Spring Hits Mars,
and Fusion Power!
|Enterprise Plays With Science |
October 3, 2001 (BBC) - Enterprise, the new Star Trek series, may be only 150 years away from our time, but many of the technologies will probably still be some way off - and perhaps never achievable.
So says Lawrence Krauss, an American scientist who has applied the laws of physics to the popular science-fiction series.
"The transporter is definitely not possible," he told the BBC's Go Digital program.
"The holodeck might be possible in a kind of entertainment role," he said. "But the kind of entertainment it provides would probably not be the kind of entertainment we watch on Star Trek."
Enterprise is set in the year 2151, about 100 years before the original journey of Captain Kirk. It follows the adventures of Captain Jonathan Archer and his crew in the pioneering days of space exploration.
Professor Krauss watched the first episode which aired on US television last week with interest.
"I particularly enjoyed the fact that the transporter was an experimental technology and the captain of the ship was afraid to use it," said the author of The Physics of Star Trek.
This is one of the key elements of the new series, with viewers watching as the crew get to grips with the technology that is crucial to their existence in outer space. In the later Star Trek series, the crew always seem to find a technological solution to their problems.
"I enjoy the fact that it is closer to today because that means that the stories will depend less on technological fixes and more on good plots," said Professor Krauss
But for him, it was not the technology that felt out of place.
"The thing I found most surprising was how nearly 100 years from now, we are already in contact with all of these aliens," he said. "It's a little unrealistic to expect that we will be having alien cooks and doctors on Earth in 100 years."
Paramount, which produces and owns the rights to the Star Trek saga, is hoping the new series will breathe new life into an otherwise flagging sci-fi franchise.
Enterprise airs Wednesdays on UPN. Check out the Official Enterprise home page for more - http://www.startrek.com/launch
|Editor's Note: |
eXoNews found this BBC article rather amusing. Since when is the multi-billion-dollar Star Trek franchise "flagging"? And take a look at the September 26th Reuters report published below. Apparently BBC's "scientist" hasn't been keeping up with the latest news on transporter technology!
As to "alien cooks and doctors" visiting Earth in the 22nd century, the premiere episode explained the presence of Dr. Phlox as part of a Vulcan-initiated "exchange program" intended to familiarize humans with the wide variety of other species and cultures they may encounter as they explore the galaxy. The Vulcans, of course, initiated first contact with humans after Zefram Cochrane's successful warp drive experiment in 2063. (Ref. Star Trek: First Contact, Paramount Pictures, released in 1997.)
Check in with Trek Today for instant Trek updates, rumors, spoilers, etc.
|Atom Experiment Brings Teleportation a Step Closer |
|LONDON September 26, 2001 (Reuters) - Physicists in Denmark have made two samples of trillions of atoms interact at a distance in an experiment which may bring Star Trek-style teleportation and rapid quantum computing closer to reality. |
Eugene Polzik and his colleagues at the University of Aarhus are not about to beam anyone up to the Starship Enterprise, but their research reported in the science journal Nature on Wednesday makes the idea of instantly transporting an object from one place to another less far fetched.
It involves quantum entanglement -- a mysterious concept of entwining two or more particles without physical contact. Albert Einstein once described it as "spooky action at a distance."
Entangled states are needed for quantum computing and teleportation. Scientists have entangled states of a few atoms in earlier experiments but Polzik and his team have done it with very large numbers and using laser light.
"It is the first result where two macroscopic material objects have been entangled," Polzik explained in a telephone interview.
"We have produced entanglement at a distance which means you and me can share entangled objects which is important for quantum communication, including quantum teleportation."
In 1998 what has been described as the first teleportation experiment was done when scientists at the California Institute of Technology teleported a beam of light across a laboratory bench.
Ignacio Cirac, a physicist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria said achievement of Polzik and his team could lead to real-life quantum communication systems, teleportation and quantum computers.
"This is the first time two different atomic samples have been entangled in this way -- using light -- even though the samples are separated by some distance," he said in a commentary in Nature.
Cirac believes further experiments will follow which could "revolutionize the field of quantum information."
|British Army Recruits in Hoax Call-Up |
|LONDON October 3, 2001 (Reuters) - Several part-time British Army recruits have received hoax letters calling them up to fight in the U.S.-led "war on terrorism," a spokesman said Wednesday. |
"This is someone's attempt to pretend people are going to be called up. It is completely irresponsible and rather sick under the circumstances," said the Ministry of Defense spokesman. "They (the letters) only add to peoples' worries."
