X Chromosome!
Grass Biofuel! Electronic Waste!
2D Electronic Spectroscopy!
Earth 60% Depleted & More!
X Chromosome!
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions News Release

April 1, 2005 - By intensely and systematically comparing the human X chromosome to genetic information from chimpanzees, rats and mice, a team of scientists from the United States and India has uncovered dozens of new genes, many of which are located in regions of the chromosome already tied to disease.

Scientists found 43 new "gene structures"

Regions of the X chromosome, one of the two sex chromosomes (Y is the other), have been linked to mental retardation and numerous other disorders, but finding the particular genetic abnormalities involved has been difficult.

The team's accomplishment, described in the April issue of Nature Genetics, should speed research into diseases associated with the X chromosome and encourage similar analyses of other chromosomes.

"To our knowledge, this is the first time critical analysis of an entire chromosome has been done by a group that wasn't involved in determining the chromosome's genetic sequence," says study leader Akhilesh Pandey, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor in the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins and chief scientific adviser to the Institute of Bioinformatics (IOB) in Bangalore, India, where the analyses took place. "We didn't start small. We wanted to prove that complete annotation can be done, and done in a way that lets you find new and unexpected things."

For 18 months, 26 Indian scientists pored through the publicly available sequence of the X chromosome (information generated by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in England and others) to identify genes and other important parts of its DNA.

But unlike other efforts, the team didn't just "mine the data" by using computers to search for known patterns in the genetic sequence. Instead, Pandey decided they would look for similarities between the human X chromosome's protein-encoding instructions and corresponding regions in the mouse. Regions that were identical or nearly so were then examined carefully by IOB biologists.

"We didn't want to start out by saying that genes had to look a certain way," says Pandey. "So our only initial assumption was that if a genetic region is important and codes for a protein, the sequence will be conserved at the protein level. Thus, even if the genetic sequence is different here and there, the protein sequence could still be the same."

Essentially, the researchers took advantage of the redundancy inherent in the genetic code. DNA's four building blocks -- A, T, C and G -- act as instructions for proteins in select three-block sets. These three-block sets each "code" for just one of the 20 possible protein building blocks, or amino acids, but some of the sets code for the same amino acid. For example, the DNA sequences TTGAGGAGC and CTACGATCA are quite different, but both specify the same three amino acids -- leucine, arginine and serine, in that order.

"Instead of telling the computer what to look for, we let nature tell the computer what was important," says Pandey. "When you align the protein-encoding instructions of the human and mouse, the genes jump out at you."

In the regions that were the same between species, the scientists found 43 new "gene structures" that encode proteins. Some of the newly identified genes sit in regions long tied to X-linked mental retardation syndromes, which appear only in boys, or other disorders. Quite remarkably, Pandey says, almost half of the new genes don't look like any previously known genes, nor do they look like each other.

"These would not be found any other way, because no one knew to look for them," he says. "No one had ever identified any aspect of their sequences as being important."

The IOB scientists and the U.S. members of the team experimentally investigated a few of the new genes to confirm the comparative approach's validity. Their results, as well as data created by other scientists since the U.S-India team started working, confirm the existence of some of the newly identified genes. The team's work also showed that some so-called pseudogenes on the X chromosome are actually expressed, or transcribed, which contradicts the widespread idea that they are functionless.

"We're really trying to show that complete annotation of chromosomes can be done, and that doing it this way means you can find things you don't expect to find," says Pandey. "It's long, painstaking work, but it's worth it."

Pandey hopes that researchers will take the initiative to annotate sequenced genetic information and validate regions used in their work.

Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions - http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org

eXoNews Pix of the Week Dept.
No Evidence of Intelligence

A copy of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction is seen here. The commission said it had found no evidence that US intelligence analysts were pressured to tailor findings about Iraq's illegal weapons to suit President George W. Bush's agenda. (AFP/ Brendan Smialowski)

Russia Says F-16s Will Trigger Arms Race

SHIMLA India April 3, 2005 (AFP) - Russia said that US sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan would trigger an arms race in South Asia.

"At a time when relations between India and Pakistan have thawed, it would be a pity that the supply of F-16 fighter planes would destroy the fragile environment in South Asia and give rise to an arms race in the region," Russian ambassador to India V. Truvinikov said in this north Indian hill station on Saturday.

"America should think twice before the supply of these fighter planes to Pakistan."

The United States recently announced it was selling the sophisticated jets to Pakistan while making a similar offer to New Delhi.

India has so far not accepted the offer, saying that details of the deal need to be discussed first.

However, it has expressed concern over the decision to sell the jets to rival Pakistan, saying the weapons could be used against India.

India has been Russia's long-time ally and 70 percent of its military supplies come from Moscow.

Grass Is Biofuel!

Jetcar : A man drives a Jetcar vehicle using
only 2.1 liters of diesel oil per 100 kilometers
during the Auto Mobil International fair in
Leipzig. (AFP/DDP/Sebastian Willnow)

Cornell University News Release

ITHACA NY March 31, 2005 - Grow grass, not for fun but for fuel. Burning grass for energy has been a well-accepted technology in Europe for decades. But not in the United States.

Yet burning grass pellets as a biofuel is economical, energy-efficient, environmentally friendly and sustainable, says a Cornell University forage crop expert.

