Monthly Archives: June 2012

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Professor’s study of lemurs helps them, conservation and medicine

Patricia Wright loves Madagascar and its lemurs — and the country returns the favor. On July 2, Wright will inaugurate a state-of-the-art, four-story research center adjacent to a rainforest — complete with a high-speed Internet connection. At the same time, the Stony Brook anthropology professor will receive her third Legion of Honor medal, becoming the first foreigner to receive three of the island nation’s highest awards.

The star-studded opening of the facility — called Namanabe (for Friendship) Hall — will have over 600 guests. The attendees span the world, from Stony Brook President Samuel Stanley, to Madagascar’s minister of the environment, to the vice rector of the University of Helsinki, Finland, to the ambassador for the U.S. to Madagascar, Eric Wong, to local kings from 33 villages, and 21 traditional healers.

The building, which overlooks a waterfall, river and rainforest and has a garden and solar panels on the roof, will provide a home for the study of biodiversity and infectious disease.

Wright, who has been studying lemurs since 1985, will soon announce that there are three kinds of dwarf lemurs in nearby Ranomafana National Park. Previously, scientists believed the park only contained one species of dwarf lemur. Ranomafana has 14 species of lemurs, one of the highest counts for a single park in the world.

Wright has a long list of notable achievements in her studies of the Madagascar primates, whose name comes from the lemures of Roman mythology because of the animal’s ghostly calls and reflective eyes.
In the 1980s, Wright was searching for the greater bamboo lemur, which some scientists believed had become extinct. She not only found the endangered animal, but also discovered the golden bamboo lemur, a species scientists didn’t even know existed.

For the second year in a row, she was a finalist in the $100,000 Indianapolis Prize, the top award for animal conservation. While she didn’t win this year, she was one of only six finalists from a competitive field of conservation biologists.

“It’s a great honor,” said Wright. “Many fantastic people are on that list that have done amazing things. I’m proud to be a part of that.”

Stuart Pimm, the Doris Duke professor of conservation at Duke University, called Wright “Madagascar’s savior” for working to conserve an environment scientists describe as the “eighth continent” for its remarkable diversity of species, some of which are threatened or going extinct.

“Nobody does conservation work in Madagascar without coming under her influence,” Pimm declared. The new research facility Wright helped build is “an amazing meeting house for people who want to protect the Malagasy environment. That contribution will last for decades. It’s a very tangible achievement.”

Wright explained that her current research, which she conducts in Ranomafana, addresses three questions. First, she is studying lemur behavioral ecology and demography and aging in the wild.

Second, she is looking closely at the mouse lemur, the world’s smallest primate. Some mouse lemurs in captivity, who were as young as four years old, developed Alzheimer’s. She is tracking 500 mouse lemurs in the wild. So far, she has examined wild mouse lemurs as old as 10 and hasn’t found any similar cases. That could be because lemurs that suffer from age-related cognitive problems could become easier targets for predators. It also could be related to the mouse lemur’s diet or to its more active lifestyle in the rain forest.

And, finally, she is examining seed dispersal in trees by lemurs. She’s planning to study how far away seeds get from the parent tree. She also wants to see if seeds from a wide range of canopy trees with large, sweet fleshy fruits that pass through the digestive system of a lemur sprout faster and live longer.

“We’re really interested in ecosystem dynamics,” she explained. “To really understand how to restore a habitat, we have to know how it works to begin with. That’s not easy in a rainforest.”

Although she applies science to just about everything she does professionally, Wright knows she needs much more than good intentions and a clipboard to wander through the rainforest to study lemurs.

“Whenever you are exploring in new places, when you meet people, you have to be a little cautious: they don’t know who you are and you don’t know who they are. You have to obey the rules of the local culture,” she explains.

She visits with the village elders first, to describe what she’s doing. She travels with permits signed by authorities. She has put considerable effort into sharing information about the rainforest and about health with the Malagasy (the name for people from Madagascar).

“When we’re dealing with health, we like to have it science-based,” she said. “We’re not just dispensing pills. We like to do health and hygiene education to prevent health problems before they happen.”
In addition to her scientific contribution, Wright has helped build and shape communities around the rainforest, Pimm said.

“She has done an extraordinary job in ensuring that people in the local community benefit from having a national park right next to them,” observed Pimm, who has known Wright for more than 15 years. “There is now a community of small businesses that have learned through [her] leadership.”

