Quick Takes

  • UW researchers are helping unlock the secrets of the deadliest infectious disease in human history. The Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918–20 killed as many as 100 million people around the globe, and scientists have long wondered what made it so much more deadly than other strains of influenza. A study led by UW virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka has now identified three genes that made that virus so lethal. The discovery could help epidemiologists assess the threat from emerging viruses, and possibly aid the development of flu-fighting drugs.
  • The School of Medicine and Public Health has proposed doing away with grades — at least for first-year medical students. In an effort to reduce stress, improve collaboration, and reduce competition, the school would institute a pass/fail system for first-years. The subsequent three years of the program would still be graded. Similar plans have been put in place at Harvard, Stanford, and other universities.
  • The number of nonprofit organizations in the United States has tripled during the last twenty years, and the UW wants to train the sector’s next generation of leaders. The School of Human Ecology has launched the Center for Nonprofits, with plans to help undergraduate and graduate students, as well as returning professionals, gain the skills to successfully lead nonprofits.
  • Global warming may not be such a new thing — or, at least, that’s what some UW climatologists suspect. A study by Stephen Vavrus, John Kutzbach, and Gwenaelle Philippon of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies suggests warming didn’t begin two or three centuries ago, with the advent of industrialization, but five to eight millennia ago, with the dawn of agriculture. Further, they hypothesize that this warming may have helped forestall an ice age.
  • Got sweetness? UW scientists are developing a new artificial sweetener. Brazzein, created from the pulp of a West African berry, has a taste close to sugar and lacks the aftertaste common to aspartame and other sugar substitutes. Expected to receive FDA approval this year, it would form the main ingredient in the commercial product CWEET.

Published in the Spring 2009 issue


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