Bush argues for science funding, China uses fuel-efficient vehicles and Al Gore praises Wal-Mart.

Differences in Sexes, Microbes, Australian Animals

Genes can behave differently in males than they do in females, a study out of UCLA has found. The researchers examined thousands of genes from four different regions of the body that acted differently in the different sexes. Although the genes coded for the same proteins in both sexes, the quantity of protein produced by each gene differed. Prior to this study, scientists had found sex differences in about 1,000 genes in the liver and 60 genes in the brain—the UCLA study uncovered roughly 10 times that number.

The US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) has plans to sequence the DNA of organisms that can help produce biofuels such as ethanol. The genetic sequencing of organisms like switchgrass, cotton and microbes that can break down plants into biofuels will allow the DOE JGI to manipulate their genes and improve their biofuel-production capabilities.

Last week, scientists announced they had unearthed the remains of 20 previously unknown extinct Australian animals. The newly discovered species include a saber-toothed kangaroo, an 800-pound duck, and a marsupial lion. These fossils were part of an enormous cache, containing the remains of as many as 500 extinct organisms. The creatures range from 24 to 500 million years old.

Bush Pushes for Science

Last week, President Bush urged the Senate to approve increased funding for research in areas such as nanotechnology, supercomputing and alternative energy sources. The bill comes as part of Bush’s “American Competitiveness Initiative,” which he says will help the US stay competitive in the global economy. If passed, the bill would increase National Science Foundation funding by about $334 million.

The National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation have announced the most recent round of grants and fellowships distributed through their joint program, Documenting Endangered Languages. The latest round of funding will support the preservation of more than 60 languages, and it focuses on Arctic languages as part of the International Polar Year initiative. Experts estimate that about half of the 7,000 currently spoken languages are endangered. 

A Chinese goose farmer who reported avian flu outbreaks in his area was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on charges of blackmail and fraud. The grounds for arrest are unclear, as the reported outbreaks were confirmed. The Chinese government also began an investigation into the death of a 24-year-old man in 2003, which at the time was attributed to SARS. Officials now believe the man could have been China’s first avian flu death, since the man was never exposed to SARS. Spain’s first case of avian flu has been found in a wild bird in the northern province of Alava. Meanwhile, Romania’s culling program, which resulted in the slaughter of nearly one million birds in May, appears to have been successful: In May, 18 counties reported avian flu outbreaks, but by June 30, that number was reduced to four.

Failure and Success in Space

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) suffered a setback on Monday when a rocket carrying the largest satellite the nation has ever produced exploded seconds after lift-off. ISRO officials said they remain confident in the program despite the failure, and they mentioned that other nations’ space programs faced similar learning curve experiences in their early days. The rocket was intended to carry a communications satellite that would have boosted television services for the next decade.

After an inspection documenting nearly every inch of the space shuttle Discovery’s exterior, NASA officials announced on July 9 that the shuttle is fit for a safe to return to Earth. NASA engineers located five items of concern but said none of the problems were serious enough to prevent safe re-entry. Officials said that anything endangering the mission would be fixed before the shuttle returns. If astronauts need to repair the shuttle, they may use a robotic arm or fix the shuttle during a third spacewalk.

The Cassini spacecraft discovered a new Saturnian moon, Polydeuces, on May 22. The moon measures a tiny two miles in diameter and orbits at the same distance from Saturn as the moons Helene (20 miles across) and Dione (700 miles across). Almost nothing is known about Polydeuces since it is so small and was discovered so recently. 

NASA has announced plans to study the growth of plants in space during the next shuttle mission. Mike Eodice, the experiment’s project manager, said scientists will grow a common weed from the mustard and cabbage family—chosen because the plant is both hearty and has had its genes fully sequenced. The experiment will test the effects of different gravity levels, light levels and light wavelengths on plant growth.

The World Struggles to Save (or Make Money) on Energy

In the first half of 2006, five of the 10 best selling cars in China were low-emission, energy efficient vehicles. As the number of cars on Chinese roads increases, the Chinese government has created policies favoring vehicles with low emissions. The government is even considering dropping the tax on small-engine vehicles from 3 to 1%, while increasing the tax on large-engine vehicles from 8% to somewhere between 14 and 20%.

