Solar Flares,
Io Eruptions,
Eagles, Condors
and The Xbox!
Monster Sunspot Hurls Solar Flares Toward Earth
By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON April 1, 2001 (Reuters) - Four solar flares and a pair of powerful magnetic gas clouds spawned in a monster sunspot were headed for Earth and could affect power systems, satellites and some radio transmissions, a top space weather forecaster said. They might also provide a dazzling display of the northern lights if they arrived at night, said Gary Heckman, senior forecaster for the U.S. Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colorado.

"They're headed our way," Heckman said in a telephone interview. "But these still aren't the barnburner events. ... It will tickle some power systems. Satellite operators will notice."

The solar flares -- explosions in the sun's atmosphere -- and the fast-moving magnetic gas clouds, known as coronal mass ejections, were hurled at Earth from the biggest sunspot scientists have seen in the past decade.

The sunspot was about 86,800 miles in diameter and had about 13 times the surface area of the Earth, according to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The spot is so big it can be seen unaided as long as filters are used to protect the eyes from damage, the NSF said in a statement.

Sunspots are dark patches on the sun's surface caused by a concentration of distorted magnetic fields. Violent solar activity is believed to be caused by the release of magnetic energy.

The first bit of stormy solar weather left the sun on Wednesday, and the first effects of it were expected to reach Earth late on Friday and continue through the weekend, Heckman said.

The USGS, which monitors solar weather at a network of magnetic observatories around the world, said Earth's geomagnetic field "is expected to become quite disturbed" by this solar activity.

"While geomagnetic storms give rise to the beautiful northern lights, they can also pose a serious threat for commercial and military satellite operators, power companies, astronauts, and they can even shorten the life of oil pipelines in Alaska by increasing pipeline corrosion," a USGS statement said.

Heckman said it takes about two days from the time the sun fires off flares or throws out a coronal mass ejection until its effects can be felt on Earth, when a hot ionized gas of charged solar particles hits the Earth's magnetic field, causing fluctuations in it.

The big sunspot has another week to go before it rotates away from Earth, but that could be plenty of time to cause mischief, Heckman said.

"The monster sunspot's still there," he said on Friday afternoon. "That region (of the sun) has been storing energy for more than 24 hours. It's just building it up, so when it's released, there is the potential for a really large event there. ... It's rather ominous just sitting there for the last 24 hours."

An image of Thursday's coronal mass ejections can be seen online at http://www.spaceweather.com
More on Solar Flares
By JOSEPH B. VERRENGIA
AP Science Writer

BOULDER, Colo. March 31, 2001 (AP) — Intense storms raging on the sun made the night sky shimmer red and green from Reno, Nev., as far south as Palm Springs, Calif., and southern New Mexico, and scientists say the storms could briefly disrupt telecommunications as they continue through the weekend.

The biggest sunspot cluster seen in at least 10 years has developed on the upper right quarter of the side of the sun visible from Earth, according to satellite readings.

Thousands of Nevada residents enjoyed what astronomers called the best display of the northern lights over the state in at least two decades.

Keith Johnson, associate director of the University of Nevada, Reno's Fleischmann Planetarium, said he has never seen such a luminous northern lights display so far south.

As darkness fell Friday night, the skies began to glow red and rays of light-green-colored light began to appear, he said.

"It was sensational,'' he said. "You could see some actual color, shape and structure to the displays. I saw large lumps of light, rays of light and sheets of light. I even saw some slow motion in them. The colors were obvious but not very vivid.''

Monty Wolf watched the display from Pyramid Lake, 30 miles northeast of Reno. He said the sky was glowing so much at midnight that it appeared like sunrise.

"It was spectacular. The grandeur of it was so impressive,'' he said. "The crimson looked nice ... The shafts of light kept forming, and they swirled up and down and shifted side to side.''

The light from the solar flares also was reported near cities including Palm Springs and Sacramento, Calif.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; and Albuquerque and Carlsbad, N.M.

"It has totally lit up the sky. We've had dozens and dozens of calls. People want to know what it is,'' said Bill Seigel, a producer at radio station KESQ in Palm Desert, 115 miles east of Los Angeles. "Some people thought it was UFOs.''

Just north of Albuquerque, David MacKel was making the rounds at his security job when he saw the lights. He noted it on his report at 11:23 p.m.

"It was blood red. That's all I can say. It was kind of opaque and you could see the stars through it,'' MacKel said. He said he had seen the Northern Lights while in Alaska, but "the Northern Light move, this was more gaseous. It kind of got me freaked out.''

