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

Friday, 21 September 2007

Satellites witness 'extreme' shrinking of Arctic ice cover

The sea ice that covers the North Pole and the Arctic has shrunk by one million square kilometres over the past year, according to satellite images released by the European Space Agency (ESA). Meanwhile, Greenland's ice cap is slipping into the sea at an 'extraordinary' rate.
Brief News:

Scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA) are alarmed by the rapid and drastic reduction in Arctic ice cover that has taken place in just one year. A reduction of one million square kilometres represents a ten-fold increase when compared with the average annual reduction of 100,000 square kilometres observed during the past decade, according to ESA.

"The strong reduction in just one year certainly raises flags that the ice (in summer) may disappear much sooner than expected and that we urgently need better to understand the processes involved," said Leif Toudal Pederson of the Danish National Space Centre.

While Arctic ice reforms during the winter months after having melted in the summer, the overall rate at which the ice is shrinking has reached unprecedented proportions, ESA said.

Pederson predicts that the north-west passage, which historically has been closed to conventional sea-faring vessels such as container ships and oil tankers, may become navigable sooner than expected, bringing with it the possibility of new and more rapid trade routes between Europe and Asia.

The Greenland ice cap is also rapidly melting, triggering earthquakes as chunks several cubic kilometres in size break off into the ocean, according to press reports.

Robert Correll, chairman of Arctic Climate Impact Assessment at the Heinz Centre in Washington DC, reports that large lakes and rivers have formed beneath the glacier which forms the Greenland ice cap, causing it to move into the sea at the rate of 15 kilometres per year. "That means that this one glacier puts enough fresh water into the sea in one year to provide drinking water for a city the size of London," Correll said.

In February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that global sea levels may rise between 20cm and 60cm over the 21st Century (EurActiv 07/02/07). But these figures are "conservative" and based on old data, and some scientists predict the rise may approach two metres, Correll added.

A sea-level rise of this magnitude would result in potentially disastrous flooding along much of Europe's coastline, in particular the UK and Ireland, according to flood maps based on NASA satellite data.

My comment: NO COMMENT!

EU and N&N (doesnt it sound like S&M)- the future is Now.

A European strategy external for nanotechnology was adopted in May 2004 to boost European nanotechnology R&D and to improve technology transfer to turn research findings into commercially-viable products.

An initial observation is that the community funding for nanotech research has increased considerably. From the €120 million available under FP4, the funding for nanosciences and nanotechnologies (N&N) increased to €1.4 billion in FP6 (2002-2006). Some €3.5 billion is foreseen for N&N in FP7 (2007-2013).

"The Commission has become de facto the single largest public funding agency worldwide to support development of nanotechnology", said Renzo Tomellini, head of the executive's operational unit on N&N, adding that the Commission contribution represents one third of all public spending in nanotechnology in Europe.

The report also shows that since 1998 some €28 million has been dedicated to projects expressly focused on research into the potential impact of nanotechnologies on health and the environment. Safety research is said to "significantly increase in FP7, both in size and scope, subject to absorption capacity".

Standardisation in the N&N field will also have "an important role both at European and international level", according to the Commission. To ensure transparency and "a coordinated position among EU national authorities", the Commission has given the European standards bodies CEN, CENELEC and ETSI the mandate to present a nanotech standardisation programme by the end of 2007. It said the programme will "take account of the need for a revision of existing standards or the development of new ones, in relation to health, safety and environmental protection".

The EU executive is at present finalising a review of the current regulation, to establish whether new regulatory action is required to cover risks in relation to nanomaterials. Its initial finding is that "current regulation addresses in principle concerns about health and environmental impacts. On the basis of scientific developments or regulatory needs in specific areas, regulatory changes may be proposed".

"REACH [the EU's chemicals legislation] does not talk about the size in the molecules so it applies to nanotechnology as well," pointed out Research Commissioner Potočnik's spokeswoman, Antonia Mochan.

Future N&N challenges identified in the mid-term report include: the availability of interdisciplinary infrastructures of excellence, critical mass, appropriate conditions for the safe and effective use of nanotechnology, a shared understanding of the responsibility of researchers within an ethical framework, shortage of private investment in research and industrial innovation and duplication in research among individual member states.


