Amherst Magazine

Work in Progress

By Emily Gold Boutilier

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BRAIN FOOD: Why do people develop eating disorders? Can they be treated with medicine? J.P. Baird, associate professor of psychology in the neuroscience program, studies how the brain regulates food intake. For example, he and his team are researching the neural systems that control feeding in an effort to learn how disorders such as obesity, anorexia and gastric reflux disease can be treated medically. He is also studying how three particular neuropeptides— compounds in the brain made up of two or more amino acids—affect the eating habits and satiety responses of rats in his lab. This may someday help scientists better understand conditions such as obesity, bulimia, diabetes and anorexia, which has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. Grants from the National Institutes of Health are supporting Baird’s work.

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Plant sex: Assistant Professor of Biology Jill Miller and Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Rachel Levin are studying reproductive systems in flowering plants—specifically, in Lycium, a genus of plants closely related to the tomato, eggplant and pepper. Some Lycium species and populations have separate male and female plants; others are hermaphrodites. “Because of this, we are well positioned to understand the evolutionary forces leading to the development of particular sexual strategies,” Miller says. She and Levin also want to better understand how plant hybrids form and how plant species come to be distributed geographically. They will continue their travels—in some cases, with student research assistants—to the Channel Islands of California, the Baja California peninsula of Mexico, the Canary Islands and the Galápagos to find and study the plants.

Top image © 2010 James Steinberg c/o The ISpot.com

Bottom image © 2010 Brian Stauffer c/o The ISpot.com