The FDA announced today that meat and milk from cloned animals are just as safe as the normal stuff. Other nations have already come to the same conclusion, but this is still a major regulatory step here in the U.S. That said, clone-burgers and clone-shakes aren't going to be on sale right away. The FDA has asked clone companies to hold off selling the stuff for now. Which is probably painful, since the potential market for cloned food products has been estimated at $20 billion. One reason is that there's some serious PR work to be done before the American people are ready to swallow these not-quite-natural goods. There are also a few economic hold-ups—the animals themselves are expensive, and it may be the offspring of clones that head to the butcher. There are also some big questions about the long-term health of clones that need answering. So it's probably safe to say that Dolly stew is at least a few years away.—Gregory Mone
Stanford researchers have figured out a way to incorporate silicon nanowires into rechargeable lithium ion batteries and extend their life from 4 to 40 hours. The work, described in a paper in Nature Nanotechnology, could lead to iPods, laptops and camcorders that could be run nearly for an entire weekend without requiring a re-charge. Of course, this is still in the lab stage, and there are undoubtedly quite a few steps and hurdles between the campus and commercialization, but we're optimists. So, here's to the end of the ABC (Always Be Charging) Rule of electronics.—Gregory Mone
Scientists at Advanced Cell Technology announced yesterday that they've derived colonies of stem cells from human embryos without doing any damage to those original embryos. The work is significant because it may meet the ethical guidelines of the Bush Administration, which insist that no harm be done to the embryos in pursuing this brand of stem cell research. At the same time, it might not be that clear cut, since the definition of "harm" is a bit tricky in this space, as this Washington Post article points out. The work differs from this past summer's big advance, in which scientists dodged the ethical issue altogether, and derived embyonic stem cells from mature cells.—Gregory Mone
Engineers at Purdue University and the Republic of Turkey have come up with a bold (their word) way to save the residents of Istanbul from a catastrophic earthquake: Build a second city somewhere else. Like that's so easy? The Purdue guys needed two months and TeraGrid—the world's largest open-science computing grid—just to build a fly-through animation of their proposed city.
Istanbul is not well prepared for earthquakes and is expected to get a big one within the next 30 years. The proposed "satellite" city would not only offer residents a refuge but would have all sorts of amenities missing in old Istanbul, such as modern information technologies and security systems. And of course, earthquake-resistant structures.
Turkey can't afford to lose its most important city, and bringing Istanbul up to modern standards would cost an estimated $50 billion. But it's hard to believe that a brand-new city capable of sheltering 12 million wouldn't cost a whole lot more than that. The proposal sounds like a fun computer modeling exercise for Purdue students but hardly a realistic solution for Istanbul.—Dawn Stover
Image: Nicoletta Adamo Villani/Purdue University
A recent article in The New York Times reported on the growing practice of "shopdropping," in which people who are promoting a product or message surreptitiously plant items in retail stores. It's the opposite of shoplifting.
Shopdroppers reportedly include religious groups that have been slipping Christian cartoons into the pages of science magazines at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon. In retaliation, other shopdroppers have been moving Bibles from the religion section to the sci-fi/fantasy section.—Dawn Stover
Addicts form thoughts in a fundamentally different way than those without addictions, according to a report published in today's Journal of Neuroscience. The study, led by scientists at the University of North Carolina and the University of California, compared the brain activity of recovering alcoholics and non-addicts. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), they recorded neural activity of both groups while they made a hypothetical financial decision: Less money now or more later? The impulsive "now" option, one demarcated by increased activity in certain brain sites, was chosen by the recovering addicts three times more often than by others. The ones who decided to hold off, however, had more activity in their orbital frontal cortices—the "brakes" area of the brain, which allows us to consider future consequences and weigh them against short-term gain.
The study, the first to identify such differentiation in brain activity, could be the key to discovering viable treatments for addiction.—Abby Seiff
Astronomers have spotted a rarity in space: two previously known galaxies merging with a newly discovered third galaxy of roughly the same size. Together they form what the astronomers have dubbed "The Bird." (Some also see a resemblance to Tinker Bell.)
The astronomers photographed the galaxies using the ESO's Very Large Telescope. One of the telescope's instruments is able to peer through dust clouds surrounding the colliding galaxies, using adaptive optics to get a clear look.
Two of the galaxies met a couple of hundred million years ago, astronomers estimate. But the third galaxy, which forms the bird's "head," is a new arrival and is already moving away from the others at about 850,000 miles per hour.—Dawn Stover
Image: European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO)
Last week, the oil company Royal Dutch Shell announced plans to build an algae biodiesel plant in Hawaii. The project will progress in stages: first, the company will build a small research plant, with hopes to build a full-scale commercial plant within two years. Algae is an incredibly tantalizing yet frustrating potential fuel source, as PopSci's Elizabeth Svoboda found out earlier this year when writing the tale of an algae biodiesel startup in Colorado. The microbes can create enormous amounts of oil from very little in the way of nutrients and land, but extracting the oil and converting it to biodiesel remains extremely difficult.
Shell is partnering with Hawaii-based HR Biopetroleum on their project, and hopes to produce 8.5 million barrels of biodiesel a year at the commercial plant.—Michael Moyer
(Image Credit: Dan Bihn)
California ground squirrels and rock squirrels have evolved a sneaky strategy to avoid being eaten by their worst enemy: They create a rattlesnake "perfume" that masks their squirrelly scent.
Barbara Clucas, a graduate student in animal behavior at UC Davis, watched how the squirrels do it (check out her video, above). First they chew up skins shed by rattlesnakes. Then they lick themselves to spread skin pieces and snake-flavored spit on their fur. Some squirrels even gather snake odor from dirt where snakes have rested. When the squirrels curl up for their own naps, they sleep more safely.
Clucas and colleagues at UC Davis, Sam Houston State University and New Mexico State University published their findings in the journal Animal Behavior.—Dawn Stover
Video by Barbara Clucas, UC Davis
Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University have discovered how the brain essentially re-wires itself to quickly process new stimuli.
Connections between neurons change rapidly, based on the input to the brain. So, when your nose picks up an odor, a whole bunch of neurons start to fire, but then a process called lateral inhibition kicks in. With lateral inhibition, certain neurons tell their neighbors to shut up and thereby reduce the noise, allowing the brain to focus on identifying the smell.
In this work, the group identified a process that enhances lateral inhibition, so the brain can quickly and clearly identify a stimulus. Read the full paper in Nature Neuroscience.—Gregory Mone