My comment: Reading this, I just recall the book I'm currently reading- Pandora's star by Peter Hamilton, where EU mastered the N&N and genetics while USA mastered space and the combined result is healthier and happier society. Let's hope all those commissions are not just dust into the eyes and wast of tax-payer money, but that they do something useful too. I mean, N&N are so promising, let's use them and try not to abuse them.

Smart cars! Yay, me wants....

My comment:Ok, I am a driver and I'm not too charmed by the degree of irresponsibility and carelessness on the road. And I'd appreciate any help I can get, because driving is so damn stressful! And it shouldn't be. Just one little remark- all sounds great, but as long as the price of those cars is so high (I mean check the hybrid Lexus or Toyota-nice and not achievable), people will keep on driving the old cars and killing and getting killed just before. EU, think about that!
Hi-tech cars emerged as a priority in EU transport policy in February 2006, when it became apparent that a majority of member states were well behind their 2001 road safety objective of halving the number of annual road deaths to 25,000 by 2010 (EurActiv 22/02/06).

At the time, the Commission came forward with an 'Intelligent Car' initiative – as part of its wider 'European Information Society 2010' strategy, aimed at promoting information and communication technologies (ICT) so as to boost jobs and growth in Europe.

The aim of the project was to work with industry, member states and citizens to create ICT solutions for transport-related problems such as fatalities, injuries and material damage caused by accidents, harmful effects on the environment and public health due to noxious vehicle fumes, high economic costs related to congestion and energy waste.

After 18 months of existence, the Commission says that the Intelligent Car initiative has achieved "important results" and that it is now time to come up with a new strategy to take account of recent technological and policy developments.

Certain safety options, such as automatic emergency call technology (eCall), electronic stability control (ESC) equipment and crash-avoidance systems, could become compulsory in all road vehicles, according to a second 'Intelligent Car' Communication, presented by the Commission at the Intelligent Car Yearly Event 2007 in Versailles, France on 18 September.

The Commission says that eCall could save up to 2,500 lives every year but that too few EU states have yet committed to facilitating the introduction of the technology (12 out of 27 to date).

The idea behind eCall is that, in the event of a serious accident, cars equipped will automatically call the nearest emergency centre using the single European emergency 112, giving basic information about the crash, including the exact location of the accident scene, even when no passenger is able to communicate.

The Commission has announced that it will start negotiations with European, Japanese and Korean carmakers on the voluntary inclusion of the eCall device as a standard option in all new vehicles starting from 2010. But it stresses that if progress is too slow, "new regulatory actions on the implementation of eCall may be envisaged in 2008".

The Commission adds that it will consult stakeholders later this year on the possibility of making electronic stability control equipment, as well as braking assistance and crash-avoidance systems, mandatory in all vehicles as of 2011.

According to the Commission, by reducing the danger of skidding – the principle cause of at least 40% of fatal road accidents – ESC could save 4,000 lives and prevent 100,000 serious accidents every year.


Thursday, 20 September 2007

CO2- fight the demon or just eat it?

Capturing and storing CO2 before it enters the atmosphere is being advocated as an innovative and promising contribution to the fight against climate change, writes Belle Dumé in an article outlining the risks and opportunities of carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The dramatic increase in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) can be tackled by adapting techniques already used to enhance oil recovery in industrial processes, argues Dumé in the 12 September article.

Carbon dioxide could be extracted from waste gases and subsequently compressed, ready for storage in geological reservoirs. Moreover, CCS could account for up to half of all emission reductions required, says the author.

Many CSS techniques already exist today, but there are significant cost and legal issues to be overcome as well as safety and health risks which must be addressed, she adds.

A big drawback of CSS is that the process requires energy, and adopting it would inevitably lead to an increase in the use of fossil fuels as well as inflationary tendencies in the cost of energy.

However, although safe solutions to transport compressed CO2 must still be investigated, underwater instead of underground storage will help prevent and minimise leakages from CO2 depots, she says.

