Volume 11, Number 03
Edited by John L. Petersen
In This Issue:
- An embryo has been created with DNA from 3 people hoping to prevent inherited disease
- Lake Mead, water supply for Phoenix and Las Vegas, could be within a few years of going dry
- Watch a short video clip of a car that runs on water – real enough that the US military is buying it
- Earth-like planets may have formed around most of the Milky Way’s Sun-like stars, shortening the odds on the discovery of extra-terrestrial life
U.S. Aims to Give Wake-up Alerts on Storms – (Reuters – February 12, 2008)
In the not-too-distant future, the U.S. government would like to be able to wake up residents in the middle of the night when a hurricane or tornado threatens, perhaps by sounding the alarm on a cellphone. One of the biggest threats from hurricanes is the explosive intensification of a cyclone close to shore after residents have gone to bed, shortening the time available to safely evacuate millions of people from the crowded Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts. Bill Read, the new director of the National Hurricane Center, said he would like to see a wake-up system, perhaps Internet-based and delivered by cellphone, within a decade.
Artificial Letters Added to Life’s Alphabet
Lab on a Chip Developed for Cheap, Portable Medical Tests
Embryos Created with DNA from 3 People
Pursuing Synthetic Life, Dazzled by Reality
Pulsing Web Gives Ailing Hearts a Boost
Scientists Show Stem Cells Don’t Cause Cancer
Artificial Letters Added to Life’s Alphabet – (New Scientist – January 30, 2008)
Two artificial DNA “letters” that are accurately and efficiently replicated by a natural enzyme have been created by US researchers. Adding the two artificial building blocks to the four that naturally comprise DNA could allow wildly different kinds of genetic engineering. Eventually, the researchers say, they may be able to add them into the genetic code of living organisms.
Lab on a Chip Developed for Cheap, Portable Medical Tests – (Science Daily – January 29, 2008)
Researchers in Edmonton, Canada, have developed a portable unit for genetic testing about the size of a shoebox, which has the same capability as a lab full of expensive equipment. The device — along with other, even smaller units the team is now in the process of developing — paves the way for enormous savings to health-care systems and will improve care for patients. A wide variety of genetic tests that are available but not often used because their cost is prohibitive will become cheap, fast and easily accessible.
Embryos Created with DNA from 3 People – (Associated Press – February 5, 2008)
British scientists say they have created human embryos containing DNA from two women and a man in a procedure that researchers hope might be used one day to produce embryos free of inherited diseases. The process aims to create healthy embryos for couples to avoid passing on genes carrying diseases. The genes being replaced are the mitochondria, a cell’s energy source, which are contained outside the nucleus in a normal female egg. Mistakes in the mitochondria’s genetic code can result in serious diseases like muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, strokes and mental retardation.
Pursuing Synthetic Life, Dazzled by Reality – (New York Times – February 5, 2008)
Reporting in the journal Science, Dr. J. Craig Venter and his colleagues said they had fabricated the entire DNA chain of a microbial parasite called Mycoplasma genitalium, exceeding previous records of sustained DNA synthesis by some 18-fold. Any day now, the researchers say, they will pop that manufactured mortal coil into a cellular shell, where the genomic code will “boot up,” as Dr. Venter puts it, and the entire construct will begin acting like a natural-born M. genitalium — minus the capacity, the researchers promise, to infect the delicate tissues that explain the parasite’s surname.
Pulsing Web Gives Ailing Hearts a Boost – (New Scientist – February 15, 2008)
A pulsing fibrous web to wrap around diseased hearts is being developed by UK researchers. The approach is less invasive than existing heart-assist techniques, which involve surgically plumbing a pump directly into the heart, the researchers say. Their device is made from the same polyethylene material used to make artificial heart valves. Fitted tightly over the heart’s surface, it has three constricting belts woven through its fabric, which are powered by small electric motors.
Scientists Show Stem Cells Don’t Cause Cancer – (U.S. News & World Report – February 14, 2008)
A major concern with using stem cells to treat disease has been the possibility that the retrovirus used to implant the cells might cause cancer, but now a group of scientists appears to have solved that problem. In November, two groups of researchers showed that adult human and mouse skin cells could be reprogrammed into stem cells similar to embryonic stem cells, which can be made into any type of cell. In this latest study Japanese researchers proved these stem cells are made from normal mature adult cells, and they show that these stem cells can be implanted using a retrovirus without fear of causing cancer.
