Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mayonnaise, Coffee & Life

There are all kinds of emails that float, drop, zap into my inbox each day. A large number hit the spam folder, a smaller group are from friends, some are like the one that I'm sharing here. Chances are you've seen it a few times, as have I. But it is a good message and one that is good to keep in mind when juggling alligators...

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee .

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

T he professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous 'yes.'

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

'Now,' said the professor as the laughter subsided, 'I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things---your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions---and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.

The sand is everything else---the small stuff. 'If you put the sand into the jar first,' he continued, 'there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

'Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first---the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.'

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled and said, 'I'm glad you asked.'

The coffee just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.'

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Special Olympics - Feb. 27th is Entry Deadline!

Sorry for the late posting, we just rec'd this. To give it max visibility we're going to post it in a number of our blogs!

The 2008 State Summer Games will be held May 30-June 1, at Emory University. Detailed information will be announced, as it gets closer to the competition time. From the list below, please indicate the top two (2) choices that your athlete is interested in training in for State Summer Games.

Many practices are based upon what age group signs up for them.

Please know that your athlete can train in a sport of their interest, but they do not have to attend the competition at Emory. If they choose to train and not compete, please write that on this form. THEY CAN ONLY COMPETE IN ONE SPORT!
The official Commitment Form will come at a later date.

Please call/email to verify all practices.
_____ Athletics (Track & Field – practice on own)
_____ Aquatics (Practice Fridays; 5-7pm; Kedron Aquatics Center; call for date to begin practice)
_____ Badminton
_____ Rhythmic Gymnastics (Contact Debbie for practice times/location)
_____ Soccer (Contact Debbie for practice times/location – will be either Fri or Sat)
_____ Table Tennis
_____ Tennis
_____ Volleyball (Practices: Mon. & Thurs 4:15-5:15, beginning March 10)

Athlete’s Name ________________________________________

Parent’s Name ________________________________________

Parent’s Contact ________________________________________

Please return this form to Debbie Parrish by Wednesday, February 27. Feel free to fax (770.460.1931), email ( or bring it to the Fayette County Recreation Department (physical address – NOT MAILING ADDRESS – 108 Old Senoia Rd).
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Monday, February 25, 2008

Lake Erie Crew Describes Satellite Shot

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii, Feb. 24, 2008 - The crewmembers of the USS Lake Erie were calm as they fired the latest shot heard round the world. The Aegis-class cruiser fired the missile that destroyed a dead spy satellite that posed a threat to humans Feb. 21.

Navy Capt. Randall M. Hendrickson, the Lake Erie's commanding officer, spoke to reporters today aboard the ship, which has just returned from the mission. The visiting reporters are traveling with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who visited the ship.

The captain said the crew worked intensively for a month and a half before the shootdown. "We kept working up with a team of government experts and technicians, as well as industry partners," Hendrickson said.

The group worked to gather information and modify the Standard Missile 3 and the Aegis weapon system, he said. They started tracking the satellite at different times to get radar cross-section data, which helped build the program software, Hendrickson said.

"Obviously there was a lot of anticipation building up each time we practiced, each time we tracked," he said.

The ship's weapons systems officer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Drew Bates, said the rehearsals really helped when push came to shove. "By the time we did this, we had seen it a hundred times," he said. "We were practicing what to do in case things go wrong. Fortunately nothing went wrong. This went just the way it was designed to happen, and hats off to the industry team for giving the nation a system that was able to have the excess capability to do this."

The satellite was unlike any target the system was designed to go after, the captain said. The satellite was in orbit rather than on a ballistic trajectory. Also, the satellite was traveling at incredible speeds.

The Lake Erie left here the day officials announced President Bush's decision to try to shoot down the satellite. Hendrickson said the ship was in position when the shuttle Atlantis returned from its mission.

The ship received the order that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had OK'd the mission at mid-morning on Feb. 21. "From that point on, the ship was very calm," Hendrickson said. "Obviously, the closer we got, there was a lot of anticipation. The firing team was very calm when we did it and, with the exception of the 'whoosh' when it went out of the launcher, it was just as scripted."

He said that when the missile's seeker opened its eyes it had the satellite "right dead center."

When the missile hit the satellite, "there was a lot of cheering" aboard the ship, he said.

The crew knew from the kinetic warhead imagery in the nose of the missile that it was a good hit, the captain said.