CSS is a "stop-gap" solution to solving the problems of CO2 emissions, claims Dumé.

Environmental activists are afraid that it might detract attention from "real issues", such as the production of large amounts of CO2 in the first place, she adds.

My comment: Maybe we can combine both directions- decrease the consumption of CO2 as much as possible and extract what's left and store it or use it somehow. After all plants do use CO2, maybe we can find a similar mechanism- probably on those solar cells I posted news a while ago. Yup, that sounds promising. But storing CO2 for infinity is bad idea- just dumping it on a dark and unknown place won't make it disappear. And if I remember correctly CO2 disintegrated to make an acid (don't remember which one but it was responsible for one type of caves), so better not risk another environmental problem. We have enough already.

Europe to finally try for common patent policy

My comment: If you wonder why I post this article here, it's because I firmly believe in the future of EU and in its ideals. We have to find the perfect point of balance between keeping our national identity and yet, becoming a Union. And 3000-5000e just for the translation of the documents? WTF!!! If my faculty had those money just for usual expenses it would be awesome.
I sincerely hope EU will come up with a decision that protect the interest of the inventors and researches and in the mean time, that facilitates the patent submission and stimulates the development of fancy, new technologies.
And we have to find a policy that will make "brains" stay at the EU, we lost too many to the USA already. So let the battle begin.

To unlock Europe's innovation potential, the EU should adhere to the European Patent Convention rather than pursue the creation of a community patent on which unanimous consent is impossible, argues ProTon Europe, an organisation specialised in knowledge transfer, in an interview with EurActiv.

"The Community patent has been under discussion for 34 years. We can't wait for another 30 years to have a single patenting system in Europe," said Gilles Capart, chairman of the ProTon patent policy special interest group.

Capart was speaking on 12 September 2007 as the board of ProTon Europe held a debate on the improvement of the patent system in Europe and presented its patent policy statementexternal to the European Commission as "a contribution to the urgent reform of the patent system in Europe".

ProTon Europe, the largest international organisation for knowledge transfer in Europe, considers the patent system an essential tool for knowledge transfer from public research.

"Most pre-competitive research is performed by public research organisations, such as universities, which are key source of innovation from technology transfer to knowledge transfer. In the United States, more than 70% of all patents are performed by public research organisations (PROs). In Europe, university patents represent only 2.5% of filed European Patent Office (EPO) patents whereas their contribution to innovation is much higher - some 30-50%," explained Capart. In addition, "university patents are strategic, as they are designed to encourage investment in innovation whereas many industry patents are tactical, intended to protect market share," he added.

"Europe is not good at knowledge transfer because we create our own complexities. We shoot ourselves in the foot with small technical points that everybody says are crucial for their national identities. These small technical things create opportunity costs and make the whole process more expensive," added the chairman of the board of ProTon Europe Gillian McFadzean.

"The proposed community patent would help, but may not be the best route as it is too little too late and the new member states are not in favour of such a patent anyway. Adopting the European Patent Convention (EPCexternal ) would be far better - the London Protocolexternal is ready to be implemented," argued Capart.

However, he emphasised that in order to better use the EPC for universities one should introduce a 'grace period' to allow patents to be filed after disclosure as well as allow provisional patent applications to increase the quality of university patents. In addition, patent fees for universities and research and technology organisations (RTOs) should be reduced. "Why tax public research," asked Capart.

Nevertheless, "knowledge transfer is not only about patents," said McFadzean. In addition to introducing an easier patent system, "we need to get member states and university senior managers to take seriously the university's role, for the public benefit, in helping social and economic development in Europe," she added.

McFadzean also thinks that the current consultation on European Research Area (ERA) will result in a requirement for member states to support their universities in creating knowledge transfer offices (KTOs) with professional people specialised in KT.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Biofuels on target-where's the balance!

Government support for biofuels will cause food shortages and lead to the destruction of natural habitats - while making little impact on climate change, warned the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), delivering a blow to EU plans to obtain 10% of its transport fuel from plants by 2020.

