Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition! I already did.
It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Mammal power

Dolphins wave weed to attract a mate

While men might try flowers, smart clothes or cars to impress the opposite sex, male Amazon river dolphins carry weed.

Object-carrying has been reported throughout the dolphin's range in Brazil, Venezuela and Bolivia, but what had been thought to be play behaviour now appears - exceptionally among mammals - to have a sexual function.

Tony Martin of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK, and Vera da Silva of the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Amazonas, Brazil, have studied the dolphins for three years in the Brazilian Amazon and are now convinced it is a sexual display. Only humans and chimps do anything remotely similar, says Martin. "It's so unusual that many of my colleagues were sceptical when I first suggested the idea, but now I think the evidence is overwhelming," he says.


My comment: Isn't it weird to hear human, chimp and dolphin in one sentence. Ok, not weird, interesting. I think we're finally starting to understand the complexity of other species and that could make us understand, we really are not the only intelligent ones around.

Chimps outperform humans at memory task

Young chimps can beat adult humans in a task involving remembering numbers, reveals a new study. It is the first time chimps – and young ones, at that – have outperformed humans at a cognitive task.

And the finding may add weight to a theory about the evolution of language in humans, say the researchers.

Three adult female chimps, their three 5-year-old offspring, and university student volunteers were tested on their ability to memorise the numbers 1 to 9 appearing at random locations on a touchscreen monitor.

The chimps had previously been taught the ascending order of the numbers. Using an ability akin to photographic memory, the young chimps were able to memorise the location of the numerals with better accuracy than humans performing the same task.

During the test, the numerals appeared on the screen for 650, 430 or 210 milliseconds, and were then replaced by blank white squares.

While the adult chimps were able to remember the location of the numbers in the correct order with the same or worse ability as the humans, the three adolescent chimps outperformed the humans.

The youngsters easily remembered the locations, even at the shortest duration, which does not leave enough time for the eye to move and scan the screen. This suggests that they use a kind of eidetic or photographic memory.

In rare cases, human children have a kind of photographic memory like that shown by the young chimps, but it disappears with age, says Tetsuro Matsuzawa, at the primate research institute at Kyoto University, Japan, who led the study. (See a video library of chimp cognition.)

He suggests that early humans lost the skill as we acquired other memory-related skills such as representation and hierarchical organisation. “In the course of evolution we humans lost it, but acquired a new skill of symbolisation – in other words, language,” he says. “We had to lose some function to get a new function.”

The finding challenges human assumptions about our uniqueness, and should make us think harder about ourselves in relation to other animals, says anthropologist Jill Pruetz of Iowa State University, Ames, US.

“Observing that other species can outperform us on tasks that we assume we excel at is a bit humbling,” she says. “Rather than taking such findings as a rare example or a fluke, we should incorporate this knowledge into a mindset that acknowledges that chimpanzees – and probably other species – share aspects of what we think of as uniquely human intelligence.”

Matsuzawa emphasises that the chimps in the study are by no means special – all chimps can perform like this, he says. “We underestimate chimpanzee intelligence,” he says. “We are 98.77% chimpanzee. We are their evolutionary neighbours.”


My comment: Continuing the point of the previous comment, maybe those discoveries are just preparing us for the real finding-a specie that is smarter than us. We all know that would be quite shocking, especially for some religious fanatics, but not only to them-we all assume we're unique in one way or another. What happens when another unique someone claims its place in our Universe? Can we accept it and admit it in our World, or we're likely to feel threatened and try to kill it? Now, those are pretty far-fetched of course, but for me, it is important not only to study the Nature, but also to study ourselves and adapt to what Nature shows us. Who are we to decide whether language and symbols are more important than other forms of intelligence? Yeah, for sure they are more useful for us, but it could be different for other specie- for example, if there is natural telepathy and collective memory, why would that specie need a language? Nothing. But that wouldn't make it less intelligent than us. Just different.

Picture-sorting dogs show human-like thought

Next time you sort through your holiday photos, maybe your dog could lend a hand. It seems dogs can place photographs into categories the same way humans do, an ability previously identified only in birds and primates.

Friederike Range at the University of Vienna, Austria, and colleagues trained dogs to distinguish photographs that depicted dogs from those that did not. "We know they can categorise 'food' or 'enemies' from experience," says Range, "but this is the first time we've taught them an abstract concept - 'a dog' - and shown they can transfer this knowledge to a new situation."

In the training phase, four dogs were simultaneously shown photographs of a landscape and of a dog, and were rewarded if they selected the latter using a paw-operated computer touch-screen. When the computer-savvy dogs were shown unfamiliar landscape and dog photos they continued to identify those containing dogs. And when shown an unfamiliar dog superimposed on a landscape used in the training phase, they were still able to pick it out in preference to an image of just a landscape, showing that they could distinguish a dog by its features (Animal Cognition, DOI: 10.1007/s10071-007-0123-2).

"We are starting to see that dogs have some good reasoning abilities," says Range. "I hope this might impact how we treat them at home."


My comment:As a dog-owner I can easily tell you dogs are VERY intelligent. We would like to underestimate them, but we're wrong. I spend a lot of time with my dog and I simply can see the way he things in many occasions. He does think and he does understand very often what's going on and why it's going on. Of course, I often have no idea what he makes of an event, but in any case, we have much to learn about the capacity and capability of dogs' brains.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Norway's carbon storage plans hinge on EU

Norway's carbon storage plans hinge on EU

The oil-rich Scandinavian kingdom is hoping to build on a decade of experience at its Sleipner offshore platform in the North Sea to launch a test plant that would bury CO2 emissions from a gas-fired power station inland. But EU state aid rules are frustrating its ambitions.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a method whereby CO2 released during extraction (pre-combustion) or burning (post-combustion) of fossil fuels is captured and stored in underground geological formations.
The technology is seen as crucial to reducing the global warming impact of fossil fuels such as coal and gas, on which the International Energy Agency says the world will continue to rely for decades.
But CCS is expensive and faces public scepticism concerning the possible leakage of CO2 stored over a long period of time. In addition, all projections show that it will not become commercially viable in time to contribute significantly to the EU's CO2 emissions reduction target for 2020.
For Norway, CCS is a technology that holds many promises. Awash with petrodollars since North Sea oil was first discovered off the Norwegian coast in 1971, it now hopes to lead the world into making fossil fuels cleaner for the 21st century.
"It is our vision that within seven years we will have put in place capture and storage technology," Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said in January this year, officially launching a major new CCS pilot project at the Mongstad oil refinery, near Bergen. "This is a major project for our country. It is our moon landing," he said in reference to the US space programme launched in the 1960s.

The test facility currently under construction at Mongstad has the ambition to make Norway "a world leader in carbon management." "If we succeed, costs and risk for large-scale capture elsewhere could be greatly reduced," says Egil Sael, vice-president for business development at StatoilHydro, Norway's state-owned oil and gas company.
With emissions of carbon dioxide shooting up in Asia, where China builds new coal-fired plants nearly every week to fuel its booming economy, the return on investment could indeed be huge.
As a first step, the launch of a test facility, the European Carbon Dioxide Test Centre (TCM), is planned for 2008. If successful, the facility could then be deployed to full-scale in 2014 as a second step.
The Mongstad TCM is a small gas-fired power station generating heat and electricity simultaneously, a process which is already more energy-efficient than conventional gas-fired plants. The new technology to be tested there involves separating the CO2 from the other fumes emitted when burning the gas, using a process called Chilled Ammonia.
Lowering the cost of CO2 capture
But while it is more promising, the technique is considered riskier than an existing method using an amine solution to capture the CO2 after the gas is burned. "The risk lies in the fact that chilled ammonia is new and untested. On the other hand, the benefit could be very substantial if we succeed," Sael says. "This method has the potential to capture carbon dioxide with a considerably lower consumption of energy. That would reduce costs sharply."
The Norwegian energy ministry has invited a number of other companies to join the government and StatoilHydro in sharing the costs of the plant. Shell and Vattenfall will be among the six participants to share the facilities and intellectual property generated from the test centre.
Carbon storage pioneered at Sleipner since 1996
The reasons behind Norway's optimism on CCS lie in part on experience gained at the Sleipner gas platform off the Norwegian coast. Since 1996, StatoilHydro says it has already buried about 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in a sandstone formation 1,000 metres beneath the seabed. And it claims to add about 1 million tonnes to this volume every year, or the equivalent of CO2 emissions from 300,000 cars. It may be a drop in the ocean but the United Nations and the EU believe it can make a significant contribution to mitigating global warming in the future.
The roll-out of CCS at Sleipner was inspired by two things: a prohibitive carbon tax on offshore activities, introduced by Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland in 1991, and for commercial reasons as well - the natural gas at Sleipner West field contains 9% CO2 when clients required 2.5% maximum.