This alternative fuel easily could be produced and pelleted by farmers and burned in modified stoves built to burn wood pellets or corn, says Jerry Cherney, the E.V. Baker Professor of Agriculture. Burning grass pellets hasn't caught on in the United States, however, Cherney says, primarily because Washington has made no effort to support the technology with subsidies or research dollars.

"Burning grass pellets makes sense; after all, it takes 70 days to grow a crop of grass for pellets, but it takes 70 million years to make fossil fuels," says Cherney, who notes that a grass-for-fuel crop could help supplement farmers' incomes. Cherney presented the case for grass biofuel at a U.S. Department of Agriculture-sponsored conference, Greenhouse Gases and Carbon Sequestration in Agriculture and Forestry, held March 21-24 in Baltimore.

"Grass pellets have great potential as a low-tech, small-scale, renewable energy system that can be locally produced, locally processed and locally consumed, while having a positive impact on rural communities," Cherney told the conference.

The downside? "Unfortunately grass has no political lobby, which makes the start up of any new alternative energy industry problematic," says Cherney. He notes that a pellet-fuel industry was successfully established in Europe by providing subsidies to the industry. And even though the ratio of the amount of energy needed to produce grass pellets to the amount of energy they produce is much more favorable than for other biomass crops, the lack of government support prevents the industry from going forward, he says.

Cherney has made a comparison of wood pellets with various mixes of grasses and the BTUs (British Thermal Units) produced per pound. He has found that grass pellets can be burned without emissions problems, and they have 96 percent of the BTUs of wood pellets. He also notes that grass produces more ash than wood -- meaning more frequent cleaning -- of stoves. Currently, he is testing the burning of pellets made from grasses, such as timothy and orchard grass, as well as weeds, such as goldenrod, in pellet stoves at Cornell's Mt. Pleasant Research Farm. This demonstration project is funded by Cornell's Agricultural Experiment Station.

Cherney points out that grass biofuel pellets are much better for the environment because they emit up to 90 percent less greenhouse gases than oil, coal and natural gas do. Furthermore, he says, grass is perennial, does not require fertilization and can be grown on marginal farmland.

"Any mixture of grasses can be used, cut in mid- to late summer, left in the field to leach out minerals, then baled and pelleted. Drying of the hay is not required for pelleting, making the cost of processing less than with wood pelleting," says Cherney. "The bottom line is that pelletized grass has the potential to be a major affordable, unsubsidized fuel source capable of meeting home and small business heating requirements at less cost than all available alternatives."

Cornell University News Service - http://www.news.cornell.edu

Flying Squirrel Granted Permanent Residency in Canada

Squirrel and moose (Jay Ward Productions)

By Stefanie Kranjec

TORONTO April 1, 2005 (Reuters) - Sabrina the flying squirrel has been allowed permanent residency in Canada after a government order to deport her -- which made made headlines around the world last year -- was reversed this week.

"I think justice got done," Clayton Ruby, a high-profile Toronto lawyer who led a campaign to change Canada's policy on importing squirrels and other banned rodents, said on Friday. "They've passed regulation which says this will not happen again."

Naturalist Steve Patterson bought the squirrel legally in the United States last year and brought it to Canada to use for children's nature studies. Sabrina's entry into the country was eased by a customs blunder at the U.S. border. On discovering the mistake, the Canadian government said the animal had to be sent back to the United States, citing a 2003 ban on importing rodents that was brought in after a monkeypox outbreak south of the border.

"I cleared customs. I did everything above board and so everything would be all right, I thought," Patterson said. "My only recourse was to deny what they wanted, which was Sabrina out of the country. What else can you do? Give up? I don't think so."

Canada's Health of Animals Act was changed in November 2004 to allow for the importation of animals such as Sabrina for "educational purposes". But Ottawa still filed a lawsuit against Patterson, lost, and appealed, before settling the case this week.

And Sabrina?

"Oblivious to the whole thing," said Patterson. "Poor little innocent squirrel. You just don't treat people like that. Or animals."

[Sabrina's husband, TV star Rocket J. Squirrel, said the rights to Sabrina's story were recently sold to Pixar for $65 million US. Rocky is currently booked for four weeks at the Toronto Hilton's Squirrel & Moose Lounge. Ed]

NRA Says More Guns Needed in Schools
WASHINGTON March 26, 2005 (US Newswire) - The incoming president of the National Rifle Association told the Associated Press that in order to prevent school shootings like last week's horror in Red Lake, Minn., we should arm teachers with guns, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Sandra Froman, who will take over as NRA president next month in Houston, is no stranger to convex views on policy. She said last fall that the majority of the estimated 30,000 people who die from gunfire in the United States were criminals.

"Putting more guns in our schools is an irresponsible position to advocate publicly -- an awful, awful idea," said Michael Barnes, president of the Brady Campaign. "The National Rifle Association should disavow this policy position immediately.

"To use a tragedy like this to advocate for more guns in the streets is unconscionable," Barnes said. "It is also, unfortunately, vintage NRA. Whenever there is high profile gunfire, their reaction is to try to sell more guns. The leadership ought to be ashamed of the incoming president's radicalism."
Electronic Waste

HONG KONG March 31, 2005 (Reuters) — Hong Kong has become a dumping ground for electronic waste from the United States, Europe and Japan and soil tests have uncovered excessive lead levels in the soil, according to Greenpeace.

Nearly 100 large, open fields in the city's New Territories are covered in a sea of old computers, televisions, printers and printed circuit boards.

