Hominids and chimps may have interbred, Clinton says environmentalism can be used to fight terrorism and all federally funded research may soon be freely available.

The Environment Does Not Recover Quickly
Global warming may have already caused permanent damage to the world’s coral reefs, concludes an English and Australian report published this week. The report is the first to measure long-term effects of increased sea temperature on marine ecosystems near the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. In 1998, an unexpected temperature increase in that region killed off more than 90% of the Seychelles coral, and the damaged reefs have not been able to effectively recover.

The long-term effects of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska are worse than previously believed, a new study reported this week. Sea otters, for example, have not moved back into the most degraded areas of the Prince William Sound, and sea otter populations are still decreasing in size. The study discovered underground deposits of oil that could continue to poison the area for decades.

The University of Oxford sought an injunction against animal rights protestors who have been demonstrating against the institution’s new biomedical center. The university has already taken steps to limit the protests, including filing temporary injunctions and limiting the number of protestors allowed at any one time. Oxford officials say the demonstrations have not been peaceful, and they cited cases of threats and criminal damage.

The US, Britain and Canada Evaluate Alternative Energy
Scientists are regaining interest in plug-in hybrid cars: A group of prominent scientists and engineers spoke before Congress, calling for an increase in research funds for the green machines. Plug-in hybrids work in much the same way as normal hybrid vehicles but have large batteries that hold much more charge. At least one congressman, Lamar Smith (R-TX), already backs the idea and has promised to introduce legislation to provide millions of dollars in research grants.

During Prime Minister’s Questions, a weekly session where British members of Parliament drill the prime minister, Tony Blair said nuclear energy was back on his agenda “with a vengeance.” Blair has been pushing nuclear energy as a means of reducing pollution and freeing Britain from reliance on foreign energy exporters, but some Scottish MPs are worried that the waste would be stored in their districts. The prime minister has also faced criticism for ignoring his own government’s energy review board.

Even though Canada’s environmental minister, Rona Ambrose, is an outspoken critic of the Kyoto Protocol, she is currently scheduled to chair the next round of global climate change talks in Bonn, Germany. This week, environmental groups demanded her resignation, calling her role in the process hypocritical and detrimental. Canada’s conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, has backed his environmental minister, saying it will be impossible for Canada to meet its Kyoto emissions targets. He has also cut funding for climate change initiatives in half.

Bill Clinton, speaking at a conference in Glasgow, Scotland, declared that global warming is a greater threat to world security than terrorism. “There has never been a nation destroyed by terrorism alone, and it’s not about to start now,” he said. “But I think this climate change has the capacity to change the way all of us live on earth.” Clinton went on to explain how, by making concerted efforts to deal with environmental disasters such as the South Asian tsunami, the US could win approval in the parts of the world that produce the most terrorists.

Battling Water
More than 30 countries took part in the first widespread test of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, designed to alert authorities in Pacific Rim nations in the event of another tsunami. The system has actually been in place since 1965, but interest in tsunami monitoring had waned in the years before the 2004 disaster, which left over 200,000 people dead. The drill tested how quickly participating governments are able to communicate the warning and prepare for a disaster.

The only way to protect the Louisiana coast from slipping into the sea may be to change the course of the Mississippi River, said an engineer this week. Louisiana loses 24 square miles (62 square km) of coastland every year, and most of the area lost is economically rich wetlands. The plan involves diverting the very tail end of the Mississippi where it meets the ocean, to abate sediment flow from land out to sea.

Following the $7 billion mismanagement of a weather satellite program, ranking Democrats on the House Committee on Science have called for the dismissal of both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration‘s administrator and a deputy undersecretary of commerce. The program, the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System, was originally budgeted at $6.8 billion, but cost estimates have risen to $13.8 billion.

Scientists Replace the Nugget
Scientists working with gold on the nanoscale have found a structure that resembles a cage, with several pure gold atoms clustering together around a hollow center. Scientists might someday use these structures to transport drugs through the human blood system by trapping or harboring atoms in the cages. This gold configuration is the first example of a freestanding, hollow cage structure built by metal atoms.

On Monday, US Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings spoke on the need for young girls to enroll in math and science courses. She blamed low rates of participation in early math and science classes for the greater number of men in those fields. “We cannot do what we need to do to create high-skill, high-wage jobs for our country if we write off the prospects of half our population,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) in agreement with Spellings.

This month, Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) introduced a bill into the Senate that would require all federally funded research to be freely available to the general public in open access digital repositories. Any federally funded research accepted into a peer-review journal would need to appear online within six months of publication. (Read more about this here.

A Pamela-Anderson-and-Tommy-Lee-esque Split
A genome study on chimps and humans revealed that these two branches of the primate family split off much more recently than scientists have suspected, and during the split, they may have cast some longing backward glances. Early humans and chimps probably interbred in the early days of their speciation, which took place no more than 5.4 million years ago, far more recently than the 7.4 million years ago previously suggested.

Scientists have discredited the discovery of Homo floresiensis, aka “the Hobbit,” a new species of early human found in Indonesia in 2003. Instead of coming from a tiny ancient humanoid, scientists said this week, the bones found in Indonesia are probably from a modern human who suffered from microcephaly, a condition that causes brain shrinkage and small stature.

Geneticists recently announced they have extracted a strand of nuclear DNA from the remains of a 45,000-year-old Neanderthal man. Scientists had previously isolated mitochondrial DNA from Neanderthals, but by using a new process of gene sequencing, researchers have reconstructed long pieces of the more interesting nuclear genetic material. The team expects their discovery will clarify the relationship between early Homo sapiens and Neanderthals.

Originally published May 19, 2006

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