In addition to respecting the people in the remote areas where she treks — often on foot and while carrying her own food and cooking utensils — Wright remains aware of other threats.

“I’m quite a careful person for someone who does all these crazy things,” she offered.

Indeed, she has encountered the deadly fer-de-lance snake — a reptile whose venom can be fatal to humans. Always on the lookout for the deadly snakes, she has seen them several times. She was on a trail following monkeys one night when she encountered another dangerous creature. She explained that the path was wet, so neither one could hear the other coming. She rounded a bend and stopped inches from a jaguar.

“There we were, eye to eye,” she recounted. “I thought to myself: that animal is bigger than me. I’m getting off the trail.”

The predatory cat jumped away, perhaps because a headlight Wright wore to navigate through the soggy jungle confused him.

While assiduously avoiding jungle cats, Wright has tried to attract sponsors for her research.

In April, she held a rock concert at Centre Valbio, where the U.S. Embassy invited some of the wealthiest people in the country to enjoy music by popular Malagasy bands while learning about research in the rainforest.

“What I actually do is very complex,” she explained. “It’s very important that the science is not done in a vacuum. It has to be incorporated into public awareness.”

As for the future, Namanabe Hall, Wright hopes, is just another step in research and conservation in Madagascar.

“There are so many things we need to make the research dream come true,” she offered. “I would love to put sensors out into the forest that could stream back to our network and databases information on microclimate and animals. The Namanabe Hall is just the beginning of what I hope will be a fountain of inspiration to study this tropical rainforest in innovative ways and to study and assist the people, too.”

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Some animal sources increase gout while plant sources may not

Gout is thought of as an inflammatory arthritis. It occurs intermittently, affecting the joints, most commonly the big toe. The symptoms are acute (sudden onset) and include extremely painful, red, swollen and tender joints. Uric acid (or urate) levels are directly related to the risk of gout attacks. As uric acid levels increase, there is a greater chance of urate crystal deposits in the joints.

This disease affects more than three million people in the U.S. (Arthritis Res Ther. 2006;8:Suppl 1:S2). Men between 30 and 50 years old are at much higher risk for their first attack. For women, most gout attacks occur after menopause.

There are a number of potential causes of gout, as well as ways to prevent and treat it. Though heredity plays a role, these risk factors are modifiable. The best way to prevent and treat gout is with medication and lifestyle modifications.

I thought we might look at gout using a case study. I recently had a patient who had started a nutrient-dense, plant-based diet. Within two weeks she had a gout episode. Initially, it was thought that her change in diet with increased plant purines might have been an exacerbating factor. Purines are substances that raise the level of uric acid. However, as we will see, not all purines equally raise uric acid levels.

Animal versus plant proteins

In a recent case-crossover (epidemiologic forward-looking) study, it was shown that purines from animal sources increase the level of purines far more than those from plant sources (Ann Rheum Dis. online May 30, 2012). The risk of a gout incident was increased approximately 241 percent in the group consuming the highest amount of animal products, whereas the risk of gout was still increased for those consuming plant-rich purine substances, but by substantially less: 39 percent.

The authors believe that decreasing the use of purine-rich foods, especially from animal sources, may decrease the risk of incident and recurrent episodes of gout. Plant-rich diets are the preferred method of consuming proteins for patients who suffer gout attacks, especially since nuts and beans are excellent sources of protein and many other nutrients.

In another study, meats — including red meat, pork and lamb — increased the risk of gout, as did seafood (NEJM 2004;350:1093-1103). However, purine-rich plant sources did not increase risk of gout. Low-fat dairy actually decreased the risk of gout by 21 percent. The study was a large observational study involving 49,150 men over a duration of 12 years. Therefore, it is unlikely that the patient switching to a nutrient-dense, plant-rich diet increased her risk of gout.

Diuretics (water pills)

My patient was on a diuretic called hydrochlorothiazide for hypertension (high blood pressure). There are several medications thought to increase the risk of gout, including diuretics and chronic use of low-dose aspirin. In the ARIC study, patients who used diuretics to control blood pressure were at a 48 percent greater risk of developing gout than nonusers (Arthritis Rheum. 2012 Jan;64(1):121-9). In fact, nonusers had a 36 percent decreased risk of developing gout. This study involved 5,789 participants and had a fairly long duration of nine years. The longer the patient is treated with a diuretic, the higher the probability they will experience gout. It is likely that my patient’s diuretic contributed to her gout episode.

