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Vol. LXI, No. 7
April 3, 2009
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Go for IT!
NIH To Celebrate Earth Day, Apr. 23

On the front page...

NIH will celebrate Earth Day on Thursday, Apr. 23 in conjunction with Take Your Child to Work Day. The festivities will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in front of Bldg. 1. Planning is under way, and so far includes a wetlands education bus with mini-classes for children; a plant swap; face painting; opportunities to take home a native Maryland tree seedling; tours of the NIH stream; educational tables on recycling, commuting options, energy conservation, waste management and more; and local vendors who will be selling lunch.

Continued...


This year, IT comes from the U.S.A. and you definitely would not want to find IT in your garden. It is also hard to imagine a more unlikely source of a new billion-dollar blockbuster drug than IT.

Earth Day IT Contest

As part of Earth Day events, and to improve awareness of the importance of biodiversity, the Division of Environmental Protection is holding its annual “Name IT” contest. The importance of protecting biodiversity for medical research cannot be overstated. Many new drug discoveries come from natural products, sometimes from plant or animal species that are endangered or threatened. For NIH, one could plausibly say “Endangered Species, Endangered Mission.”

What is IT?

In past years “IT” has been a plant species from far off lands in Africa and India. This year, IT comes from the U.S.A. and you definitely would not want to find IT in your garden. It is also hard to imagine a more unlikely source of a new billion-dollar blockbuster drug than IT.

This year’s mystery organism may not be above ground before mid-spring so we will have to speak for IT and provide a few clues:

  • Part of me is neurotoxic but I’ve also had real and imagined healing powers for a long time. My reputation with humans has always been very mixed, even with the Native Americans who have always lived near me. The Tohono O’Odham and the Pima believed that I possessed spiritual powers capable of causing sickness and the Apache believed that just getting near me could bring death. The Seri and Yaquai believed that part of me provided important healing powers.
  • Only recently have my virtues been demonstrated. I contain a peptide that was developed into a drug for treatment of type-2 diabetes. It works by stimulating the secretion of insulin in the presence of elevated blood glucose.
  • I’m listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and am a protected species in the states where I live; there aren’t many of my kind left. Habitat destruction from overgrazing, truck farming and the planting of cotton is taking its toll.
  • A bigger member of my extended family was the star of a movie made in 1959. The director later became Festus Hagan in Gunsmoke.

If you are having trouble learning and remembering all of these clues, another experimental drug derived from me might also help. Unfortunately, the drug won’t be approved before Earth Day.

Sometimes, clues about my species name are a bit suspect. This last one isn’t.

Can you guess IT? Entries should be sent to green@mail.nih.gov. Winners will be randomly selected from entrants submitting correct entries. NIHRecord Icon

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