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News of the University

Campus Notebook

Construction of the John E. and Marva M. Warnock Engineering Building is slated for completion in October. The 100,000-square-foot building has been designed to meet the technical needs of engineering students, with four 90-seat, high-tech classrooms and individual team project rooms.

In January 2007, the A. Ray Olpin University Union turns the big Five-Oh. Celebrations begin with a tailgate party on September 30 at the Homecoming football game, when Utah meets Boise State on the gridiron.

Think your broadband Internet connection at home is fast? Not compared
to the U’s new fiber-optic connection, which is 156,250 times faster than
dial-up and 10,000 times speedier than cable modems. The connection to the network, called National LambdaRail, will make it easier for University researchers to collaborate with colleagues nationally by sharing huge amounts of data.

Construction is accelerating on a $17 million cosmic ray observatory west of Delta, Utah. Known as the Telescope Array, the observatory will seek to answer one of the most perplexing mysteries in physics: What is the source of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays that come screaming into Earth’s atmosphere with incredible energy? The new observatory should begin test runs in late spring 2007.

Rosemarie Hunter, Ph.D., LCSW, has been selected as special assistant to the president for Campus Community Partnerships. She will serve as the new director of University Neighborhood Partners (UNP), replacing Irene Fisher, who retired in July.


U President Michael K. Young and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John R. Bolton were honored by the New York Public and International Affairs office of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in New York City. The award recognized both men for their work with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Happy birthday to Academic Outreach and Continuing Education, celebrating its 100th anniversary. Birthday wishes are also in order for the Outdoor Recreation Program, turning 30 this year.

The University of Utah Singers, the elite choral ensemble of the University’s School of Music (pictured below), won the 18th European Grand Prix for Choral Singing for 2006, held in Tolosa, Spain. The group competed against some of the most technically proficient choirs in the world, but a judge noted that it was the U’s passion and emotion that pushed it ahead of the others.

A Snail’s Pace

by Jason Matthew Smith

If records are accurate, about 30 people have tangled with Conus magus but didn’t live long enough to elaborate on the encounter.

This isn’t simply death by escargot. Cone snails utilize a barbed proboscis to lash out and inject a dose of poison in their prey. And unlike spiders or snakes, a cone snail’s venom attacks specific receptors in the body—immediately going to work on nerves right at the site of the sting. It’s a quick and efficient killer.

But walk through any market in the Philippines and you’ll see arrayed for purchase some species of the snails, used by many in a broth or a dish similar to ceviche (citrus-marinated fish).

That’s how University of Utah Distinguished Professor of Biology Baldomero “Toto” Olivera recalls his first encounter with the snails. Growing up in the Philippines, he considered the creatures nothing more than a tasty (albeit beautiful, with their intricately patterned shells) mollusk, like a clam with a bad attitude. But years later and half a world away, Olivera leans forward in his chair, explaining the potential benefits of these much maligned creatures.

Olivera and his team have been analyzing the snail’s toxins—and with 50,000 compounds to wade through, there’s still a long way to go. “We started thinking we’d just work with snails a short while,” he says, “but the more we worked, the more interesting it got. We’ve only just scratched the surface.”

Olivera’s research has led to the development of a synthetic version of the snail’s venom called “Prialt,” or ziconotide, a powerful, nonaddictive pain killer (up to 1,000 times more powerful than morphine) recently licensed in Europe. But Olivera believes the venom may also hold other compounds that could treat conditions from Parkinson’s disease to depression. Yet with over 500 species of the snails, each producing as many as 100 toxins in its venom, Olivera still must parse through a lot of data to determine their potential uses.

Others have taken notice of Olivera’s work. He was recently named a “Million Dollar Professor” by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The Million-Dollar Professor program supports professors in their efforts to “ignite the scientific spark in a new generation of students” through teaching and mentoring, and that’s exactly what Olivera plans to do with the award. He recognizes that the keys to developing the next generation of scientists, protecting the cone snails, and developing pharmaceuticals are all interconnected, and will be working with young students and undergraduates in the Philippines,

Hawaii, and U.S. Pacific Territories. “We’ll be figuring out creative ways for young students to become informed about biodiversity,” he says. “We’ll be working in coastal villages, teaching them that the best way to be effective scientists is through conservation. If they’re proud of the local environment and know the potential applications found there, they’ll be more likely to protect it.”

— Jason Matthew Smith is editor of Continuum.