"The radar scope went wild," he said. "At that point, there was a lot of debris, a lot of pieces and, at that point, we thought we had a pretty good impact. Then that was confirmed by the aircraft that were airborne, the radars ashore and some other sensors that it was pretty much obliterated. Over the next three to four hours, a lot of it was burning up as it was coming down, which was the whole point of it."

Civilian experts from the Navy facility in Dahlgren, Va., and contractors from Lockheed Martin and from Raytheon Co. helped the crew prepare for the shot. But Navy sailors manned the consoles for the mission.

Everyone on the USS Lake Erie contributed, the captain said. "Whatever the task is, there's no small task on a ship," he said.

The reaction of the crew is unbelievable, said Command Master Chief Petty Officer Mack Ellis, the highest-ranking enlisted sailor on the Lake Erie. "Even the youngest sailor who didn't understand it at first, every time they walk somewhere and people know they are from Lake Erie, they say congratulations. It puts a smile of their face and makes their day."

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Giving up milk...

A lot of people right now are swearing off meat. It will be temporary in most cases but a few will stick with it. They probably aren't thinking about milk and cheese though.

Recently the government recalled 143 MILLION pounds of beef as a result of a video by the Humane Society. The video showed cows staggering and being tortured as they headed to be slaughtered. You may have seen the video on TV. It's horrible to think that people could be that cruel.

What's worse is that the meat was headed toward our children's schools. A lot of the meat had been eaten prior to the recall.

What's all the hoopla about eating the meat? It's possible, although probably remote, that some of the cows had bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), more commonly known as mad cow disease. If a cow has it and you eat it, you have a high chance of someday having your brain turn to mush. From what I've read the brain ends up looking like a sponge. There is no cure.

I think the fact that the cows in question were DAIRY cows has mostly been overlooked. Prior to ending up on the chopping block these older cows spent their life squirting milk into containers that ended up in refrigerators across the country. Processing doesn't kill mad cow disease.

They've done experiments where the turned infected cow parts into dust at temperatures that kill everything, reconstituted the stuff and voila, you could still get mad cow. They haven't quite figured out how to make it go away. I read about one case where tools used in surgery where disinfected, heated, etc. then, after a lengthy period of time were used in eye surgery. The person contracted the disease from the equipment. You'll have to look it up 'cause I don't remember the particulars.

I don't eat meat. Haven't since I was a teenager. It started out as a teen-age protest of some sort, partially because I didn't want to kill and eat Bambi or some poor cow, partially I think because my parents enjoyed it so much. My personal stand for independence on some level probably. Whatever the initial reasons, over the years I've read enough about our food processing to convince me to stay on the straight and narrow in regards to meat. Now it's a habit and a way of life.

I don't like milk, so I've never been one to drink full glasses of the stuff unless it was drowned in chocolate or mixed with ice cream. However, as you can already tell, I eat dairy products. I keep it to a minimum and shoot for tofu or soy products whenever possible. But I do have a sweet tooth that only chocolate ice cream will satisfy at times, albeit sugar-free in most instances.

The fact that the cows in question were dairy cows opened my eyes yet again and I'm going back to soy, tofu and similar. The only time I drink milk anymore is in my hot tea, so that's not a problem. I have a yogurt a day, so am gonna have to switch back to non-dairy, again not a problem as I like it.

I've already cut cheese out of my diet. Not for mad cow reasons, but because I've been watching my hips widen and cheese is high in fat and calories. I can't stand the low-fat cheeses so it has just been easier to bump it from my diet.

Enough about what I'M going to be doing. What are YOU going to be doing? Have you wondered how long this plant has been supplying meat to our kids and fast-food restaurants? They recalled 143 million pounds of meat. How much meat has been processed by this plant during its history? How many other plants have similar practices? How many dairy cows are out there potentially pumping mad cow milk?

I seriously don't expect we have many, if any dairy cows with problems. From what I've read these cows were simply abused, tired cows. They were older dairy cows that were past their milk-producing prime and thus were headed to slaughter. They traveled a great distance, probably in conditions that had them standing packed into cattle cars for a long period of time. They were more than likely just wanting to sleep.

However, cows with BSE symptoms aren't noticeable until the cows are older. In the United States we kill our cows young, long before symptoms would be visible to the naked eye. We don't check them for the disease.

And here's another scary fact. If one BSE infected cow gets in the mix, it affects the entire batch of meat. Plus, since you can't kill it, they can sterilize and clean those killing machines and processors all they want but they can't get rid of the stuff. The next batch of meat going through the system is going to be tainted.