What Norway is now hoping for is official recognition of the Mongstad plant as one of the 12 large-scale demonstration projects that the EU plans to showcase by 2015.
But construction has been hampered because it is not yet clear whether the European Commission will allow government funding for the plant under its strict state aid rules. As a member of the European Economic Area, it is obliged to follow EU regulations.
"We are in the process of checking whether the project complies with EU state aid rules," says Ann-Kristin Hanssen, EU competition advisor for the Norway Mission to the EU in Brussels. She says environmental state aid guidelines provided by the Commission currently do not qualify CCS as an environmental project but an industrial one.
"The latest development gives us concern - that the EU's lack of environmental legislation and their regulations for state support will delay Mongstad," Minister of Petroleum and Energy Åslaug Haga told Aftenposten, a Norwegian newspaper. "At the moment there is considerable disagreement within the EU Commission about whether [CCS] is a good environmental measure. Time will tell."

My comment: I think they should have a go, but only if a proper monitoring system is provided for a third party to make sure there are no leaks.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Electricity grid could become a type of internet

Electricity grid could become a type of internet

The electricity grid could become a type of internet, in that everyone who is connected will be able to "upload and download packages of electricity" to and from the network, according to Dutch researcher Jos Meeuwsen from Eindhoven Technical University.

Meeuwsen says that growing demand for energy means that all possible energy options must be considered, because total network capacity must be increased. He identifies network and system integration and the development and implementation of new technology as the main challenges ahead.

The author foresees the step-by-step integration of energy technology, ICT and power electronics that might result in an electricity system that is similar in many ways to the internet. In such a scenario, "everyone connected to the system could […] upload and download packages of 'electrical energy' whenever they want".

The researcher identifies the technical feasibility of the centralised and/or decentralised storage of large amounts of electricity as the main obstacle to this process.

Starting from the basis that 50% of consumption originates from sustainable sources in 2007, Meeuwsen has developed three scenarios for the evolution of the Dutch electricity supply in the year 2050:

  • 'Super networks', involving large-scale production locations, transportation via high voltages, a considerable import of sustainable energy from biomass, and energy from offshore wind farms.
  • 'Hybrid networks' also involves large plants with high voltages that originate from offshore wind farms and large biomass stations, as well as small-scale generation from wind, biomass and solar sources near cities and villages.
  • The 'local scenario', dominated by local generators for small consumers (including micro-generation units, solar energy panels, small-scale neighbourhood biomass plants and land-based wind turbines), allowing large-scale production resources to be targeted at large industrial processes.
My comment: Well, that sounds fantstic, indeed. Right?

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Truths and lies about GMo

The following article got me infuriated! It's so subtly leading to a place I hate, I couldn't believe I read it! It's unbelievable what money can buy. Really unbelievable. To the author- guess what? I'll never support GMo crops, mostly because it's US selling them. I won't become a dependent of this giant parasite called Food And Drugs Regulation. I know what's good and bad for me and Monsanto is NOT! I hope every reader of my blog can pledge his/her allegiance too. Because we can fight that giant enemy only if we're united.

Now that biologists in Oregon have reported using cloning to produce a monkey embryo and extract stem cells, it looks more plausible than before that a human embryo will be cloned and that, some day, a cloned human will be born. But not necessarily on this side of the Pacific.
American and European researchers have made most of the progress so far in biotechnology. Yet they still face one very large obstacle — God, as defined by some Western religions.

While critics on the right and the left fret about the morality of stem-cell research and genetic engineering, prominent Western scientists have been going to Asia, like the geneticists Nancy Jenkins and Neal Copeland, who left the National Cancer Institute and moved last year to Singapore.

Asia offers researchers new labs, fewer restrictions and a different view of divinity and the afterlife. In South Korea, when Hwang Woo Suk reported creating human embryonic stem cells through cloning, he did not apologize for offending religious taboos. He justified cloning by citing his Buddhist belief in recycling life through reincarnation.
/Yeah, it has all to do with Buddhism and absolutely nothing-with the money and the conditions they offer them or the never ending rantings of Bush and some idiotic creationists/
When Dr. Hwang’s claim was exposed as a fraud, his research was supported by the head of South Korea’s largest Buddhist order, the Rev. Ji Kwan. The monk said research with embryos was in accord with Buddha’s precepts and urged Korean scientists not to be guided by Western ethics.
/I wanna know where exactly Buddha said cell research is fine with him. Buddhism states life is sacred and thus we have to preserve it in any way possible. What's the connection with embryos? Of Buddhism is against abortion in any stage but is fine with destroying human embryos? I so doubt that/

“Asian religions worry less than Western religions that biotechnology is about ‘playing God,’” says Cynthia Fox, the author of “Cell of Cells,” a book about the global race among stem-cell researchers. “Therapeutic cloning in particular jibes well with the Buddhist and Hindu ideas of reincarnation.”

Most of southern and eastern Asia displays relatively little opposition to either cloned embryonic stem-cell research or genetically modified crops. China, India, Singapore and other countries have enacted laws supporting embryo cloning for medical research (sometimes called therapeutic cloning, as opposed to reproductive cloning intended to recreate an entire human being). Genetically modified crops are grown in China, India and elsewhere./Which may have something to do with the political regimes in those countries or the little care they show for preserving the Nature or living healthy or with the general poverty level in those counties/

In Europe, though, genetically modified crops are taboo. Cloning human embryos for research has been legally supported in England and several other countries, but it is banned in more than a dozen others, including France and Germany. /Yeah, and it's for a reason. Because GMo crops are DANGEROUS! Because we don't want genetic contamination on our territory. Because we respect our health and our environment. And because we don't want to buy our food from USA/

In North and South America, genetically altered crops are widely used. But embryo cloning for research has been banned in most countries, including Brazil, Canada and Mexico. It has not been banned nationally in the United States, but the research is ineligible for federal financing, and some states have outlawed it./Well, South America will buy whatever USA sells it and USA, I won't even discuss it from that point of view/

Dr. Silver explains these patterns by dividing spiritual believers into three broad categories. The first, traditional Christians, predominate in the Western Hemisphere and some European countries. The second, which he calls post-Christians, are concentrated in other European countries and parts of North America, especially along the coasts. The third group are followers of Eastern religions./I don't understand one thing. Is creationism Post-Christian? Cuz if it is, oh well. Funny thing. In Europe people are moderately christian, in USA, they are majorly conservative, and you claim US is post-Christian? It's weird. I don't want to offend anyone, I know many US open-souls, I'm discussing the majority as seen in elections and decisions./

“Most people in Hindu and Buddhist countries,” Dr. Silver says, “have a root tradition in which there is no single creator God. Instead, there may be no gods or many gods, and there is no master plan for the universe. Instead, spirits are eternal and individual virtue — karma — determines what happens to your spirit in your next life. With some exceptions, this view generally allows the acceptance of both embryo research to support life and genetically modified crops.”

By contrast, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, God is the master creator who gives out new souls to each individual human being and gives humans “dominion” over soul-less plants and animals. To traditional Christians who consider an embryo to be a human being with a soul, it is wrong for scientists to use cloning to create human embryos or to destroy embryos in the course of research.

But there is no such taboo against humans’ applying cloning and genetic engineering to “lower” animals and plants. As a result, Dr. Silver says, cloned animals and genetically modified crops have not become a source of major controversy for traditional Christians. Post-Christians are more worried about the flora and fauna.

