Montana State University

Research roundup at Montana State University (#254)

October 25, 2005 -- From MSU News Service

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MSU scientist advises international panel

Prion diseases such as chronic wasting disease in deer and mad cow disease in cattle occur around the world. To update its public health recommendations on prion diseases, the World Health Organization brought between 30 and 40 scientists to its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, in September. MSU veterinary molecular biologist Richard Bessen was among them. He presented information on prion infection in skeletal muscle, which has implications or food safety. Another concern is prions in the blood. Two people worldwide have contracted human prion disease, called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, from blood transfusions. Bessen said the WHO panel will use the scientists' reports to update information on the distribution of prion infectivity in human and animal tissues. This information was last reviewed about two years ago.

Tlingit shelters

The Tlingit Indians of Alaska are international traders whose first contact with Westerners occurred in 1741. Surrounded by bountiful resources, the Indians benefitted from moderate temperatures, dense forests and living close to the sea. An archaeology project in the Tongass National Forest of southeast Alaska is now investigating old Tlingit shelters. Montana State University is involved because MSU is home to a national program called Project Archaeology. That program will prepare an educational unit on the Tlingit project and offer professional development for educators in southeast Alaska, said Jeanne Moe, national director of Project Archaeology, a partnership between MSU and the Bureau of Land Management. The educational unit, when completed, will be available on Project Archaeology's web site.

Changes to dye for

Proteins and body fluids change when the body has a disease or undergoes a biological process, says Edward Dratz, professor of chemistry/biochemistry at MSU. To follow those changes, MSU researchers invented multicolor fluorescent dyes. Scientists attach the dyes to proteins, mix the proteins together, spread the mixture on a gel and scan them with a laser. The fluorescent outcome looks like the night sky, Dratz said. Changing colors reveal protein differences which researchers use to look for mechanisms that may lead to new drugs or diagnostic tools in medicine and agriculture. The dyes have improved the view so much that Dratz says it's like looking at the sky with the Hubble Space Telescope instead of the telescope on your back deck.

Dangerous No Zone

Thirty-five percent of all two-vehicle accidents between passenger cars and large trucks occur in the "No Zone," says Valerie Roche, program manager for the Most of Us program at MSU. That's the enormous blind spot on both sides of a semi-truck and behind it. To reduce the number of accidents in the No Zone, Most of Us will research the causes for commercial motor vehicle crashes involving young drivers. It will then develop recommendations for educating and training drivers ages 20 and younger about passing large trucks. Young drivers need to realize that semi-trucks don't have rearview mirrors like cars have, Roche said. They must learn, too, that trucks make wide turns and require a long stopping distance.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu