June 4, 1999
Volume XXXII No. 22

HSC scientists develop technique
to disrupt genes in simplest cell


Health Science Center microbiologists are reporting a fundamental breakthrough--disruption of gene function in the simplest self-reproducing cell known to science. The cell, called Mycoplasma genitalium, causes several human health problems including urethritis and arthritis, and has been implicated in Gulf War Illnesses. Understanding gene function in this disease-causing bacterium could lead to better diagnostic tools and treatments.

"This little guy consists of fewer than 470 genes," said Dr. Joel Baseman, professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology. "It is one-eighth the size of the E. coli bacterium in terms of its genetic machinery. We are reporting the first direct gene knockout of the smallest self-replicating cell."

For purposes of comparison, the most complex life-form on earth, the human being, is made up of billions of cells each containing an estimated 100,000 genes.

Scientists use the term "gene knockout" to indicate that the expression or activity of a gene has been disrupted. "Mycoplasmas are excellent model systems for study of gene function because of their extreme simplicity," Dr. Baseman said. "Others have tried to do what we have done, but failed."

The technique is called Targeted Gene Disruption Through Homologous Recombination. It involves introducing a plasmid--or extrachromosomal DNA--into M. genitalium to disrupt function of a specific gene called mg218.

The work is described in the April 1999 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Authors from the Health Science Center's microbiology department are Dr. Subramanian Dhandayuthapani, assistant professor (lead author); Wanda G. Rasmussen, research associate; and Dr. Baseman.

Library series features
lecture on architecture

Professor Jose Guadalupe Jimenez of The University of Texas at San Antonio School of Architecture will give a talk on "Architecture as a Therapeutic Environment," on Thursday, June 10, at noon.

The presentation, hosted by the Friends of the P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library as part of its noon lecture series, will be held in the Special Collections Conference Room on the fifth floor of the Briscoe Library.

Attendees are invited to bring their lunch. Coffee and iced tea will be provided.

HSC water rescue expert
trains emergency personnel

Rescue technician Vicky Smith is always preparing for the "next one." In fact, she's dedicated to preparing others, too.

The "next one" could be a killer flood like the deluge that hit Bexar County and South and Central Texas in October 1998. That disaster cost lives, homes and dollars. Recently Smith, from the Health Science Center Department of Emergency Medical Technology, organized the Texas Flood Rescue Summit, a five-day school that trained more than a dozen firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs), game wardens from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and even animal rescue staff members from the Texas Humane Society.

"The first two days of the school covered what we call 'swift water' rescue exercises, or 'flood surface water' rescue exercises," she said. "We are talking about extremely quick water, with lots of debris. Personnel learned how to rescue others as well as themselves."

The last three days of the course were devoted to use of "personal water crafts"--essentially water rescue with jet skis. "That's high-speed stuff," Smith said. "The jet ski pulls a rescue basket containing a rescue technician. When the victim is reached, the technician scoops up the injured person quickly but delicately, and places him in the basket. The rescue technician holds the victim in the basket as the driver pulls them back to shore."

It's never easy bringing someone to safety. Victims may have dangerously low body temperature or go limp from exhaustion. Some do not know how to swim. These conditions contribute to panic, which is the technician's most difficult enemy in water rescues.

Smith has been there a time or two. She is with the Texas Task Force, the state's only urban search-and-rescue team. Though she was not involved in the San Antonio-area flood rescue efforts last year, she went to Del Rio and Eagle Pass when those areas were hard hit.

Smith has taught at the Health Science Center for 10 years. She helps train 300 firefighters and military personnel annually in rescue techniques and emergency procedures. "We train all of the firefighters in water rescues," she said. "I've heard a few say, 'I don't know why we have to know this, we'll never use it,' but after the Big Flood, some of them called and said thank you. The training they received saved their lives and the lives of others."

Trained rescue personnel are prepared to act quickly in various scenarios. "Nothing ever goes by the book, but if that book is big enough, you can find something to use," said Smith. Her motto and professional philosophy as an EMT is to "live to train, and train to live." That way, when the big one hits, rescuers can stay out of harm's way and help those who are in it.