The semi-rural New Territories, near the border with mainland China, has become a receiving and sorting station for the waste before disassembled parts are sent across the border for recycling.

"Up till 2003, we had only old local computers in small shops in Hong Kong, but what's happened now is the waste has moved into large rural areas, and these are imports from outside -- the U.S., Europe and Japan," said Edward Chan of Greenpeace in Hong Kong.

The spillover into Hong Kong came after Beijing banned the import of electronic waste in 2000.

Traders quickly worked around that by sending containers of waste into Hong Kong, where computers and other electronic goods are disassembled before being trucked into other parts of southern China.

"The traders just label these containers as second-hand goods and there is nothing the Hong Kong authorities can do. It has no laws against imports of electronic waste," Chan said.

"Workers disassemble them into smaller parts here and then sell them into China where there are traders who buy different parts for recycling ... If we don't stop this, we will further dirty this place, and become an entrepot for electronic waste."

Chan said there were now at least 91 fields in the New Territories holding electronic waste. Some were as large as a standard football pitch and these can store over 100 ton of such waste at any one time. Smaller fields hold half as much.

"We have 2,000 ton of rubbish at any one time," he said.

Tests on soil samples collected at these blackspots were found to contain up to 10 times as much lead than uncontaminated soil, which typically have lead levels of below 10-30mg/kg.

Lead is harmful to the human nervous system, blood circulation and organs.

The Hong Kong government was not immediately available for comment.

Sex Festival Closed for Lack of Interest

Recalcitrant English men

LONDON April 1, 2005 (Reuters) - Organizers of a major erotic festival are closing for business in Manchester due to a lack of interest, which they blame on recalcitrant northern English men.

Erotica Manchester opened on Friday, selling a range of sex aids, clothing and footwear, but ticket sales have been poor and organizers say they will not be coming back.

"We've tried to warm this city up for more than two years but northerners just haven't responded in sufficient numbers," said event director Savvas Christodoulou.

"They are happy enough to come to our London event in the autumn but they seem embarrassed about being seen at Erotica Manchester."

Organizers said their research shows northern women wanted to attend the three-day adult show but were "under the thumb of their other halves."

"We thought Manchester was an open minded city but maybe we were wrong," a spokesman for the event told Reuters. "People flock to our show in London but it seems that up here, the traditional northern male still calls the shots."

2D Electronic Spectroscopy: Tracking Energy
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory News Release

Through photosynthesis, green plants are able to
capture energy from sunlight and convert it into
chemical energy. By exploiting quantum mechanical
effects, the plants transfer energy from sunlight and
initiate its conversion into chemical energy with an
efficiency of nearly 100-percent. (LBNL)

BERKELEY CA March 31, 2005 – Scientists have been able to follow the flow of excitation energy in both time and space in a molecular complex using a new technique called two-dimensional electronic spectroscopy. While holding great promise for a broad range of applications, this technique has already been used to make a surprise finding about the process of photosynthesis. The technique was developed by a team of researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California at Berkeley.

“I think this will prove to be a revolutionary method for studying energy flow in complex systems where multiple molecules interact strongly,” said Graham Fleming, Deputy Director of Berkeley Lab, and an internationally acclaimed leader in spectroscopic studies of the photosynthetic process. “Using two-dimensional electronic spectroscopy, we can map the flow of excitation energy through space with nanometer spatial resolution and femtosecond temporal resolution.”

Fleming, also a professor of chemistry with UC Berkeley, is the principal investigator of this research, and co-author of a paper which appears in the March 31, 2005 issue of the journal Nature, entitled “Two-Dimensional Spectroscopy of Electronic Couplings in Photosynthesis.” Co-authoring the paper with Fleming were Tobias Brixner, Jens Stenger, Harsha Vaswani, Minhaeng Cho and Robert Blankenship.

Two-dimensional electronic spectroscopy involves sequentially flashing a sample with light from three laser beams, delivered in pulses only 50 femtoseconds (50 millionths of a billionth of a second) in length, while a a fourth beam is used as a local oscillator to amplify and phase-match the resulting spectroscopic signals. Fleming likens the technique to that of the early super-heterodyne radios, in which an incoming high frequency radio signal was converted by an oscillator to a lower frequency for more controllable amplification and better reception. In the case of 2-D electronic spectroscopy, scientists can track the transfer of energy between molecules that are coupled (connected) through their electronic and vibrational states in any photoactive system, macromolecular assembly or nanostructure.

“This technique should also be useful in studies aimed at improving the efficiency of molecular solar cells,” Fleming said. In the Nature paper, he and his colleagues describe how they successfully used 2-D electronic spectroscopy to record the first direct measurement of electronic couplings in the Fenna-Matthews-Olson (FMO) photosynthetic light-harvesting protein, a molecular complex in green sulphur bacteria that absorbs photons and directs the excitation energy to a reaction center where it can be converted to chemical energy.

“FMO is a model system for studying energy transfer in the photosynthetic process because it is relatively simple (consisting of only seven pigment molecules) and its chemistry has been well characterized,” Fleming said.

“As in all photosynthetic systems, the conversion of light into chemical energy is driven by electronic couplings between molecules and we monitored the process as a function of time and frequency.”

Fleming and his colleagues expected to find that the excitation energy from harvested photons in the light-capturing pigment molecules was transported to the FMO reaction center molecules step-by-step down the energy ladder. Instead, they discovered distinct energy pathways, based on the spatial arrangements of the molecules, whereby some of the intermediate steps in the energy ladder are skipped.

