Thursday, October 18, 2012

Genetically Modfied Organisms (GMO) need to be assessed through systematic networks


In Europe there are many concerns about adverse environmental effects of genetically modified (GM) crops, and the opinions on the outcomes of environmental risk assessments (ERA) differ largely. GM crop safety testing and studies on the standardisation of impact assessments of releases are insufficiently developed. Therefore a framework was published in the open access journal BioRisk, which aims at improving the European regulatory/legal system.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Could the Common Cold Be Re-Engineered to Destroy Cancer? [Science]


Could the Common Cold Be Re-Engineered to Destroy Cancer?We don't yet know how to kill the common cold—we can only suppress it. But we might be able to use the ever-changing virus to kill something else we've been unable to destroy: cancer.

According to researchers at the Salk Institute, the common cold has the ability to prevent cells from killing themselves when infected by a virus, causing them to spread through the body and generate the physical symptoms we've all come to know and despise. These scientists learned how to disable the E4-ORF3 protein responsible for preventing the self-destruct mechanism. As it turns out, part of E4-ORF3's process involves disabling the p53 protein, which itself works to suppress cancerous tumors.

What these scientists hope to do is create a modified version of the virus which seeks out cells that have had their p53 protein inhibited, and destroy those cells. Eurekalert writes:

The Salk findings may help scientists develop small molecules——the basis for the vast majority of current drugs——capable of destroying tumors by binding and disrupting large and complex cellular components that allow cancer cells to grow and spread. Understanding how viruses overcome healthy cells may also help scientists engineer tumor-busting viruses, which offer a new and potentially self-perpetuating cancer therapy. Such modified viruses would destroy only cancer cells, because they could only replicate in cells in which the p53 tumor suppressor has been deactivated. When a cancer cell is destroyed it would release additional copies of the engineered viruses, which would seek out and kill remaining cancer cells that have spread throughout the body.

Who knew that the common cold might be able to save your life? [Eurekalert via Geekosystem]


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cardboard bicycle 'close to mass production': tough, green and just $20


DNP Carboard bicycle close to mass production, holds potential to change personal transportation

Cardboard never ceases to amaze. Having been deployed in gramophones, stereos and even digital cameras, one inventor now believes it can be used to make the ideal bicycle. Izhar Gafni, from Israel, spent 18 months just folding the material every-which-way in order to discover a strong enough design, and now he claims his technique is almost ready for mass production. His maintenance-free bike uses a "secret" mix of organic materials to make it waterproof and fireproof, and is then lacquered to give it a friendlier appearance. It's expected to cost a mere $20 and weigh about 20 lbs (9 kg) -- that's 65 percent lighter than an average metal ride. In fact, this bicycle doesn't use any metal parts at all -- the solid tires are made of reconstituted rubber and a car timing belt is used instead of a chain. It lacks the swank of a Faraday Porteur, perhaps, but then you could buy 175 of these for the same money. Want proof that it actually works? The bike's not-so-featherweight inventor takes it for a spin after the break.

[Image credit: Reuters / Baz Ratner]

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Monday, October 15, 2012

10 Beautiful Eco-Friendly Mansions That Are Currently On The Market


south carolina $10 million sustainable home

Luxury homes are often criticized for being ostentatious, wasteful, and having too large of a carbon footprint.

But in many new constructions, LEED certifications and "eco-friendly" features are commonplace.

We browsed Sotheby's International Realty's Green Living section to compile a list of top-notch luxury homes that either had LEED certification, solar panels, or other smart technology.

This $10.5 million home in New Canaan, Conn. earned the Electronic House of the Year award for its innovative application of AMX technology, which incorporates in-wall touch screens that control the lighting, heat, irrigation, sound, and more.

Click here for more photos of the home >

The home has six bedrooms, nine full bathrooms, and two half-baths. The 14,000-square-foot house can be controlled on an iPad or iPhone, and has geothermal heating/cooling.

