A power shutdown last month at the University of California, San Francisco, sent physiology professor Mary F. Dallman into a panic. Her lab studies the effects of stress on the pituitary-adrenal axis in rats' brains, and one of her postdocs had recently begun the sort of 20-day, $10,000 experiment typically conducted by her lab.

The pituitary-adrenal axis "is highly circadianly driven," Dallman explains, "and when the lights go out in the middle of the day, you're giving the circadian clock a pulse that can reset the whole animal." Plunged into darkness, the nocturnal rats began to nibble, so Dallman and two other lab members quickly set up three flashlights in the small animal room. Rats don't require much light before they begin sleeping again, and Dallman doubts that the blackout ruined the experiment.

Nevertheless, she and other California life scientists worry that the state's energy crisis might spoil its biomedical...

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