U profs display substance of science to House committee

Brady Averill

The House Higher Education Finance Committee got a lesson in science Wednesday.

University professor Tim Ebner, who heads the neuroscience department, held up a human brain in front of the committee to demonstrate the importance of studying it at the University.

“I will probably be the last person who testifies before your committee with rubber gloves,” he said.

Ebner, joined by other University leaders, discussed some of the University’s biosciences initiatives as outlined in the budget request: brain function, healthy foods and biotechnology products.

“Neuroscience is a very widespread endeavor at the University,” Ebner said. Almost 100 people in the Academic Health Center research brain function, he said.

What goes on in people’s heads defines who and what they are, he said.

Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, asked Ebner to compare a brain to a computer.

Ebner said computer engineers would be jealous.

Another discussion topic was the University’s new center for food safety research.

Last summer, the Department of Homeland Security selected the University as one of three institutions nationwide to look into food-related security issues by housing the department’s National Center for Food Protection and Defense.

Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the country has been vulnerable to terrorism, said Michael Osterholm,

associate director of the national center. He said the country’s food supply is one area that is vulnerable.

Osterholm said 76 million people get sick and 5,000 die annually from food. He said there are already holes in food protection without the threat of terrorism.

Osterholm and Shaun Kennedy, associate director of the center, demonstrated what could happen if a single product were contaminated.

Simulated in the model, the product would be distributed within 24 hours. It could take seven days for officials to say there is an attack; 106,000 people could have consumed the product by then, Kennedy said.

Osterholm said, “We have to be prepared. Just as 9-11 happened intentionally, these events may happen.”

Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, said he worried about the redundancy between the center’s efforts and public health established in Minnesota.

Osterholm said, “There is no redundancy here. I promise you.”