The spokesman said he had seen a copy of one of letters sent to members of the Territorial Army, a reserve force of 40,000 part-time soldiers which makes up a quarter of Britain's Army.
"It was obvious from the style of the letter, the language used, the headers, that it was fake," he said, adding that the letter even carried a wrong telephone number at the bottom.
The spokesman said that for security reasons he could not reveal what the letters said and did not know how many had been sent, when or to whom.
Britain has some 20,000 troops on exercises in the Gulf who could be diverted for any action against Afghanistan, which is believed to be harboring Osama bin Laden, Washington's prime suspect in last month's attacks on the United States.
About 6,000 people died or remain missing after the September 11 attacks, when hijackers plowed airliners into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington.
|WTC Conspiracy Theories, Rumors and Legends Spread |
|By Jill Serjeant |
LOS ANGELES October 1, 2001 (Reuters) - It started with the story about a Nostradamus prophecy on the fall of "two brothers" predicting the start of World War Three, and was quickly followed by the face of Satan "revealed" in the smoke billowing from the World Trade Center.
Was it true that 4,000 Jews working in the twin towers had advance warning of the deadly attack and stayed home? Or that a United Airlines pilot asked passengers on a flight in the days following the disaster to overpower hijackers?
Rumors, urban legends, conspiracy theories -- some of the strangest proving true and some of the seemingly irrefutable proving false -- have flooded the Internet in the two weeks since the audacious attacks in New York and Washington as Americans have tried to grasp a horror no one dreamed of before Sept. 11.
"We have never seen anything like this. We are receiving hundreds and hundreds of e-mails every day. We are talking about in the region of 1 million people viewing our pages every day," said Barbara Mikkelson, who with her husband David runs the Urban Legends Reference Pages at http://www.snopes.com .
"It is just incredible the numbers of people who are engaged in spreading rumors, or who are interested in hearing the truth behind stories, or trying to debunk them," Los Angeles-based Mikkelson said.
The Mikkelsons have been running their Web site since 1995, attempting to sort out fact from fiction in urban legends ranging from the business world to giving birth.
The Sept. 11 attacks have provided the biggest challenge to Web sites such as theirs as a maelstrom of disbelief, hope and despair has overwhelmed the nation.
"It is a time right now where the mainstream media is distrusted. There is a sense of so much going on that there is a sensation that the press might somehow be being controlled or that the real story is being kept from us," Mikkelson said.
"Additionally, this is a time of crisis. People wish to reach out and touch others. They repeat rumors because it is a way of saying, 'I'm frightened by things, are you frightened too?"'
TRUTH, AND FICTION
The prophecy widely attributed to Nostradamus in recent days originated in a Canadian student's essay from the 1990s, Mikkelson said. The advance warnings said to have been received by Jews is false, as is the miraculous tale of the man who rode falling debris from the World Trade Center 82 floors down to safety.
But a United Airlines pilot on Sept. 15 did make scathing remarks about security and urged passengers to overpower any hijackers that might get onboard.
And President Bush did tell senators in an Oval Office meeting on Sept. 13: "I'm not gonna fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt."
Andy Warriner, a software engineer who helps run the Web site http://www.urbanlegends.com in his spare time, said the amount of e-mail his site is receiving is "still piling on."
"They are getting more, and worse. One of the things I was heartened by originally was that there were not a lot of conspiracy theories floating around. But now we are starting to see more and more creative conspiracy theories," Warriner said.
Urbanlegends.com also hunts down facts to substantiate or debunk the tales. But as the conspiracy theories involving CIA activity or supposed links between the United States and prime suspect Osama bin Laden become more lurid, the harder they are to check out.
JUMP IN E-MAIL
"What I find fascinating, particularly now, is the social aspect of what people believe," said Warriner, who is receiving more than 150 e-mails a day compared to a usual 40.
"I personally find it depressing because the events themselves are depressing without every day getting e-mails from ... people casting around to try to divine some kind of meaning or consolation."
Both urbanlegends.com and snopes.com have concluded the pictures, widely seen on CNN and in many newspapers, of an evil face in the smoke of the World Trade Center collapse were not doctored or faked.
Snopes.com said the images fall into its "undetermined or ambiguous veracity" category, while urbanlegends.com said if viewers are not convinced by lighting, billowing smoke and camera angles as an explanation, they should turn to theologians and philosophers.