“Excitation energy moved through the FMO complex in a smaller number of steps but larger energy increments than was previously supposed,” said Fleming. “What we’re seeing is that Nature exploits quantum mechanical effects by de-localizing excitation energy over two or more molecules in a system.”

Photosynthesis should make any short-list of Nature’s spectacular accomplishments. Through the photosynthetic process, green plants and cyanobacteria are able to transfer energy from sunlight and initiate its conversion into chemical energy with an efficiency of nearly 100-percent. If we can learn to emulate Nature’s technique and create artificial versions of photosynthesis, then we, too, could effectively tap into the sun as a clean, efficient, sustainable and carbon-neutral source of energy for our technology.

In their latest photosynthesis
studies, Berkeley scientists found
two main energy transfer path-
ways in which some molecules
were by-passed in the process. In
one pathway, where there were
seven potential energy transfer
steps, the process was completed
in three steps. In the other, where
there were six potential transfer
steps, the process was completed
in either three or two steps. (LBNL)

“Nature has designed one of the most exquisitely effective systems for harvesting light, with the steps happening too fast for energy to be wasted as heat,” Fleming said. “Current solar power systems, however, aren’t following Nature’s model.”

Emulating natural photosynthesis will require a better understanding of how energy gets transferred from light-absorbing pigment molecules to the molecules that make up the energy-converting reaction centers. Since the extra energy being transferred from one molecule to the next changes the way each absorbs and emits light, the flow of energy can be followed through optical spectroscopy, resolved on a femtosecond timescale.

Recently, a 2-D femtosecond spectroscopy technique using infrared light has been used to directly observe spatial arrangements of molecular systems that are vibrationally coupled. Fleming and his colleagues were able to extend this technique to electronic excitations which require visible light for their excitation. In this way, they were able to study the all-important changes and connectivity in the electronic states of these coupled molecular systems. They found two main energy transfer pathways in which some molecules were by-passed in the process because of insufficient spatial overlap with potential energy transfer partners. In one pathway, where there were seven potential energy transfer steps, the process was completed in three steps. In the other pathway, where there were six potential transfer steps, the process was completed in either three or two steps.

“This gives us a new way to think about the design of artificial photosynthesis systems,” Fleming said.

“It tells us that we must take into consideration the combined spatial-energetic arrangement of molecules in a system. If the molecules in a system are properly arranged in both space and energy, we can transport energy from one place to another much more efficiently.”

The next step will be to apply this technique to the study of the molecular systems in a photosynthetic reaction center.

“It’s not enough to just be able to harvest light efficiently, you also have to be able to efficiently convert it to a useful form of energy,” Fleming said.

DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory - http://www.lbl.gov

For more information about Graham Fleming’s research, visit his Website at http://www.cchem.berkeley.edu/~grfgrp

Bushy Chimpface Big Bad

US President George W. Bush (BBC)

BRUSSELS March 31, 2005 (Reuters) - Belgian trainers helping police to understand body language have caused a controversy by likening George Bush's facial expressions to a chimpanzee's.

Interior Minister Patrick Dewael said he was unaware of the pictures when he signed a letter promoting the training package for police dealing with unruly soccer fans, and said the idea was "of bad taste," Het Laatste Nieuws daily reported.

The training presentation pictured the U.S. president's face in various expressions beside photographs of a chimpanzee, the paper showed on its front page, in what was meant to be a humorous introduction to the subject of reading expressions.

Dewael's office was not immediately available for comment.

Dandruff, Fur, Pollen Affect Atmosphere
By Maggie Fox

WASHINGTON April 1, 2005 (Reuters) — Bits of pollen, leaf fragments and even dandruff from people and animals make up a significant portion of dusty stuff in the atmosphere but have been ignored by climate modelers, German researchers said Thursday.

Their painstaking, 15-year measurements turned up a collection of human and animal skin particles, fur, fragments of plants, pollen, spores, bacteria, algae, fungi, and viruses. They are the right size and shape to act as nuclei for ice crystals, which in turn form clouds and rain, and thus could potentially affect weather and climate, they report in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

Overall this dust could make up 25 percent of so-called aerosols -- particles in the atmosphere that affect pollution, cloud formation and which can both reflect and absorb radiation from the sun, said atmospheric scientist Ruprecht Jaenicke of the University of Mainz.

"We collected particles, all particles from the air," Jaenicke said in a telephone interview. They collected samples from the university campus, from Russia's remote Lake Baikal, from Amazon ground stations, Antarctica, the Swiss Alps and Greenland ice cores.
"We looked into rain. We took measurements from airplanes." They then used various microscopes to identify dead biological material by using stains that react to protein and also by visually identifying the tiny pieces.

"We counted all particles and determined their size," Jaenicke said.

They found as much as 80 percent of the particulate matter collected was biological in origin -- ranging from 15 percent over the Swiss Alps to 80 percent from the Amazon and Lake Baikal in the autumn. On average, 20 to 25 percent of the aerosol material they collected was biological.

This is significant because atmospheric and climate scientists admit that as much as 40 percent of all aerosols are unidentified, and climate models do not fully take into account the effects of aerosols, Jaenicke said.

Other known sources of aerosols include sulfur pollution, dust and industrial emissions, smoke from fires and volcanic aerosols.