“Many Europeans, as well as leftists in America,” Dr. Silver says, “have rejected the traditional Christian God and replaced it with a post-Christian goddess of Mother Nature and a modified Christian eschatology. It isn’t a coherent belief system. It might or might not incorporate New Age thinking. But deep down, there’s a view that humans shouldn’t be tampering with the natural world.” /Um, no, it's a view that we shouldn't permit something to mess with Mother Nature before we're absolutely sure it's safe for EVERYONE AND ANYTHING. We don't think the money are enough reason to screw our own world. Or that we should eat GMo crops and bye them and seed them just because Monsanto and WTO told us so/

Hence the opposition to genetically modified food.
Because post-Christians do not necessarily share the biblical view of an omnipotent deity with the sole power to create souls, Dr. Silver says, they are less worried about scientists “playing God” in the laboratory with embryos. In places like California, residents have voted not only to allow embryo cloning for research, but also to finance it.
But sometimes the reverence for the natural world extends to embryos, leading to unlikely alliances. When conservative intellectuals like Francis Fukuyama campaigned for Congress to ban embryo cloning, some environmental activists like Jeremy Rifkin joined them. A Green Party leader in Germany, Voker Beck, referred to cloned embryonic stem-cell research as “veiled cannibalism.”

Of course, many critics of biotechnology do not explicitly use religious dogma to justify their opposition. Countries like the United States, after all, are supposed to be guided by secular constitutions, not sectarian creeds./Hahah/ So opponents of genetically modified foods focus on the possible dangers to ecosystems and human health, and committees of scientists try to resolve the debate by conducting risk analysis.

The outcome hinges more on beliefs than on scientific data. A study finding that genetically modified foods are safe might reassure traditional Christians in Kansas, but it won’t stop post-Christians in Stockholm from worrying about “Frankenfood.”/Now that's absolutely wrong. There are enough evidence to see something's wrong with GMo foods. And even if there weren't, it's not us that should prove they are dangerous, but the producers-that they are safe. This is something unnatural and new to our world. We can't know how the ecosystems will react to it. And we have to be sure. Because if something goes wrong, no one and I mean NO ONE will help us fix it. And we have nowhere else to go!/

Similarly, some leading opponents of embryo research for cloning, like Leon Kass, say they are defending not Judeo-Christian beliefs, but “human dignity.” Dr. Kass, former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, says the special status of humans described in the Book of Genesis should be heeded not because of the Bible’s authority, but because the message reflects a “cosmological truth.” /ok, I don't care about biblical arguments, so I agree on this one, it's stupid/

It is not so easy, though, to defend supposedly self-evident truths about human nature that are not evident to a large portion of humanity. Conservatives in the House of Representatives managed to pass a bill banning Americans from going overseas for stem-cell treatments derived through embryo cloning. But the bill didn’t pass the Senate.

It is by no means certain that this type of stem-cell research will ever yield treatments for diseases like Parkinson’s, but should that happen, it is hard to see how any Congress — or any law — could stop people from seeking cures.

The prospect of cloning children is much more distant, particularly now that researchers are becoming optimistic about obtaining stem cells without using embryos. For now, scientists throughout the world say they do not even want to contemplate reproductive cloning because of the risks to the child. And public-opinion polls do not show much support for it anywhere.

Even if human cloning becomes safe, there may never be much demand for it, because most people will prefer having children the old-fashioned way.

But some people may desperately want a cloned child — perhaps to replace one who died or to provide lifesaving bone marrow for a sibling — and won’t be dissuaded, no matter how many Christians or post-Christians try to stop them. To reach this frontier, they may just go east.
Source:NY Times

My comment: I'm not against gen. modifications at all. I really think this is the future. But here, it's not only about faith. I don't think GMo foods are safe for the moment. I don't think the technology is on the level for that kind of things to be let out safely in the whole world. Because there's no back up. We really have to be sure about what we're doing. And fact is-we're not. At all. Some people claim it's safe, some- it's not. But there is no clear evidence of either. Then I think we have to wait and see more tests and results. We have to be as sure as we ca n get. And in the battle with GMo it's not all about technology. It's a battle of the markets- if you seed them once, you polluted your land for ever (or at least measurable ever) and there's no going back. You can't just reverse to natural. Because you can't control genes as they are transferred in natural pollination or wind or whatever. They are our of your reach. And those companies knows it. Not to mention the funny fact that you can't create something to resist all the natural screw-ups in few years when the Nature took millions of years to find the best balance. That's why I'm against anything that could harm this balance in unpredicted and probably undesired way. As for embryos-i'm pro. It sounds nasty, but it's much more sterile in the lab. No feelings involved. It's not something alive, it's just a possibility for life. And on religion- I don't think there are many scientists that share the common beliefs and live but the common rules. Science requires more generous view on life. So all those arguments go to the societies, not scientists. And societies care about what you tell them to. That's it.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Modifying genetically trees

Aiming to turn trees into new energy sources, scientists are using a controversial genetic engineering process to change the composition of the wood. A major goal is to reduce the amount of lignin, a chemical compound that interferes with efforts to turn the tree’s cellulose into biofuels like ethanol.

Vincent L. Chiang, co-director of the forest biotechnology group at North Carolina State University, has developed transgenic trees with as little as half the lignin of their natural counterparts. “I think the transgenic tree with low lignin will contribute significantly to energy needs,” he said.

Environmentalists say such work can be risky, because lignin provides trees with structural stiffness and resistance to pests. Even some scientists working on altering wood composition acknowledge that reducing lignin too much could lead to wobbly, vulnerable trees.
People working in the field also acknowledge that they will face resistance from others who see trees as majestic symbols of pristine nature that should not be genetically altered like corn and soybeans.

Ethanol is mainly made from the starch in corn kernels. To increase the supply to make a dent in the nation’s energy picture, scientists are looking at using cellulose, a component of the cell wall in plants.

Proponents of using trees for this say they are good sources of cellulose and are also good at absorbing carbon dioxide, helping to fight global warming. Also, trees can be cut as needed rather than having to be harvested at a given time each year like a crop.

But the cellulose is covered by lignin, another component of the cell wall, making it difficult for enzymes to reach the cellulose and break it down into simple sugars that can be converted to ethanol. Pulp and paper companies break down lignin using acids and steam. Ethanol producers would have to do the same.

Trees that have less lignin might reduce or eliminate these steps. That could save at least 10 cents a gallon in ethanol costs, said Michael Ladisch, director of the Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering at Purdue.

Genetically modifying forest trees raises questions beyond those of crops. Trees can establish themselves in the wild, while corn would have trouble surviving without a farmer’s tender care.

A biologist, Claire Williams, said the wind could carry pollen from some trees like pines hundreds of miles, making it difficult to prevent a trait like reduced lignin from spreading to wild trees.

Dr. Williams, who works for the State Department but was interviewed while she was working at Duke, said the long life spans of trees made it “almost impossible to evaluate the long-term consequences of transgenic trees.”
source:NY TIMES
My comment: Guess what! I'm from the tree-lovers. From those that respect their beauty and strength. From those that consider them a bridge to our Mother Earth. And I hate that article. Yeah, let's modify anything that could produce money, to make even more money. To hell with the Nature. Why not pollute any organism on Earth if we'll have enough money to have an island and to populate it with the purest and nicest flora and fauna. Are you fucking crazy??? Leave the trees alone! You can't even modify corn properly, don't touch the trees!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Long live the gene research

Scientists Bypass Need for Embryo to Get Stem Cells

Two teams of scientists reported yesterday that they had turned human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without having to make or destroy an embryo — a feat that could quell the ethical debate troubling the field.

All they had to do, the scientists said, was add four genes. The genes reprogrammed the chromosomes of the skin cells, making the cells into blank slates that should be able to turn into any of the 220 cell types of the human body, be it heart, brain, blood or bone. Until now, the only way to get such human universal cells was to pluck them from a human embryo several days after fertilization, destroying the embryo in the process.

The need to destroy embryos has made stem cell research one of the most divisive issues in American politics.

The reprogrammed skin cells may yet prove to have subtle differences from embryonic stem cells that come directly from human embryos, and the new method includes potentially risky steps, like introducing a cancer gene. But stem cell researchers say they are confident that it will not take long to perfect the method and that today’s drawbacks will prove to be temporary.

Researchers and ethicists not involved in the findings say the work, conducted by independent teams from Japan and Wisconsin, should reshape the stem cell field.

The new method sidesteps other ethical quandaries, creating stem cells that genetically match the donor without having to resort to cloning or the requisite donation of women’s eggs. Genetically matched cells would not be rejected by the immune system if used as replacement tissues for patients. Even more important, scientists say, is that genetically matched cells from patients would enable them to study complex diseases, like Alzheimer’s, in the laboratory.

