Sac State Magazine

Fall 2015

Sac State Magazine is a publication produced by the Office of Advancement Communications and Stewardship at Cal State University, Sacramento highlighting alumni, students, faculty and staff.

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18 S AC S TAT E M AGA Z I N E | Fa l l 2 015 cracking autism n Cause and Effect What can a fruit fly tell us about autism? A lot, says biological sciences professor Kimberly Mulligan. "It's estimated that 75 percent of the genes associated with human disease are found in fruit flies," says Mulligan. "Plus they have a fast generation time, so you can receive answers to experiments relatively quickly." Mulligan, the author of published research on developmental biology, is preparing to study how environmental toxins play a role in the cause of autism. She wants to determine how genes and environmental toxins, such as methyl mercury, team up to harm brain development in flies with autism-like characteristics. Specifically, Mulligan and her team of three students will monitor the flies' behavior through their social interactions and movements. If a behavioral effect is noticed, they will dissect and study the brain structures. "If we expose a fly model of autism to different environmental toxins, does it make brain development dramatically worse? Are the social deficits more extreme?" Mulligan asks. "It's a way to provide specific preventive measures which could help reduce the prevalence of, and decrease the severity of, autism." Mulligan says 1 in 68 children born in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. She has been personally affected by mental disorders, which inspired her studies. "My best friend in graduate school had bipolar disorder and she committed suicide," Mulligan says. "I loved her dearly and she is the reason I decided to do post-doctoral research on brain development and mental disorders." Ultimately, Mulligan says elucidating the molecular basis of autism—or any mental disorder—is a step in the right direction. "Understanding the foundation of autism has the potential to diminish suffering caused by the disorder," says Mulligan. "I think that is an amazingly worthy research goal." 18 S AC S TAT E M AGA Z I N E | Fa l l 2 015 n R E S E A R C H R O U N D U P One in 68 children born in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. We talked to three Sac State faculty members who are looking into the causes, treatments and management of autism. ALL IN THE GENES—Biological sciences professor Kimberly Mulligan wants to see if environmental toxins play a role in causing autism. RESEARCH RESOURCE—Seventy-five percent of genes associated with human diseases are found in fruit flies. the code on

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