While he is not claiming that dandruff affects global warming, Jaenicke said he also ran tests that showed his particles could easily affect cloud formation.

"To form clouds you need water and particles," he said. "Each particle is a nucleus. To form rain you need certain ice nuclei which transform a droplet into an ice crystal." These then collide and form rain droplets.

Jaenicke's team was unable to say how much of this biological dust is pollen and how much is actually dandruff.

"This material is comparatively low in density," he said, adding it is small enough to travel very far. "It is easily lifted up."

For instance, it is lighter than desert sands that are carried across oceans.

"They are distributed easily around the world," he said.

Jaenicke urged other climate scientists to study the components of aerosols so they can make more accurate models for predicting weather and climate change.

Earth 60 Per Cent Depleted!
By Kenji Hall
Associated Press

TOKYO March 30, 2005 (AP) — Growing populations and expanding economic activity have strained the planet's ecosystems over the past half century, a trend that threatens international efforts to combat poverty and disease, a U.N.-sponsored study of the Earth's health warned on Wednesday.

The four-year, US$24 million (euro18.57 million) study -- the largest-ever to show how people are changing their environment -- found that humans had depleted 60 percent of the world's grasslands, forests, farmlands, rivers and lakes.

Unless nations adopt more eco-friendly policies, increased human demands for food, clean water and fuels could speed the disappearance of forests, fish and fresh water reserves and lead to more frequent disease outbreaks over the next 50 years, it said.

"For some time, the changes have been good to us: Food output has increased," A.H. Zakri, director of the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies in Japan, said at a news conference.
"The problem is these changes have been achieved at growing costs."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressed that the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment "tells us how we can change course," and urged nations to consider its recommendations.

Eliminating trade barriers and subsidies, protecting forests and coastal areas, promoting "green" technologies and lowering greenhouse gas emissions thought to contribute to global warming can all help to slow environmental degradation, Zakri said.

The study was compiled by 1,360 scientists from 95 nations who pored over 16,000 satellite photos from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and analyzed reams of statistics and scientific journals.

Their findings, announced in several cities worldwide, highlight the planet's problems at the end of the 20th century, as the human population reached 6 billion.

A fifth of coral reefs and a third of the mangrove forests have been destroyed in recent decades.

The diversity of animal and plant species has fallen sharply, and a third of all species are at risk of extinction. Disease outbreaks, floods and fires have become more frequent. Levels of carbon dioxide -- a greenhouse gas -- in the atmosphere have surged, mostly in the past four decades.

The collapse of the cod industry in eastern Canada offers a cautionary tale of how poorly managed resources can ruin an economy. According to the study, after overfishing dramatically reduced the amount of cod in nearby waters in the 1990s, tens of thousands of people lost their jobs.

Conservation groups called on governments, businesses and individuals to heed the study's warnings.

"Ecosystems are capital assets. We don't include them on our balance sheets, but if we did the services they supply would dwarf everything else in value," said Taylor Ricketts, director of conservation science at World Wildlife Fund.

Zakri said sub-Saharan Africa, one of the world's poorest areas, represents one of the biggest challenges for policymakers.

"The millions of people there have the lowest levels of human well-being but they have only less than 10 percent of the world's water supply," he said.

As the desertlands expand, fewer people there will have access to food and water, making it more difficult for policymakers to raise living standards for those inhabitants, he said.

Zakri said that could hinder progress toward goals adopted at the U.N. Millennium Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa in September 2000: halving the proportion of people without access to clean water and basic sanitation by 2015 and improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

Worldwide, some 1.1 billion people still lack access to safe drinking water, with 3 million to 4 million people dying each year from waterborne diseases, according to U.N. statistics.

The ecosystem assessment was designed by the U.N. Environment Program, the U.N. Development Program, the World Bank, the World Resources Institute, the Global Environment Facility and others. Governments, non-governmental organizations, foundations, academic institutions and the private sector also contributed their expertise.

Genre News: X-Files 2, Courtney Throat, Lone Gunmen, Wildfire, Seth Green, Lauren Bacall & More!

Will they ever return?

X-Files 2 - Again!

Hollywood April 1, 2005 (Sci Fi Wire) - David Duchovny told SCI FI Wire that he, Gillian Anderson and Chris Carter are on board for a second feature film based on their hit TV series The X-Files and that the project is inching toward becoming a reality.

Carter would write and produce, while Duchovny and Anderson would reprise their respective roles as FBI special agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.

"As far I know we're all getting very close to saying that it would be shooting sometime early next year," Duchovny said in an interview while promoting his latest film, House of D, a drama that he directed.

"So it's much closer to being a reality than in the last couple of years."

Duchovny added: "I know that I'm in, Gillian's in and Chris Carter is in. It's just a matter of making sure that everybody is free at the right time. So I would be in it. I know that Chris has an idea. He's got an idea that he's told me that I think is good. He just has to get the go-ahead to execute it."

[This sounds like a rerun of what DD said the last time he was promoting something - and the time before that. Let's hear from Mr. Carter before we dust off our X-Files t-shirts. Ed.]

Courtney Love has agreed to play legendary
porn star Linda Lovelace in an explosive movie
comeback. (AFP/ Stephen Shugerman)

Courtney Love Does Deep Throat

LOS ANGELES March 29, 2005 (AFP) - Colorful US diva Courtney Love, emerging from more than a year of legal woes, has agreed to play legendary porn star Linda Lovelace in an explosive movie comeback.