Until now, the only way most scientists thought such patient-specific stem cells could be made would be to create embryos that were clones of that person and extract their stem cells.

With the new method, human cloning for stem cell research, like the creation of human embryos to extract stem cells, may be unnecessary. The new cells in theory might be turned into an embryo, but not by simply implanting them in a womb.

For all the hopes invested in it over the last decade, embryonic stem cell research has moved slowly, with no cures or major therapeutic discoveries in sight.

The new work could allow the field to vault significant problems, including the shortage of human embryonic stem cells and restrictions on federal financing for such research. Even when scientists have other sources of financing, they report that it is expensive and difficult to find women who will provide eggs for such research.

The new discovery is being published online today in Cell, in a paper by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco, and in Science, in a paper by James A. Thomson and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin.

While both groups used just four genes to reprogram human skin cells, two of the genes used differed from group to group. All the genes in question, though, act in a similar way — they are master regulator genes whose role is to turn other genes on or off.

The reprogrammed cells, the scientists report, appear to behave very much like human embryonic stem cells but were called “induced pluripotent stem cells,” meaning cells that can change into many different types.

“By any means we test them they are the same as embryonic stem cells,” Dr. Thomson says.

He and Dr. Yamanaka caution, though, that they still must confirm that the reprogrammed human skin cells really are the same as stem cells they get from embryos. And while those studies are under way, Dr. Thomson and others say, it would be premature to abandon research with stem cells taken from human embryos.

Another caveat is that, so far, scientists use a type of virus, a retrovirus, to insert the genes into the cells’ chromosomes. Retroviruses slip genes into chromosomes at random, sometimes causing mutations that can make normal cells turn into cancers.
One gene used by the Japanese scientists actually is a cancer gene.

The cancer risk means that the resulting stem cells would not be suitable for replacement cells or tissues for patients with diseases, like diabetes, in which their own cells die. But they would be ideal for the sort of studies that many researchers say are the real promise of this endeavor — studying the causes and treatments of complex diseases.

But even the retrovirus drawback may be temporary, scientists say. Dr. Yamanaka and several other researchers are trying to get the same effect by adding chemicals or using more benign viruses to get the genes into cells. They say they are starting to see success.

The new discovery was preceded by work in mice. Last year, Dr. Yamanaka published a paper showing that he could add four genes to mouse cells and turn them into mouse embryonic stem cells.

He even completed the ultimate test to show that the resulting stem cells could become any type of mouse cell. He used them to create new mice. Twenty percent of those mice, though, developed cancer, illustrating the risk of using retroviruses and a cancer gene to make cells for replacement parts.

With cloning, researchers put an adult cell’s chromosomes into an unfertilized egg whose genetic material was removed. The egg, by some mysterious process, then does all the work. It reprograms the adult cell’s chromosomes, bringing them back to the state they were in just after the egg was fertilized. A few days later, a ball of stem cells emerges in the embryo, and every cell of the embryo, including its stem cells, is an exact genetic match of the adult.

The abiding questions, though, were: How did the egg reprogram the adult cell’s chromosomes? Would it be possible to reprogram an adult cell without using an egg?

About four years ago, Dr. Yamanaka and Dr. Thomson independently hit upon the same idea. They would search for genes that are being used in an embryonic stem cell that are not being used in an adult cell. Then they would see if those genes would reprogram an adult cell.
source:NY Times

My comment:
I think it's great they finally found a way around embryos. Not that I had anything against the work with them. I don't consider something that couldn't even be seen with my eye and has no brain or heart a human being. But all that fuss around the work was very disarming. Science need social support or it gets in the wrong direction. Ethics in science is a wrong question-anything that doesn't directly harm a human being should be fine. A scientist can't bear the burden of the consequences of his/her discovery or nobody will every publish or work on controversial subjects. So it's wrong to bring in that question.

But this new discovery is very optimistic, because scientists finally managed to work with genes in a effective way, they're getting into the core of the cell reproduction. And this is extremely important! The more understanding we can get, the sooner we'll be able to see the real, life-changing results. And that was the point, right?

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

The human genome promise to earn some people some money

Again, thanks to NY Times, please read the following article I'll be quoting as it's extremely fun and interesting.
An infant industry is capitalizing on the plunging cost of genetic testing technology to offer any individual unprecedented — and unmediated — entree to their own DNA.
For as little as $1,000 and a saliva sample, customers will be able to learn what is known so far about how the billions of bits in their biological code shape who they are. Three companies have already announced plans to market such services, one yesterday.

Offered the chance to be among the early testers, I agreed, but not without reservations. What if I learned I was likely to die young? Or that I might have passed on a rogue gene to my daughter? And more pragmatically, what if an insurance company or an employer used such information against me in the future?

But three weeks later, I was already somewhat addicted to the daily communion with my genes. (Recurring note to self: was this addiction genetic?)

For example, my hands hurt the other day. So naturally, I checked my DNA.

Was this the first sign that I had inherited the arthritis that gnarled my paternal grandmother’s hard-working fingers? Logging onto my account at 23andMe, the start-up company that is now my genetic custodian, I typed my search into the “Genome Explorer” and hit return. I was, in essence, Googling my own DNA.

I had spent hours every day doing just that as new studies linking bits of DNA to diseases and aspects of appearance, temperament and behavior came out on an almost daily basis. At times, surfing my genome induced the same shock of recognition that comes when accidentally catching a glimpse of oneself in the mirror.

I had refused to drink milk growing up. Now, it turns out my DNA is devoid of the mutation that eases the digestion of milk after infancy, which became common in Europeans after the domestication of cows.

But it could also make me question my presumptions about myself. Apparently I lack the predisposition for good verbal memory, although I had always prided myself on my ability to recall quotations. Should I be recording more of my interviews? No, I decided; I remember what people say. DNA is not definitive.

I don’t like brussels sprouts. Who knew it was genetic? But I have the snippet of DNA that gives me the ability to taste a compound that makes many vegetables taste bitter. I differ from people who are blind to bitter taste — who actually like brussels sprouts — by a single spelling change in our four-letter genetic alphabet: somewhere on human chromosome 7, I have a G where they have a C.

It is one of roughly 10 million tiny differences, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs (pronounced “snips”) scattered across the 23 pairs of human chromosomes from which 23andMe takes its name. The company generated a list of my “genotypes” — AC’s, CC’s, CT’s and so forth, based on which versions of every SNP I have on my collection of chromosome pairs.

For instance, I tragically lack the predisposition to eat fatty foods and not gain weight. But people who, like me, are GG at the SNP known to geneticists as rs3751812 are 6.3 pounds lighter, on average, than the AA’s. Thanks, rs3751812!

And if an early finding is to be believed, my GG at rs6602024 mean that I am an additional 10 pounds lighter than those whose genetic Boggle served up a different spelling. Good news, except that now I have only my slothful ways to blame for my inability to fit into my old jeans.

And although there is great controversy about the role that genes play in shaping intelligence, it was hard to resist looking up the SNPs that have been linked — however tenuously — to I.Q. Three went in my favor, three against. But I found hope in a study that appeared last week describing a SNP strongly linked with an increase in the I.Q. of breast-fed babies.

Babies with the CC or CG form of the SNP apparently benefit from a fatty acid found only in breast milk, while those with the GG form do not. My CC genotype meant that I had been eligible for the 6-point I.Q. boost when my mother breast-fed me. And because, by the laws of genetics, my daughter had to have inherited one of my C’s, she, too, would see the benefit of my having nursed her. Now where did I put those preschool applications?

I was not always so comfortable in my own genome. Before I spit into the vial, I called several major insurance companies to see if I was hurting my chances of getting coverage. They said no, but that is now, when almost no one has such information about their genetic make-up. In five years, if companies like 23andMe are at all successful, many more people presumably would. And isn’t an individual’s relative risk of disease precisely what insurance companies want to know?

Last month, alone in a room at 23andMe’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., with my password for the first time, I wavered (genetic?) and walked down the hall to get lunch.

Once I looked at my results, I could never turn back. I had prepared for the worst of what I could learn this day. But what if something even worse came along tomorrow?