On July 7, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, warned Turkey that it must approach the construction of its first nuclear reactor with caution. He stressed the benefits of educating the Turkish public on the subject of nuclear power and the need to plan for the entire life of the nuclear system, from early financing to the disposal of waste. The government is constructing the nuclear reactor to prevent a potential future energy shortage and decrease dependence on foreign energy.

China will add four new strategic oil reserves by the end of the year, boosting its oil storage capacity by some 12 million tons, state media reported last week. Chinese officials said they expect the construction of oil reserves to accelerate, with two more projects—each capable of storing an additional 28 million tons of oil—already in the works. In addition, China plans to increase overseas cooperation in the production of crude oil.

Canada, one of two Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations that is a net exporter of energy, will look to defend its exports at the upcoming G8 summit, officials said on July 7. The Alberta oil sands contain an estimated 179 billion barrels of oil, and Canada produces about one third of the world’s uranium supply. Canada will push for a market-based approach to energy development and an endorsement of nuclear energy as part of the future energy mix. The G8 summit will be held from July 15 to 17 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Global Warming Will Hurt Wine Production

A new study predicts that by the end of the century, global warming will cause an 81% drop in the amount of US land capable of growing wine grapes. While wine grapes can’t tolerate more than 14 days above 95 degrees per year, the study estimates that up to 60 days a year could be super-hot by the end of the century. Previous studies had been more optimistic about the wine grape crop, as they only calculated average temperature trends but didn’t account for the effect of very hot days.

Scientists recently found that ozone, a molecule produced by fossil fuel engines, inhibits plant growth and causes billions of dollars of crop damage every year. Economists estimate that India is the worst hit, losing $5 billion a year to ozone, and China is not far behind, losing $2.5 billion in crops every year. Ozone weakens plants by entering through respiratory pores and producing chemicals that stifle photosynthesis. The undersized plants make for smaller harvests.

Former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw is joining the fight to raise public awareness about global warming. Brokaw will be hosting a Discovery Channel special entitled “Global Warming: What You Need to Know,” which explains climate change and includes much of the science presented in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. The show doubles as a call to action—a call which Brokaw himself has heeded by changing lighting fixtures in his homes and driving a hybrid car.

Al Gore praised Wal-Mart on Wednesday for its newfound commitment to environmental sustainability. Last October, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott pledged to reduce waste to zero, move towards using only renewable energy and offer more environment-friendly products. Wal-Mart emitted the equivalent of 20.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide last year, and its supply chain—the production and shipping needed to run Wal-Mart—is estimated to have produced about 10 times that amount.

Download podcast

Originally published July 17, 2006


Share this Stumbleupon Reddit Email + More


  • Ideas

    I Tried Almost Everything Else

    John Rinn, snowboarder, skateboarder, and “genomic origamist,” on why we should dumpster-dive in our genomes and the inspiration of a middle-distance runner.

  • Ideas

    Going, Going, Gone

    The second most common element in the universe is increasingly rare on Earth—except, for now, in America.

  • Ideas

    Earth-like Planets Aren’t Rare

    Renowned planetary scientist James Kasting on the odds of finding another Earth-like planet and the power of science fiction.

The Seed Salon

Video: conversations with leading scientists and thinkers on fundamental issues and ideas at the edge of science and culture.

Are We Beyond the Two Cultures?

Video: Seed revisits the questions C.P. Snow raised about science and the humanities 50 years by asking six great thinkers, Where are we now?

Saved by Science

Audio slideshow: Justine Cooper's large-format photographs of the collections behind the walls of the American Museum of Natural History.

The Universe in 2009

In 2009, we are celebrating curiosity and creativity with a dynamic look at the very best ideas that give us reason for optimism.

Revolutionary Minds
The Interpreters

In this installment of Revolutionary Minds, five people who use the new tools of science to educate, illuminate, and engage.

The Seed Design Series

Leading scientists, designers, and architects on ideas like the personal genome, brain visualization, generative architecture, and collective design.

The Seed State of Science

Seed examines the radical changes within science itself by assessing the evolving role of scientists and the shifting dimensions of scientific practice.

A Place for Science

On the trail of the haunts, homes, and posts of knowledge, from the laboratory to the field.


Witness the science. Stunning photographic portfolios from the pages of Seed magazine.

SEEDMAGAZINE.COM by Seed Media Group. ©2005-2015 Seed Media Group LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Sites by Seed Media Group: Seed Media Group | ScienceBlogs | Research Blogging | SEEDMAGAZINE.COM