The industry bible Daily Variety said that the 40-year-old actress and singer was attached to a biopic of the life of "Deep Throat" star Lovelace being developed by producer Jason Blum's firm Blumhouse Production.

The movie, tentatively titled "Lovelace," will trace Lovelace's life from the age of 17, through her brief porn career and her subsequent life as a militant feminist until her death after a car accident in 2002 at the age of 53.

Love, the widow of grunge rocker Kurt Cobain, will produce the film along with Blum, while Merritt Johnson has been assigned to write the script.

Love's 16-month battle with the US criminal justice system ended last month when she escaped jail time and was sentenced to a total of three years' probation in two criminal cases that had dogged her life and career.

The real Lovelace

She was sentenced to three years' probation for assaulting a female musician and to another 18 months' probation -- to run concurrently -- on charges of drug possession. She was also ordered into a drug rehabilitation program on separate charges of being under the influence in public.

While she has become better known for her court appearances than her movie turns, Love won a Golden Globe nomination in 1996 for her role as pornographer Larry Flynt's drug-addled lover in "The People vs. Larry Flynt."

She also starred opposite Jim Carrey in Milos Forman's "Man on the Moon."

Lovelace's legacy was recently revived by Hollywood producer Brian Grazer's new documentary "Inside Deep Throat," the story of the cultural impact of the ground-breaking adult movie.

Grazer had secured rights to Lovelace's her autobiography, "Ordeal," but rejected the idea of making a biopic fearing it would be too depressing.

"Inside Deep Throat," directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, has earned just under 600,000 dollars since its release on February 11.

Bob Marley Today - BBC Wants To Know

A man walks in front of a mural of
legendary reggae singer Bob Marley
in Kingston. (Jorge Silva/ Reuters)

LONDON April 1, 2005 (Reuters) - The British Broadcasting Corporation sent an e-mail requesting an interview with reggae star Bob Marley, 24 years after his death.

The publicly funded broadcaster confessed on Friday it was "very embarrassed" by the mix-up which appeared in an e-mail to the Bob Marley Foundation.

"We are obviously very embarrassed that we didn't realize that the letter to the Marley Foundation did not acknowledge that Mr. Marley is no longer with us," said a BBC statement.

The Bob Marley Foundation was not immediately available for comment, but the BBC said it had laughed off the mistake.

"The Marley Foundation have been extremely good humored about this and we have apologized for the error."

It said the mistake occurred in a standard letter the BBC sent out to hundreds of "icons and musicians" it wanted to take part in a series on digital channel BBC-3.

The approach followed the success of BBC-3 documentary "The Story of Bohemian Rhapsody" about the classic track by rock group Queen.

A BBC spokeswoman said the statement was not an April Fool hoax.

"It's a genuine mistake ... today of all days," she said.

Marley died from cancer in 1981 aged just 36. The 60th anniversary of his birth in Jamaica was celebrated in Addis Ababa earlier this year in an event attended by more than 200,000 Ethiopians who shared the legend's Rastafarian faith.

The BBC-3 program was to have concentrated on Marley's hit song "No Woman, No Cry."

Jim Carrey as Walter Mitty?

Jim Carrey

LOS ANGELES March 29, 2005 (AFP) - Hollywood is to remake the classic 1940s film "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," the story of the fantasy world of a day-dreaming comic book writer, the industry press said.

Paramount Pictures has assigned "Freaky Friday" director Mark Waters to make the movie that will be produced by father and son Samuel Goldwyn Jr. and John Goldwyn, according to entertainment industry bible Daily Variety.

Paramount has been struggling for a decade to mount the remake of the film that starred Danny Kaye as a timid employee who lived an adventurous and thrilling secret internal life as would-be hero, Variety said.

Samuel Goldwyn had at one point attached Jim Carrey to star as Mitty in with Steven Spielberg directing, while Oscar-winner Ron Howard was also tapped to direct one of the planned remakes of humorist James Thurber's story.

None of the planned projects ever came off. Variety did not say if a date for the start of production for the latest attempt to remake the film had been set.

Horror on Showtime
By Andrew Wallenstein

LOS ANGELES March 30, 2005 (Hollywood Reporter) - The Showtime cable network has given the go-ahead for production of an anthology film series called "Masters of Horror," featuring new works by such spooktacular directors as Roger Corman, John Carpenter and John Landis.

Thirteen one-hour episodes already were set up for a DVD release.

Master horror directors Dario Argento, Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter and Roger Corman

The addition of a pay-cable window is the culmination of a multiyear effort conducted by one of the directors, Mick Garris ("The Stand") to round up an all-star team of colleagues.

"I've loved the idea of doing this for a long time," said Garris, an executive producer on the project.

Other directors contributing include George Romero ("Night of the Living Dead"), Dario Argento ("Opera"), Larry Cohen ("It's Alive"), Don Coscarelli ("Phantasm"), Joe Dante ("Gremlins"), Stuart Gordon ("Re-Animator") and Tobe Hooper ("The Texas Chain Saw Massacre").

Production begins next month in Vancouver; no air date has been set.

Garris first hatched the idea for "Masters" in 1985 while working as a story editor on NBC's anthology "Amazing Stories." He assembled the talent for the film over the course of five dinner parties going back to 2003.

Each episode will be a stand-alone installment from a director, some of whom will team with writers to helm their hour. Landis ("An American Werewolf in London") will kick off the series with "Deer Woman," which he co-wrote with his son Max Landis; Brian Benben stars.