Medical conditions

There are a number of medical conditions that may impact the risk of gout. These include uncontrolled high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol ( My patient’s high blood pressure was under control, but she also had diabetes and high cholesterol. These disorders may have contributed.


Obesity, like smoking, seems to have its impact on almost every disease. In the CLUE II study, obesity was shown to not only increase the risk of gout but also accelerate the age of onset (Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2011 Aug;63(8):1108-14). Those who were obese experienced gout three years earlier than those who were not. Even more striking is the fact that those who were obese in early adulthood had an 11-year earlier onset of gout. The study’s duration was 18 years. My patient was obese and had started to lose some weight before the gout occurred.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C may reduce gout risk. In the Physicians Follow-up Study, a 500 mg daily dose of vitamin C decreased levels of uric acid in the blood (J Rheumatol. 2008 Sep;35(9):1853-8).


The key to success with gout lies with prevention. Patients who do get gout writhe in pain. Luckily, there are modifications that significantly reduce the risks. They involve very modest changes, such as not using diuretics in patients with a history of gout, losing weight for obese patients and substituting more plant-rich foods for meats and seafood. Although the cause of gout may be apparent to you, always check with your doctor before changing your medications or making significant lifestyle modifications as we have learned from this case study of my patient.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, go to the website and/or consult your personal physician.

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Moderate exercise for a moderate amount of time may be the most effective

Most of us, myself included, have a love-hate relationship with exercise. Sometimes it’s difficult to get motivated or carve out the time, however, the feeling afterward can be rejuvenating. For the longest time, with a few exceptions, the belief has been that exercise always has positive effects. However, this may not be the case for everyone, according to a new study’s findings. Let’s look at the potential downsides and upsides of exercise, as well as the optimal workout intensity.

The downsides of exercise

Those with certain diseases, such as heart failure and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, need to be especially cautious when exercising. However, when heart failure patients do exercise, some trials, like the HF-ACTION trial, show improvements in symptoms, exercise capacity and quality of life (J Am Coll Cardiol. 2011;58:561-569).

A new study suggests that exercise may have negative cardiovascular and diabetes impacts on 10 percent of the population (PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37887. Epub 2012 May 30). That’s scary. To make matters worse, the effect was random — there was no one cohort or group affected. When you analyze the study, however, there are some potential weaknesses.

The study endpoints included biomarkers, such as HDL “good” cholesterol levels, blood pressure, triglycerides and insulin levels. Many things can affect these endpoints. For example, I had a patient who exercised in the morning, yet his blood glucose (sugar) was worse postexercise. It turned out he was drinking pomegranate juice before exercising, which increased his glucose levels.

Also, as I mentioned in last week’s article, the cholesterol marker, HDL, may not have protective effects nor be directly correlated to cardiovascular disease. Therefore, we really don’t know what it means when HDL levels go down with exercise.

Better endpoints for this study would have been outcomes measurements, such as overall mortality, cardiovascular mortality and morbidity (sickness), and cardiovascular event rates. I worry, as do others, that people may use this study as an excuse not to exercise. I think the message should be: Use caution when exercising, but do exercise. Let’s look at why.

The upsides

We know that exercise has tremendously positive impacts on a multitude of diseases and disorders, such as obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, migraines and cancer.

One recent study shows exercise is directly related to improvements in sleep (Am J of Med. 2012;125(5):485-490). In the epidemiologic study, the hours of exercise a week decreased the occurrence of mild and moderate sleep-disordered breathing 24 percent and 33 percent, respectively. The opposite was also true: As the hours of exercise declined in some patients, sleep-disordered breathing worsened.

What about longevity?

There are two recent studies that show exercise helps to improve longevity. In the Copenhagen City Heart Study, the results showed that light jogging at a slow to moderate pace for 1 to 2 1/2 hours a week was ideal. The mean increase in longevity was 6.2 years in men and 5.6 years in women. Even elderly patients saw longevity improvements. There were improvements in insulin levels, bone density and lipid profiles which contributed to the longevity effect. This study was observational, with 20,000 participants over a 35-year duration (EuroPRevent 2012: Abstract). The good news is that you don’t have to be an elite athlete to achieve the increased longevity.