But the question of whether an unburned Bible was found amid the wreckage of the Pentagon is still undetermined.
|Judge Saves Giant Sequoia National Monument |
By JOHN HEILPRIN
WASHINGTON October 3, 2001 (AP) - A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit by timber interests and backcountry vehicle users challenging the order of former President Clinton that created Giant Sequoia National Monument in California.
U.S. District Judge Richard M. Urbina said "there is no set of facts" showing that the establishment of the 327,769-acre monument in south central California violates the 1906 Antiquities Act.
"President Clinton's proclamation has meaningful limitations and follows the standards delineated by Congress in the Antiquities Act," the judge wrote.
Clinton established the monument in June 2000, effectively making the acreage off limits to mining, logging and off-road vehicles.
In October 2000, Tulare County, Calif., joined timber interests and recreation groups in filing suit to reverse the proclamation or at least reduce the size of the monument to the 20,000 acres that actually include sequoias and were already protected under law. The county and its school districts get a portion of the fees the U.S. Forest Service collects from logging operations.
Michael Sherwood, an attorney for Earthjustice, a San Francisco-based environmental law firm, said Thursday, "The ruling is a clear victory for the environment and sends a strong message to those lodging such spurious challenges to well-established law."
The U.S. government, environmentalists and the state of California all filed papers with the court saying the trees' health depends on the broader ecosystem and watershed. The monument contains about half the 70 remaining groves of giant sequoias.
|Genre News: Buffy Slays Record Ratings and Critics |
LOS ANGELES October 3, 2001 (Zap2it.com) - He who laughs last, laughs longest and as of now UPN is still laughing.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer's move to UPN turned out to be a smarter move than anticipated. Although a number of TV insiders speculated that the paranormal drama's move from its five-year home at the WB would hurt its ratings, the opposite proved the case when the show's debut on the network scored its highest ratings ever in key demographics.
According to Nielsen Media's fast national ratings, "Buffy's" two-hour fifth season premiere drew 7. 7 million viewers -- the second highest audience turnout in the history of the series. The premiere also topped last year's performance on The WB, pulling the highest ratings for the show on a Tuesday ("Buffy" originally aired on The WB's Monday night schedule).
On Tuesday (Oct. 2), Buffy Summer's return from the dead nabbed a 3.8/10 rating among adults 18-49, a 4.8/14 among adults 18-34, also breaking records in men 18-49, women 18-49 and women 18-34. In households the show pulled a 4.3/7.
The ratings also broke records for UPN, showing an increase of 124 percent over last year's performance. "Buffy" earned the network's best Tuesday ratings ever across all key demographics.
Proving for once and for all that The WB was foolish to let go of the series, "Buffy's" return beat any single broadcast of any WB program in the history of the network among adults 18-34, men 18-34 and men 18-49.
[UPN has also launched its new Official Buffy site - http://buffy.upn.com Ed.]
Spike Coy About Buffy Love
Hollywood October 1, 2001 (SciFi Wire) - Will Spike nail Buffy? James Marsters, who plays the undead suitor on UPN's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, remained coy, TV Guide Online reported. "The fact that Spike is truly in love can motivate him to great acts of heroism as he tries to become the kind of man that Buffy could love," Marsters told the site. "Or, if spurned, it could drive to him to great acts of villainy."
Marsters added, "I don't know if Buffy will ever reciprocate Spike's feelings. I really think Spike is kind of beneath her. He's evil, he really is. He just happens to be in love with a good person."
Marsters also talked about the shooting of Buffy's highly anticipated musical episode this season. "We were in London on the dance floor, and Joss Whedon [the series' creator] actually stopped dancing, going, 'I'm in the middle of your song--I'm on fire, I can't get it out!'" said the actor, who covers Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen with his own band. "Just today he was like, 'The last stanza needs more balls.' He wants it to be really rock and roll."
Sci Fi Network Renews Farscape For Two More Years
Hollywood October 1, 2001 (SciFi Wire) - The SCI FI Channel announced on Oct. 1 that it has renewed its hit series Farscape for two additional seasons of 22 episodes each, ensuring that the show will have a total run of at least five years. The series is currently slated to finish its third season in January 2002, with season four debuting later that year.
