RED HOT NEWS: Hot peppers made for a hot news story, as research by a UW professor was named one of the top 100 science stories of 2008 by Discover magazine. Jonathan Tewksbury a biologist, analyzed the distribution of different varieties of chili peppers in Bolivia, where chilies are believed to have first evolved. He found that areas with the greatest number of fruit-eating insects had hotter chili peppers than other areas. He also found that although capsaicin (the element of peppers that makes them hot) did not bother insects nibbling on the peppers’ flesh, it did inhibit a fungus that feeds on the seeds of chili peppers that have been scarred by insects. “In populations where there are a lot of insects,” Tewksbury explains, “the fruit get attacked by more fungus, and the plants with capsaicinoids are better protected from it.” Thus, the capsaicin serves as a chemical weapon that helps the seeds survive intact for dispersal by fruit-eating birds, which are insensitive to capsaicin.
Other microbes are also thwarted by superhot fruits, a fact that humans may have exploited by mixing hot chilies into their diet and using them to preserve foods before there was refrigeration. “Human use of chilies,” Tewksbury says, “may mirror the evolutionary function of these compounds in the fruits that produce them.”
UNSUNG NO MORE: Marcia Monroe, a library supervisor at UW Tacoma, was honored as an “Unsung Hero” by the UWT Staff Association Board. The award recognizes a staff member who makes a significant contribution to the campus but has not yet been publicly acknowledged. Monroe was recognized for her “dedication, commitment to excellence, and always-present positive spirit.”
DAWG IN SPACE: When the Space Shuttle launches again Feb. 12, it will be carrying a Husky. Tony Antonelli, who earned his master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics at the UW, is one of seven astronauts set to fly on the 14-day mission, which will deliver the space station’s fourth and final set of solar array wings, completing the station’s backbone, or truss. The arrays will provide the electricity to power science experiments and increase the crew size to six in May. The shuttle also will deliver the first Japanese resident station crew member and bring back U.S. astronaut Sandra Magnus, who will have lived aboard the complex for more than three months. Antonelli is slated to pilot the shuttle.
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