If you eat it, chances are someday your family will think you're suffering from dementia. But it will be mad cow. Read about it. It's not common, but it IS scary.
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Sunday, February 24, 2008

What's in a name? If it's an apostrophe, you're may be in o'trouble

Apostrophes in names stir lot o' trouble
NEW YORK - It can stop you from voting, destroy your dental appointments, make it difficult to rent a car or book a flight, even interfere with your college exams. More than 50 years into the Information Age, computers are still getting confused by the apostrophe. It's a problem familiar to O'Connors, D'Angelos, N'Dours and D'Artagnans across America.
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Would you have fired this guy?

Man Fired for Posting 'Dilbert' Becomes Subject of Comic Strip
DES MOINES, Iowa — A seven-year casino employee fired after posting in his office a "Dilbert" comic comparing managers to "drunken lemurs" has become the subject of the strip.
David Steward was fired from the Catfish Bend Casino because management found the cartoon "very offensive," human resources director Steve Morley had testified during a hearing on unemployment benefits in December 2007. The casino had challenged his claim for the financial assistance.,2933,331543,00.html

I can see a reprimand maybe... maybe. There aren't too many people who don't poke fun at their bosses at times! Seems like these guys must have been a bit high strung. I used to work in management for a large mega-corporation, we had to document, go through all these hoops before we could fire someone. If I'd fired someone for a cartoon it would have been my tail end that was out on the street for opening up the company for a lawsuit.

You never know in this kind of story though. It's doubtful the guy is going to share with the newspapers if he's been called on the carpet for other infractions of company policy.

I remember a local story that made national news. Some kid broke into a school and was caught eating an ice cream. The judge gave him the max sentence possible for breaking and entering. There was all kinds of attention given to the story as the media and others said the sentence was extremely harsh. A friend "in-the-know" told me that when they found the kid eating the ice cream he was surrounded by a bunch of school computers he'd stacked up to steal. Unfortuately they couldn't get him for that because they were still in the school. The only thing they could charge him with was breaking into the school and "stealing" an ice cream. Must have been so frustrating for the police and the judge knowing they couldn't charge the kid with the real crime.

I've heard story after story like that over the years. The press sometimes "makes" the story and sometimes they can't be privvy to all of the information.

Interesting story, love how the cartoonist reacted, too.
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Friday, February 22, 2008

It's simply amazing!

I was so impressed with our military's ability to knock that satellite out of the sky a few days ago. Anyone who hunts (unlike yours truly) knows how difficult it is to stand on the ground and hit a bird or other moving target. Can you imagine trying to hit something you can't see at all that's moving at 17,000 mph? The thing wasn't even in our atmosphere.

They hit it from a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

What a miraculous feat it was and we're all just kind of ho-hum about it! Although I'm sure that in some circles they're excited.

I did a blog about the satellite in Toxic Treadmill (I think, I guess it could just as easily have been in this blog although I usually write about paranoid issues in Toxic ;-). China and Russia were all up in arms thinking we were using this as an excuse to test our space weapons. I can imagine that it did serve the dual purpose of allowing us to test our abilities, but geez, the alternative was to let our spy satellite dump toxic fuel on their heads.

I read that some of the incinerated parts could come into our atmosphere as long as 42 days from when they shot it down. I don't want it dropping onto my head or hitting my studio or house, but it'd be cool to have a piece drop harmlessly into the middle of my backyard one night (as long as it didn't create a crater like the movies depict!).

Here's a few stories to go with my ramblings:

Navy Missile Likely Hit Fuel Tank on Disabled Satellite

The missile fired from a U.S. Navy ship in the Pacific Ocean that hit a malfunctioning U.S. reconnaissance satellite late yesterday likely accomplished its goal of destroying the satellite's toxic fuel tank, a senior U.S. military officer said here today.

Preliminary reports indicate the SM-3 missile struck its primary target, which was a tank full of toxic hydrazine rocket fuel carried aboard the 5,000-pound satellite, Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.

"The intercept occurred. ... We're very confident that we hit the satellite," Cartwright said. "We also have a high degree of confidence that we got the tank."

Video shown to reporters depicts the satellite exploding at the point of contact with the missile. Cartwright said the visible fireball and the vapor cloud or plume around it suggest that the fuel tank was hit and the hydrazine had burned up.

"The high-definition imagery that we have indicates that we hit the spacecraft right in the area of the tank," Cartwright said.