DISCOVERIES ENABLED BY NEW TECHNOLOGY
Researchers Demonstrate Quantum Teleportation and Memory in Tandem – (PhysOrg – January 30, 2008)
In research that may be a key step toward real-life quantum communication—the transmission of information using atoms, photons, or other quantum objects—researchers created an experiment in which a quantum bit of information is transported across a distance of seven meters and briefly stored in memory. This is the first time that both quantum memory and teleportation, as the information transfer is known, have been demonstrated in a single experiment.
Engineers demonstrate Nanotube Wires Operating at Speed of Commercial Chips
Video Traffic Reshaping the Net
Cell Phone Can Read to You from Pictures It Takes
Engineers demonstrate Nanotube Wires Operating at Speed of Commercial Chips – (PhysOrg – January 30, 2008)
Integrated circuits, such as the silicon chips inside all modern electronics, are only as good as their wiring, but copper conduits are approaching physical performance limitations as they get thinner. Chipmakers have hoped that carbon nanotubes would allow them to continue using thinner wiring as they pack more devices into chips, but no one had demonstrated nanotube wires working on a conventional silicon chip. However, electrical engineers at Stanford University and Toshiba have reported using nanotubes to wire a silicon chip operating at speeds comparable to those of commercially available processors and memory.
Video Traffic Reshaping the Net – (CNN – February 12, 2008)
In 1995, the first warning was raised: the throngs of people swarming to the Internet would overwhelm the system in 1996. For more than a decade, that fear has proven untrue. Until right about now. The growing popularity of video on the Net has driven a traffic increase that’s putting strains on service providers, particularly cable companies. To deal with it, they have had to change the way they convey Internet data. And they’ve done this in secret, raising concerns — by Web companies, consumer groups and the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission — that the nature of the Internet is being altered in ways that are difficult to divine.
Cell Phone Can Read to You from Pictures It Takes – (USA Today – February 13, 2008)
For a blind or visually impaired person, the Nokia N82 cell phone promises much more: It’s a liberating day-to-day tool that grants access to printed materials not otherwise easily available. A sightless person can use the phone to snap a picture of a menu, book, printed receipt or business card. Software on the phone processes the words on those items and reads the text aloud in a synthesized voice. The device can even let a blind person know if paper currency is a $5 or a $20 bill.
Companies Turn up the Green
Decline in Snowpack Is Blamed on Warming
UK Set for Early Spring Arrival
‘Doomsday’ Seeds Arrive in Norway
Israeli Find Could Help Plants Adapt to Climate Change
Biofuels Are Bad for Feeding People and Combating Climate Change
Panic in the Beehive
Harmful Pesticides Found in Everyday Food Products
Lake Mead Could Be Within a Few Years of Going Dry
Scientists Blame Ocean Dead Zones on Climate Change
Companies Turn up the Green – (USA Today – January 30, 2008)
In the greening of Corporate America, U.S. companies have made progress but still face a long trek to improve environmental practices. Beyond the hype, according to “State of Green Business 2008” report, obstacles include: toxic emissions, a lack of standards and misleading claims. The article includes a link to the full report.
Decline in Snowpack Is Blamed on Warming – (Washington Post – February 1, 2008)
The persistent and dramatic decline in the snowpack of many mountains in the West is caused primarily by human-induced global warming and is not the result of natural variability in weather patterns, according to a study published online by the journal Science. Using data collected over the past 50 years, the scientists confirmed that the mountains are getting more rain and less snow, that the snowpack is breaking up faster and that more rivers are running dry by summer. The study looked at possible causes including natural variability in temperatures and precipitation, volcanic activity around the globe and climate change driven by the release of greenhouse gases. Computer models showed that climate change is clearly the explanation that best fits the data.
UK Set for Early Spring Arrival – (BBC News – February 4, 2008)
Mounting evidence suggests spring is arriving in the UK early this year. Some species of frogs, butterflies and plants have become “startlingly” active. However, this phenomenon has left certain species vulnerable to wintry cold snaps, calling their long term survival into question.
‘Doomsday’ Seeds Arrive in Norway – (BBC News – January 31, 2008)
The first consignment of seeds bound for the “doomsday vault” on Svalbard has arrived in Norway. The vault is intended to act as insurance so that food production can be restarted anywhere on Earth after a regional or global catastrophe. Built deep inside a mountain, the structure will eventually house a vast collection of seeds; safeguarding world crops against possible future disasters including nuclear wars and dangerous climate change.