"We are excited to renew our commitment to this smart, sexy, intelligent and fun series that rewrites the book on sci-fi entertainment," SCI FI president Bonnie Hammer said. "Farscape is not only the most ambitious original series on basic cable, we think it's one of the best-written shows on television, period. It's no wonder that it's the top-rated series on SCI FI for three years running."
Farscape has nearly doubled its audience since its launch in March 1999, and Hammer credited the show with attracting not only new viewers, but also more female viewers. Nearly three-quarters of the new viewers who have tuned into the show have been women.
"Farscape has truly extended the boundaries of science fiction programming, reaching out to a new generation of fans across all age groups, male and female alike," said Juliet Blake, president of Jim Henson Television-U.S. "I know the exceptional cast, crew, Jim Henson's Creature Shop, and our partners at Hallmark and SCI FI are thrilled to bring fourth and fifth seasons to our loyal fans and to new audiences worldwide."
Farscape tells the story of American astronaut John Crichton (Browder), who was accidentally catapulted through a wormhole, landing him on the far side of the universe. There he falls in with a motley assortment of friends and enemies, including estranged military Peacekeeper Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black), alien warrior Ka D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), the exiled Hynerian Royal Dominar Rygel the Sixteenth (voice by Jonathan Hardy), mercurial Chiana (Gigi Edgley), the sympathetic Pilot (voice by Lani Tupu) and the capricious Stark (Paul Goddard).
Official Farscape site - http://www.farscape.com
Shatner Mind Melds With Nimoy
Hollywood October 1, 2001 (SciFi Wire) - William Shatner said that he and Star Trek co-star Leonard Nimoy wanted to set the record straight in Mind Meld: Secrets Behind the Voyage of a Lifetime, a new video with a frank, unscripted conversation between the two actors about their careers, lives and the effect of Star Trek. "We wanted to put something definitive down for the record, but the conditions were two friends talking one-on-one," Shatner said in a statement. "It makes it a revealing, honest interchange of feeling and thoughts that no interview would have been capable of doing."
Mind Meld comes out on DVD and VHS Nov. 6. The 80-minute conversation about the tragedies and triumphs of the two science fiction legends was shot in high-definition video and is presented in widescreen letterbox format. During the conversation, both men discuss arguments they had with Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Shatner discusses his father's death, and Nimoy reveals the difficulties he suffered as a result of playing Spock.
The stars come up with their own questions for each other, as well as those gathered from Internet fans. The video was filmed at Nimoy's home and is produced by Creative Light Entertainment and Melis Productions. The DVD includes a photo gallery with exclusive images. Mind Meld is available at Shatner's official Web site.
Official William Shatner site - http://www.williamshatner.com
|Glacier Reveals Climbers Lost for 38 Years |
|WELLINGTON October 4, 2001 (Reuters) - The remains of two Swiss climbers lost almost 38 years ago have been recovered from New Zealand's Southern Alps, local media reported on Wednesday. |
Bones, clothing and climbing equipment were discovered by a climber at the end of the Hooker Glacier, near Mount Cook, and recovered by police and Department of Conservation staff, the Timaru Herald newspaper reported.
A wallet found among the equipment and personal effects identified the pair as Edward Kunz and Augustus Manser, who disappeared on December 28, 1963.
Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest peak at 3,754 meters (12,313 feet), is around 200 km (125 miles) west of Christchurch in New Zealand's South Island.
South Canterbury Search and Rescue coordinator Sergeant Geoff McCrostie told the Herald it was not unusual for remains to be discovered after decades hidden in slow-moving glaciers.
|Senator Strom Thurmond Collapses |
By JESSE J. HOLLAND
WASHINGTON October 2, 2001 (AP) - Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, the nation's longest-serving senator, collapsed Tuesday on the Senate floor. But a few minutes later the 98-year-old Republican was described as standing and talking.
A Capitol guard, who refused to allow his name to be used, told reporters after the chamber had been cleared that Thurmond was conscious and standing. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., also told reporters that Thurmond was "standing and talking and seemed OK."
The Senate recessed about 10:35 a.m. EDT, immediately after Thurmond collapsed. When it resumed business at 10:50 a.m., Thurmond was not in the chamber.
When Thurmond collapsed, most Republicans were in a closed-door senators' meeting a few paces down the hall from the Senate chamber.
Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a heart surgeon, immediately left the meeting and ran to Thurmond's aid. When he got there, Thurmond was lying in the aisle near his desk at the front of the chamber with three people surrounding him.
