Research Report: Rare natural product a potent pain killer

By Lynne Friedmann

There is growing interest in developing alternatives to opiate-based pain medications such as morphine. While widely prescribed, morphine has a number of adverse side effects that range from unpleasant to lethal.

Jen Kovecses, Staff Scientist, San Diego Coastkeeper, explains the soil-seed balls — a clay-compost-seeds mixture including California poppies — to the guests before they were tossed onto the surface of the two largest ‘media filters’ at the UCSD project.

Now scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute report success in synthesizing a rare natural product isolated from the bark of a plant widely used in traditional medicine. The advance defines a chemical means to access meaningful quantities of the rare natural product conolidine. Based on mouse studies, synthetic conolidine appears to be as effective as morphine in alleviating inflammatory and acute pain, with fewer side effects.

The study appears in the journal Nature Chemistry. News release at

Controlling runoff

A legendary La Jolla surfing beach adjacent to Scripps Institution of Oceanography has significantly less water-borne pollution, due to the completion of an innovative project by UCSD.

Among the features of the $4.9 million water-pollution-control project are four swimming-pool-sized “media filters” consisting of a gravelly blend of dolomite, perlite gypsum, and crushed rock. Storm water flows down through the filter, where phosphorus, copper, and other pollutants are absorbed, and petroleum products are broken down.

Native plants used in landscaping features (“bioswales”) remove silt and pollution from surface runoff. By mimicking the natural environment, the bioswales don’t require energy or mechanical equipment.

In addition to helping UCSD meet state mandates, the award-winning project has has already become a model for pollution-reduction efforts elsewhere. News release at

Looking to birds

Engineers at UCSD are mimicking the movement of bird wings to help improve the maneuverability of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used for surveillance of fixed targets in military and civilian applications. In order to observe a stationary target, a fixed wing UAV must remain airborne over the object, thus expending energy for propulsion and reducing operational time. In addition, the aircraft may need to loiter at significant altitudes to avoid detection, and thus require complex sensors to observe the target far below.

A fixed-wing aircraft capable of spot landing on a perch (top of a pole, building, fence, etc.) would be an ideal solution capable of efficient cruising and versatile landing for longer surveillance missions. But how to achieve such a design?

The problem of perching has already been solved by nature. Birds routinely land on small surfaces, using wing morphing and flapping techniques. UCSD engineers analyzed, in slow motion, several videos of birds landing to generate a working hypothesis for how wing morphing and flapping can be used for spot landing.

The team then validated the concept by building and testing a small, remote controlled UAV with variable wing sweep for pitch control of the aircraft. News release at

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.

Related posts:

  1. Research Report: Stress signal in cancer cells aids tumor growth
  2. Research Report: Hair growth discovery a surprise
  3. Research Report: Finding may help end itching caused by meds
  4. Research Report: Nanoparticles improve survival after blood loss
  5. Research Report: Scripps Research Institute team finds surprising view of brain formation

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Posted by Staff on Jun 13, 2011. Filed under Columns, Editorial Columns, Research Report. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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