December 4, 2003
Biochemistry Professor Han Asard is a co-editor of a recently published book that updates research on the uses and roles of vitamin C in humans and plants. Photo courtesy Han Asard.
Researcher's book studies vitamin C
By Tom Hancock, Arts and Sciences
UNL biochemistry professor Han Asard has helped fill a gap in understanding the roles of vitamin C with his recently edited book, Vitamin C: Its Function and Biochemistry in Animals and Plants.
The book, published in November, provides a long-overdue comprehensive overview of research on vitamin C, Asard said. It addresses the basic biochemistry, chemistry and medical implications of vitamin C, and, although it is not written for the general public, Asard said educated readers should be able to understand it.
Vitamin C is instrumental in helping cells in plants and animals cope with stress and can prevent damage to essential molecules such as proteins and DNA when the cells experience illnesses, high temperatures or ozone.
Asard and his colleagues decided to seek a publisher two years ago for a book that would respond to the gap in the amount of information available on vitamin C, he said. The goal was to give a full treatment of vitamin C research, including some major breakthroughs of the past five years. The book pulls together plant and animal vitamin C research, a combination that gives the book a unique orientation, he said.
Asard spearheaded the book and served as the primary editor. The other editors are James May of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and Nicholas Smirnoff of the University of Exeter, Exeter, United Kingdom, who recently made a major breakthrough in discovering how vitamin C is synthesized in plants.
The book begins with a history of how vitamin C was discovered by Albert Szent-György in 1932 as a substance that prevented the symptoms of the disease scurvy in sailors. Szent-György and Walter Norman Haworth were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1937 for their discovery of vitamin C.
The book continues by exploring how vitamin C is made into the form that humans receive in food and discusses the role of vitamin C in plants. The vitamin has some functions in plants that are not mimicked in animals, Asard said; for example, vitamin C regulates plants' cell division and expansion.
The last chapters of the book address the biochemistry, chemistry and physiology behind the medical role of vitamin C, including how vitamin C affects the nervous system and its role in diseases such as scurvy and atherosclerosis.
Vitamin C is also an essential redox molecule and therefore of particular interest at UNL, which has established the Nebraska Center for Redox Biology. The center's research studies how cells maintain a reduction-oxidation balance, a process called redox homeostasis. Researchers study the link between redox homeostasis and diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease and cataracts.
Asard's research at UNL focuses on how vitamin C is recycled and used in chemical reactions in cells. Asard said he came across the subject of vitamin C research while working on redox proteins in plants. He and his co-workers identified a class of proteins that uses vitamin C to reduce the presence of other molecules.
Research on vitamin C also interests Asard because of its medical importance and applications.
"If we can discover more about ascorbate recycling, we may, for example, be able to improve plants to produce higher vitamin C levels," he said. "We need to understand the full biochemistry of this to be successful."
Spanish researchers have recently significantly increased the amount of vitamin C in a model plant called Arabidopsis, Asard said.
"If you can demonstrate a certain process in Arabidopsis," Asard said, "then those processes have a likelihood of being applicable to common crop plants such as spinach, tomatoes, potatoes and corn."
The timeline of bringing a genetically modified tomato, for example, with a boosted vitamin C content is long -maybe never in Europe, where the general opinion on genetically modified food is skeptical, Asard said.
Even in the United States it would take considerable time to offer vitamin C-boosted foodstuffs at the grocery, both in creating the plant and in convincing a skeptical public that it would be beneficial, Asard said.
"We have to demonstrate that there are for example no health implications and ecological implications in producing them," Asard said.
This e-mail was sent by Chancellor Harvey Perlman to all faculty and staff on Nov. 25.
First, let me thank all of you for your understanding and support when I was forced to defer this year's salary increase because of the serious cash flow problems we faced as we implemented the permanent budget reductions. I know that for many this represented a real sacrifice. Many thanks.
We have continually reviewed our cash position during the course of this fiscal year, and there are still significant challenges ahead. However, I know that increases in health care costs will, for some of you, represent a large decrease in your take-home pay. The Faculty Compensation Advisory Committee recently endorsed a mid-year increase to respond to health insurance increases. UAAD and UNOPA representatives have also been supportive of an increase if it were possible. Accordingly, we have developed a plan to implement a modest mid-year salary increase to offset as much as we can of this increase in health care and other living costs.
