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September, 2004 Vol. 29 No. 3
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Published September 2004

Research News

chart showing rise in extramural funding

Extramural funding climbs again in 2004

Preliminary figures for the 2003-2004 fiscal year indicate UH campuses received $329 million in research and training grants from federal and other sources, an 82 percent increase over five years.

Official data are reported by the Office of Research Services

Hawaiʻi families find time for each other, charity

family at play

Three out of four Hawaiʻi families spend quality time together and communicate well, according to research by Mānoa’s Center on the Family.

"It’s not surprising given the value that our families place on ʻohana," observes Ivette Rodriguez Stern, coordinator of the center’s Hawaiʻi Family Touchstones project.

Island families want to perpetuate a strong, happy family life and community service as goals for their children, although they find it a challenge to balance family life with job demands and financial obligations, Stern says.

Hawaiʻi residents give more to charity but vote less often than mainland counterparts. These and other observations about Hawaiʻi families can be found in articles and data available at

historic photo of Okinawan restaurant workers

Oʻahu eateries remembered in oral histories

Since the 1920s, more than 70 restaurants on Oʻahu were owned and operated by immigrants from Oroku, Okinawa, and their descendants.

American Cafe, Hibiscus Cafe, Columbia Inn, Kaimukī Inn and Times Grill are among the restaurants remembered in The Oroku, Okinawa Connection, a transcript of interviews with owners, employees and patrons conducted by the UH Center for Oral History.

Funding was provided by the Hawaiʻi United Okinawan Association, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaiʻi, Hawaiʻi Pacific Rim Society, UH Social Sciences Research Institute and the UH Foundation. The 450-page document is available at UH and state regional libraries.


Sweet potato plays important role in Hawaiian history

Large scale sweet potato farming on Maui and Hawaiʻi was largely confined to the leeward slopes of their more recent volcanoes. Why? Evidence reported in the June 11 issue of Science suggests nutrient-rich soils and adequate rainfall were most abundant there.

Mānoa Professor of Anthropology Michael Graves, who spent the summer on an archaeological dig at Kohala on the northern tip of the Big Island, says the success of the labor intensive crop supported population growth and exports. As dryland agriculture was pushed to its limits in the late 1700s, however, per capita production declined. Aggressive chiefs competed for other resources, contributing to the rise of Kamehameha I’s successful drive to unite the islands under his rule.

More about the collaborative research project supported by the National Science Foundation at Hawaiʻi Archaeological Research Project.


Slim sugar industry is still sweet for Hawaiʻi economy

Hawaiʻi has only two sugarcane farms left, down from 55 in 1990, yet sugar remains a vital contributor to the state’s economy, according to College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources researchers Junning Cai and PingSun Leung.

Had the remaining farms closed in 2002, Hawaiʻi would have lost $264 million in direct sales, $137 million from the gross state product and $9.4 million in state taxes. The loss of 2,570 jobs—2 percent of the workforce on Kauaʻi and Maui—would have reduced labor earnings by $71 million. Noted but not quantified was loss of an aesthetic landscape pleasing to tourists and residents alike.

crowded beach

Resistant staph found in water at Oʻahu beaches

Antibiotic-resistant staphylococcus bacteria have been found in water samples from several popular Oʻahu beaches, and studies indicate they can survive several hours in warm sea water.

That’s no reason to avoid the beach, according to Water Resources Research Center microbiologist Roger Fujioka. For one thing, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus represents just 1 percent of the staph found in the water. Ubiquitous on land, it lives on the skin of one in three people. They carry it into the water with them, which accounts for the highest levels being found during the day at crowded beaches.

Bathing after swimming affords protection, says Associate Professor of Medicine Alan Tice, who is working with Fujioka to establish a standard for water monitoring.


Oxygen-carrying microbes make early graduation present

The discovery of two oxygen-laden proteins in early microbes sheds light on the evolution of oxygen-carrying hemoglobin and the diverse life forms that depend on it to survive. An outgrowth could be development of substitutes for blood, researchers say.