Capitol police then clamped an extraordinary ring of security around the Senate chamber, the corridors outside and even the parking lot outside the Capitol.
Thurmond, born in December 1902, is legendary for both his political and physical endurance. He was first elected to the Senate in 1954. A one-time Democratic segregationist, he holds the record for a solo Senate filibuster. He has gradually scaled back his duties in recent years as his health declined.
In 1996, at the age of 93, he became the oldest person ever to serve in Congress, and the following year, became the longest-serving member.
When Republicans controlled the Senate from 1981-87, Thurmond was at the peak of his power. He was both chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and, as the longest-serving member of the majority party, also president pro tem, a chiefly ceremonial job that made him third in line to succeed the president.
When the Republicans regained a majority in 1995, Thurmond again was president pro tem and became chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he pushed for increased military spending.
He stepped aside as chairman two years later as age began to take its toll. When Democrats regained control of the Senate earliers this year, he also turned over the title of president pro tem to Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va.
|Springtime On Mars! |
NASA Photo Release - This Mars Global Surveyor wide angle view of the Martian south polar region was acquired on September 12, 2001, four years to the day after the spacecraft first began to orbit the Red Planet.
The bright area at the center of the image is the permanent south polar cap -- the part of the cap that will remain through the coming summer. The bright areas that surround the center make up the seasonal frost cap that was deposited during southern winter, which ended June 17, 2001.
The dark area in the lower right corner results from two phenomena -- the seasonal frost is subliming away much faster in this region, and the area is darker because it is closer to the night side of the planet. The fuzzy or hazy zone that covers most of the left side of the image consists of afternoon clouds and fog.
The polar frosts contain both water and carbon dioxide ices. Clouds of condensing water ice crystals are common over parts of the polar cap at this time of year.
For scale, the permanent cap at the center of the image is about 420 km (260 mi) across. Sunlight illuminates the scene from the upper left. Summer in the southern hemisphere will begin in mid-November 2001.
Malin Space Science Systems and the California Institute of Technology built the MOC using spare hardware from the Mars Observer mission. MSSS operates the camera from its facilities in San Diego, CA. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars Surveyor Operations Project operates the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft with its industrial partner, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, from facilities in Pasadena, CA and Denver, CO.
|Sony Unleashes More Robot Dogs |
By ALEX PHAM
Los Angeles Times Syndicate
Japan October 1, 2001 (LA Times) - Those who looked longingly at Aibo, the pricey robotic puppy, in the shop window but could not afford the $1,300 price tag soon will be able to look longingly at Sony Corp.'s new lineup of robot dogs, which cost a mere $850.
The two new pups, Latte and Macaron, feature a softer, rounder look reminiscent of Japanese icon Hello Kitty. Sony is betting the two additions will attract a broader audience than Aibo owners, 75 percent of whom are males ages 25 to 35.
The two versions look nothing alike. Aibo is metallic and angular. Latte and Macaron, which are ivory and gray, respectively, look like plush toys. But the technology underlying the two models is similar. Both can recognize a limited number of words. Both take photos via cameras mounted on their faces. And both have sensors that allow owners to reward or discourage behaviors.
Macaron and Latte, however, don't have slots for a wireless local area network card, a feature that Aibo owners can use to wirelessly control the robots from their PCs.
Fans of anime cartoons will be pleased to know that Latte and Macaron will star in an anime series in Japan next month. The series will broadcast sounds designed to make the robots react.
Just so Aibo owners don't feel left out, Sony in August released Aibo Messenger, a program that instructs Aibos to fetch news and e-mail from the Internet via wireless downloads and recite them to their owners using a robotic speech editor. Because the $150 software requires a wireless LAN card, Latte and Macaron won't have this ability when they come out in October. But they will be able to interact with Aibos via infrared sensors on their noses.
|Old Art Is Just as Good as New |
LONDON October 3, 2001 (Reuters) - New radiocarbon dating techniques may force art historians to think again about how art evolved, researchers said Wednesday.
Art experts believe early art started out with very rudimentary figures and gradually progressed to more sophisticated techniques and images.
But French scientists who have dated the oldest known animal paintings in France's Chauvet cave to 30,000 years ago are turning the theory on its head because they found the images were as skilled and complex as other cave paintings done a mere 17,000 years ago.
