Science Update - Povery and Obesity

The Naked Scientists spoke to Chelsea Wald and Bob Hirshon from the AAAS
09 April 2006

Interview with 

Chelsea Wald and Bob Hirshon from the AAAS


Chelsea - For the Naked Scientists this week we'll be talking about a group of scientists trying to alleviate poverty in the developing world. But first, obese people face a heightened risk for all kinds of other conditions like diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Now new research suggests that they may also be more susceptible to pain.

Bob - Exactly. But you might not know it from asking them. That's according to Ohio State University psychologist Charles Emery. He and his colleagues found that compared with non-obese people, obese people's bodies were unusually sensitive to a pain reflex test. The finding dovetails with other research that links obesity to inflammation.

Charles - So you see higher levels of C-reacted protein, proteins we know are associated with inflammation in obese individuals and those inflammatory factors are also found in people with chronic pain. And so it makes a good deal of sense that in fact people who are obese and have this chronic inflammation could be at greater risk for pain.

Bob - Yet in Emery's study, the obese people didn't report feeling any more pain than anyone else. It's not yet clear whether they actually experience pain differently or were just being stoic.

Chelsea - Over the twentieth century, the productivity of that American food staple corn increased more than 1000 times. That's thanks to science. But other crops have been left behind, along with the people who rely on them.

Bob - One crop in particular is cassava, also known as manioc. It feeds some 700 hundred million people in the poorest countries but it's susceptible to viruses, insects and drought. That leaves cassava farmers with hardly enough to feed their families, much less any excess to sell. That's according to plant biologist Claude Fauquet of the Donald Danforth Plant Sciences Center in St. Louis Missouri. He's a leader in an international coalition of scientists working on the cassava plant.

Claude - So it boils down to the fact that if the plant itself is not capable of producing enough calories per unit of space and family, then these people cannot get out of poverty. So we estimate that if we could double the productivity of the current world average productivity, which is about ten tonnes per hectare, if we could turn this into twenty tonnes per hectare then these people could get out of this poverty cycle and could start to participate in the local economy.

Bob - They hope to do this by genetically modifying the plant for resistance to drought, viruses and pests and to express healthy vitamins and proteins. But they caution that current investment in cassava plant research is only one per cent of what they need to reach their goal.

Chelsea - Well that's all for this week's Science Update. Next time, along with the Naked Scientists, we'll be talking about marine science. Until then, I'm Chelsea Wald.

Bob - And I'm Bob Hirshon for AAAS the science society. Back to you Naked Scientists.


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