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Vol. LXIII, No. 3
February 4, 2011

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Earth Day 2011 May Bring ‘Them’ to NIH

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The holidays have passed, some snow has fallen and much of the natural world seems asleep. But the Office of Research Facilities’ Division of Environmental Protection and the IC Green Teams are already busy planning for a big event—not a blizzard, but Earth Day. This year, NIH will celebrate it concurrently with Take Your Child to Work Day on Thursday, Apr. 28.

It is also time to reveal some clues about the mystery creature or plant featured in ORF’s annual Earth Day “Name It Contest.” Each year “It” has been an organism, sometimes threatened or endangered, that has something to do with medicine and emphasizes the importance to NIH’s mission 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, Moringa trees from the foothills of the Himalayas in northwestern India and Gila monsters from Arizona. Last year brought the first “It” native to our own neighborhood—the pawpaw tree—and many correct answers to the contest web site. (Some pawpaw seedlings may be back at ORF’s event this year as gifts that you can plant in your yard).


It, a host for Them
It, a host for Them
Care to guess what They are?

Care to guess what They are?

Here are some clues about “It” for this year’s contest, offered by It itself:

  • I will end the pattern of past years because I don’t come from the land at all. In fact you’ll need to use scuba gear to visit my home.
  • Many studies have shown that some of the most important drugs discovered in plants and other natural products are actually produced by symbiotic organisms living with the host organism (me). Sometimes my guests just don’t get the credit they deserve. So maybe to be more ecologically correct this competition should be called NIH’s “Name Them Contest.”
  • Rest assured that I never attack people like those poor irradiated ants portrayed in the 1954 sci-fi movie about Them.
  • To tell my story a much bigger cast of characters is involved—a whole ecosystem.
  • When we are all working well together I can produce an array of potent anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative and analgesic compounds that may help treat a wide range of human diseases including asthma, arthritis, psoriasis, transplant rejection and poison ivy to name just a few. Maybe even cosmetic ingredients to fix your wrinkles.
  • When environmental conditions deteriorate and ocean temperatures rise with climate change, our numbers drop, reefs get bleached and the whole ecosystem can collapse. Unfortunately, that’s happening worldwide. If you attend NIH’s Earth Day you can learn about things to do to help protect us.
  • Only the scientific names for me and my close associates in the photos will be accepted. Our identity will be made known in a future NIH Record article.

Submit your guess on the identity of “It” to All entries must be submitted by Tuesday, Mar. 1 to be eligible for prizes.

From a list of those submitting correct answers, the Division of Environmental Protection will randomly select winners for prizes provided by R&W; winners will be announced at the Earth Day event.

Meanwhile, consider volunteering your green ideas, time and talents to the Earth Day planning committee. If interested, contact Danita Broadnax at

A full list of Earth Day activities will soon be posted at Plan to attend and see “It” (or Them) up close.—

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