Russia plans to build a floating power plant, India prepares access nuclear technology, and Bush creates the world's largest marine preserve.

Researchers Create a Butterfly Species, Discover a Rodent Family

Scientists have crossbred two butterfly species to create a distinct third species, the naturally occurring H. heurippa. The researchers had noticed that the distinctive red and white wing patterns of H. heurippa appeared to be an almost exact mix of the patterns of two other species. By mating butterflies of the two parent species, the scientists achieved hybrid speciation, where instead of one species diverging into two, as is usually the case, two species come together to form a third.

A live specimen of a rodent family thought to have been extinct for 11 million years was found recently in central Laos. The animal, which scientists have nicknamed the Laotian rock rat, is a calm, dark, furry, squirrel-like creature. The discoverers plan to study the species closely so as to preserve its habitat and thereby avoid sending the family into actual extinction.

A new microscope design, which allows for direct, real-time observation of genetic behavior, has revealed that some genes are expressed in spurts of activity rather than continuously. Albert Einstein College of Medicine researchers observed a gene that helps regulate the life cycle of one species of amoeba and found that it activates in short pulses. The researchers hypothesize that the pulsing behavior may regulate development: Much as a thermostat only releases a little bit of heat at a time, so a house doesn’t overheat, this gene only activates briefly, so there isn’t too much activity at once.

Bush Safeguards 7,000 Species

On Thursday President Bush created the largest marine conservation area in the world. The sanctuary, which covers 140,000 square miles of Hawaiian Islands and surrounding waters, is home to over 7,000 species, many of which live exclusively within the new preserve. The refuge will be formed using a 100-year-old law known as the

National Antiquities Act, which gives the president the right to create national monuments.

A British and Dutch research team has found that Arctic sea level is dropping by as much as 2 millimeters per year. The data was collected by Europe’s ERS-2 satellite, which detects sea level by measuring the travel time of microwave pulses it generates. While sea level is not uniform across the globe, the receding sea level in the Arctic still puzzles scientists. The team’s leader, Dr Remko Scharroo, said he awaits an explanation from the geophysics community.

NASA‘s Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) has started collecting data that will reveal where aerosols are located and how they are affecting climate change. Aerosols, tiny, dust-like particles in the atmosphere, reflect some of the sun’s rays away from Earth, causing a “global cooling” effect. CALIPSO will use lidar, a radar-like technology that uses visible light instead of radio waves, to determine how much of the Earth’s atmosphere is covered by aerosol clouds.

Companies and Countries Encourage Alternate Energy

Bank of America has joined a small but growing contingent of organizations offering cash incentives to employees who purchase hybrid cars. The company will offer $3,000 to hybrid-purchasing workers in Boston, Los Angeles, and Charlotte, North Carolina, matching the $3,000 federal tax credit for purchasing a hybrid. Other companies offering such incentives include Google and Timberland.

Russia is preparing to build the world’s first floating nuclear power plant, which would be ideal for generating power in remote arctic areas, a state representative said. The $336 million unit will be built at an atomic submarine construction yard in the Arctic. Environmental groups have criticized the project as unsafe, but Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Russia’s Federal Atomic Power Agency, has assured them that “there will be no floating Chernobyl.”

A controversial nuclear cooperation deal between India and the United States appears to be making progress, both sides said Wednesday. The deal would allow India to access civilian nuclear technology, but it would also require international inspection of a majority of their reactors. Additionally, the United States has included a provision granting itself the right to cease cooperation if India begins nuclear weapons testing.

A United Nations plan to bolster renewable energy use in poor countries is expected to cut CO2 emissions by a billion metric tons by 2012. The program provides CO2 credits to wealthy investor nations that reduce global emissions by paying for renewable energy infrastructures in developing nations. The UN is considering over 800 individual projects for the program, with 200 already approved and 600 still awaiting evaluation.

Government Recalls Poison, Introduces Disease

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to phase out a common pesticide known to cause seizures, paralysis, and possibly death. The pesticide AZM is derived from a World War II era nerve agent and has been in use commercially since the late 1950s. The EPA decision follows a 2004 lawsuit in which farmers and environmental groups sued the EPA for continuing to allow farmers to use such a dangerous chemical. The case was settled when the EPA agreed to reconsider the use of AZM.

The federal government’s plan to open a bioterrorism simulation laboratory near San Francisco has met stiff resistance, and an appeals court is hearing arguments on whether the lab should be permitted. Opponents of the lab contend that insufficient research was done in choosing the research site. The designated area is near both the major population center of San Francisco and dangerous fault lines. San Francisco residents worry that an earthquake at the lab could expose them to the plague, HIV and anthrax, all of which would be stored in the facility.

Al Gore plans to train 1,000 people to give the now famous slideshow featured in his recent film An Inconvenient Truth. The slideshow presents evidence of human-caused global climate change, including increased concentrations of CO2, higher sea levels and more intense storms. Gore has pledged that the profits from the movie and the book of the same name will be devoted to training his 1,000 new recruits.

Red Rover, Red Rover, Send Bridget Right Over

Last Monday, British scientists unveiled a prototype of Bridget, the life-detecting robot they plan to send to Mars in 2011. According to the rover’s designers, Bridget will cover more ground than either of the NASA craft currently on Mars, and it will use more advanced equipment to gather samples from beneath the Red Planet’s surface and analyze them for signs of past or present life. The designers expect Bridget will cost €150 million or $189 million.

NASA’s Download podcast

Originally published June 19, 2006


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