Smith was a firefighter-paramedic for six years in Kirby, a San Antonio suburb, and Port Lavaca on the Texas Gulf Coast. She was born and raised in San Antonio. She is a mom with a 20-year-old daughter, Lacey, and a 6-year-old daughter, Lorah.

Her expertise also includes vertical high-angle rescue, cave rescue, and collapsed building search and rescue. The Department of Emergency Medical Technology offers training courses in these specialties as well.

Deadline approaches
for Excellence In Service
Award nominations

The nomination period for the 1999 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Service is under way. Health Science Center employees who wish to nominate fellow staff members for the award must do so by the June 30 deadline.

The Excellence in Service Award is presented annually to professional, administrative and classified employees who have improved service and saved time and money in their departments. Five employees will be honored with the award and a $1,000 stipend at a ceremony this fall.

Nomination packages for the 1999 award are available in the Office of Human Resources. Questions may be directed to the Office of Employee Development and Training, ext. 2323.

Open Enrollment Period to start July 1

The annual employee benefits Open Enrollment Period will take place July 1-31. This is the designated time period when employees may change their benefits plans for the fiscal year beginning Sept. 1.

Highlights of Open Enrollment include the addition of two new HMO health plans, changes in the Delta dental plan, and new life insurance coverage options. Employees will also have the ability to make changes through the U.T. Touch system using a touch-tone phone or personal computer. Personal identification numbers for employees will be mailed to the employees' home addresses in June. Additional information will be disseminated as it becomes available. Employees who need to update mailing addresses may do so in writing to the Office of Human Resources' records section or by e-mail to <Collins@uthscsa.edu>.

Before Open Enrollment begins, employees may need to fill out the Evidence of Insurability form, which is required if an employee wants to add a dependent to their current coverage or make other changes. The deadline for providing this information is June 30. A memo will be forthcoming.

For more information, visit Human Resources' benefits, or call ext. 2610.

Weight Watchers meeting set for June 15

"Weight Watchers at Work" will be held on Tuesdays, noon to 1p.m. in the University Hospital Cafeteria Optimist Room.

The sessions are 16 weeks, with the first session scheduled for Tuesday, June 15.

"Weight Watchers at Work" requires a minimum of 15 registered participants, including lifetime members. The scheduled fee will depend on the number of people who sign up. For more information regarding the cost, contact Anna Uriegas at <uriegas@uthscsa.edu>.

The first payment will be processed at the June 15 meeting. Thereafter monthly payments, which can be paid by check, cash or credit card, will be processed on the fifteenth of each month.

In Remembrance

  • The flags flew at half-staff last week in honor of Brenda Leiker, a 24-year veteran at the Health Science Center Dental Outpatient Clinic, who died May 25. Condolences to her friends, family and colleagues.

  • Sympathies to Nicolas Puertas, General Services/Central Receiving, on the loss of his mother, Amelia Puertas, who passed away on May 25.

Calendar for June 7 - 13

11:00 a.m.
Endodontics Seminar "The Effects of Acute & Chronic Chorda Tympani Denervation on Taste Responses in the NST," Dr. Mark Dinkins (MED: 409L)

8:00 a.m.
Rehab Medicine PM&R Conf. "Overuse Syndromes of the Upper Extremity," Drs. Loida Ayala & Andrew Gitter (UH: Reeves Rehab Center 3rd-floor classroom)

8:00 a.m.
Medical Housestaff Specialty Conf. "Pulmonary Rehab," Dr. John King (MED: 409L)

8:00 a.m.
Otolaryngology Grand Rounds Teleconf. "Cochlear Implantations: Challenging Cases," Vincent Carrasco (MED: 444B)

9:00 a.m.
Training Office "Copy Machine" (call ext. 2320 for information)

10:00 a.m.
TNT "Health Information Management: A Practical Approach to JCAHO Survey Preparedness," Valerie Davis, Provident Hospital of Cook County, Ill. (call ext. 2700 for information)