However, he added, it probably would take another 24 to 48 hours of sifting through data "to get to a point where we are very comfortable with our analysis that we indeed breached the tank."

Radar sweeps of the satellite's debris field thus far show that no parts larger than a football survived the strike, Cartwright said. Post-strike surveillance shows satellite debris falling into the atmosphere above the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, he said. Small remnants are likely to burn up in the atmosphere, never making it to the Earth's surface.

The U.S. State Department has provided updates on the situation to its embassies around the world, Cartwright noted. There are no reports of debris reaching the Earth, he said, adding that consequence-management crews are on standby to respond to such a circumstance, if required.

The SM-3 missile was launched by the USS Lake Erie, positioned northwest of Hawaii, at 10:26 p.m. EST yesterday, Cartwright said. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who is on an overseas trip, gave the go-ahead to fire, Cartwright said.

The missile intercepted the satellite about 153 nautical miles above the Earth, just before it began to enter the atmosphere, Cartwright said. Joint Space Operations Center technicians at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif, confirmed the satalitte's breakup about 24 minutes later.

The National Reconnaissance Office-managed satellite malfunctioned soon after it was launched in 2006, making it unresponsive to ground control. The satellite, orbiting Earth every 90 minutes or so, was expected to fall to Earth in February or March with its tank of hydrazine intact, possibly endangering human populations.

President Bush directed the Defense Department to engage the satellite just before it entered the atmosphere. U.S. officials decided to shoot down the satellite because of the danger posed by the hazardous hydrazine, Cartwright explained, noting the goal was for the missile to hit and rupture the tank of rocket fuel, causing the hydrazine to burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere, along with debris from the stricken satellite.

"So, you can imagine at the point of intercept last night there were a few cheers from people who have spent many days working on this project," Cartwright said.

Son of Star Wars takes out toxic satellite in $30m space hit
The United States provided dramatic proof of its capability to destroy an object in space when a US navy missile scored a direct hit on an American satellite falling out of control.
Missile experts said that the Standard SM-3 weapon, fired from the USS Lake Erie, a Ticonderoga-class cruiser, took about three minutes to reach the satellite 150 miles (240km) up in the sky, flew above it and then descended before impact at a closing speed of 22,000mph to ensure that the debris was forced down to Earth.

Interception of falling spy satellite demonstrates the flexibility ... Houston Chronicle
Missile Defense Shoots Down Toxic Satellite Mitigating Risk to ...
US to give China satellite data
Satellite downing shows US arsenal Boston Globe
Response team formed to recover satellite debris
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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Swiss Car Lets Motorists Drive Underwater

GENEVA — In "The Spy Who Loved Me," James Bond takes his sports car underwater, swaps his wheels for fins and fires a missile that knocks a pursuing helicopter out of the sky.
Roger Moore's feats as the iconic British spy may be difficult to match, but a Swiss company says it has created a vehicle that really can turn into a submarine — though without the firearms.,2933,330676,00.html

This is electric!

Researchers Develop Electricity-Generating Clothing
BOSTON — Someday, your shirt might be able to power your iPod — just by doing the normal stuff expected of a shirt.
Scientists have developed a way to generate electricity by jostling fabric with unbelievably tiny wires woven inside, raising the prospect of textiles that produce power simply by being stretched, rustled or ruffled by a breeze.,2933,330615,00.html


Old JFK documents may stir controversy

DALLAS (Reuters) - A batch of old documents linked to the slaying of President John F. Kennedy has reportedly been unearthed, including a highly suspect transcript of a conversation between assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and Oswald's killer Jack Ruby, the Dallas Morning News said on Sunday.

Verrryyyy interesting.... ve ville vait and ze vot hoppens on Munday....


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Marry Your Baby Daddy Day: Activist marries unwed parents

New York - Maryann Reid's "dream board" is propped on a plastic lawn chair in her living room in Brooklyn. Magazine clippings cover the entire poster board: a drawing of a pile of books, a photo of a Range Rover, the phrase "Gucci shoes click-clacking."

Immigration to Play Lead Role in U.S Population Growth from 2005 to 2050, Pew Research Study Finds

If current trends continue, the population of the United States will rise to 438 million in 2050, from 296 million in 2005, and 82% of the increase will be due to immigrants arriving from 2005 to 2050 and their U.S.-born descendants, according to new projections developed by the Pew Research Center. The nation's racial and ethnic mix will change markedly by mid-century, the projections show, with the Hispanic share of the population rising to 29%. Among non-Hispanic race groups, the Asian share will rise to 9%, the black share will hold steady at 13% and the white share will fall to 47%.