Israeli Find Could Help Plants Adapt to Climate Change – (Yahoo – February 6, 2008)
Israeli scientists have identified genes that help plants weather harsh conditions. Scientists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev found that mutating one of two genes in a model plant increased its ability to survive in desert environments. The development of plants better able to endure harsh desert conditions could prove extremely important to Israel and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa suffering from increasing shortages of water. It could also have global implications, as climate change is expected to lead to significant drops in the production of key crops in both Asia and Africa, according to a study recently released by Stanford University.
Panic in the Beehive – (BBC News – February 12, 2008)
In a few weeks’ time, Britain’s thousands of amateur beekeepers will face what might be called “Bee-Day”. In the south of England, the weather will be warm enough that apiarists can lift the tops off their hives for the first time and find out if their colonies have survived the winter. And these beekeepers are worried. Every winter some colonies are lost. But last year saw widespread anecdotal reports of above average losses, and the enthusiasts fear this year could be worse.
Disappearing Bees Threaten Ice Cream Sellers – (CNN – February 20, 2008)
Premium maker Haagen-Dazs says vanishing bee colonies in the United States could mean fewer flavors and higher prices. That’s because, according to Haagen-Dazs, one-third of the U.S. food supply – including a variety of fruits, vegetables and even nuts – depends on pollination from bees. Haagen-Dazs said bees are critical for 40% of its 60 flavors – such as strawberry, toasted pecan and banana split. The company is donating $250,000 to both Pennsylvania State University and the University of California, Davis to fund research into the bee colony collapse disorder (CCD).
Harmful Pesticides Found in Everyday Food Products – (Seattle Post Intilligencer – January 30, 2008)
Government promises to rid the nation’s food supply of brain-damaging pesticides aren’t doing the job, according to the results of a yearlong study that carefully monitored the diets of a group of Seattle area children. The peer-reviewed study found that the urine and saliva of children eating a variety of conventional foods from area groceries contained biological markers of organophosphates, the family of pesticides spawned by the creation of nerve gas agents in World War II. Within eight to 36 hours of the children switching to organic food, the pesticides were no longer detected in the testing.
Lake Mead Could Be Within a Few Years of Going Dry – (New York Times – February 13, 2008)
Lake Mead, the vast reservoir for the Colorado River water that sustains the fast-growing cities of Phoenix and Las Vegas, has a 50% chance of becoming unusable by 2021 if the demand for water remains unchanged and if human-induced climate change follows climate scientists’ moderate forecasts, resulting in a reduction in average river flows. Demand for Colorado River water already slightly exceeds the average annual supply when high levels of evaporation are taken into account, the researchers point out.
Scientists Blame Ocean Dead Zones on Climate Change – (San Francisco Chronicle – February 20, 2008)
Video images scanned from the seafloor off the coast of the Pacific Northwest revealed a boneyard of crab skeletons, dead fish and other marine life smothered under a white mat of bacteria. Marine ecologists at Oregon State University have concluded that that the undersea plague appears to be a symptom of global warming. If this theory holds up, it means that global warming and the build-up of heat-trapping gases are bringing about oceanic changes beyond those previously documented: a rise in sea level, more acidic ocean water and the bleaching of coral reefs. Low-oxygen dead zones, which have doubled in number every decade and exist around the world, have a variety of causes
Fully Robotic Observatory Set Up In Antarctica
Machines to Match Man by 2029
Fully Robotic Observatory Set Up In Antarctica – (Science Daily – February 7, 2008)
A fully robotic observatory, dubbed PLATeau Observatory or PLATO, is predicted to result in new insights into the universe once possible only from space. A team of scientists representing six international institutions has succeeded in reaching the summit of Antarctica to establish a new astronomical observatory at Dome Argus on the highest point of the Antarctic Plateau. Built by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia, PLATO is designed to operate autonomously for up to 12 months at a time while sending back data via the Iridium satellite network. Powered by an array of solar panels during summer and small, high-efficiency diesel engines through the darkest winter months, it will be efficient as well as environmentally friendly, according to its developers.
Machines to Match Man by 2029 – (BBC News – February 16, 2008)
Machines will achieve human-level artificial intelligence by 2029, a leading US inventor has predicted. Humanity is on the brink of advances that will see tiny robots implanted in people’s brains to make them more intelligent, said Ray Kurzweil. The engineer believes machines and humans will eventually merge through devices implanted in the body to boost intelligence and health.
Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat
Biofuels Are Bad for Feeding People and Combating Climate Change
Spray-On Solar-Power Cells Are True Breakthrough
Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat – (New York Times – February 8, 2008)
Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account. Two studies take a detailed, comprehensive look at the emissions effects of the huge amount of natural land that is being converted to cropland globally to support biofuels development. The destruction of natural ecosystems — whether rain forest in the tropics or grasslands in South America — not only releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when they are burned and plowed, but also deprives the planet of natural sponges to absorb carbon emissions. Cropland also absorbs far less carbon than the rain forests or even scrubland that it replaces.