Some health care providers argue that the public is unprepared for such information and that it is irresponsible to provide it without an expert to help put it in context. And at times, as I worked up the courage to check on my risks of breast cancer and Alzheimer’s, I could see their point.
One of the companies that plans to market personal DNA information, Navigenics, intends to provide a phone consultation with a genetic counselor along with the results. Its service would cost $2,500 and would initially provide data on 20 health conditions.
DeCODE Genetics and 23andMe will offer referrals. Although what they can tell you is limited right now, all three companies are hoping that people will be drawn by the prospect of instant updates on what is expected to be a flood of new findings.

My comment: Isn't this great? I mean utterly great? I absolutely don't believe in the dominance of genes, I think it's our awareness that chooses and decides and nothing else. But still, great many good effects may come from here- knowing your genetically weak sides you can work out a way to minimize any health-risk or to iron our the effects of different neuro-chemistry leading to more explosive or passive character. We'll be able to explore to the maximum our life! Isn't it enough to make you dream? To see the world without body-hair or without major diseases or without premature death. A life that doesn't have to be over at 65! A life that can continue as long as we like. It sounds so sci-fie I simply couldn't not post it here.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

From ants to collective sentinence

Americans spend a 3.7 billion hours a year in congested traffic. But you will never see ants stuck in gridlock.

Army ants, which Dr. Couzin has spent much time observing in Panama, are particularly good at moving in swarms. If they have to travel over a depression in the ground, they erect bridges so that they can proceed as quickly as possible.

“They build the bridges with their living bodies,” said Dr. Couzin, a mathematical biologist at Princeton University and the University of Oxford. “They build them up if they’re required, and they dissolve if they’re not being used.”

The reason may be that the ants have had a lot more time to adapt to living in big groups. “We haven’t evolved in the societies we currently live in,” Dr. Couzin said.

By studying army ants — as well as birds, fish, locusts and other swarming animals — Dr. Couzin and his colleagues are starting to discover simple rules that allow swarms to work so well. Those rules allow thousands of relatively simple animals to form a collective brain able to make decisions and move like a single organism.

Dr. Couzin has discovered some of those rules in the ways that locusts begin to form their devastating swarms. The insects typically crawl around on their own, but sometimes young locusts come together in huge bands that march across the land, devouring everything in their path.

The scientists found that when the density of locusts rose beyond a threshold, the insects suddenly began to move together. Each locust always tried to align its own movements with any neighbor. When the locusts were widely spaced, however, this rule did not have much effect on them. Only when they had enough neighbors did they spontaneously form huge bands.

Swarms, regardless of the forces that bring them together, have a remarkable ability to act like a collective mind. A swarm navigates as a unit, making decisions about where to go and how to escape predators together.

“There’s a swarm intelligence,” Dr. Couzin said. “You can see how people thought there was some sort of telekinesis involved.”

What makes this collective decision-making all the more puzzling is that each individual can behave only based on its own experience.

Dr. Couzin and his colleagues have built a model of the flow of information through swarms. Each individual has to balance two instincts: to stay with the group and to move in a desired direction. The scientists found that just a few leaders can guide a swarm effectively. They do not even need to send any special signals to the animals around them. They create a bias in the swarm’s movement that steers it in a particular direction.

Dr. Couzin and his colleagues have been finding support for this model in real groups of animals. They have even found support in studies on mediocre swarmers — humans.

As Dr. Couzin’s model predicted, the human swarm made a quick, unconscious decision about which way to go. People tended to follow the largest group of leaders, even if it contained only

The rules of the swarm may also apply to the cells inside our bodies. Dr. Couzin is working with cancer biologists to discover the rules by which cancer cells work together to build tumors or migrate through tissues. Even brain cells may follow the same rules for collective behavior seen in locusts or additional person.

“How does your brain take this information and come to a collective decision about what you’re seeing?” Dr. Couzin said. The answer, he suspects, may lie in our inner swarm.
(source-NY Times)

My comment: I'm completely overwhelmed by this article. It makes so much sense to me on so much levels, I'm just beginning to comprehend it little by little. I'm gonna post something on it in After The Pink Goat so make sure you check it. It's gonna be big, you can be sure on this! I just want to urge you to read the whole article in NY Times as it's very very interesting and has so much in it, I barely managed to paste some key moments. Just a little comment on it: What really impressed me is that no matter of the motives behind being in a swarm, the swarm acts like a different entity. And that you need very simply mathematical model to describe that behaviour or to simulate it. Isn't it magnificent we can't optimize the traffic with the brute force of complex models but we can with very simple ones? I think it is!

Friday, 23 November 2007

Algae: The Alternative-Energy Dream Fuel

Reading trough EuroAktiv for I found the current very surprising article. Surprising because I never heard a word on the issue. Which is odd. Anyway, if it's true, then well...GREAT! I wonder who prefers to not put algae on the spotlight...

Algae: The Alternative-Energy Dream Fuel

Algae are set to eclipse all other biofuel feedstocks as the cheapest, easiest, and most environmentally friendly means of producing liquid fuel for cars, homes and power generators, according to a report by market analyst Kiplinger.

Algae require only sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to grow. They can quadruple in biomass in just one day. And, what's more, they suck up harmful pollutants such as nitrogen from waste water and carbon dioxide from power plants as they grow.

Some strains of algae contain over 50% oil and an average acre of algae grown today for food and pharmaceutical industries can yield around 19,000 litres of biodiesel, compared to just 265 litres for one acre of soya beans or 1,600 litres of ethanol for an acre of corn.

"Your bang for your buck is just bigger because you can really do this on a much smaller amount of land and yet yield much, much higher biomass," Michael Atkins, CEO of Ocean Technology & Environmental Consulting (OTEC) told Kiplinger.

However, the difficult part is creating an optimal environment for algae to grow, states the report. Indeed, open ponds can easily be infiltrated and contaminated by other species and parameters essential to growth, such as temperature, light and salinity levels, cannot really be controlled.

Large-scale photobioreactors – enclosed systems that produce algae in layer upon layer of tubes or shallow ponds – can offer a solution to these problems, and, although they still come with a high price tag – from €3.5 million to €7 million – Kiplinger analysts consider that "super efficient production and higher oil yields help offset the costs".

They conclude that further research will also help reduce costs so that the large-scale commercial production of algae fuel could be just five years away. (source)

Links: Algae: The Alternative-Energy Dream FuelPdf
Better Than Corn? Algae Set to Beat Out Other Biofuel Feedstocks
Ain't that COOL!

Monday, 19 November 2007

Saudi King Tries to Grow Modern Ideas in Desert

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 25 — On a marshy peninsula 50 miles from this Red Sea port, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is staking $12.5 billion on a gargantuan bid to catch up with the West in science and technology.

Between an oil refinery and the sea, the monarch is building from scratch a graduate research institution that will have one of the 10 largest endowments in the world, worth more than $10 billion.

Its planners say men and women will study side by side in an enclave walled off from the rest of Saudi society, the country’s notorious religious police will be barred and all religious and ethnic groups will be welcome in a push for academic freedom and international collaboration sure to test the kingdom’s cultural and religious limits.

This undertaking is directly at odds with the kingdom’s religious establishment, which severely limits women’s rights and rejects coeducation and robust liberal inquiry as unthinkable.

For the new institution, the king has cut his own education ministry out the loop, hiring the state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco to build the campus, create its curriculum and attract foreigners.

Supporters of what is to be called the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, or Kaust, wonder whether the king is simply building another gated island to be dominated by foreigners, like the compounds for oil industry workers that have existed here for decades, or creating an institution that will have a real impact on Saudi society and the rest of the Arab world.

“There are two Saudi Arabias,” said Jamal Khashoggi, the editor of Al Watan, a newspaper. “The question is which Saudi Arabia will take over.”

The king has broken taboos, declaring that the Arabs have fallen critically behind much of the modern world in intellectual achievement and that his country depends too much on oil and not enough on creating wealth through innovation.

“There is a deep knowledge gap separating the Arab and Islamic nations from the process and progress of contemporary global civilization,” said Abdallah S. Jumah, the chief executive of Saudi Aramco. “We are no longer keeping pace with the advances of our era.”

Traditional Saudi practice is on display at the biggest public universities, where the Islamic authorities vet the curriculum, medical researchers tread carefully around controversial subjects like evolution, and female and male students enter classrooms through separate doors and follow lectures while separated by partitions.