Click here for more photos of the home >

Live eco-friendly in this $18.8 million home on 123.5 acres in Fortunago, Italy.

Click here to see more photos of the home >

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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Friday, October 5, 2012

Bees Are Producing Blue And Green Honey In France Because They Like M&Ms


Colored Honey

Bees apparently love M&M's. Their hankering for the colored-coated candy has turned batches of honey in France blue and green, Patrick Genthon of Reuters reports.

After an investigation, beekeepers in Eastern France discovered that the bees were not pollinating local flower beds, but instead going to a biogas plant about two miles away, lured by the little chocolates. 

It turns out the plant processes waste from an M&M's factory. Containers of waste had residue of the candy coating.

The plant has now cleaned their containers and will store the waste in a closed off hall that the bees can't get to.

In an interview with Reuters, André Frieh, head of the local beekeepers’ association, said that the blue and green honey tasted like regular honey but it could not be sold.  

That's a shame. I think different color honey would be fun!

SEE ALSO: Bee Brains May Hold The Secret To Fighting Dementia > 

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NASA Is Engineering Space Bugs To Produce Bricks on Mars [Space]


NASA Is Engineering Space Bugs To Produce Bricks on MarsThere's a fundamental stumbling block when it comes to building a base on Mars, and that's getting all the building materials there in the first place. No problem, though, because NASA is busy engineering space bugs that will turn the crap on the planet into building materials to help make the hostile planet habitable.

New Scientist reports that NASA is using synthetic biology to create an army of microbes that could be easily shipped to the planet: they weigh next to nothing, and take up hardly any space. Once on the ground, though, they would multiply as they fed on materials available to them, and in the process produce the building blocks required to create a Mars base. New Scientist explains:

[A] team, led by recent Brown graduate André Burnier and advised by [Lynn ] Rothschild [from Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California], has... come up with a way to supply human settlers on Mars with bricks and mortar. They began with a bacterium called Sporosarcina pasteurii, which, unusually, breaks down urea - the principle waste product in urine - and excretes ammonium. This makes the local environment alkaline enough for calcium carbonate cements to form... The idea is that the waste produced by astronauts could feed the microbes. The microbes, in turn, would help cement together fine rocky material on a planet's surface to create bricks.

In other words, astronaut pee would be turned into a binding agent which, when combined with Mars dust, could create bricks. The same binding agent could be used to stick them together, too. It's not just limited to bricks'n'mortar, though: the team think they can provide microbial colonies to provide oil, plastics or even fuel from crap found on the red planet.

However you look at it, they're amazing promises, which would be difficult to believe were it not for the fact that they're clearly already making good on their claims. When it comes to inhabiting Mars, then, it looks like we'll be packing light—just remember your toothbrush and a big box of microbes. [New Scientist]


STUDY: Electric Cars May Be Twice As Bad For Global Warming As Regular Cars


A study by engineers based at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology has questioned some common assumptions about the environmental credentials of electric cars.

Published this week in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, the "comparative environmental life cycle assessment of conventional and electric vehicles" begins by stating that "it is important to address concerns of problem-shifting". By this, the authors mean that by solving one problem, do electric cars create another? And, if so, does this environmental harm then outweigh any advantages?

The study highlights in particular the "toxicity" of the electric car's manufacturing process compared to conventional petrol/diesel cars. It concludes that the "global warming potential" of the process used to make electric cars is twice that of conventional cars.

The study also says - as has been noted many times before - that electric cars do not make sense if the electricity they consume is produced predominately by coal-fired power stations. "It is counterproductive to promote [electric vehicles] EVs in regions where electricity is produced from oil, coal, and lignite combustion," it concludes.

So, should this new study make us reassess the environmental credentials of electric cars? Or does the analysis and data help us, as the authors insist, improve the environmental performance of electric cars? As they say:

Although EVs are an important technological breakthrough with substantial potential environmental benefits, these cannot be harnessed everywhere and in every condition.

