Guest speaks to Genetics classes

Writer Eric Lax (John ’08) and Dr. Andrew Leuchter (Richard ’08) spoke to the Genetics and Biotechnology class April 29 and 30.

Lax published “The Mold in Dr. Florey’s Coat,” a book about the discovery of Penicillin in 2004.
“I’ve never had as much fun researching a book as I have for this one,” the author of eight said enthusiastically.

Lax overviewed penicillin’s discovery, and how Sir Alexander Fleming is celebrated for its discovery while little appreciation for those who developed, such as Dr. Howard Florey.

Leuchter, professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at UCLA, discussed brain functions and electroencephalography (EEG) machines to both the Oceanography and Marine Biology class and Genetics class.

The goal of Leuchter’s research is to find a better to way to diagnose and treat depression.
“The heart is a pump, and the kidneys are a filter,” he said, “but the brain is unlike anything we’ve seen before.”

Leuchter explained how depression is treated currently, and how doctors have to make educated guesses as to which anti-depressent will be most effective for a patient. Anti-depressants augment neuro-chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine, which affect the mood regulating frontal lobe of the brain.

Leuchter brought an EEG machine, a machine that measures voltage difference across the frontal lobe, and attached it to volunteer Jordan Heller ’08.

“It’s virtually painless,” he joked as he put the EEG on Heller’s ears and forehead.

Leuchter stressed that Heller remained still and calm in order to interpret readings on his computer; “noise” from other muscles would disrupt the brain signals. The signals jumped erratically when Heller blinked and raised her eyebrows, to prove this point.