The report, U.S. Population Projections: 2005-2050, is available at the Pew Hispanic Center website,

The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan "fact tank" that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It does not take positions on policy issues. Its work is carried out by eight projects, among them the Pew Hispanic Center and the Social & Demographic Trends project, which together produced this report.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Know Your State, Economically Speaking

People in Hawaii spent an average of $609 per person at fast-food
restaurants in 2002, more than the residents of any other state. Delaware
has the highest annual per capita spending at shoe stores ($128).

Economically speaking, every state leads the nation at something. You
can find these facts at Top-Ranked States by Industry, a new U.S. Census
Bureau Web page that highlights state-level findings from the 2002 Economic

The economic census is conducted every five years -- those ending in 2
and 7. More than 4 million businesses have received 2007 Economic Census
questionnaires, which are to be returned by Feb. 12.

“The economic census is the most comprehensive measure of America's
economy,” said Tom Mesenbourg, the Census Bureau's associate director for
economic programs. "Economic census data provide hard figures that
businesses need to assess where they stand in the marketplace and where
they have a competitive advantage."

Details about all 50 states plus the District of Columbia can be mined
from the 2002 Economic Census. According to the census, law offices are
thriving in Washington, D.C., ranking the highest in receipts per resident
at $15,839. Enough tortillas are manufactured in California to average $17
in annual shipments for every man, woman and child in the state. Residents
of Washington state spent more at the dentist than residents of any other
state ($374). Tennessee’s musical groups and artists earned more on a per
capita basis than any other state ($65). Bowling alleys grossed more than
$25 per person in Wisconsin. Alaska led the nation in revenue per person
for chiropractors’ offices ($58).

The 2007 Economic Census is under way now, with businesses that received
forms required by law to respond. Information about individual firms is
kept confidential, and only aggregate industry data are published.

Interesting facts about the 2007 Economic Census, including the number
of forms sent to each state, local area or industry, can be found at <>. Businesses needing assistance with their
forms, reporting electronically, or with questions regarding the economic
census, may go to .

Cha cha cha chia pets, eat 'em up...

Remember those chia pets? I bet everyone in America has either seen them or received one as a gift (whether in jest or seriousness). I saw them at the store this Christmas still being sold as gifts. They've evolved though and now they're in the shape of Einstein's head and other interesting icons.

All those years we thought they were just some fun gift for the friend who had everything, or the friend we wanted to embarrass... now it turns out they're edible. And supposedly good for you.

Better run right down to Wal-Mart and buy those Einstein heads right up!

Chia Seeds Now Available At the Vitamin Shoppe

(PRIME NEWSWIRE) -- Americans are learning that there's much more to chia seeds than sprouting terracotta pets. Chia seeds have been garnering quite a bit of media attention lately, and health-conscious consumers are wondering what all the hype is about.

In addition to being one the richest sources of heart-smart Omega-3, an essential fatty acid, chia is also a great source of protein, fiber, and essential minerals.

"Our customers have been asking about the health benefits of chia seeds, so we're carrying a number of chia products to meet the demand," said Rob Maru, Vitamin Shoppe Category Manager of Vitamins and Supplements.

Once a staple of the Incan, Mayan, and Aztec cultures, chia seeds are versatile and easy to incorporate into the diet, by sprinkling the seeds on foods or by mixing into beverages. Chia can also be substituted into any flax recipe without grinding.

Chia seeds are available at the more than 340 Vitamin Shoppe locations in the United States and online at

Chia seeds have recently been featured on The CBS Saturday Early Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and The Joan Hamburg Show.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Mouse Shrinks Needed...

When I first saw the title of the release (below), Depressed Mice Reveal Critical Chemical Pathway for Treatment, I wondered how they knew the mouse was depressed??? Do their little mouse whiskers droop? Do they have sad eyes?

What causes a mouse to become depressed? Take away its favorite toy? Make it eat blue cheese instead of cheddar?

My inquisitive mind wanted answers to these questions, so I actually read the article.

Darn, they're MAKING them depressed. At least they think they're depressed.

Scientists are modifying their little teeny mouse brains. Less serotonin thus voila, depressed mice.

If you make a mouse depressed artificially and then make it un-depressed artificially, was it a REAL depression?

