006-3568(2000)050[0728:b]2.0.co;2
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1641/0006-3568(2000)050[0728:b]2.0.co;2
Page Count: 1
Subjects: Biological Sciences
Find more content in these subjects: Biological Sciences
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BioBriefs

ELIA T. BEN-ARI

PRESIDENT CLINTON STRENGTHENS OCEAN PROTECTION

This past Memorial Day weekend, President Clinton joined millions of Americans who flocked to the seashore for the official kickoff of the summer season. But unlike most people, Clinton had a serious purpose for his trip to the beach: He visited Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland to announce new measures to protect America's beaches, coasts, and ocean resources.

With the ocean as a backdrop, Clinton signed an executive order that directs the US Departments of Commerce and the Interior to develop a scientifically based national system of marine protected areas (MPAs) and to establish, under the leadership of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a Marine Protected Area Center to coordinate the effort. Under Clinton's plan, fishing, oil and gas exploration, mining, dumping, and other potentially damaging activities would be banned in these areas.

Many marine scientists and conservationists, including members of two recently convened US task forces, have called on the United States and other countries to establish, expand, or strengthen networks of MPAs to help protect ocean ecosystems under stress from pollution, overfishing, and development. Although more than 1000 areas within US waters are now protected to some degree by federal or state governments, they represent only about 1 percent of the ocean under US jurisdiction.

In his May 26 executive order, the president also directed the Commerce and Interior departments to develop a plan within 90 days to manage and permanently protect the coral reefs that ring the 1200–mile–long chain of Northwest Hawaiian Islands. This reef ecosystem is home to an arkload's worth of diverse and unique forms of marine life,including several species of threatened or endangered sea turtles and the only remaining population of the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Clinton also instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to take steps to reduce pollution of beaches, coasts, and ocean waters.

NEW VIDEO GIVES TIPS ON TALKING SCIENCE

Inaudible or monotone speech, poor organization, incomprehensible slides, computer animation overkill: All are signs of a scientific presentation that is likely to result in a squirming or dozing audience and a frustrated speaker. For some scientists, giving dynamic, attention–grabbing presentations is a piece of cake. But for many others,this skill does not come naturally. Yet the scientific world—including employers looking to hire young scientists—is placing increasing value on good communication skills.

To help scientists learn how to give better talks, biologist and film producer Randy Olson, a part–time biology lecturer at the University of Southern California, created a 20–minute video tutorial called “Talking Science.” Olson, who in 1994 left an academic position in biology to study film and video at USC, was spurred to make the video after attending his first scientific meeting in 5 years, which he described as “a tribal ritual of spewing out information with no one listening.”

Olson's video, which is aimed particularly at graduate students,incorporates humor in its review of topics such as speaking style, structuring of information, and the use of audiovisual equipment and presentation software. For purchasing and other information on the video, see the “Talking Science” link at wrigley.usc.edu or call 213/740-6780.

NOT SEEING RED (OR BLUE OR GREEN)

More than 200 years ago, around 1775, a typhoon and ensuing famine decimated the population of Pingelap Atoll in Micronesia. Approximately 20 people were left to repopulate the geographically isolated island. Four generations after the typhoon struck, a rare recessive disorder called achromotopsia, characterized by light sensitivity, poor vision, and a total inability to distinguish colors, appeared in the Pingelap population.

Today, 5–10 percent of the 3000 Pingelap people are affected by the disorder and about 30 percent are carriers. All of these people can trace their ancestry to a single male typhoon survivor. Researchers believe that this man carried a recessive gene mutation for a chromotopsia and that intermarriage among some of his descendants led to the emergence of the disorder, which occurs when a person inherits two mutated copies of the disease gene.

In the July 2000 issue of Nature Genetics (25: 289–293), Olof H . Sundin and his colleagues at The Johns Hopkins University report that Pingelapese islanders with achromotopsia have a single mutation in both copies of a gene dubbed CNGB3. The gene codes for one component of a type of ion channel in the plasma membrane of cone cells—specialized nerve cells in the eye's retina. The ion channels are essential for generating electrical responses to red, green, and blue light in cone cell receptors; cone cells in people with achromotopsia do not respond to light.

Val Sheffield, of the University of Iowa, comments in the July 2000 issue of Nature Medicine (6: 746–747) that the work of Sundin and his colleagues exemplifies the usefulness of isolated populations for studying human genetic disease.