"Showtime is thrilled to be working with this roster of filmmakers, all of whom have contributed significantly to the horror and suspense genre," Showtime president of entertainment Robert Greenblatt said. "It's hard to really scare the audience these days, but I guarantee that these guys will really do just that."

In other Showtime news, the premium channel said Tuesday that it will launch a third subscription video-on-demand service, Flix on Demand, in the second quarter.

Lone Gunmen Predicted 9/11?

The cast of Chris Carter's The Lone
Gunmen (Fox)

Hollywood March 31, 2005 (Sci Fi Wire) - Dean Haglund, star of the short-lived The Lone Gunmen TV series on Fox, said in a statement that the show's pilot eerily foreshadowed the terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center, though it was shot months before Sept. 11, 2001.

In the pilot, which aired in March 2001, the title characters prevent a commercial airliner from crashing into the World Trade Center with barely enough time to spare.

"Conspiracy theorists might say otherwise, but we had no way of knowing," Haglund recalled.

"When 9/11 occurred, and I actually witnessed those planes crashing into the towers, I was in a state of shock. We shot that eerily prescient episode eight months before 9/11.

"Soon afterward, everyone was carefully viewing episodes of The Lone Gunmen to reveal further prophecies, which was nonsense.

"For example, I personally don't believe the government has an army of super-intelligent military chimps. We weren't the Nostradamus of TV programming."

Haglund played Langly, one of a trio of ubernerds who investigated paranormal phenomena, in The Lone Gunmen, a spinoff of The X-Files. The show's 13 episodes have just been released on DVD.

Haglund, meanwhile, has chronicled his experiences on the show in a comic book, Why My Series Was Cancelled, which will be available in the fall.

Buy The Lone Gunmen Complete Series DVD Set directly from Fox here

Wildfire - Pillers Score Another Series!

Wildfire will return Dennis Weaver and Nana Visitor
to your living room.

LOS ANGELES March 30, 2005 (Zap2it.com) - Just a month after picking up "Beautiful People," the cable network's first original scripted drama, ABC Family is at it again. The network has ordered 12 episodes of the tentatively titled "Wildfire" to premiere this summer.

"'Wildfire' was slated for us as an original movie," says ABC Family President Paul Lee. "After seeing the first cut, there was no doubt that it would make a great series for us."

Newcomer Genevieve Cortese stars as a troubled 18-year-old girl who gets out of a teen detention facility and is given the chance to work at a ranch owned by the Ritter family. The Ritters, led by patriarch Henry (veteran character actor Dennis Weaver), are eager to help her, but they're also on the verge of financial ruin.

"Wildfire" co-stars Greg Serano ("Kingpin"), Nana Visitor ("Star Trek: Deep Space Nine") and Micah Alberti ("All My Children"). The series will launch with the originally produced telefilm as a two-hour premiere, followed by 11 one-hour episodes.

The pilot was written by Michael Piller and Shawn Piller ("The Dead Zone") and directed by Steve Miner ("Warlock," "Halloween: H20").

[Michael Piller was, of course, also responsible for some of the best pre-Enterprise Star Trek series and episodes (Picard goes Borg.) Wildfire was the series that the father and son Piller team first pitched to The WB, who turned it down. Apparently no one at the Frog watches The Dead Zone. It will be great to see Dennis Weaver and Nana Visitor back on the tube, not to mention anything that Michael Piller writes or produces. Ed.]

Seth Green is King
By Nellie Andreeva

Seth Green

LOS ANGELES April 1, 2005 (Hollywood Reporter) - Seth Green has been tapped to star in NBC's comedy pilot "Four Kings."

"Four Kings" revolves around a quartet of friends in New York who have known one another since childhood. Green will play the annoyed malcontent of the group.

Kiele Sanchez also has been cast in the project.

Green's casting in the project, written and executive produced by "Will & Grace" creators/exec producers David Kohan and Max Mutchnick and to be directed by "Will & Grace" director/exec producer James Burrows, comes on the heels of Green's work with the trio as a guest star on an upcoming episode of the long-running NBC comedy.

Green executive produces, directs, voices and writes for Cartoon Network's "Robot Chicken," which he co-created with Matthew Senreich. He also does voice-over for Fox's "Family Guy."

Green, who recently wrapped the indie romantic comedy "The Better Man," was seen last year in "Without a Paddle." His other credits include "the Italian Job" and the three "Austin Powers" movies, in which he played the character Scott Evil.

Kojak Takes USA To The Top

LOS ANGELES March 31, 2005 - (Zap2it.com) Viewers flocked to the premiere of the remake of "Kojak" and to a screening of the hit feature "The Mummy Returns," moving USA Network to the top of the cable ratings charts for the week ending Sunday, March 27.

Overall, USA averaged 2.78 million viewers per night in primetime, topping second place TNT's 2.58 million primetime viewers. A bit back of the lead pack, Nick at Night was third with 2.2 million viewers and Lifetime's 2.02 million viewers were good enough for fourth. Fifth place went to the Cartoon Network with 1.98 million viewers.

Telly as Kojak

Although Spike TV claimed the top spot on the basic cable Top 15 with its WWE Entertainment double-bill, which averaged 5.14 million viewers, USA offerings took the next two positions. A Sunday night screening of "The Mummy Returns" attracted 4.54 million viewers for the second position and "Kojak" was No. 3 with 4.52 million.

