Why is this UV Problem So Important?
Why is this so important, this UV problem? Well, the two biggest reasons are that DNA naturally absorbs at about 260 nanometers, right smack in that UV-C region but very close to UV-B. Of course, when you get an absorption, you don't have a very sharp peak, you're going to have some kind of curve like this. So, even out in the UV-D, you're pretty close to that 260 nanometers if you're getting near any DNA damage. Second, proteins maximally absorb at about 280 nanometers. They get very close to that UV-D range. So DNA and proteins are very susceptible to UV damage
Local research angle...
Now, what I'd like to do is give you a little plug for this work that I am doing in the San Francisco Bay and then talk more about the research that I'm doing in various other locations. The work that I'm doing in the San Francisco Bay is in collaboration with the Marine Science Institute of Redwood City. How many people here have ever been there, taken their classes? Fabulous. I would suggest that everyone else here do that. There is a little institute there that has a boat. They just got a new boat, they're hoping to get the coast guard certification on Monday to take it out. They go out on cruises in the South Bay. With the new boat they're going to be able to do work in the North Bay. In fact, they're going to be doing some cruises that actually leave from San Francisco, so you don't even have to go down to Redwood City anymore. They take these kids out for three hours or so and they teach them about plankton, they do benthic grabs and look at the various organisms that live on the bottom of the Bay. They troll and net and they look at fish. It's just astounding at how much they teach and it's very much hands-on. They also have a shore program for very young children, just this fabulous operation.
But because they're out often twice a day, six days a week, they asked us several years ago if there's some way they could be useful to the scientific community. And I was sent over from NASA to talk with them. My first reaction was gosh, everything I see is radioactive and is obviously inappropriate for children. Then I started thinking, well, there is something that we can do. If you actually rent a real equipped research vessel for a day, you're talking about $10,000 a day, these guys were not only offering us a free boat, they were offering us about 20,000 free workers a year and you just don't turn down that kind of an offer. So what we developed was a project where we're looking at annual variations in UV radiation and what effect that might have on the phytoplankton.
Looking at annual, natural annual variation is something that's just very difficult to do for economic and labor reasons. What we're doing is developing a project where the students themselves take the samples and get some of the basic readings. I have high school students who work with me each year who then collect the samples from MSI, scientists who drive them down to Ames down 101 and then they analyze them in the lab for pigments and screen UV and we're trying to look at DNA damage.