Archive for March, 2007

Panel: Warming will end some species

March 31, 2007

From the micro to the macro, from plankton in the oceans to polar bears in the far north and seals in the far south, global warming has begun changing life on Earth, international scientists will report next Friday.

“Changes in climate are now affecting physical and biological systems on every continent,” says a draft obtained by The Associated Press of a report on warming’s impacts, to be issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the authoritative U.N. network of 2,000 scientists and more than 100 governments.

In February the panel declared it “very likely” most global warming has been caused by manmade emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

More info:  Associated Press article

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Tourist to Assist With Space Station Research

March 31, 2007

Space tourist Charles Simonyi will contribute to research for the European Space Agency (ESA) during his 10-day visit to the International Space Station next month, Space Adventures announced March 29.

Simonyi will act as a test subject for a research program designed by ESA to study the response of the human body to the microgravity environment aboard the station and hopefully cast light on common Earth ailments.

He will participate in experiments to better understand the mechanisms behind anaemia, to understand how changes in muscles influence lower back pain, and to better understand the effects of space radiation on astronauts’ white blood cells. He also will assist in collecting data on the different species of microbes that live on the ISS, to show how their reproduction and mutation rates have been affected by life in orbit.

More info:  Aviation Week article

Those under 110 years need not apply

March 31, 2007

Edmonton Journal reports on the work of the Supercentenarian Research Foundation, which studies an elite group of seniors who have lived to be at least 110-years-old. 

The research foundation has identified and validated the birth dates of 76 living supercentenarians around the world. It’s a challenging task because detailed birth records were not always kept at the turn of the 20th century and can easily get lost over the course of a hundred years. The foundation has run into several cases where someone has falsely claimed to be part of the supercentenarian club.

It is difficult to conduct statistically significant research with just 76 subjects, but the anecdotal evidence seems to confirm what many have-long suspected: living a long life probably has more to do with genetics than lifestyle.

“One of the biggest predictors of living for a long time is having grandparents and parents who lived for a long time,” Platika said.

Some supercentenarians have claimed their longevity is due to consuming two glasses of wine per day, while others have attributed their longevity to a teetotalling lifestyle. Still others have even admitted to being daily smokers.

What the supercentenarians have in common is that they do not have diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or cancer, which kill the majority of the population. The supercentenarians’ longevity is a “side-effect” of not dying from these common diseases, Platika said.

Scientists try to answer: Should people live longer?

March 31, 2007

Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) Journal reports that dozens of academics are gathering at the University of Alberta for a two-day aging symposium to discuss whether we can significantly extend lifespans and whether we should.

“If we all live to be 150, the hospitals would all be full and everyone would still say it certainly went by fast,” says Daniel Callahan, from the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute in Garrison, N.Y. “The only case for extending lifespans is that some people want it and that doesn’t seem to be good enough.”

At the symposium, Callahan will debate the ethics of “life extension” — he has long attacked as “utopian” the arguments of those who say that science will find ways to keep elderly populations healthy. More importantly, he says, an older population will do nothing to solve today’s social ills and could cause more problems.

“I don’t see it making any contributions at all to society beyond satisfying the wish of some individuals to live a long life. It’s often said that the elderly have a wisdom to contribute. Well, I’m 76 and I don’t notice that among people my age that we have any special wisdom,” he says.

For proponents of life extension, the idea of keeping people alive without keeping them healthy is irresponsible. However, they think funding research that might help people live longer, healthier lives is vital to stave off the rising costs associated with caring for aging populations. Many also believe that extending lifespans is in line with society’s core values.

Nanotechnology turns heat on tumors in mice

March 31, 2007

Sacramento Bee article  describes the use of heat-generating nanotechnology that can destroy cancer cells in mice.

In a small lab tucked behind brick and glass near central Sacramento, Dr. Sally DeNardo is enlisting magnets, molecules and mice in the fight against breast cancer.

For the past four years, using increasingly potent little clusters of iron and antibodies, DeNardo has been testing a treatment to latch tiny metal fragments onto a tumor, then basically cook it to death.