Please leave your thoughts below. If you are quoting figures or other studies, please provide a link through to the original source. I will also be inviting various interested parties to join the debate, too. And later on today, I will return with my own ! verdict.

This article originally appeared on

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Thursday, October 4, 2012

There Is 10 Times More Plastic In Antarctic Waters Than We Thought



We've all heard of the Pacific garbage patch, but now researchers are noticing pieces of plastic debris showing up in the waters around Antarctica.

While on a plankton-studying mission, which discovered over 1 million new species of the tiny animals, researchers started noticing a startlingly large amount of plastic — 50,000 fragments per square kilometer — in the Southern Ocean, the waters encircling Antarctica. This is about ten times higher than they expected to find.

"We had always assumed that this was a pristine environment, very little touched by human beings," said Chris Bowler, scientific co-ordinator of the Tara Oceans project, told the Guardian. "The fact that we found these plastics is a sign that the reach of human beings is truly planetary in scale."

"Discovering plastic at these very high levels was completely unexpected because the Southern Ocean is relatively separated from the world’s other oceans and does not normally mix with them," Bowler continued. "It's too late to do much about what's already out there at this stage, as this stuff is going to hang around for thousands of years."

Researchers think the plastic drifted from Australia, Africa and South America. This plastic is mistakenly eaten by wildlife, and can emit toxic chemicals while drifting around in sunlight and salty water.

(Via Smithsonian's Surprising Sci! ence blo g)

See Also: What It's Like To Live On America's Smallest Outpost In Antarctica >

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Researchers Discover Bacteria That Produces Pure Gold [Science]


Researchers Discover Bacteria That Produces Pure GoldThe gold you see in the photo above was not found in a river or a mine. It was produced by a bacteria that, according to researchers at Michigan State University, can survive in extreme toxic environments and create 24-karat gold nuggets. Pure gold.

Maybe this critter can save us all from the global economic crisis.

Or at least make Kazem Kashefi—assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics—and Adam Brown—associate professor of electronic art and intermedia—rich. They are the ones who have created a compact laboratory that uses the bacteria Cupriavidus metallidurans to turn gold chlroride—a toxic chemical liquid you can find in nature—into 99.9% pure gold.

Accoding to Kashefi, they are doing "microbial alchemy" by "something that has no value into a solid, precious metal that's valuable."

The bacteria is incredibly resistant to this toxic element. In fact, it's 25 times stronger than previously thought. The researchers' compact factory—which they named The Great Work of the Metal Lover—holds the bacteria as they feed it the gold chloride. In about a week, the bacteria does its job, processing all that junk into the precious metal—a process they believe happens regularly in nature.

So yes, basically, Cupriavidus metallidurans can eat toxins and poop out gold nuggets.

It seems that medieval alchemists were looking for the Philosopher's Stone—the magic element that could turn lead to gold—in the wrong place. It's not a mineral. It's a bug. [Michigan State University]

The gold laboratory created by Kashefi and Brown. It contains the bacteria and the toxic crap they feed it.

Researchers Discover Bacteria That Produces Pure Gold

This is Cupriavidus metallidurans in action, eating away the toxins and producing the gold.

Researchers Discover Bacteria That Produces Pure Gold


Why Everyone Is Losing Hope In Solar Power


solar power

Solar power seems like a such a great idea.  It's green and there's plenty of it.

But there's one gigantic problem: grid parity.

Grid parity is when a source of power becomes cost competitive with other sources.

And solar is a long way from grid parity.

"Today, you’d need to charge $375 per megawatt hour to justify investment in new solar equipment—nearly four times the average US retail price of electricity," writes Catherine Wood of AllianceBernstein. "That’s why solar energy requires steep subsidies."

Wood discusses some of the cheaper existing forms of energy:

Other power-generating technologies require a much lower price of electricity to attract new investments—from $95 per megawatt hour for new-built nuclear power generators to $130 for new-built wind power generators. Investments in gas-powered and coal-powered generating plants require a price between these two, even if you factor in paying $50 per metric ton to offset the carbon emissions and gas prices more than double their current level.