In a second study, those who jogged at a modest pace saw a three-year increase in longevity. Those in the “low volume” activity group, defined as 92 minutes of exercise per week, realized a 14 percent reduction in the risk of death and a three-year increase in life expectancy when compared to the sedentary group (Lancet. 2011 Oct 1;378(9798):1244-53). In other words, 15 minutes of exercise a day has a powerful effect on longevity. This was a very large prospective (forward-looking) observational study.

How best to approach exercise?

In a study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine, there was a 19 percent reduction in the risk of mortality for those who “ran” at a modest pace — defined as 5.5 to 6 miles per hour, or a 10- to 11-minute mile — compared to those who did not run, those who ran more than 20 miles per week, and those who ran faster than 7 mph (although the last two groups were less common). This benefit was seen as long as participants ran between 1 and 20 miles per week. Therefore, a modest distance at a modest pace resulted in the most benefit. This study was part of the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study at the Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas.

Thus, it appears that the benefits of exercise far outweigh the risks, even in patients who have heart failure. The most beneficial levels of exercise seem to be in the modest zone for both duration and intensity. This does not mean you can’t exercise with more intensity, with your doctor’s permission. However, it does imply that inactivity is far more dangerous than exercise: There are several studies showing that inactivity reduces longevity and increases cardiovascular events.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, go to the website and/or consult your personal physician.

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SBU professor R. Lawrence Swanson uses hair conditioners as chemical markers to study sewage

Hair conditioners aren’t just helpful for the heads of Hempstead residents. They also serve as chemical markers for what happens to sewage released through the Bay Park outfall in Reynolds Channel.

That’s just one of a host of findings in an ongoing study of Hempstead sewage that Stony Brook University professor R. Lawrence Swanson is managing. Swanson is leading a group of 10 scientists and three graduate students who are examining the Western Bays in Hempstead to determine what’s happening in the area and to recommend what actions, if any, policy-makers might need to take to protect the region.

While the hair care chemicals, which Stony Brook associate professor Bruce Brownawell is studying, aren’t necessarily damaging to the environment, they do act as markers for the bay.

“Looking at the results of hydrodynamic modeling in conjunction with some of the work that’s been done looking at hair care [products] in sediments has indicated to virtually all of us that the removal of material from the vicinity of the Bay Park outfall is not very good,” Swanson stated. “There’s a lot of sloshing back and forth in the Reynolds Channel.”

Swanson suggested that the choice of the channel in the 1950s probably seemed like a logical one because tidal currents are “quite rapid” twice a day. However, the problem is that “much of that water seems to slosh back and forth, as opposed to exiting.”

Just as the sewage begins to drift east and north away from the bays, the tidal current reverses and pushes it back. Swanson explained. The residence time in Reynolds Channel is between 50 and 240 hours. That means a particle released in the channel would take that long to leave the general area, Swanson said, citing the work of Stony Brook associate professor Robert Wilson.

Additionally, Reynolds Channel and areas to the north are struggling with a “tremendous biomass of sea lettuce,” Swanson observed.

While sea lettuce is common around Long Island, it is so dense in those areas that residents are referring to it as “green bergs.” It accumulates at Point Lookout near the entrance to Jones Inlet to such an extent that the hydrogen sulfide smell is noticeable.

The Hempstead Bays project, which started in September of 2010, runs through March 2013. At the end of it, Swanson and the rest of his team will summarize the results and make recommendations to policy-makers.
As he enters his fourth decade in the environmental sciences at Stony Brook, Swanson indicated he has become increasingly outspoken about the dangers of poor waste management.

“We’re in trouble,” Swanson declared. “We have reached our limit in terms of population growth. In Suffolk County, we are still relying on septic systems that are not the best technology. Many of them are probably not functioning particularly well.”

Swanson said the nitrogen concentration in the Magothy aquifer is about 200 times greater than it was in the 1980s, citing data from the Suffolk County Health Department. The Magothy aquifer is the largest bed of permeable rock that provides water to Long Island.

Still, Swanson isn’t ready to give up on Long Island or on the possibility of improving an environment he said he has thoroughly enjoyed since moving here in 1973.