"Prehistorians, who have traditionally interpreted the evolution of prehistoric art as a steady progression from simple to more complex representations, may have to reconsider existing theories of the origins of art," Helene Valladas, of the Laboratories of Climate and Environmental Science in Gif-sur-Yvette, France, said.
Writing in the science journal Nature, Valladas and her colleagues describe how they dated the ancient cave paintings in the Ardeche region of France using accelerator mass spectrometry, a method that measures carbon isotopes from carbon samples.
The technique dates the carbon used to make the drawings, as well as smudges left by torch bearers.
It places the Chauvet drawings in the Aurignacian period, 30,000 years ago, although the images are as sophisticated as those in the celebrated caves of Lascaux and Niaux, near the Pyrenees, which date to the Magdalenian period 12,000-17,000 years ago.
"This latest comprehensive dating confirms our earlier provisional assignment of the Chauvet cave art to the Aurignacian period," Valladas added.
The Chauvet cave was named after Jean-Marie Chauvet who discovered it near the village of Vallon Pont d'Arc, northwest of Avignon, seven years ago.
Cathedral-size chambers and galleries in the cave are filled with more than 400 black and ochre paintings of 14 different kinds of animals. Exquisitely drawn bison, horses, rhinoceros, reindeer, bears, lions and an owl roam the walls.
Only scientists are permitted to view and study the precious drawings to prevent damage to them.
|Studying Penis Sizes to Make Stronger Condoms |
NEW DELHI October 1, 2001 (Reuters) - Indian men may soon be able to buy condoms tailor-made to give a perfect fit.
Stung by the high failure rate of condoms, India's Health Ministry has launched a project to study the size of male organs across the country and make condoms of different sizes instead of the single size presently available, the Indian Express newspaper reported on Saturday.
The project in seven centers around the country will use volunteers at hospitals and measure the length and width of their fully erect penises with a digital camera, the paper said.
"We are now developing a software that will translate pictures automatically into measurements of width and length," Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) scientist R.S. Sharma, who is in-charge of the project, told the newspaper.
Each of the seven centers will identify 300 volunteers, mostly relatives of patients admitted at hospitals, and start the delicate project in January, Sharma said.
The 1.1 million rupee ($23,000) project hopes to bring down the 15 to 20 percent failure rate of condoms due to breakage or spillage, said N.C. Saxena, head of reproductive biology at ICMR.
Sharma said condoms were currently made in a size specified by the World Health Organization and the International Standards Organization.
The ICMR officials said only three percent of Indians use condoms while 52 percent don't use any contraceptive method.
Population growth in India -- the second largest country in the world after China with a population over one billion -- slowed during the last decade by 2.52 percentage points to 21.34 percent over the previous decade.
But the country, which has state-run condom firms, is keen to further slow down the rate of population growth.
|British Scientists Identify First Language Gene |
By Patricia Reaney
LONDON October 3, 2001 (Reuters) - British scientists said on Wednesday they have identified the first language gene in a breakthrough that could help to explain how language and speech develop in humans.
Called FOXP2, the gene produces a protein that turns other genes on and off. Scientists believe it could hold the key to why people suffer from speech problems.
"We have identified a way of getting at the pathways and neural networks involved in speech and language from a genetics point of view," Simon Fisher, a geneticist at the Wellcome Trust Center for Human Genetics in Oxford, said in a telephone interview.
Because FOXP2 works with other genes and proteins, Fisher and his colleagues believe its identification could help unlock the molecular mysteries of speech.
"What we want to do next is to identify the other genes that it is switching on and off in developing neural tissue. It could give us a whole new selection of genes that might be involved in speech," Fisher added.
Fisher, Professor Anthony Monaco and Professor Faraneh Vargha-Khadem of the Institute of Child Health in London led a team of scientists that pinpointed the gene by studying three generations of a family with a history of speech problems.
Using information from the Human Genome Project, the scientists found differences in the sequence of DNA letters in FOXP2 in some members of the family. The research is reported in the latest edition of the science journal Nature.
"It is extraordinary to think that we have now got an entry point into the understanding of one of the most important features that distinguish us from other animals," Monaco said in a statement.
Steve Pinker, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, said the discovery of FOXP2 could open up new avenues of research that could improve understanding of how language evolved.
"The discovery of a gene implicated in speech and language is among the first fruits of the Human Genome Project for the cognitive sciences," Pinker said in a commentary in the journal.