Wood also notes that the figures she mentions above leave out two gigantic costs:

And these calculations don’t include the cost of backup power or energy storage to supply power when the sun isn’t shining. A backup power system or battery would add roughly 25% to the electricity price required to justify new investment in solar power.

Finally, these calculations ignore the cost of the real estate upon which a solar panel sits, because most smaller scale installations are on a rooftop that would otherwise go unused. For utility-scale installations, however, ignoring real estate costs is not fair.! The cos t basis for what will be the largest utility-scale solar power installation in Japan more than doubles if you take into account the value of the real estate that the solar panels will occupy.

Obviously any new technology requires investments of both money and time before it has a chance to become economically feasible. 

Unfortunately, the biggest players in the solar industry continue to delay their expectations for grid parity, which further raises douts about the viability of solar.  Here's a chart of grid parity projections from AllianceBernstein:

solar grid parity

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The Entire Oil And Gas Industry Has Its Eyes On A Tiny Town In Wyoming



Most scientists have long maintained it was highly unlikely that chemicals pumped into the ground for fracking gas could move all the way up through bedrock and into the water table. 

But that appears to be exactly what has happened underneath Pavillion, Wyoming, population 213. 

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced new USGS test results were consistent with its December tests that fracking likely contaminated groundwater there.

Duke University Professor Rob Jackson has studied the effects of fracking in Pennsylvania and (when they were still active) New York. 

He's also been closely following the Pavillion study.

"The industry likes to say there's never been a case of fracking contaminating groundwater," he told us by phone. "What made the EPA report so controversial is that they concluded that's what happened."

Yesterday, the EPA found methane had leaked into a watertable in Dimock, Pennsylvania where drillers are tapping the Marcellus shale.

But those results are less disturbing than Pavillion, Jackson said.  The contamination in Dimock was most likely because of a crack in pipe, something relatively easy to address.

And the drilling that occurs in the Marcellus takes place thousands of feet below aquifers — unlike the situation potentially unfolding in Pavillion, where the drilling, which was performed by the company Encana, reaches less than 1,000 feet below the surface. 

"If it's moved up into the rock, that's a harder problem to fix than a poorly constructed pipe," Jackson said.

Doug Hock, a spokesman for Encana, said in an email there was nothing surprising in the U! SGS' res ults.

More important is the fact that USGS only sampled one of the two monitoring wells. This goes to the heart of concerns raised by state and federal agencies, as well as Encana—EPA’s wells are improperly constructed. Specifically, the report seems to indicate that USGS declined to sample MW02 because the well could not provide a sample that was representative of actual water quality conditions.

The EPA has not announced when it will finalize its conclusions for Pavillion — the agency is still accepting public comments on its findings from December.

Jackson believes whatever the outcome, fracking will be here to stay.

But the results will significantly raise the stakes regardless. 

"It will still be controversial," he said. "The take home message in Pavillion is, don't frack a well so close to surface."

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Monday, October 1, 2012

Fish Will Shrink To A Quarter Of Their Size Due To Climate Change



The plight of the world's fish supply due to overfishing is already clear. Now fish stocks face another pressure. Fish will shrink up to a quarter of their size by 2050 as a result of climate change, according to a new study.  

The findings, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, were based on a computer projection "to see how fish would react to lower levels of oxygen in the water," Matt McGrath at BBC News writes.

Rising oceans temperatures, which scientists attribute to man-made carbon emissions, creates two problems. Gases become less soluble at higher temperatures, meaning a warmer ocean contains less oxygen. Warm waters also "increase the metabolic rate of the fish's body function," lead author William Cheung, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, told BBC News. As a result, the fish need more oxygen to perform basic functions, "so the fish will run out of oxygen for growth at a smaller body size," says Cheung.   


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