UCSF Researchers Co-Star in New PBS Science Series

March 20, 2002
News Office: Wallace Ravven (415) 502-6397

A dozen UCSF scientists have already been interviewed for a new PBS series that debuts April 7, exploring research in genetics and genomics and its impact on medicine, agriculture and industry.

The program's title, "Secrets of the Sequence," refers to the newly revealed sequence of all the human genes. The first few programs in the year-long series profile researchers studying the role of genes in alcoholism, aging and aggression.

The show will air nationally on PBS stations. About 70 percent of the PBS stations nationally have committed to carry the program.

Locally,"Secrets of the Sequence" can be seen Sunday nights at 8:30, beginning April 7 on KCSM, Channel 60, and again on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. KCSM also airs on cable TV channels 17 or 24. KTEH, the PBS station in San Jose, will air the show beginning in May.

Other stations throughout the state are also planning to air it.

The new series draws heavily on top biomedical research universities. UCSF and five other institutions have been involved in advising the producers on content since the program's inception in the fall of 2000. Other advisers are Harvard Medical School, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, Virginia Commonwealth University and the Medical Research Council in Great Britain.

"From what we've seen in the pilot, the new program conveys the adventure and the power of genomics research accurately and in an engaging way that can reach a wide audience," said Reg Kelly, executive vice chancellor, who has helped advise the producers on the program's content.

Along with a "user-friendly" host, the program includes a kind of know-it-all computer that now and then spews out useful information -- definitions, diagrams and the like.

The first program includes a look at nicotine addiction, profiling a study of twins led by Dr. Neal Benowitz, UCSF professor of medicine, psychiatry and biopharmaceutical sciences. The research examines how twins metabolize nicotine. By comparing differences in metabolism found in identical versus fraternal twins, Benowitz and his colleagues hope to determine the genetic component of nicotine addiction. The research can help refine medication regimes to break cigarette addiction.

In the same program, drunken fruit flies and their sober counterparts navigate an apparatus that helps reveal the genetic roots to differing abilities to tolerate alcohol. Ulrike Heberlein, UCSF associate professor of anatomy, explains the genetic variants her lab has discovered, including "cheapdate" and "barfly" which underlie stark differences in responses to alcohol -- differences that would seem familiar to anyone who has visited a bar.

Other UCSF researchers appear on later programs, focusing on studies of the genetics of aging, efforts to discern the function of so-called "junk DNA" and powerful new techniques to reveal subtle genetic differences in otherwise similar cancers. The differences are expected to greatly improve diagnosis and pinpoint cancer treatment.

"Those of us who are fortunate enough to carry out research at the molecular and genetic levels do so hoping that we might make the world a better place," Reg Kelly said.

"At the same time, the chance to explore the unknown fulfills a strong human drive. This program seems to capture the dual powers of genomics to improve lives and to help us discern how nature works. I think a lot of people will enjoy the show."

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