Old-fashioned values even seeped into the carefully staged groundbreaking ceremony on Sunday for King Abdullah’s new university, at which organizers distributed an issue of the magazine The Economist with a special advertisement for the university wrapped around the cover. State censors had physically torn from each copy an article about Saudi legal reform titled “Law of God Versus Law of Man,” leaving a jagged edge.

Despite the obstacles, the king intends to make the university a showcase for modernization. The festive groundbreaking and accompanying symposium about the future of the modern university were devised partly as a recruiting tool for international academics.

“Getting the faculty will be the biggest challenge,” said Ahmed F. Ghoniem, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is consulting for the new university. “That will make it or break it.”

The king is lavishing the institution not only with money, but also with his full political endorsement, intended to stave off internal challenges from conservatives and to win over foreign scholars who doubt that academic freedom can thrive here.

The new project is giving hope to Saudi scholars who until the king’s push to reform education in the last few years have endured stagnant research budgets and continue to face extensive government red tape.

Even in the most advanced genetics labs at King Abdulaziz, the women wear full face coverings, and female students can meet with male advisers only in carefully controlled public “free zones” like the library. Scientists there tread carefully when they do research in genetics, stem cells or evolution, for fear of offending Islamic social mores.

Upon completion, the energy-efficient campus will house 20,000 faculty and staff members, students and their families. Social rules will be more relaxed, as they are in the compounds where foreign oil workers live; women will be allowed to drive, for example. But the kingdom’s laws will still apply: Israelis, barred by law from visiting Saudi Arabia, will not be able to collaborate with the university. And one staple of campus life worldwide will be missing: alcohol.

Suhair el-Quraпазена

shi, dean of the private all-female Dar Al Hekma College, often attacked as “bad” and “liberal,” said a vigorous example of free-thinking at the university would embolden the many Saudis who back the king’s quest to reform long-stagnant higher education.

My comment: That's awesome! Really! Let's hope that will be the beginning of the progress among the Arabs. It's high time to see the fruits of a society that took so different direction than ours. I'm eager to see it. And if the scientists are safe there, I'd go.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Largest extrasolar planetary system discovered

A fifth planet has been discovered around a nearby star, making it the largest planetary system known outside our own. The planet appears to be a gas giant like Saturn, but scientists say any large moons it may have could potentially host life, since the planet lies in the "habitable" zone around its star, where liquid water can exist.

The planet was discovered around a star called 55 Cancri that is about 41 light years away from Earth and is slightly cooler and dimmer than our own Sun.

The 55 Cancri system was already known to include four other planets, including three giant planets that orbit the star closer than Mercury orbits the Sun. The fourth is four times as massive as Jupiter and orbits at about Jupiter's distance from the Sun.

All of those planets were discovered by the way their gravity tugs on the parent star, a technique called the radial-velocity method.

Now,astronomers have used the same method to discover a fifth planet that lies between the hot, close-in planets and the frigid distant one. The discovery was made by researchers led by Debra Fischer of San Francisco State University in California and Geoff Marcy of the University of California in Berkeley, both in the US.

The new planet, called 55 Cancri f, orbits the star at a distance of 117 million kilometres, about 8% farther than Venus is from our Sun, putting it in the right zone for liquid water to exist. Watch an animation of an imaginary journey from our solar system to 55 Cancri, with a tour of the five-planet system that ends at the newly discovered planet in the star's habitable zone.

My comment: Yay, yay and yay again! I can't stop connecting it with Peter Hamilton's Common Wealth- all those planets where humans can evolve and create a world for their own. And it's not that far! Only 41 light years! With some gravitational acceleration, we could reach it in a life-time or two! Isn't it worth living for? Seeing a totally new, Earth-like planet! What if there's life. What if they are expecting us :) Not probable, but very possible! I can't stop myself dreaming about a moment like this!

(source-New Scientist)

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Robots, robots and robots...ok, and little brain stuff

Ok, few steps closer to the AI. Check out the progress in robotics. And on the bottom, you can find an amazing progress in stem research. My personal nightmare being the breaking neck now finally can find a cure. Which is amazing. The door to true progress in our health is opening!

Sensitive robot knows when it has punched you

Sami Haddadin's robot regularly hits him in the face.The blows are no accident. Haddadin is part of a research team at the German Aerospace Centre Space Agency (DLR) in Oberpfaffenhofen aiming to transform industrial robots from insensitive drones into smart machines that can work alongside humans. He is testing the first industrial robot capable of sensing when it hits someone.

"Accidents happen," he says. "We have to accept that when people start to work more closely with robots they will sometimes hit people."

Combining human and robot skills could help a range of industries unable to benefit from existing robots, says Ken Young.

Giggling robot becomes one of the kids

Computers might not be clever enough to trick adults into thinking they are intelligent yet, but a new study shows that a giggling robot is sophisticated enough to get toddlers to treat it as a peer.

An experiment led by Javier Movellan at the University of California San Diego, US, is the first long-term study of interaction between toddlers and robots.

The researchers stationed a 2-foot-tall robot called QRIO (pronounced "curio"), and developed by Sony, in a classroom of a dozen toddlers aged between 18 months and two years.

QRIO stayed in the middle of the room using its sensors to avoid bumping the kids or the walls. It was initially programmed to giggle when the kids touched its head, to occasionally sit down, and to lie down when its batteries died. A human operator could also make the robot turn its gaze towards a child or wave as they went away.

In fact, the kids warmed to the robot over several weeks, eventually interacting with QRIO in much the same way they did with other toddlers. (source)

Stem cell shots restore lost memory

Stem cell injections might restore memory lost through strokes, Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases - at least that's what experiments in mice suggest.

In previous studies transplanted neural stem cells survived and integrated into brain circuitry, says Mathew Blurton-Jones, a member of the team carrying out the experiments at the University of California at Irvine. "We've now gone one stage further in showing that once integrated, these new neurons are able to reverse cognitive deficits associated with neurodegeneration or neuronal loss," he says.


China special: The backbone of spinal research

WHEN Yang Gui-rong was taken to the Chengdu Army Kunming General Hospital more than a year ago, after an accident diving into a pool, he could move only his mouth and eyes and was struggling to breathe. Surgeons transplanted fetal cells into the injured spinal cord in Yang's broken neck. With intensive rehabilitation, he slowly regained feeling and movement in his arms. "Now his progress is visible almost on a daily basis." (source)

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Thursday, 1 November 2007

NASA’s Hidden Air Safety Survey

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which has a mandate to enhance the safety of air travel, has been suppressing huge quantities of data that apparently show the risks for civilian aircraft are much higher than commonly estimated. The agency’s lame excuses for refusing to release the information must make any traveler wonder how bad the implications might be.

Several years ago, NASA began interviewing airline and general aviation pilots about how often they saw risky incidents, like near collisions, or stressful last- second changes in landing instructions. Some 24,000 interviews were conducted over a four-year period before the program, and plans to interview air traffic controllers, flight attendants and mechanics, were scrapped.

When The Associated Press sought the data under the Freedom of Information Act, the request was rejected by a high NASA official. He said releasing the data “could materially affect the public confidence in, and the commercial welfare of, the air carriers and general aviation companies whose pilots participated in the survey.”

One person familiar with the results told The A.P. that that pilots reported at least twice as many bird strikes, near midair collisions and runway incursions as other government monitoring systems show. Another person involved in the survey told us that the rates were higher than government regulators had been recording.

NASA now says the study was designed to develop a survey methodology, not to assess air carrier safety.


My comment: Oh,my! I knew it! It' Now, I know every profession has its risks and that it often happens to avoid an incident and this is perfectly all right. What bothers me is that NASA withhold such information and that no one makes the effort to ensure safer flights. I don't fly often, but when I do, I feel terrible. I can't stop myself thinking what if. Because I'm aware how many details there are in a plane and how little safe mechanisms to prevent the worst. Should NASA protect the interest of air-travel companies or ours? And anyway, can't we come up with other way to move on our planet. Ok, we have to fly, cuz it's fastest but...I'm not sure that the technology level in planes is enough for the amount of their use. Or, ok, to say it clearly.....planes should be the safest way of travel. The 100% death rate in a crash is no good. I can deal with the possibility of a crash. I can't deal with the 100% death rate. I want to know that even in the worst case, I still have a chance to survive. Just a chance!

