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Vol. LXII, No. 7
April 2, 2010
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Earth Day 2010 Is Coming to the Neighborhood

Photo of IT—care to guess what IT is?

Photo of IT—care to guess what IT is?

Photo: Ed Rau

As the last frozen evidence of the snows of 2010 disappears and spring is finally in the air, everyone’s thoughts are turning to things green—like Earth Day. This year, we will celebrate it in conjunction with Take Your Child to Work Day on Thursday, Apr. 22.

It is also time to reveal some clues about the Office of Research Facilities’ annual “Name IT” contest mystery creature or plant. Each year “IT” is an organism, sometimes threatened or endangered, that has something to do with medicine and emphasizes the importance of protecting biodiversity.

In the first years of the contest, the mystery organisms were from far off lands—Hoodia and Sceletium plants from the Great Karoo in southern Africa and Moringa trees from the foothills of the Himalayas in northwestern India. Last year brought the first “IT” native to the U.S.—gila monsters from Arizona. This year IT will be from even closer to home—right in NIH’s neighborhood. If television’s Mr. Rogers were here today, we would ask him to provide the contest clues. He would probably begin by putting on his sneakers, zipping up his famous cardigan sweater and then providing a few clues about things made from IT:

  • You can make many things from IT: food, beer, wine and even an organic insecticide for head lice.
  • Development and the clearing of mature trees have eliminated IT from many of our urban areas, but IT is not endangered.
  • IT is so well known that it has a town named after IT. You can get there by driving exactly 104.40 miles from the NIH campus.

Unfortunately, the real Mr. Rogers (Fred McFeely Rogers) was diagnosed with stomach cancer and passed away in 2003. Overall, the 5-year survival rate for stomach cancer in the U.S. is still only about 20 percent. One of the reasons that this and other forms of cancer may resist treatment is that while the chemotherapeutic drugs can kill most of the cells in tumors, a small percentage of them may be multidrug resistant (MDR) cells. These are not destroyed by chemotherapy and can multiply after treatment and eventually form new tumors that are entirely MDR. What does this have to do with our mystery organism? Chemicals called acetogenins in extracts from IT and some of IT’s cousins have shown effectiveness against MDR cells—in fact they are the only substances to do so. That’s why, over the last 20 years, NCI has funded research on IT.

Submit your guess on what IT is to green@mail.nih.gov. You can also volunteer your green ideas, time and talents to the Earth Day planning committee by contacting Danita Broadnax at broadnax@mail.nih.gov. Common or scientific names for IT will be accepted. From those submitting correct answers, ORF’s Division of Environmental Protection will randomly select winners for special prizes.

A full listing of Earth Day activities will soon be posted at http://nems.nih.gov. Won’t you be our neighbor and plan to attend Earth Day too?— NIHRecord Icon

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