Biofuels Are Bad for Feeding People and Combating Climate Change – (Scientific American – February 8, 2008)
Here is another report on the same research that presumes that the future will be like the past. Ethanol will not be produced from corn in the very near future (at least not the grain portion of corn plants), it will come from cellulosic biomass and will be converted to alcohol using enzymes – a low energy approach. These kinds of studies, though misguided will help to push the industry away from the old methods of corn and distillation. JLP
WaterFuel – (YouTube – date unknown)
In this 2 ½ minute video clip from Fox News, Denny Klein demonstrates welding equipment and a car that run on water. Mr. Klein’s patented processes have secured a contract to develop a hybrid Hummer for the US military that runs on water and gasoline.
Spray-On Solar-Power Cells Are True Breakthrough – (National Geographic News – January 14, 2008)
Scientists have invented a plastic solar cell that can turn the sun’s power into electrical energy, even on a cloudy day. The plastic material uses nanotechnology and contains the first solar cells able to harness the sun’s invisible, infrared rays. The breakthrough has led theorists to predict that plastic solar cells could one day become five times more efficient than current solar cell technology.
Drug-Resistant Flu Virus on the Rise – (Time – January 31, 2008)
This winter’s most common flu strain is showing resistance to the frontline anti-flu treatment, new data shows. More than 10% of virus samples taken in Western Europe this winter were resistant to oseltamivir, better known as Tamiflu, according to figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). The number of resistant strains are still small overall, but the superbugs aren’t evenly distributed around the world. In the end, the most troubling thing about the ECDC study was the 75% resistance rate found in Norway.
TERRORISM, SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Effort to Shoot Down Satellite Could Inform Military Strategy
Spies’ Battleground Turns Virtual
Effort to Shoot Down Satellite Could Inform Military Strategy – (Washington Post – February 20, 2008)
The Bush administration’s attempt to shoot down an out-of-control spy satellite will help the military advance its anti-missile and anti-satellite planning and technology, according to space weapons experts and analysts. The attempted shoot-down will also enable the Pentagon to practice using, in an urgent scenario, key elements of its space defense apparatus, including the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and its sophisticated space identification, tracking and targeting system. The attempt will further provide an unscripted opportunity to see whether ship-based missiles can blow up the satellite just as it reenters Earth’s atmosphere – a key moment in any attempt to intercept an intercontinental missile that might someday be launched against the United States.
Spies’ Battleground Turns Virtual – (Washington Post – February 6, 2008)
U.S. intelligence officials are cautioning that popular Internet services that enable computer users to adopt cartoon-like personas in three-dimensional online spaces also are creating security vulnerabilities by opening novel ways for terrorists and criminals to move money, organize and conduct corporate espionage. Virtual worlds could also become an actual battlefield. The intelligence community has begun contemplating how to use Second Life and other such communities as platforms for cyber weapons that could be used against terrorists or enemies, intelligence officials said. One analyst suggested beginning tests with so-called teams of cyber warfare experts.
DNA Construction Kit Self-assembles 3D ‘Crystals’ – (New Scientist – 30 January, 2008)
Strands of DNA can be programmed to assemble nanoparticles into 3D structures, pointing towards a new way to engineer materials from the bottom up. Two research groups have demonstrated the technique, using squid-like gold nanoparticles with “arms” made of DNA. “These are fundamentally new structures of matter,” says Chad Mirkin of Northwestern University, who led one of the groups. Previously, only flat shapes have been assembled in this way; attempts to make 3D structures had only produced amorphous clumps of particles.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Earth-like Planet Discovery adds to Likelihood of Extraterrestrial Life – (Times – February 18, 2008)
Earth-like planets may have formed around most of the Milky Way’s Sun-like stars, according to research that shortens the odds on the discovery of extra-terrestrial life. Observations using Nasa’s Spitzer Space Telescope have found that at least 20% — and perhaps as many as 60% — of our galaxy’s Sun-like stars are good candidates for having rocky planets of the sort that can harbor life. The findings offer further evidence suggesting that such worlds may be common in the galaxy, which would greatly enhance the prospects for finding one on which life has developed.