Up to five percent of the population suffer from language problems. Scientists believe damage before birth, when the brain is developing, is the cause of speech problems. They suspect the speech and language centers in the brain do not develop fully.
|Children's Bones Removed During Nuclear Tests |
|By CHRIS FONTAINE |
LONDON October 1, 2001 (AP) - Thousands of bones were removed from dead British children without the consent of their parents during Cold War-era nuclear tests, the country's Atomic Energy Authority said Sunday.
The femurs of about 4,000 young children were removed from 1954 to 1970, agency spokeswoman Beth Taylor said. The bones were used in tests to measure the effects atmospheric explosions of hydrogen bombs were having on humans and the environment.
"It is true that parental or relatives' approval wasn't sought," she said. "We assume that parents weren't asked because it wasn't the norm at the time."
Similar revelations were made in Australia in June. The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency said bones from dead Australian children were once shipped to the United States and Britain for testing.
Taylor stressed that the British research - conducted in London and Glasgow, Scotland - contributed to a decision to halt atmospheric nuclear explosions in 1963.
"The program was done for the best of reasons," she said. "It was the period when we were doing atmospheric tests of hydrogen bombs, and there was quite a bit of concern about the dangers of nuclear fallout."
The issue of parents' control over their children's bodies following death made headlines earlier this year in Britain when it was revealed that a Dutch pathologist working at a Liverpool, England, children's hospital had stripped children of their organs during post-mortem examinations between 1988 and 1995 - without parental consent.
A spokeswoman for Scottish Parents for a Public Inquiry into Organ Retention said Sunday that stronger laws were needed to ensure that parents had the power to decide what happened to their childrens' remains.
Dr. Dick Van Velzen left Britain in 1995 to work at a hospital in Halifax, Canada, but was fired in 1998 and later hired by a Dutch hospital. He lost that job in February, after Canadian police issued a warrant for his arrest for storing human organs in Canada.
In June, he pleaded guilty in a Nova Scotia provincial court to charges he had illegally retained organs removed during autopsies of two children. He was sentenced to a year probation for committing an indignity to human remains. Van Velzen's work was not connected to Britain's nuclear research.
The British government said in a January report that the actions of Van Velzen were "unethical and illegal" and that "the pain caused to the parents by this dreadful sequence of events is unforgivable." The doctor's license to practice medicine there has been suspended.
A related report said more than 100,000 hearts, brains, lungs and other organs were held by hospitals and medical schools across the country, many without the knowledge of next-of-kin.
The nuclear-related tests in Britain and Australia concentrated on strontium 90, a radioactive isotope that mimics the properties of calcium. The similarity allows bones and plants to absorb the isotope.
Researchers determined that atmospheric hydrogen bomb tests had been releasing potentially dangerous levels of strontium 90 into the atmosphere, spurring the British government's decision to halt such tests, Taylor said.
Hundreds of atmospheric weapons tests were conducted by nuclear powers in the 1950s and 60s. Later, tests were conducted underground.
|New Controversy Over 'Designer Babies' |
|By Hannah Cowdy |
LONDON October 1, 2001 (Reuters) - A new row over "designer babies" erupted Monday after medics said a British boy with a rare genetic blood disorder would die unless his parents won permission to create a test-tube sibling who might save him.
Doctors say two-year-old Zain Hashmi needs a brother or sister with a close genetic match for a life-saving transplant or transfusion. They have asked the authorities to relax rules over laboratory-created embryos in what would be a landmark British case.
"Zain will die without a compatible match, and I think any parent would understand the dilemma this family is in," said fertility expert Dr. Simon Fishel, who is treating Hashmi.
Hashmi has thalassaemia, which affects haemoglobin, the substance in the blood that carries oxygen to tissues. He cannot live without a closely matched blood transfusion or bone marrow transplant. None of his siblings is a match and his best chance at life is if medics can create a "life-saver" baby.
The Park Hospital's Center for Assisted Reproduction in Nottinghamshire, central England, has agreed to help his parents in creating a possible donor, but first needs approval from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).
The HFEA, which regulates fertility treatments, says it has never dealt with an application of this kind before.
"We are aware of the significance of this case for the family concerned, but we are also aware that this would be a new departure for the applications of these techniques in this country," it added.