If they keep going with all these drugs sooner or later we won't need shrinks at all. We'll get our blood tested via scanner first thing in the morning, see how depressed we are (or whether we have some other imbalance), pop a pill or two for breakfast and then run off to be happy Barbie and Ken dolls all day long.

I'm still thinking about those little depressed mice. Maybe they're mad instead of depressed. After all, those mean old scientists took away their serotonin. Isn't the level of serotonin somehow connected to a person's endorphin levels? If they made the mice run through those mazes more often would their endorphin levels rise and produce more serotonin?

How do you make a depressed mouse run? It's not as though motivational talks would help.

I haven't even touched on the ethics of creating depressed mice. Think about the guilt if one actually committed suicide due to human-caused depression! The implications are profound when your mind starts grappling with mouse depression.

They actually gave these mice Prozac. Haven't they heard that there is a probability of suicide when taking Prozac?

OK, 'nuff o' that. I'm going to really read the article below in depth as I can see (seriously) that it does have some far-reaching implications.

I can't help it. I keep trying to read this article and all I can picture is this little tiny mouse laying on a little tiny couch trying to squeak out it's angst...

Depressed Mice Reveal Critical Chemical Pathway for Treatment

DURHAM, N.C. – Blocking production of a single enzyme alleviates symptoms of depression and anxiety in mice that have low serotonin levels, Duke University Medical Center researchers have found.

Serotonin, a chemical that helps brain cells communicate with one another, is the target of the most successful anti-depressant medications. Low levels of serotonin are implicated in depression and many other psychiatric disorders, including increased anxiety, aggression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The Duke team created mice with a mutation in the gene for tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (Tph2), which helps make serotonin in the brain. An equivalent human mutation has been identified in some people with unipolar major depression. These patients often show resistance to treatment with SSRI antidepressant drugs.

Mice with the mutation had 80 percent less serotonin in their brains than normal mice and exhibited behavioral changes that mirror the symptoms of humans with low serotonin. However, the study revealed a possible means for alleviating these symptoms. The drop in serotonin levels was accompanied by an increase in the activity of another enzyme, called glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK-3), which helps a cell respond to chemical signals, including serotonin.

Communication between cells operates much like a string of medieval signaling towers – a fire lighted in one tower alerts the next in the chain, quickly transmitting a message across far distances. The Duke researchers discovered that blocking one of these signaling towers, GSK-3, restored normal behavior in the mutant mice.

The findings appear in the January 29, 2008 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Lennon Family Foundation, NARSAD and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

GSK-3 is well known in the pharmaceutical industry – many different psychiatric drugs block the enzyme, including lithium, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

The researchers tested the SSRI drug fluoxetine (Prozac) in the mutant mice, finding that short-term treatment relieved the animal's depressive symptoms and inhibited GSK-3 activity in the brain. The team is now evaluating the effects of long-term treatment with SSRI drugs.

They also prevented depression from developing by breeding mice with a mutation in the gene for GSK-3.

"That GSK-3 is involved was expected. But the fact that removing one version of the GSK-3B gene reversed the behavior was quite surprising to us," said lead author Jean-Martin Beaulieu, Ph.D., now at Université Laval in Quebec. "This suggests that serotonin's effects on mood and aggression may be partly controlled through regulation of GSK-3 activity."

The dramatic drop in serotonin seen in the mice is caused by a single-letter difference in the spelling of a gene that has 200,000 letters of DNA code. This one-letter change is called a single nucleotide polymorphism, or SNP – a site where the DNA sequence of individuals differs by just one of four nucleotides (A, T, C or G). For example, some people may have G at a particular site, while others have an A. The SNP studied by the Duke researchers affects the Tph2 gene, built of some 100,000 nucleotide pairs.

The study also confirms that the Tph2 enzyme is critical for making brain serotonin, said Xiaodong Zhang, Ph.D., study co-author and an assistant professor at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore. The results imply that humans with this mutation may have serious deficits in brain serotonin, he said.

In addition to revealing new clues to serotonin signaling in the brain, the Tph2-mutant mice could also serve as an animal model of drug-resistant depression. The Duke researchers have patented the strain of mice used in the study, said senior study author Marc Caron, Ph.D., James B. Duke professor of cell biology.

"These animals may be one of the better models for preclinical studies," Caron said. "We now have an animal model that mimics many of the things you would expect of people that are depressed."

Collaborators on the study include Ramona Rodriguiz, Tatyana Sotnikova, Michael Cools, William Wetsel and Raul Gainetdinov, all of Duke.