Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Major Coastal Study Funded by NSF and Others

OGI School of Science & Engineering
"PORTLAND, Ore. - Oregon Health & Science University has received a $19 million National Science Foundation grant to form a new center for studying coastal margins, the biologically rich but highly vulnerable environments where rivers meet the ocean.
The NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction, or CMOP, is one of only 17 active STC's and one of four chosen for funding this year. It is the only STC focused on coastal margins and the first ever hosted in Oregon.
OHSU's OGI School of Science & Engineering and its partners, including the University of Washington and Oregon State University, are kicking in an extra $5.6 million to the effort, for a total of $24.6 million over the next five years. The NSF grant also is renewable after five years.
The Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction (CMOP), supported by the National Science Foundation, will use advanced science and technologies to help society meet important challenges. CMOP research will in particular be driven by key questions in coastal margin understanding: How do climate and climate change impact coastal margins? What roles do coastal margins play in global elemental cycles? How far seaward do human activities impact ecosystems?"

Nanowires Used to Probe Neurons

Technology Review, By Katherine Bourzac

"The research group, led by Charles Lieber, professor of chemistry at Harvard University, has developed techniques for synthesizing large arrays of silicon nanowires, which act as transistors, amplifying very small electrical signals from as many as 50 places on a single neuron. In contrast, the most precise existing methods can pick up only one or two signals from a neuron. By detecting electrical activity in many places along a neuron, the researchers can watch how it processes and acts on incoming signals from other cells.
The nanowires are about the same size as the branches that neurons use to communicate with one another. William Ditto, professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Florida, says neurons probably send the same kinds of signals to the nanowires as they do to other neurons. As a result, the nanowires could provide a realistic view of a neuron's complex firing patterns."

Saturday, August 26, 2006

PNNL Researchers Reveal Bacterium's Ability to Process Uranium

Small Times: News about MEMS, Nanotechnology and Microsystems, By John Trumbo
Tri-City Herald
"Aug. 22, 2006 -- Pacific Northwest National Laboratory scientists have discovered Shewanella oneidensis bacteria's dirty little secret.
It oozes goo loaded with pearls of uraninite, said Jim Frederickson, chief scientist on the research project.
Shewanella bacteria have the remarkable ability to oxidize heavy metal uranium, converting the deadly byproduct of nuclear age processes at Hanford into less harmful uranium dioxide, or uraninite. Shewanella bacteria have the ability to 'breathe,' or reduce, metals the way human beings process oxygen."

Update: Link to the article, published in PLoS Biology.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

"The Gene that Makes Us Human?"

Technology Review, By Emily Singer
"In the new paper, researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz compared the human genome to the genomes of chimps, dogs, rats, mice, and chickens, searching for genetic sequences that were highly conserved during evolution and therefore functionally important. They then looked for sequences within those conserved regions that had changed rapidly in humans, indicating that those changes were important for human's unique evolution.
The researchers identified several rapidly evolving chunks of DNA, but the fastest piece by far was a small chain of DNA that's part of a gene expressed in the hippocampus, which is involved in learning and memory. According to the findings, the sequence was very similar in chickens and chimps, with only two changes to the genetic code; but it had changed remarkably in human DNA, showing 18 genetic differences from the version in chimps. "

Monday, August 14, 2006

"Turning Slash to Cash" : Good Idea?

Technology Review
"A small company in Ottawa, Canada, says it has developed an economical way of turning North America's vast supply of forest waste, called 'slash,' into a carbon-neutral liquid for power generation and chemical production.
Its approach is built around a modular, quick-to-assemble pyrolysis plant that can follow logging companies into the bush and directly convert their leftover trimmings into a clean-burning renewable fuel.
The trimmings, also known as forest slash, are the unwanted branches, tops, stumps, and leaves that are removed during logging and typically burned in piles at the sides of roads.
It's a tremendous amount of wasted energy. In the United States alone, 16 percent of wood resulting from logging activities is slash, or 49 million tons in 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. "

Friday, August 11, 2006

Why Am I Not Surprised

National Geographic News
"In a sort of evolutionary arms race, primates kept improving their eyesight to help spot and avoid snakes as the snakes became more dangerous, suggests Lynne Isbell, a behavioral ecologist at the University of California, Davis. 'The initial change in primate [eyes] ... occurred when they had to deal with constricting snakes, probably about 90 million years ago,' Isbell said.
'That ended up with primates that have forward-facing eyes, whereas other mammals tend to have eyes on the sides of their heads.' Forward-facing eyes allow better depth perception.
When poisonous snakes evolved about 60 million years ago, primates further specialized their visual systems.
'That resulted in the anthropoid primates - which we are one of - which had better vision all around, compared to the earlier primates that only had to deal with constricting snakes,' Isbell said.
The study is published in the July issue of the Journal of Human Evolution. "

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

"Judge blasts EPA for delays in Clean Air Act implementation (8/7/06)"

Govexec; by Jenny Mandel (8/7/06)
"A federal judge reprimanded the Environmental Protection Agency last week for devoting resources to discretionary activities while it remains years behind schedule in meeting its statutory obligations to regulate hazardous air pollutants as required by the 1990 Clean Air Act.
In an opinion issued last Wednesday, Judge Paul Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia laid out the reasoning behind an order, issued in March, that EPA promulgate regulations according to an accelerated schedule that he said would reflect Congress's original intent in setting a timeline for completion of the work. "