Even in the 'best-case scenario', biofuels will only be able to achieve a 3% reduction in energy-related CO2 emissions by 2050, thus failing to reduce petroleum fuel consumption, states a new report by the OECD.

The study, which is to be presented to ministers and government experts from the OECD's 30 member states on 11-12 September, adds that even this small benefit would come at a huge cost because "without subsidies, most biofuels cannot compete on price with petroleum products in most regions of the world".

It explains that in the US, for example, around $7 billion is spent each year on support to ethanol, so that each tonne of carbon dioxide that is avoided in fact costs over $500 in taxpayers' money. In the EU, the cost could be up to ten times higher, add the authors.

The report criticises current government policy bias towards biofuels, saying that subsidies and tariff-protection measures will drive land owners to divert land from food or feed production to the production of energy biomass, thereby driving up food prices.

"As long as environmental values are not adequately priced in the market there will be powerful incentives to replace natural ecosystems such as forests, wetlands and pasture land with dedicated bio-energy crops," states the study, concluding that subsidies should be phased out - with the money reinvested in research on second-generation biofuels.

The report deals a blow to the EU's recently-agreed goal of ensuring that biofuels represent 10% of all transport fuels by 2020 (EurActiv 11/01/07), arguing: "Current biofuel support policies place a significant bet on a single technology despite the existence of a wide variety of different fuels and power trains that have been posited as options for the future. National governments should cease to create new mandates for biofuels and investigate ways to phase them out, preferably by replacing them with technology-neutral policies such as a carbon tax. Such policies will more effectively stimulate regulatory and market incentives for efficient technologies," concludes the report.

Adrian Bebb, Agrofuels Campaign Coordinator for Friends of the Earth Europe agreed: "Hurtling headfirst down the agrofuels path will be a big mistake, and the OECD is the latest of a series of respected international bodies to warn against it. The EU risks stimulating further destruction and poverty in developing countries if it sticks with its current agrofuels target."


My comment: I don't see why the use of natural gas should be supported- we use gas here and nobody pays us to, nor the producers. It simply is cheaper to do so. As for bio-fuels, I agree government should try to balance their subsidies because we don't need another crisis. Exactly the over-consumption without any global responsibility lead us to the situation now. We have to study from our mistakes and find a way to use renewable and biofuels without hurting the Planet more. This should be the safe energy, it must be and it has a way to be. We just have to find it. And that exclude rushing to earn as much as possible and then check if that's good in the long run. Think globally people!

Let's show them who's the boss!

A federal judge in Vermont gave the first legal endorsement yesterday to rules in California, being copied in 13 other states, that intend to reduce greenhouse gases emitted by automobiles and light trucks.

Ruling in a lawsuit against Vermont’s standards on those heat-trapping gases, the judge, William K. Sessions III, rejected a variety of challenges from auto manufacturers, including their contention that the states were usurping federal authority.

One central reason, Judge Sessions said, is that the California standards cover more than just fuel economy. They deal with carbon dioxide emissions, which are closely correlated with fuel economy, as well as other heat-trapping gases, including those in automobile air-conditioning units, which are not tied to fuel economy.

“The district court’s opinion is a sweeping rejection of the auto industry’s claim that California and other states” lack authority to regulate heat-trapping gases, Richard J. Lazarus, a law professor at Georgetown University, said in an e-mail message.

Under the California law, the emissions reductions for cars in the 2016 model year could be 30 percent or more below current levels.

California regulators have required that by 2012 emissions from cars and light trucks be reduced by 25 percent from 2005 levels. For larger trucks and sport utility vehicles, cuts of 18 percent were required.

Experts from the auto industry testified in the Vermont case that, because of the engineering and economic difficulties associated with meeting these goals, few if any of their cars and trucks would be sold in Vermont by 2016. / Seriously?!? /

The judge noted many of the emerging technologies for reducing gasoline consumption and questioned the automakers’ pessimism.

“It is improbable,” he wrote, “that an industry that prides itself on its modernity, flexibility and innovativeness will be unable to meet the requirements of the regulation, especially with the range of technological possibilities and alternatives currently before it.”