1:30 p.m.
TNT "Laboratory Technology: Viral Load Monitoring in HIV Infection-Part II," Dr. Deshratn Asthana, University of Miami School of Medicine (call ext. 2700 for information)

6:30 a.m.
Podiatry Grand Rounds "Plastic Surgery," Dr. Trombello (MED: 309L)

7:00 a.m.
Vascular Surgery Grand Rounds, Dr. Mellick Sykes (LEC: 2.042)

8:00 a.m. Medical Grand Rounds "Advances in HIV Care," Dr. Philippe Chiliade (MED: 409L)

9:00 a.m.
Surgery Trauma M&M Conf., Dr. Ronald Stewart (MED: 309L)

9:00 a.m.
Library Workshop "Library Pathways" (call ext. 2320 for information or to register)

10:00 a.m.
TNT "Environmental Services: What's Available for Training?" Ian Greig, Daniels Associates Inc., Tucson, Ariz. (call ext. 2700 for information)

10:00 a.m.
TNT "Laboratory Management: Negotiating Managed Care Contracts," Elissa Passiment, American Society of Clinical Laboratory Science, Bethesda, Md. (call ext. 2700 for information)

7:30 a.m.
Thoracic Surgery Resident Teaching Conf. (UH: 5th-floor neonatal ICU classroom)

8:00 a.m.
Medical Housestaff Specialty Conf. "Acute Coronary Syndrome," Dr. Robert O'Rourke (MED: 409L)

8:00 a.m.
Neurology Grand Rounds "Current Issues in Sleep Disorders & the Management of Narcolepsy," Dr. Andrew Winokur, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (MED: 444B)

9:00 a.m.
Library Workshop "OVID Tips & Tricks: The Other Biomedical Databases" (call ext. 2400 for information or to register)

11:00 a.m.
TNT "Radiology: Radiation Protection­Setting the Example," Sheryl Emerich, Barnor Services, Ill. (call ext. 2700 for information)

Pulmonary, Thoracic & Oncology Conf. (MED: 309L)

4:00 p.m.
Surgery Tumor Conference, Dr. Anatolio Cruz (MED: 209L)

4:30 p.m.
City Wide Thoracic Grand Rounds Conf. "Case Presentation," Drs. Tung Cai & Steve Freyaldenhoven (MED: 309L)

7:30 a.m.
Pediatric Grand Rounds "It's Only a Birthmark," Dr. John Gonzalez, private practice (MED: 409L)

8:00 a.m.
Rehab Medicine PM&R Conf. "The Hip & Knee Exam," Drs. Marc Pecha & Andrew Gitter (UH: Reeves Rehab Center 3rd-floor classroom)

9:00 a.m.
Pharmacology Seminar "Neuroinformatics: A New Enabling Capability to Understand Brain Functioning," Dr. Steve Koslow, National Institute of Mental Health (MED: 444B)

10:00 a.m.
TNT "Chaplains: Dynamics of the Pastoral Visit in the Hospital­Where is the Entry Point for Pastoral Care?" Dr. Jesus Rodriguez, AIDS Pastoral Care Network, Chicago, Ill. (call ext. 2700)

9:00 a.m.
General Surgery Grand Rounds, Dr. Wayne Schwesinger (MED: 409L)

Index of issues

THE NEWS is published Fridays by the Office of Public Affairs for faculty and staff of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
Vice President for University Relations.....Judy Petty Wolf
Executive Director of Development & Public Affairs.....Dr. Charles Rodriguez
Editor.....Will Sansom
Writers.....Myong Covert, Catherine Duncan, Heather Feldman, Jennifer Lorenzo
Photographers.....Jeff Anderson, Lee Bennack, Lester Rosebrock
Designer.....Kris Doyle
Web Editor.....Joanne Shaw
Production.....Printing Services

Office of Public Affairs, 7703 Floyd Curl Drive, San Antonio, Texas 78284-7768
(210) 567-2570