The University Record, January 25, 1993

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

Editor’s Note: These summaries of research projects were presented to the Regents at their January meeting by William C. Kelly, vice president for research. The material here was prepared for the Record by the staff of ResearchNews, a publication of the Division of Research Development and Administration.

Porgy and Bess: An American Opera

The opera Porgy and Bess, written by George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward, premiered in 1935. The tremendously popular opera is set in a Black tenement community in Charleston, S.C., in the early 1920s. The program for a recent London production contained photos from past Porgy and Bess productions, provided by James Standifer, professor of music, from the U-M video archive of the opera. Standifer also wrote the article, “It Ain’t Necessarily Racist,” for the program.

Standifer is preparing a documentary about Porgy and Bess to put the opera’s message into proper perspective for audiences of today and the future. The documentary is intended for broadcast on PBS and eventual educational distribution. Standifer will use the lives and the careers of selected principal performers as well as the metamorphoses of the opera itself as ways to examine this American masterpiece in the light of social, racial, musical and literary issues. The documentary will intersperse presentations of the opera’s music with narration and interviews, combine entertainment with history and feeling with thinking, and will create a lasting musical and intellectual memoir.

The curent phase of the project is funded by a one-year, $50, 000 grant from the Ford Foundation, a Rackham grant for $9,763, and a $20,000 grant from the Cor-poration of Public Broadcasting National Black Programming Consortium.

Zinc Homeostasis and Cellular Growth Control

Many proteins require the presence of zinc to operate properly. Some zinc-dependent proteins are involved in cell growth and regulation. A mutation in the gene that guides the production of one of these proteins can sometimes result in cancer, as is thought to be the case with the retinoic acid receptor implicated in one type of leukemia and with Wilm’s Tumor.

If the amount of zinc within cells can be controlled with precision, it may be possible to interrupt the function of proteins that cause a cancerous condition. Dennis Thiele, associate professor of biological chemistry, is studying a gene that may play a critical role in modulating the amount of zinc found in many kinds of cells. This project will examine zinc levels in yeast cells containing none, one, or several copies of a particular zinc-regulation gene, called ZRC1. Thiele also plans to identify the way this gene works and to locate the site of action of the protein whose synthesis is guided by the ZRC1 gene.

This research is supported by a one-year, $39,800 grant from the Elsa U. Pardee Foundation.

Health and Psychosocial Readjustment of Gulf War Veteran Women

Members of the U.S. military service face a number of special stresses—the threat of chemical and biological weapons, and the sudden and uncertain family separations—whenever there is a large mobilization of reserve and guard forces. Without knowledge of how wartime military service affects service members, little help can be offered to members having difficulty before, during and after wartime service.

The participation of nearly 40,800 women in the widely publicized Gulf War has drawn attention to the need to understand and document this emerging phenomenon. Penny Pierce, assistant professor of nursing who served in the Gulf War, and Amiram Vinokur, research scientist, are investigating the effects of war exposure on women in the military. The two will look at the physical and emotional health of service women. The sparse data that do exist show that these women have a much higher rate of miscarriage, stillbirth, cancer, and adverse psychosocial and emotional effects. They will also study the effect of separation on the children and husbands of combat-exposed service women.

The results of this study will be used to design programs to aid female service members in preparing for combat, and in the post-combat adjustment process. This project is sponsored by a one-year, $336,721 grant from the Department of Defense, Air Force.