Friday, 26 October 2007

How polution sepparates the fishes

A contaminant found in rivers and estuaries the world over can "rob" fish of their ability to sense each other and stay in a tight, cohesive shoal, say researchers.

The chemical, 4-nonylphenol, does this by overpowering the fish's natural smell-signatures, say researchers. And because these signatures are critical to helping the fish form in groups, the chemical effectively weakens their "strength in numbers" defence against predators.

"The loss of the ability to shoal cohesively is serious business for fish. It's a defensive strategy. If fish can't shoal properly, they are extremely vulnerable to predation," says Ashley Ward at the University of Sydney, Australia, who led the study.

Nonylphenol or 4-NP is widely used in soaps, sewage treatment, and in some pesticides. They are known to affect human and animal hormonal systems, and can "feminise" fish, causing males to produce typically female proteins.

In developed nations, the maximum concentration deemed "permissible" is between 0.5 and 1 microgram per litre of water, because fish do not show signs of stress at this level. In European rivers, typical concentrations range from 0.1 to 340 micrograms per litre.

Other experiments suggested that the reason the fish shoals were not as tightly grouped in the presence of 4-NP was that the chemical was masking the fish's own smell. "Shoaling fish develop a chemical profile based on their recent habitat and diet – they smell of what they eat and where they have been, just like us," explains Ward. "They prefer to shoal with fish that smell similar to themselves."

But 4-NP is a lipophillic compound, meaning it tends to stick to oily surfaces – a fish, for example. "It seems that it might 'coat' the fish," says Ward. This changes their individual chemical signature and breaks down recognition among the fish.

Ward and his team point out that other chemicals, heavy metals for example, damage the olfactory organs of fish. They say that in polluted waters, chemicals like 4-NP and heavy metals could both be present, one affecting the way that fish smell, the other their ability to smell.

My comment: I think it's particularly important for humans to understand the global effect of their actions on the surrounding medium. Because we're used to judje only by what we see, but in Nature everything is connected and even small deviations can lead to drastic changes. This survey is good example of which. I hope this will make people think again before polluting water with all kind of sh*t. We have to protect what we have, because we're gonna lose it!

Thursday, 25 October 2007

The origin of happiness...

Brain scans obtained using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) revealed that reflecting on both past and future events activated the amygdala and the the rostral anterior cingulated cortex (rACC) areas, both of which sit deep in the middle of the brain. However, positive events – and particularly those imagined in the future – elicited a significantly bigger brain response in these regions than reflecting on negative events.

Tali Sharot, a co-author of the new study now based at the University College London, UK, notes that the more pessimistic subjects in the trial had less activation of these brain areas than their optimistic counterparts when imagining happy events.

All this has led the researchers to suspect that the amygdala and rACC play an important role in signalling cheerful thoughts.

"What's striking is that these appear to be the same areas implicated in depression," says Phelps. Previous research has suggested that patients with depression have decreased nerve signalling in the rACC and amygdala.

Drevets notes that autopsies performed on severely depressed patients found fewer cells than normal in the rACC and amygdala. He says the new findings from Phelps’s study could perhaps explain why people with depression often have an absence of positive thoughts.

If future studies of depressed patients confirm a link between this mood disorder and abnormal activity in the amygdala and rACC, then doctors might one day use brain scans to diagnose this illness and alter therapy to act more directly on these brain regions, the researchers speculate.
My comment: You know how in sci fi novels people can see/hear/feel/taste via their virtual drive? I think such researches set us on the right foot for such experiences. Because we can't even start creating such technologies before becoming aware of the way our brain process infromation and create our perception of reality. So, let's see how far that research will take us.

The beginning of telemedecine

The European Commission has called for experts to share their views on telemedicine as part of policy proposals on innovative technologies for chronic disease management due next year.

In view of publishing a communication on telemedicine and innovative technologies for chronic disease management in September next year, the Commission launched, on 11 October, a public consultation to gather expertise from different member states on the issue.

The Commission is thus inviting experts to share their experience and give concrete examples of their main achievements in the field. Experts are encouraged to detail their reasons - geographical, skills shortages or the need for complementary expertise.

Another aim of the consultation is to consider eventual obstacles linked to patient reimbursement, acceptance from the medical community and legal problems encountered in developing these technologies.

The consultation is open until 26 October and the responses will help structure the TeleHealth 2007 conference, due to take place on 11 December. source

My comment: I'm very very pro this idea! Because waiting for ours for your GP to see you and doing so just to take a paper for a regular on the gynecologist or regular blood test, it's just outrages. Such a waste of time. And not to mention all the retired people who has to go there every month to get the same medicines, because nothing has changed for them. It's the ultimate idiotisme. It would be so easy if you just make a video chat with your doctor, explain what you want and if all it's fine, just move to the next level. It'll save money, time and common respect to all involved.

Monday, 22 October 2007

News from NewScientist

Speeding up fat metabolism may prevent diabetes

RAMPING up fat metabolism doesn't just stop weight gain - it could also prevent type 2 diabetes.

Previous studies had shown that mice engineered to lack an enzyme called acetyl-CoA carboxylase 2 (ACC2) deposited less fat in their tissues, despite eating up to 40 per cent more than normal mice. Because fatty deposits around the liver can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, removing ACC2 should also protect mice from diabetes.

There was a catch, however. For years, researchers had thought that burning more fat meant less carbohydrate would be used up. "This is the Randle hypothesis," says James Ntambi at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "In one metabolic pathway you generate intermediates that inhibit the enzymes of the other metabolic pathway."

If this was the case, removing ACC2 could cause carbohydrate levels to rise - leading to excessively high blood sugar, insulin resistance and so on...


Lap dancers 'in heat' are the ones to watch

Last month, biologist Randy Thornhill challenged the orthodoxy that women do not undergo regular bouts of hormone-induced oestrus, or "heat", when they are at their most fertile - something most female mammals experience (New Scientist, 15 September, p 18). Now a study of the tips men give to lap dancers, conducted by a colleague of Thornhill's, lends further support to the argument for oestrus.

Geoffrey Miller and his team at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, compared the earnings of lap dancers who were menstruating naturally with those of dancers taking the hormonal contraceptive pill. During the non-fertile periods of their menstrual cycle, both sets of dancers earned similar tips. But when naturally cycling lap dancers entered their fertile period they earned significantly more in tips than their co-workers on the pill.

This is the first evidence that oestrus, and its influence on attractiveness, has "a real effect on women's earnings", says Miller.

However, even on non-fertile days lap dancers with natural menstrual cycles still earned reasonable tips, reinforcing the idea that men are clearly paying for the lap-dancing experience rather than for any perceived opportunity to procreate.

"Previous research has shown that women's faces, scent and clothing become more attractive in oestrus," Miller notes. For example, earlier this year, Martie Haselton at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that women were judged to dress more attractively during their fertile periods, although the correlation was slight. Other studies show women become more confident during oestrus, says Thornhill. In the context of lap dancing, that may subtly change their behaviour and make them more appealing to clients.


Virtual human has a roving eye

Virtual characters that meet your gaze just like a human have been developed by speech and cognition scientists in France.

New software lets them to look at scenes and people the way humans do. The goal is to make virtual humans and perhaps humanoid robots easier to relate to. A video (see right) shows one of their characters playing a game that involves looking at cards and a researcher.

We all know how uncomfortable it feels when we talk to someone who doesn't hold eye contact with us, or holds it too much. Virtual characters and robots are even worse – leading to stilted encounters.

Humans and other animals do not steadily scan a scene. Instead, our eyes constantly dart around in rapid unconscious jerks known as 'saccades'. They pin-point interesting parts of the scene the brain uses to build up a 'mental map'.

Gérard Bailly and colleagues in the GIPSA Lab at the Institut National Polytechnique de Grenoble, France, have developed software that mimics human gaze patterns. Their characters are capable of saccades, tracking moving objects like humans, and fixing their gaze on the same features as humans for similar periods.


Are mirrors the best way to deflect asteroids?

Focusing sunlight onto an asteroid with space-based mirrors is the best way to deflect Earth-bound space rocks, a new study finds. The mirrors beat out nuclear blasts and "gravity tractors" in the study, which compared nine different deflection methods.

Asteroids larger than 5 kilometres across – such as the one that killed off the dinosaurs – hit Earth about once every 6 million years. But smaller space rocks spanning about 140 metres strike more often, about once every 5000, and they can cause significant damage.