Dollar Daze — NYC Shops Accepting Euros – (Reuters – February 7, 2008)
In the latest example that the U.S. dollar just ain’t what it used to be, some shops in New York City have begun accepting Euros and other foreign currency as payment for merchandise. “We had decided that money is money and we’ll take it and just do the exchange whenever we can with our bank,” Robert Chu, owner of East Village Wines. Billy Leroy of Billy’s Antiques & Props is happy to accept Euros. He just hangs onto them “so when I go back to Paris, I don’t have to go through the nightmare of going to an exchange place.”
Saudi Arabia Bans All Things Red Ahead of Valentine’s Day
Global Migration Patterns and Job Creation
Saudi Arabia Bans All Things Red Ahead of Valentine’s Day – (CNN – February 12, 2008)
Saudi Arabia asks florists and gift shops to remove all red items from sale until after Valentine’s Day, calling the celebration of such a holiday a sin, according to a local media report. Every year, officials with the conservative Muslim kingdom’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice clamp down on shops a few days before February 14, instructing them to remove red roses, red wrapping paper, gift boxes and teddy bears. On the eve of the holiday, they raid stores and seize merchandise. Because of the ban on red roses, a black market has flowered ahead of Valentine’s Day. Roses that normally go for five Saudi riyal ($1.30) fetch up to 30 riyal ($8) on February 14, the Saudi Gazette said.
Global Migration Patterns and Job Creation – (Gallup – October 11, 2007)
More and more often, global leaders are asking us the same simple, yet colossal, question: “Does anyone know for sure what the world is thinking?” Global leaders are right to wonder. To know what the whole world is thinking — not just what people in their own countries are thinking — on almost all issues all the time would certainly make their jobs a lot easier at the very least. To try to answer that question, Gallup has created a new body of behavioral economic data for world leaders that represents the opinion of all 6 billion inhabitants, reported by country and almost all demographics and sociographics imaginable. They call it the World Poll.
TRENDS OF GOVERNMENT
FBI Deputizes Private Contractors with Extraordinary Powers, Including ‘Shoot to Kill’
Senate Authorizes Broad Expansion of Surveillance Act
FBI Deputizes Private Contractors with Extraordinary Powers, Including ‘Shoot to Kill’ – (AlterNet – February 8, 2008)
More than 23,000 representatives of private industry are working quietly with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. The members of this rapidly growing group, called InfraGard, receive secret warnings of terrorist threats before the public does – and, at least on one occasion, before elected officials. In return, they provide information to the government, which alarms the ACLU. But there may be more to it than that. One business executive in the InfraGard card said they have permission to “shoot to kill” in the event of martial law. In November 2001, InfraGard had around 1,700 members. As of late January, InfraGard had 23,682 members, according to its website, www.infragard.net, which adds that “350 of our nation’s Fortune 500 have a representative in InfraGard.”
Senate Authorizes Broad Expansion of Surveillance Act – (Washington Post – February 13, 2008)
The Senate has approved a sweeping measure that would expand the government’s clandestine surveillance powers, delivering a key victory to the White House by approving immunity from lawsuits for telecommunications companies that cooperated with intelligence agencies in domestic spying after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. On a 68 to 29 vote, the Senate approved the reauthorization of a law that would give the government greater powers to eavesdrop in terrorism and intelligence cases without obtaining warrants from a secret court.
JUST FOR FUN
Frozen at Grand Central Station
James Bond-style Amphibious Car Launched
Frozen at Grand Central Station – (You Tube – date unknown)
How do we behave when our basic assumptions about standard social conduct in a public place are significantly challenged? At the exact same moment, 207 people suddenly “froze” in place in New York’s Grand Central Station for five minutes in what might be described as large-scale performance art. The reactions of other people around these 207 are fascinating to watch.
James Bond-style Amphibious Car Launched – (CNN – February 15, 2008)
The Swiss have invented a car that runs on land and underwater. But did they REALLY have to make it a convertible? It’s called the “sQuba,” and conjures up memories of James Bond’s amphibious Lotus Esprit from “The Spy Who Loved Me.” The concept car – it cost more than $1.5 million to make the sole sQuba in existence – was developed by Swiss designer Rinspeed Inc. and is set to make a splash at the Geneva Auto Show next month. The sQuba can plow through the water at a depth of 30 feet and has electrical motors to turn the underwater screw.
Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. – Niels Bohr
A special thanks to: Tom Burgin, Ken Dabkowski, Richard Dell, Neil Freer, Ursula Freer, KurzweilAI, Sue-Ann Lee, David Martin, Sebastian McCallister, Diane C. Petersen, Pamela Skarda, the Schwartzreport, Joel Snell, Steve Ujvarosy, Uncle Jim, and Chris Young, our contributors to this issue.
If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.
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