He was also skeptical of an industry expert’s claim that 65,000 jobs would be lost nationwide if California and its allies prevailed.
source-NY times

My comment: Finally someone to see it clearly that industry follows the market needs and requirements, not the other way around. I hope people stop picking up their noses and act, they way this judge acted. We all know what is the level of corruption in those sectors, but still, that doesn't mean we shouldn't try changing it. Go, California!

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Why nasty things evolve and human's genome serve only for websites content?

Low-cost personal DNA readings are on the way

"GENETICS is about to get personal." So proclaims the website of 23andMe, a Californian company that is gearing up to offer people a guided tour of their own DNA. For the superstars of genetics, it has already got personal. Earlier this week, genomics pioneer Craig Venter revealed an almost complete sequence of his genome, while that of James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA's double-helix structure, has been available on the web since late June.

Given that Watson's genome took almost $1 million to read, most of us won't immediately be following in his and Venter's footsteps. It isn't necessary to read your entire genome, however, to browse many of the genetic variations that may influence your health. According to George Church, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, the most pertinent information could be gleaned by sequencing the 1 per cent of the genome.

My comment: I find this somewhat disturbing, because the genome is one of the most personal things about us. But from the brighter side- the most used the technique-the cheaper it becomes and people will come up with better ideas on its use. So maybe we're are really the last generation to die from natural causes...Who knows! Though, now reading Peter Hamilton's "Pandora Star" I find it weird living for 200-300 years. It gives hell more opportunities to achieve things, but it looks kind of tiring to me. But then, maybe people 200 years ago thought the same about living 80 years.

Could Huntington's mutation make people healthier?

Could the mutation that causes Huntington's disease actually be making people healthier in their younger years? That's the theory being proposed to explain why the Huntington's disease (HD) gene is increasing in the population - despite eventually rendering many of its carriers unable to control their movement, speech or swallowing, and eventually killing them. If affected individuals are healthier than unaffected counterparts during their reproductive years, they may produce more offspring (Medical Hypotheses, DOI: 10.1016/j.mehy.2007.02.046).

My comment: Why I posted this here is that it looks like this virus make people more fertile if i understand correctly. And healthier too? Well, can't it be used somehow to improve our life? I think they should explore the mechanism the virus uses. Maybe it will teaches something.

Chikungunya virus spreads to Europe

As feared, the chikungunya virus has begun spreading in Europe. In June, a few people near Ravenna in north-east Italy developed a fever with severe joint pain, but by mid-August there were more than 100 cases.

The Italian government has confirmed that the culprit is chikungunya virus, a previously rare, mild infection spread by mosquitoes, that has mutated into a virulent, rapidly spreading strain. Since 2005, it has infected at least 1.4 million people in India and on islands in the Indian Ocean and may have killed thousands.

My comment: How come viruses and diseases mutate and evolve and we don't? Shouldn't that be considered a problem? Isn't it high time we evolve too...

Imitation of Nature- where plagiarism is not only allowed but recommended

Virtual reality will enhance real-world experiences

YOU are in a foreign city. Instead of lugging a guidebook around, you put on a pair of chic glasses. As you walk down the street, the lenses become semi-transparent monitors that feed your eyes with information about the buildings and streets around you, maybe giving you directions to a shoe shop, or the nearest place that sells ice cream.

This, say many researchers, is the future of virtual reality. Unlike the fantasy space of virtual worlds like Second Life, the world of the networked glasses is there to enhance the real one. It can be used to map objects, instructions or data onto what you see through the glasses in a way that is, hopefully, relevant and useful.

"You can do all of this with technology that's available now," says Amy Jo Kim, who teaches game design at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

My comment: Peter Hamilton's worlds-we're coming! Seriously, that's a cool idea, I wonder why we didn't see that on market earlier. I mean, it's more or less a piece of cake doing such glasses, at least on theory. I love them already!

Warm ice could make implants more biocompatible

Layers of ice of few nanometres thick can remain frozen at human body temperature when grown on top of diamond sheets with a surface layer of sodium, detailed calculations suggest.

The icy coatings could help make diamond-toughened medical implants more biocompatible, according to the Harvard University team who carried out the work.