Now, researchers led by Massimiliano Vasile of the University of Glasgow in Scotland have compared nine of the many methods proposed to ward off such objects, including blasting them with nuclear explosions.

The team assessed the methods according to three performance criteria: the amount of change each method would make to the asteroid's orbit, the amount of warning time needed and the mass of the spacecraft needed for the mission.

The method that came out on top was a swarm of mirror-carrying spacecraft. The spacecraft would be launched from Earth to hover near the asteroid and concentrate sunlight onto a point on the asteroid's surface.

Vaporise surface

In this way, they would heat the asteroid's surface to more than 2100° C, enough to start vaporising it. As the gases spewed from the asteroid, they would create a small thrust in the opposite direction, altering the asteroid's orbit.

The scientists found that 10 of these spacecraft, each bearing a 20-metre-wide inflatable mirror, could deflect a 150-metre asteroid in about six months. With 100 spacecraft, it would take just a few days, once the spacecraft are in position.

To deflect a 20-kilometre asteroid, about the size of the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, it would take the combined work of 5000 mirror spacecraft focusing sunlight on the asteroid for three or more years.

Vasile admits that launching and controlling 5000 spacecraft is a daunting prospect. "I must say honestly that 5000 is really a lot," he told New Scientist. But he says launching a few dozen spacecraft to deflect a smaller asteroid is within our capabilities, pointing out that this many spacecraft were launched to create the Global Positioning System.

The mirrors came out ahead of the so-called gravity tractor option, in which a spacecraft simply flies alongside an asteroid and nudges it off course using the tiny force of the spacecraft's own gravity.


UK changes position on animal-human hybrids

WHAT a difference a year makes. Just 12 months ago, the British government said it would maintain a ban on creating embryos that contain both animal and human material. Now it is proposing that regulatory authorities be allowed to consider the creation of four types of hybrid embryo, including so-called true hybrids.

In 1990, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act banned researchers from creating hybrid embryos, but after a year of consultation, the government announced on 8 October its latest plans to update this legislation. The new proposals would allow researchers to create "chimeras" by adding animal cells to human embryos, "cybrids" by replacing the nuclear DNA of an animal egg with human DNA, true hybrid embryos by mixing human and animal sperm and eggs, as well as adding animal genes to human embryos.


My comment: Eeewk :(

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Libya to create Green resort on Mediterranean sea

In an area the size of Wales centered on the Greek ruin here, the younger Qaddafi, a group of wealthy Libyans and a bevy of consultants are planning a carbon neutral green-development zone, catering to tourism and serving as a model for environmentally friendly design, they say.

The plan will protect Libya’s fantastic Greek and Roman ruins from haphazard developments as it protects the coastal ecosystem, one of the last remaining natural areas of the Mediterranean. Waters off Libya are the last remaining breeding grounds for a number of Mediterranean species, environmentalists say. The idea is that as Libya opens to the outside world it will not become “like the Spanish coast,” said the project’s financial adviser, Mahmoud A. Khosman. (It will also be a good investment.)But the intention is clearly broader than that. “They want to show the world that Libya has turned a corner, that they can fit into the modern world,” said George Joffe, a research fellow at Cambridge who specializes in the region.

On paper, at least, Green Mountain is ambitious. But paper is the sole place it exists, and many people here voiced skepticism that it would materialize. Its energy would come from wind and solar power. Its waste would be recycled, and its trash converted to biofuel. Resorts, hotels, villas and residents’ villages would blend into the rugged landscape.
source-NY Times

My comment:This is a great idea, I really hope they'll follow trough and really do it. And that Saif is not only smooth-talker, but that he'll actually bring the change to Libya. He looks like a good person, if he is, then...awesome :)

Monday, 15 October 2007

New visions of Green and Tech Europe

Because you know I love Europe, I'm gonna post some news on EU from time to time. Today, you can read how Europe plans to deal with inovations in medicine and also, about the help EU plans to give to small companies to go green. And I write it here, because I believe those changes are part of the bright future, I'm hunting for in this blog.

New institute to assess value of medical technology

A new institute will aim to bridge the gap between medical technology, innovation and healthcare policy to provide policymakers with evidence of the social and economic value of medical technology, and medical devices in particular.

The European Health Technology Institute for Socio-Economic Research (Research Institute) was officially launched on 6 October 2007,the most important annual health policy event in the EU.

Founded and funded by the European medical technology industry association for an initial three-year period, the institute will bring together industry and the health departments of three European universities - Technische Universität Berlin, Università Bocconi and London School of Economics (LSE) - to conduct socio-economic research on the impact of medical technology. Each university will be granted €200,000 a year, bringing the total budget of the institute to some €1.8 million. According to the consortium, researchers will "have complete scientific and editorial independence".

There are two main research topics. The first topic will examine how medical technologies are currently financed in major European countries and consider how existing financing systems could be improved.

The second will review the benefits of technological innovations in the healthcare sector. The aim is to provide evidence of, for example, improving quality of life and decreasing disability and mortality rates, as well as higher employee productivity or higher GDP output per worker.source

My comment: I think the second topic is the important one. There should be an agency to look for medical appliance of the innovations appearing every day. Science should be brought closer to people and their lives, because in the moment, there are many fancy new ideas that are doomed to stay only in science journals. We have to change that if we want to face the bright society of the Future.

EU to help small businesses to go GREEN

The Commission has announced new measures aimed at helping small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) cope with increasingly burdensome environmental legislation and take advantage of the potential economic benefits offered by improved environmental management.

The 'Environmental Compliance Assistance Programme' (ECAP), announced by the EU executive on 4 October, aims to wise up Europe's 23 million SMEs to the negative impact that their daily business can have on the environment.

"A majority [of companies] actually think that their activities have little or no impact [on the environment]," explained the Commission in a statement, adding: "SMEs also tend to believe that they are complying with legislation unless told otherwise."

However, with SMEs representing 99% of all EU enterprises, Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas stressed: "To successfully tackle the environmental challenges we face and to achieve our targets on greenhouse emissions, renewable energy and energy efficiency, all European companies must be on board."

The seven year, €5 million programme will thus concentrate on disseminating information to SMEs about the environmental threat their activities can pose, as well as about the economic benefits they can reap from better resource management and eco-innovation. It will also provide financial assistance for training activities and support programmes aimed at reducing the burden of compliance.

My comment: It's nice to see people thinking on different scales. It's obvious that small companies are not the biggest polluters, but every little bit counts. And even more, if the small one get green, that will create a social attitude on the issues. And as we know, production follow the needs of the market. If people want greener production, they ought to have it and even the biggest companies will have to make up with that. Go Europe!

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Defeating the cancer, AI

COULD the immune system be reprogrammed to fight cancer? It seems that macrophages - immune cells roped in by tumours to help them grow - can be turned into cancer killers.

Macrophages normally clean up dead and dying cells after an infection. In theory, macrophages should gobble up cancer cells too. "They should [swallow] dead and dying cancer cells, and stimulate an immune response against the tumour," says David Ian Stott of the University of Glasgow, UK.

Instead, cancer cells release chemical signals that persuade macrophages to turn traitor, releasing growth factors that feed the tumour rather than destroy it. "Macrophages are educated by cancer cells to promote tumour growth," says Thorsten Hagemann at Barts and The London Queen Mary's Medical School in London. "If you remove macrophages from mice that are susceptible to cancer, they develop fewer tumours."


My comment: Can't they just convince that cells to not communicate with the cancer cells? I thought there are such treatments already. Or at least the idea of them.


When your software crashes, you probably restart your PC and hope it doesn't happen again, or you get the bug fixed. But not Rachel Wood. When a program she was testing screwed up a task that a 2-year-old would find easy, she was elated.

The reason for this seemingly perverse reaction is that Wood's program didn't contain a bug, but had committed a famous cognitive goof identified by the psychology pioneer Jean Piaget. Known as the A-not-B error, it is made by babies between 7 and 12 months old and is seen as one of the hallmarks of fledgling human intelligence.

Wood's robot has a brain far simpler than a baby's. But unravelling the events that led to this human-like behaviour - something that is easier to do in a computer program than a real brain - could help improve our understanding of artificial intelligence.


My comment: Bravo. I can't wait to see a working AI, it will be truly historical moment. And then it gets scary.

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