Past controversy over reproduction in Britain has centered on gender rather than medical condition, with one family currently battling to create a girl after a daughter died in a bonfire accident. Experts are divided over the Hashmi case, which comes after another in the United States where doctors treating a girl with a genetic disorder created a baby brother who could become a transplant donor for her. The doctors screened a number of test tube embryos before selecting one with the right match and planting it in her mother.
The Adam Nash case caused widespread uproar, with critics warning of a slippery slope toward a "Brave New World" of designer babies for those who can afford them.
Fishel said even with HFEA approval, there was still only around a 30 percent chance of success.
Fertility expert Lord Robert Winston said he was worried about the case.
"There will be serious concerns about the ability to identify the gene defect...I would have very grave reservations about using a child as a commodity," he told Reuters.
|Toddler Found Safe in Bear's Den After 3 Days |
|TEHRAN October 2, 2001 (Reuters) - A mother bear appears to have cared for a missing 16-month-old Iranian toddler who was found safe and sound three days later in the animal's den, the Kayhan newspaper said Tuesday. |
The child's parents, from a nomadic tribe in western Lorestan province, returned to their tent after working in the fields to find him missing, Kayhan said.
Three days later, a search party found the baby, who they said had probably been breast fed by a mother bear, in a den some six miles away from the nomadic settlement. A medical examination showed the baby was in good health, the daily said.
|Atomic Scientists Say Fusion Power Can Work |
By Dr. David Whitehouse
BBC News Science Editor
October 1, 2001 (BBC) - Fusion power is "within reach", according to atomic scientists in the UK.
Fusion is the form of nuclear energy that powers the stars. Although, it has many advantages over conventional nuclear power, it has been technically difficult to develop.
The best approach appears to be to confine a superhot gas, called a plasma, in a magnetic field. Some success has been achieved this way using huge experimental fusion reactors. But now, according to United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) scientists, making smaller versions of the same equipment may be technically easier, cheaper and swifter to develop. The most recent experiments show promise, they claim.
"I believe that if our experiments are successful, and they are promising, we could be designing the forerunner of the first commercial fusion reactor," said UKAEA's Dr Alan Sykes, as he showed BBC News Online around his laboratory at Culham, near Oxford.
Called Mast (Mega Amp Spherical Tokomak), the new equipment could be the design breakthrough needed to make fusion power a reality - at long last. It is a leaner version of a prototype fusion reactor that has already solved many technical problems.
"Building Mast is like building a fighter aircraft when you have already built an airliner. It could be faster and more efficient at reaching our goal of significant fusion power," said Dr Rob Akers, of the UKAEA.
Few would argue that fusion power holds great promise. It is the energy that allows the Sun to shine. But taming the power that lights up the Universe is not proving easy. For almost 50 years, scientists have been trying to harness star power in the laboratory. To make nuclear fusion happen atoms must first be broken down into electrons and atomic nuclei. This produces an electrically charged gas called a plasma. The bare nuclei must then be forced together so that they merge. Because like charges repel, this is difficult.
At the heart of our Sun, fusion takes place at a temperature of 15 million degrees and a pressure of 100,000 atmospheres.
Because it is not possible to reproduce these conditions on Earth, terrestrial fusion reactors must operate at lower pressures and higher temperatures - about 100 million degrees. There is also the major problem of confining the plasma.
"A plasma is a form of gas that has a great deal of free energy that is just looking for a way out," explained Dr Akers. "You could say that plasmas are like naughty children."
The best way to control the plasma is to "bottle" it, corralling the electrically charged gas in powerful magnetic fields. So far, the most successful magnetic bottle is a "tokomak", a doughnut-shaped device invented by the Russians. In a tokomak, two magnetic fields are combined to confine the plasma. The world's largest tokomak is called Jet, the Joint European Torus. It is also at Culham. Using the Jet, scientists have heated plasma to 300 million degrees - more than is needed to achieve fusion ignition. But magnetic confinement is easier if the prototype reactor is small.
"That is where Mast comes in," said UKEA's Dr Chris Warwick. "Mast keeps the plasma in a tighter configuration that is more energy efficient."
Controlling the eddies and whirls of the writhing plasma so that it can burst into life as a miniature Sun has been a formidable, and so far only partially met, engineering challenge.
"If we follow the Mast idea and not the Jet one, we could imagine a string of medium-scale fusion reactors instead of a few very big ones," said Alan Sykes.
"There are still very many difficulties but perhaps in a few decades we could have commercial fusion reactors in cities providing cheap pollution-free power," he added.