The oxygen-carrying protoglobins were identified in two species of archaea, primitive single cell organisms, by Mānoa Professor of Microbiology Maqsudul Alam and colleagues at the Maui High Performance Computing Center and University of Texas Southwest Medical Center.

Their paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science was an early graduation present for lead author Tracey Freitas, a 1992 Pearl City High School graduate who began working as a member of Alam’s team as an undergraduate seven years ago. She was expected to graduate with her master’s in August 2004.


Iron-fortified sea life captures greenhouse gasses

Seeding the ocean with iron could produce blooms of microscopic plants that would absorb tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But Mānoa oceanographer Robert Bidigare isn’t ready to recommend the measure as a cure for global warming from greenhouse gasses.

Bidigare was among scientists from 18 institutions who added iron to nine-mile sections of the Southern Ocean to simulate ice age conditions. Resulting massive blooms of plant and animal plankton were reported in the April 16 issue of the journal Science. A portion of the carbon dioxide absorbed through photosynthesis sank with the plankton.

What isn’t known, Bidigare points out, are possible negative consequences, such as depleted oxygen for bottom dwelling fish or rise of toxic algae.


Book envisions Hawaiʻi a century from now

A young couple living in Hawaiʻi in 2054 travels around Oʻahu discovering many things in Rick Ziegler’s latest what-if book—gondolas in Waikīkī, a seawall barrier protecting downtown Honolulu, deepening social and economic strife in Leeward Oʻahu, and a new political coalition.

The Honolulu Community College history professor, who previously imagined life in Hawaiʻi had Japan captured the islands in World War II, writes about Hawaiʻi after 50 more years of global warming and sea level rise.

Earthquest Hawaiʻi 2054 blends projections from the United Nations Report on Climate Change with social trends and political insights. Ziegler also suggests actions we can take now to avoid his scenario. Earthquest is available at Barnes & Noble and most Waldenbooks.


Gender research update

David Reimer’s suicide in May was a sad addendum to work by a Mānoa medical school sexologist (Mālamalama, January 2002). Milton Diamond’s 1997 coauthored paper about Reimer crushed long-held beliefs that gender reassignment is successful and appropriate treatment for male babies whose genitalia are deformed or damaged.

Diamond described Reimer’s resistance to being reared as a girl after a botched circumcision and, once he knew the truth, the medical procedures he underwent to reclaim his male identity. A family history of depression and separation from his wife no doubt contributed to Reimer’s death, but Diamond is convinced the trauma of sex reassignment was a factor.

"David was a hero" for sharing his story, known as the John/Joan case, in hopes of saving others the same grief, Diamond says. It worked—changing both concepts of how gender is acquired and medical practices around the world.


Research on medicinal flora takes graduate student back to Tanzania

Anthropology doctoral student Heather McMillen in Tanzania

Anthropology doctoral student Heather McMillen was always curious about Tanzania, the African nation her parents left when she was still a baby. So a 1998 Fulbright fellowship served a two-fold interest—the chance to visit the land of her birth and an opportunity to begin research on ethnomedical systems.

She returned in 2004, supported by Achievement Rewards for College Scientists, to assist in efforts to manage the country’s natural resources. A Society for Ethnic Botany award will fund an additional trip.

In Tanzania, as elsewhere, plants are valued for cultural and healing powers, among other uses for people’s livlihood. About 2 million Tanzanians affected by HIV rely on medicinal properties of native flora since retroviral therapies for the epidemic are not available to them. Healers know which plants treat common afflictions, including herpes zoster, candida albicans (oral thrush) and other fungal infections, that opportunistically infect HIV/AIDS patients.

In the region of Tanga, McMillen discovered that a single healer provides 200 patients each with four pounds of plant medicines every month. Understanding what drives the plants’ availability is critical to managing both human health and the country’s natural resources, McMillen concludes.

Proficient in Swahili, she works with healers to ensure a supply of the medicinal plants without creating a negative impact on the country’s biodiversity and ecosystems. Local healers and lay people understand these connections, she observes. Scientists are beginning to grasp the importance of addressing health and conservation issues together.


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