Thin diamond coatings are found in a growing number of wear-resistant medical implants, such as prosthetics, artificial heart valves and joint replacements. However, diamond can causes clotting by attracting coagulating proteins. Also, its hardness often results in more tissue abrasion than with other implant materials. Ice could lessen these effects by offering a biocompatible interface of water molecules.

Now, Alexander Wissner-Gross and Efthimios Kaxiras have calculated that these problems could be overcome by bonding a layer of sodium atoms to the diamond surface first.

This sodium layer would sustain a layer of ice around 2 nanometres thick at 37°C (human body temperature), thus providing a biologically compatible "barrier" to the diamond itself.

My comment: There is something mystical about sustaining ice in the human body. I have an idea how this is to be done, but still. It's great. And it will be a great help to many people. Anyway, creating such hydrophilic "membranes" is a step forward in the understanding and using the power of the Nature. Because it's what we already have in our bodies, we just have to find a way to implement it in our technology.

Chlorophyll to extract energy for solar cells.

Silicon solar cells work by converting sunlight into electrical current, but are expensive to make and need to be used for many years to cover their construction costs.

Shuguang Zhang and colleagues at the Laboratory of Molecular Self Assembly at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US want to use biologically-derived molecules to harvest light instead.

The plan is to isolate active light-harvesting molecules called chlorophyll from extremophile bacteria. These bacteria can withstand very high temperatures, so the resulting solar cells should be able to withstand high temperatures too.

Disintegrating polystyrene

Foam polystyrene is a major environmental concern. It is used as a protective packaging for all sorts of products, but it is not biodegradable. Various manufacturers have experimented in making it more environmentally friendly, for example by incorporating cellulose and starch which microbes can break down, or by adding light-sensitive polymers that degrade in sunlight.

But Shanpu Ya and colleagues at the Polymer Science & Engineering College of Quingdao University of Science & Technology in China say these methods all have serious disadvantages. In particular, it takes too long time for polymers to break down in these ways, they claim.

Instead, they have developed a new approach that involves embedding water-absorbing resin particles about 5 micrometres in diameter throughout a chemical like styrene before it is polymerised to form a polystyrene-like material.

When the resulting solid comes into contact with water, the resin particles expand, reducing the polymer structure to a powder that should then biodegrade. The team says the rate of disintegration can even be controlled by altering the ratio of ingredients.

My comment: both technologies are awesome, I hope they work.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Evolution in action-Monkeys learn to do arithmetic for peanuts

It takes a smart monkey to do mathematics, and although Elsa Addessi insists her 10 capuchins aren't quite doing sums, she admits they must be pretty clever to be able to pass the tests that she has put them through. One can even handle multiplication.

Addessi, a researcher at the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies in Rome, Italy, tested whether her capuchins could understand the value of monkey money, and then use it to buy the greatest amount of food.

First, all ten capuchins successfully learned that a blue token would "buy" them one piece of peanut whereas a yellow token would get them three, and if offered the choice between one of each token, they would be better off choosing a yellow one.

But things became more difficult when they were asked to choose between one yellow and up to five blue tokens.
Monkey business

Two monkeys went for quantity, always choosing the larger stack of tokens on offer, regardless of the token's colour. Another four preferred colour over quantity, always choosing yellow tokens over blue, however many blue tokens were on offer.

The ability to discriminate between "less" and "more" is important for most animals. Figuring out which tree has more berries on it, for example, or determining whether there are more friends than enemies in an area, are matters of life and death (see Number of the beasts).

What is unique about Addessi's study is that the monkeys didn't just choose between quantities but also showed they were able to represent them using symbols – much as humans use coins to represent value.

"I find this quite surprising coming from an animal that diverged from us 35 million years ago," Addessi told New Scientist
For source click here.
My comment: Now you tell me, no one has lived to see an animal evolve. Of course, that experiment is just a hint of the actual evolution, but after all we have been observing the Nature for the mere few thousand years, whilst the Evolution has played around for millions of years. Go figure what would we become without the alien shoulder on our own Evolution.