Mark Roth to be featured in ‘NOVA’ series

‘Making Stuff Colder’ episode to air at 9 p.m. Oct. 30 on PBS
Dr. Mark Roth
Dr. Mark Roth will be featured in a "NOVA" series at 9 p.m. Oct. 30 on PBS. Photo by Paul C. Miller

Dr. Mark Roth of the Basic Sciences Division will be featured in a “NOVA” series called “Making More Stuff” at 9 p.m. Oct. 30 on PBS. “Making Stuff Colder,” the third in a four-part series that debuted Oct. 16, is hosted by David Pogue, a columnist for The New York Times and an Emmy-winning CBS News correspondent. Watch the preview here.

On Monday Jerry Large, a columnist for The Seattle Times, promoted Roth’s participation in the “NOVA” special, which explores whether cold holds the key to technology that can improve lives.

Roth, who studies suspended animation and metabolic flexibility as a potential means for “buying time” for trauma patients, has long been fascinated by cases in which people who apparently freeze to death, with no heart rate or respiration for extended periods, can be brought back to life with no long-term negative health consequences.

His research may help explain the mechanics behind this widely documented phenomenon.

For example, Roth and colleagues have shown that two widely divergent model organisms – yeast and nematodes, or garden worms – can survive hypothermia, or potentially lethal cold, if they are first put into a state of suspended animation by means of anoxia, or extreme oxygen deprivation.

Being on the show a “full-circle moment”

“Being on the show is a full-circle moment for me,” said Roth, whose research using hydrogen sulfide to induce reversible metabolic hibernation was inspired by the show.

One night in 2002, he was watching a NOVA special on caves in Mexico that emit huge amounts of hydrogen sulfide, a deadly gas that smells like rotten eggs.

“That gas can knock a person out with one whiff. To enter those caves you have to wear special protective gear or else you’ll gork out. The scientific term for that is ‘knockdown,’” he said.

With the help of colleague Dr. Mark Groudine, former director of the Basic Sciences Division, he went on to procure some hydrogen sulfide for his lab – not an easy task in post-9/11 America – and demonstrate that hydrogen sulfide can be used to put mice into reversible metabolic hibernation.

This achievement, the first demonstration of “hibernation on demand” in a mammal, ultimately could lead to new ways to treat cancer and prevent injury and death from insufficient blood supply to organs and tissues. The findings were published in a landmark paper in Science in 2005.

The National Science Foundation provided major funding for the series, which also explores making stuff “faster,” “safer” and “wilder.”

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