Swanson lives in Head of the Harbor with his wife, Dana, who is an artist. One son, Michael, lives in St. James, while Larry lives in Seattle, where Dana grew up and where her extended family has lived for four generations.

The Swansons live in a 170-year-old house that was the site of a water bottling business known as the Soper Bottling Works in the late 1800s.

“Every day, the house wakes up and says, ‘What are you going to do for me today?’” laughed Swanson.

Swanson is optimistic that the right programs and approach can improve the environment. He points to the New York Bight, a region between Cape May and Montauk where ocean dumping occurred until around 1990.
Since the cessation of dumping, “You would see a remarkable resilience of the marine environment and its ability to recover, once we stop abusing it.”

Swanson cautions against continued environmental abuse. “An ounce of conservation is worth many pounds of restoration,” he offered.

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Mom was right again: Eat your breakfast and your fruits and veggies

Diabetes is always on the medical radar screen. As incidence of the disease continues to grow, there is a constant stream of new research on the topic. One thing you can say definitively about diabetes:  it never gets dull. The American Diabetes Association meeting in June did not disappoint, revealing both good and bad news.

Fortunately, the good news is abundant. Most importantly, mortality decreased 23 percent overall in diabetes patients and 40 percent in diabetics with cardiovascular disease when comparing 2006 and 1997 results, according to a Centers for Disease Control  survey (Diabetes Care June 2012 vol. 35 no. 6 1252-1257). The author of the study warns, however, that diabetics are still at increased risk for severe complications.

Breakfast’s impact

Mothers always struggle to get their children to eat breakfast. In this case, Mom may be onto something. In a study of almost 4,000 participants, ages 27 to 35 years old, those who ate breakfast were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes (ADA June 2012, abstract 1364-P). For each breakfast consumed during the week, there was a 5 percent reduction in risk. When the researchers compared those who ate breakfast at least five times a week to those who ate it three or fewer times a week, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes fell 31 percent among the frequent breakfast eaters. Those who ate breakfast more frequently did not gain as much weight, 0.5 kg/m2. BMI played a role in this effect. This is an easy way to help ward off diabetes, as well as get you charged for the day.

Insulin and cancer

There have been concerns that insulin increases the risk of cancer. However, in three very large epidemiologic studies presented at the ADA meeting, there was no significant association between the use of glargine insulin and an increased risk of cancer, when compared to other insulins (ADA June 2012, abstract CT-SY13).

However, there are caveats to these studies. For instance, why they compared glargine to other insulins and not to oral drugs seems to weaken the study’s conclusions. There were also slight, but non-significant, increases in breast cancer, 12 percent, and prostate cancer, 11 percent, in one of the studies. The studies’ durations were not very long when you consider the length of time it takes to develop cancer. They ranged from 1.2 years to 3.1 years with glargine and 1.1 years to 3.5 years with other insulins. Hence, I think it is important to interpret the results with a bit of skepticism, though they do point in the right direction.

Metformin and B12 deficiency 

Yet another study presented at the ADA found that those diabetes patients who are taking metformin and have B12 deficiencies have a much higher risk of developing peripheral neuropathies (tingling, numbness and pain in the extremities) that may lead to permanent nerve damage (ADA June 2012, abstract 954-P). Chronic metformin use may be a contributing factor to the B12 deficiency. Before attributing the symptoms to diabetic neuropathy, it is important to test patients’ B12 and methylmalonic acid levels. As age increased, not surprisingly, the likelihood of B12 deficiency also increased. For more information on the appropriate levels of B12, please see my May 1, 2012 article.

Fruit and vegetable effect

Those patients who consumed the most fruits and vegetables saw a 21 percent reduction in risk of diabetes, compared to those who consumed the least, according to the EPIC study (Diabetes Care 2012;35(6):1293-1300). Quantity was important with vegetables, showing a 24 percent lower risk in those who ate the most, but quantity did not play a role in fruits. More important to fruit was the variety, with a 30 percent reduction in those with the most diversity in fruit intake. Combining varied fruits and vegetables resulted in the greatest reduction, 39 percent.