The work, described in the March edition of the Journal of Nuclear Medicine, has stopped tumor growth in some mice and slowed the cancer in others.

The treatment might be ready for very preliminary testing in humans in as little as two years, said DeNardo, a UC Davis professor of oncology and nuclear medicine. It’s too early to predict, though, when or whether the approach could take its place as one more weapon against a disease that has proved far wilier than doctors once hoped.

So. California’s dry spell could get worse

March 31, 2007

Parched, sere, and arid

Los Angeles Times reports that nature is pulling a triple whammy on Southern California this year. Whether it’s the Sierra, the Southland or the Colorado River Basin, every place that provides water to the region is dry.

It’s a rare and troubling pattern, and if it persists it could thrust the region into what researchers have dubbed the perfect Southern California drought: when nature shortchanges every major branch of the far-flung water network that sustains 18 million people.

Usually, it’s reasonably wet in at least one of those places. But not this year.

The mountain snowpack vital to water imports from Northern California is at the lowest level in nearly two decades. The Los Angeles area has received record low rainfall this winter, contributing to an early wildfire season that included Friday’s blaze in the Hollywood Hills. And the Colorado River system remains in the grip of one of the worst basin droughts in centuries.

Mass. Gov. Seeks Stem Cell Rule Reversal

March 30, 2007

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said Friday he will push to reverse stem cell research restrictions imposed by his predecessor, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

The changes last August prompted complaints from researchers who said they could be prohibited from using some embryonic stem cells. They also argued the restrictions undercut a 2005 law that had been approved by the Legislature over Romney’s veto.

Patrick told a meeting of the Life Sciences Council on Friday that he would ask the Public Health Council, which approved the changes, to revisit the policy. In effect, Patrick will be able to reverse the policy, since he will gain control over the panel next week amid an overhaul linked to the state’s new health insurance law.

The governor said researchers should not have to compete globally “under a regulatory cloud, or to do so with one-hand tied behind their back.”

He said he hoped the council would create a hospitable regulatory climate “and then get out of the way so that you can do what you were trained to do, and so that your imagination and creativity can have the full range of its potential.”

More info:  Associated Press article

Bahrain center harnessing wind for energy

March 30, 2007

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Inhabitat, a very cool web site, has an article and pics of Bahrain’s World Trade Center building.

The 50-story complex contains two identical towers that rise over 240 meters in height. The sail-shaped buildings offer a visually striking silhouette, appropriately referencing the maritime environment of this small Middle Eastern island, and boast one very unique feature — 3 giant wind turbines tying the two “sails” together.

The floorplan was key in making this feature work.  The wing-like towers help to funnel and accelerate the wind velocity between them. Furthermore, the difference in the vertical shape of the towers should help reduce the pressure differences between the bridges, which, when combined with an increased wind speed at the higher levels, should provide an equal velocity amongst the turbines. All this will provide for an even greater efficiency in the powering of the generators.

The center is the first building in the world to incorporate this sort of technology at this scale. The turbines will be tested throughout the rest of 2007 and if all goes well, they ought to start normal operation next year.

Virtual-space gurus build final frontier

March 30, 2007

Shuttle and station

MSNBC’s Alan Boyle reports that Second Life now has floating launch pads, mini-planets, space shuttles and an international space station. 

More is on the way: environments that look and feel like the moon, for instance, or simulated lava tubes that could help researchers build real-life bases on the moon or Mars.

The colonization of virtual outer space hints at the shape of things to come, for NASA as well as less traditional players on the final frontier. And along the way, the virtual-world pioneers are encountering some of the same technical and bureaucratic challenges they deal with in the real world.

Science fiction is a huge draw in Second Life — an online environment where more than 5 million user-controlled characters, or “avatars,” can interact with each other. There are virtual enclaves for fans of “Star Trek,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Serenity” and other outer-space realms from films and TV shows. But what we’re talking about here is a different level of virtual space, drawing upon real spacecraft and real-life organizations.

51 ways to save the environment

March 30, 2007

Can one person slow global warming? Sure!, according to Time magazine’s special report cover story.  Here’s our guide to how you—along with scientists, businesses and governments—can help build a greener planet