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Archive - Apr 3, 2014

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Specific Brain Region May Be Key to Alcohol Drinking Behavior

As recovering spring breakers are regretting binge drinking escapades, it may be hard for them to appreciate that there is a positive side to the nausea, sleepiness, and stumbling. University of Utah neuroscientists report that when a region of the brain called the lateral habenula is chronically inactivated in rats, they repeatedly drink to excess and are less able to learn from the experience. The study, published online in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on April 2, 2014, has implications for understanding behaviors that drive alcohol addiction. While complex societal pressures contribute to alcoholism, physiological factors are also to blame. Alcohol is a drug of abuse, earning its status because it tickles the reward system in the brain, triggering the release of feel-good neurotransmitters. The dreaded outcomes of overindulging serve the beneficial purpose of countering the pull of temptation, but little is understood about how those mechanisms are controlled. University of Utah professor of neurobiology and anatomy Sharif Taha, Ph.D. and colleagues, tipped the balance that reigns in addictive behaviors by inactivating in rats the lateral habenula. When these rats were given intermittent access to a solution of 20% alcohol over several weeks, they escalated their alcohol drinking more rapidly, and drank more heavily than control rats. "In people, escalation of intake is what eventually separates a social drinker from someone who becomes an alcoholic," said Dr. Taha. "These rats drink amounts that are quite substantial. Legally they would be drunk if they were driving." The lateral habenula is activated by bad experiences, suggesting that without this region the rats may drink more because they fail to learn from the negative outcomes of overindulging.

Massive Genome of Economically Important Loblolly Pine Sequenced; Candidate Resistance Gene Identified for Fusiform Rust Disease

U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) scientists co-authored an article published on March 4, 2014 in an open-access article in the journal Genome Biology that reports the sequencing, assembly, and annotation of the loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) genome. As the primary source of pulpwood and saw timber for the U.S. forest industry, loblolly pine is of great economic importance to the South and to the nation. Dr. David Neale, professor of plant sciences at the University of California, Davis, led the loblolly pine genome project. “The project was a huge undertaking because at 22 gigabases, the loblolly pine genome is about eight times larger than the human genome,” said Dr. C. Dana Nelson, SRS Southern Institute for Forest Genetics (SIFG) project leader and research geneticist. “The group chose loblolly pine both because of its economic importance, and the knowledge gained from 60 years of breeding the species and managing millions of trees in genetic trials.” As part of the project, researchers identified a candidate for a gene involved in resistance to fusiform rust, a disease that infects southern pines. SIFG biological science technician Katherine Smith worked with Dr. John M. Davis, professor and associate director of the School of Forest Resources and Conservation at the University of Florida (UF), to compare mapped sections of the genome with sections found in loblolly specimens previously inoculated with the pathogen that causes fusiform rust. “Fusiform rust is the most damaging disease of southern pines—and one of the most complex, due to genetic interactions between the pathogen and its host,” said Dr. Davis, who also serves as faculty and Executive Committee member at the UF Genetics Institute.