Omega-3 Fatty acids

In a recent randomized controlled trial omega-3 (fish oil) supplements showed disappointing results (NEJM online June 11, 2012). Supplementation with 900 mg of omega-3s did not reduce the incidence of stroke, heart disease or death from cardiovascular disease in pre-diabetes or diabetes patients. This dose may be too low, but still it is unlikely that taking omega-3s will reduce the risk of strokes or heart attacks in diabetes patients. I wrote a two-article series, starting on May 22, 2012, that showed omega-3s were effective in some diseases, but not in others. Therefore, there are more efficient ways to treat diabetes than with fish oil.

Thus, the moral of the story is that lifestyle modifications are an important ingredient in preventing and treating diabetes. If you are taking insulin, you can breathe a sigh of relief that it may not increase your risk of cancer. Make sure to test B12 levels, especially if you are taking metformin, and don’t rely on fish oil to prevent complications from diabetes or pre-diabetes. And as my mom always says, eat your breakfast.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management.  For further information, go to the website and/or consult your personal physician.

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SBU professor Scott McLennan part of team studying ancient Martian rocks to understand its geology

Terrestrial trucks with tough names and gritty commercials have nothing on a six-wheeled golf cart-sized vehicle. Operating millions of miles away on the unforgiving surface of Mars, the rover, Opportunity, landed in 2004 and was only expected to last for three months.

Eight years later, Opportunity is going strong, sending back useful information about the red planet. Using solar power, Opportunity outlasted its twin, Spirit, which stopped responding to Earth-bound signals about two years ago. The scientific vehicle recently provided even more evidence that Mars once not only had water, but that the water may have contained life.

Venturing near the Endeavour crater (named after the British ship that explorer James Cook led to New Zealand and Australia at around the same time as the American Revolution), Opportunity found rocks and minerals that provided more clues about the evolution and history of the surface of Mars.

“When we came onto the rim of the Endeavour crater, the fundamental geology completely changed,” explained Stony Brook University geochemistry professor Scott McLennan, who recently teamed up with scientists at several institutions to publish a paper in Science on their findings.

Looking at rocks that are likely older than 3.8 billion years old, McLennan and other scientists found extremely high zinc contents. Usually, zinc is at a level of 30 to 300 parts per million, but in these rocks, zinc was closer to 6,300 parts per million.

Zinc combines with sulfur and phosphorous. Scientists would expect to find these minerals, such as zinc sulfide or zinc phosphate, in rocks that had hydrothermal fluids that ran through them.

“People have known there was water on Mars for a long time,” McLennan explained. “The real issue was whether the water was in a liquid form at a time when you could have had environments in which life could have survived. We’re finding more geological environments in which water was active and conditions could have been habitable.”

Scientists also discovered gypsum near the crater. The chemical name for this mineral is calcium sulfate dihydrate. The last part of that name means the mineral has two water ions per molecule embedded in it.

“This was completely unexpected,” said McLennan.

Finding water tied up in the structure of minerals and rocks means they could become a resource for future exploration of Mars. For astronauts to make a round trip, they would need to make use of whatever water and fuel they could extract from Mars.

McLennan cautioned, however, that the volumes of water in the minerals on Mars are “not great.” Indeed, for every kilogram of gypsum, scientists could likely remove just over 200 grams (or 20 percent of the mineral’s weight) in water.

Much of McLennan’s research comes from analyzing the information sent back from Mars and simulating what he sees in his Stony Brook lab.

“What we were able to do,” said Joel Hurowitz, a research scientist at Jet Propulsion Laboratory who worked in McLennan’s lab to earn his doctorate, “was go into one lab and make rocks in a furnace and then take them to another lab and alter them in the presence of fluids that might have existed in the past on Mars. We could analyze the products of those water-rock reactions.”

Hurowitz described Stony Brook as a “spectacular place to grow up in as a student” and called McLennan a “leader” and “pioneer” in his area of research.

So, after all this extra time and information from Opportunity, where does Mars research go from here?

“Mars exploration is at a crossroads,” McLennan suggested. The first scientific priority over the coming decade is to begin the process of bringing samples back from Mars, so geologists like McLennan can study them.

President Obama, however, “cut planetary science and Mars exploration dramatically.”

The House and Congress have tried to reinstate some of the funding in those programs, but “who knows how it’ll end up,” McLennan added. He predicts the next year or so will determine whether scientists and politicians can make progress toward a return to Mars.

In the meantime, McLennan, who lives in Centerport with his wife Fiona, an assistant vice president of Human Resources at Columbia University, will continue to analyze information from the durable Opportunity rover.