Effective Jan. 1, each full-time regular faculty and staff employee (excluding temporary or on-call employees) who is performing satisfactorily will receive a salary increase of $600 on an annualized basis. This means that each full-time employee will receive in this fiscal year $300, but the annual salary will be permanently increased by $600. The increase will take effect Jan. 1 for faculty and staff on 12-month appointments, and on March 1 for faculty on nine-month appointments. Part-time employees will receive a proportional increase. In order to be eligible for this increase, a staff or faculty member must have been employed by UNL on May 1, 2003, and still be on UNL's payroll on Jan. 1, 2004.
The vice chancellors and I will not receive this increase. No increases will be retroactive. Additional details on implementation of this increase will be issued soon.
While I am normally in favor of merit rather than across-the-board increases, I have decided to implement this level payment plan as an advance installment on next year's programmed increases. As you will recall we were authorized by the Board of Regents to implement salary increases of 1.75 percent in each of the next two years with campus authority to defer the increase for this year. Thus beginning July 1 there will be a 3.5 percent pool of funds available to give salary increases, reduced by the amount required to implement the $600 increase this year. It is often the case that some amount of any increase has been established as a 'minimum' for satisfactory performance. My preference will be to regard this $600 increase as that 'minimum' and to regard any remaining increase implemented for next year as based solely on merit.
My hope is that this increase will relieve some of your financial pressure occasioned by health care and other increases. Certainly, I wish we had additional funds because competitive salaries are essential if we are to continue to build a great university.
Three named University Professors
Three UNL scholars have been selected by a universitywide committee as University Professors, the campus' highest possible distinction for a faculty member.
The three are biochemist Ruma Banerjee, classicist John Turner and virologist Charles Wood.
Selection of University Professors is decided by a committee consisting of current University Professors, other faculty members and administrators. The selection of Banerjee, Turner and Wood brings to 27 the number of University Professors in a faculty of nearly 1,500.
"Our newest University Professors - Ruma Banerjee, John Turner and Charles Wood - have distinguished themselves as first-rank researchers who have achieved at the highest levels of their individual disciplines and who are acknowledged leaders in their fields of study," said UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman.
"These professorships are conferred after much deliberation and thought and indicate the high esteem in which these faculty are held by others at the university, including myself. I offer my heartfelt congratulations to them and thank them for their continued efforts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln."
Banerjee, whose title will be George Holmes University Professor of Biochemistry in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, leads a team that last year won a $10.5 million award from the National Institutes of Health to establish the Nebraska Redox Biology Center. She joined Nebraska's biochemistry faculty as an assistant professor in 1991 and was promoted to associate professor in 1997 and professor in 2000. A native of India, she earned her bachelor's and master's degrees at Delhi University and her doctorate at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. She was a lecturer at the University of Michigan before joining the UNL faculty.
Turner, whose title will be Charles J. Mach University Professor of Classics and History and Cotner Professor of Religious Studies, has been a member of the Nebraska faculty since 1976. His principal areas of interest are biblical studies, especially the New Testament, Hellenistic and Greco-Roman religion and philosophy, Gnosticism, later Platonism and Neoplatonism, and Coptic language and literature. Turner earned a bachelor of arts degree at Dartmouth College, bachelor of divinity and master of theology degrees at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va., and his doctorate in religion at Duke University. He taught at the Claremont Graduate School and the University of Montana before coming to Nebraska.
Wood, whose research focuses on the molecular biology of the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, and the Kaposi's sarcoma associated with the human herpes virus, will have the title of Lewis Lehr/3M University Professor of Biological Sciences. In 2000, he led a collaboration of virology researchers at UNL, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Creighton University that won a $10.4 million NIH grant to establish the Nebraska Center for Viral Pathogenesis. Wood earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Kansas, and a master's degree and his doctorate in microbiology at Columbia University. He was a faculty member at Kansas for seven years and came to Nebraska in 1996 after four years at the University of Miami, where he was associate professor and director of the Division of Neurovirology.
The endowed stipend from the NU Foundation for University Professors is $15,000. A list of all University Professors can be found at <http://www.unl.edu/svcaa/faculty/proflist.html>.