TNT's second place finish was driven by four "Law & Order" repeats in the Top 15, peaking at No. 4 with 4.33 million viewers. The best of the rest was No. 5 with 4.22 million, while the episodes went as far down as No. 14 with just under 3.4 million.

As usual, the basic cable ratings were glutted by animated programs from Nickelodeon. The most watched of three "SpongeBob SquarePants" episodes was No. 6 with 4.18 million viewers, while the least watched was No. 12 with 3.75. There were also a trio of "Fairly OddParents" installments all the way up at No. 8 with 4.02 million viewers and all the way down at No. 13 with 3.65 million.

Saturday night's "Boxing After Dark" coverage helped HBO dominate the premium cable ratings. Portions of the evening's pugilism were the first (2.7 million viewers), third (2.43 million) and fifth (2.24 million) most watched programs in the premium cable universe. Just days before being renewed for a third season, "Deadwood" was second with 2.51 million and a screening of the Angelina Jolie feature "Taking Lives" was fifth with 2.28 million.

[Another wait and see. I thought the new Kojak sucked myself, no lollipop intended. With all due respect to Ving Rhames, Telly Savalas will always be Kojak no matter how dead he gets. Ed.]

Lauren Bacall Speaks
Associated Press Writer

Actress Lauren Bacall with her
papillon, Sophie, at the Hotel
Bel Air in Beverly Hills, March 16,
2005. (AP / Ann Johansson)

LOS ANGELES April 1, 2005 (AP) - Lauren Bacall sits in a secluded corner of the outdoor dining area of a tony Westside hotel for a twilight interview.

She's near the end of a book promotion tour, which she found more strenuous than the movie tours of her Hollywood days, and she's in need of a little pick-me-up:

"I'd like a pot of tea with a thermos of boiling water," she instructs a waiter.

A longtime New Yorker, she has returned to her old stomping grounds — the house she shared with Humphrey Bogart was just a couple miles away — to hawk her new-old book, "By Myself and Then Some."

It's a unique publishing venture: The first part is a reprint of her excellent 1978 memoir, "By Myself." It is followed by "And Then Some," which brings her life up to date.

Why do it that way?

"I wasn't convinced it was such a great idea," she explains, "until my literary agent said, 'Listen, it's 25 years since "By Myself" was published. You've had a life since then; a lot of things have happened. There's a whole new generation who could read your autobiography.' I do get an amount of fan mail, and a lot of young people say, 'I wanted to buy your book and I can't find it.' So I thought maybe I should try it."

The waiter returns with a ceramic teapot covered with a cozy. Bacall reiterates her request for a thermos.

Bogart and Bacall

She acknowledges that updating her life sometimes proved to be painful, especially recalling the loss in a year's span of many close friends, "each of them very important to me; it was like an epidemic." Among them: Roddy McDowall, songwriter Adolph Green, playwright Peter Stone, actors Alec Guinness, John Gielgud, Gregory Peck and Katharine Hepburn, and writer-director George Axelrod.

"The (losses) chip away at your own life, and the world gets smaller," Bacall says.

Her friendship with Hepburn dated back to 1951 and the location for "The African Queen." The bond deepened with the deaths of Bogart and Spencer Tracy. Bacall writes poignantly of her many visits to Hepburn in her Connecticut retirement and what happened the last time she was there:

"I walked right over to her chair in the living room, sat next to her, kissed her. She seemed to know me a little." And when Bacall was about to leave, Hepburn, who had been silent, said, "Please stay." After a half-hour, Bacall kissed Hepburn's cheeks, and Hepburn whispered, "Thank you."

A new waiter presents another cozied teapot. Bacall responds testily, "What is the problem, there's no thermos in this hotel? I have a thermos of hot water every single morning. Go to the kitchen and ask for a thermos."

The classic Bacall face seems little touched by her 80 years, an observation she treats with customary frankness: "When people say I look just the same, I tell them to take another look. My mirror doesn't tell me that."

Her last two years have been amazingly busy. Beside writing the book, she has done TV commercials and given lectures that include film clips, commentary and Q&A — her favorite part of the show. Her most recent film was "Birth," starring Nicole Kidman.

Waiter No. 2 finally brings the thermos, steaming hot. Bacall thanks him, and he withdraws, apologetic and seemingly dazed.

"For good or ill, I'm honest. I don't think there's enough of that around," she says.

The thermos affair was pure Bacall: outspoken, opinionated, undaunted, a bit quirky. She has been known to wither interviewers who ask stupid questions.

But she also has a tender side, especially when she talks about her children — Stephen, who is working in documentary films, and Leslie, a yoga therapist, both by Humphrey Bogart, and an actor, Sam, by her marriage to Jason Robards. Bacall positively glows when she talks about her four grandchildren.

Stephen and Leslie oversee the use of their father's likeness in TV commercials, print ads and other media. "When Bogie died, suddenly people were using him in the most common, horrible way," Bacall says. "If anybody was going to make any money out of this, it's not going to be strangers, it's going to be his children."

The most readable portions of "By Myself" remain her romance with Bogart, their marriage and her devotion during his final agonizing battle with cancer.

"I am always associated with him in people's minds — 'the greatest love story ever told.' You can't get away from that. He'd never believe it, of course," she says.

"It's great that he's still appreciated by so many, because he's worth it. He was a very special human being, Bogart."

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