Eddy County, N.M., Deputy Danny Gonzales described it as a purple haze. "It was very distinct in color,'' he said. "I have never seen anything like it.''

Anthony Watts, a meteorologist in Chico, Calif., about 170 miles north of San Francisco, said the glow from the coronal mass ejection was interesting, but posed no threat.

"There's no danger, however there is the likelihood that we'll have radio or television interruptions,'' Watts said.

The sunspot, which is a cooler, darker region on the sun's surface, is caused by a concentration of temporarily distorted magnetic fields. It spawns tremendous eruptions, or flares, into the sun's atmosphere, hurling clouds of electrified gas toward Earth.

The solar activity can produce an aurora in the night sky, typically over northern latitudes. The colorful, shimmering glow occurs when the energetic particles strike the Earth's upper atmosphere.

NASA scientists said a powerful flare that erupted Thursday rated a class X, the most potent category.

The eruptions triggered a powerful, but brief, blackout Friday on some high-frequency radio channels and low-frequency navigational signals, scientists said. They forecast at least a 30 percent chance of continuing disruptions through Sunday.

In addition to radio disruptions, the charged particles can bombard satellites and orbiting spacecraft and, in rare cases, damage industrial equipment on the ground, including power generators and pipelines.

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NOAA Space Environment Center: http://www.sec.noaa.gov

Drought Pits Farmers Against Fish and Eagles
By JEFF BARNARD
Associated Press Writer

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. March 31, 2001 (AP) — For nearly a century, the waters of this high desert basin have been turned upside down by an irrigation system known as the Klamath Project.

The engineering marvel of dams, pumps and canals drew water from the shallow lakes and marshes that once sustained primarily birds, fish and the Klamath Tribes (see http://www.klamathtribes.org ). It turned the flow onto 220,000 acres of deep, dry soils where farmers and ranchers grew potatoes, hay and cattle.

When the first headgate opened to a rush of churning water in 1907, the project put agriculture at the top of the list for the scarce water of the Klamath Basin, which straddles the Oregon-California border on the east side of the Cascade Range. Fish and wildlife would get what was left.

But now the Endangered Species Act is turning things upside down again. It is demanding water for sucker fish in the project's primary reservoir, coho salmon in the Klamath River, and bald eagles — the largest winter roosting population in the lower 48 states — on the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.

And drought this year is making the divvying up even harder by cutting water supplies in half.

Farmers cannot believe that when irrigation season begins April 1, there may well be no water for them for the first time ever.

"It's tragic that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would suggest that kind of action without any regard for an entire culture,'' said Don Russell, chairman of the Klamath Water Users Association. "Can you imagine shutting down a multi-hundred-million dollar economy with its schools and churches because we — quote — might harm something?''

Lucie La Bonte, a Curry County Oregon Commissioner, had this comment:

"This fall we are expecting a tremendous amount of fish. We are afraid we are going to have massive die offs of Chinook Salmon on coastal rivers this fall. We know that there is a certain amount of drought and die off in the natural cycles but the more water people withdraw from the rivers the worse it is.

"Most Oregon coastal communities are talking about enacting water conservation plans this summer to help to prevent this. Governor Kitzhaber is looking at declaring a drought disaster. The farmers will undoubtedly have to make sacrifices too. The fishermen have, the ranchers have, and the loggers have. We all have to pitch in to keep the salmon healthy in our rivers. That is one of the reasons Oregonians are strongly opposed to a movement from California to withdraw water from our rivers to help California."

But it's a familiar story to the Klamath Tribes. The Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin people were driven onto a reservation in 1864, then saw that taken away and turned into a national forest in 1954.

In the early 1900s, power companies built dams on the Klamath River, stopping the salmon runs that had sustained the tribes since the beginning of time. Then the they had to give up harvesting the fish they call C'waam (TCH-waam) and Qapdo (KUP-doe) — the Lost River sucker and shortnosed sucker — when they were declared endangered species in 1988.

"They come in and take your land, take your language, and dig up your artifacts, and now they want the last bit, the water, what we call the blood of Mother Earth,'' said Dino Herrera, director of the tribal culture office in Chiloquin.

The C'waam and Qapdo are one of the last links for the tribes to their heritage. In times past, they would spear and gaff the fish during the spring spawning run, and hang their white fillets on willow racks to dry in the sun. What they didn't need for food, they took north to trade with the tribes that gathered at Celilo Falls on the Columbia River.

In the spring, the Klamath people still gather on the banks of the Sprague River to hold the ceremony to welcome the C'waam and Qapdo.

"My grandfather told me that in his time, the salmon went away,'' said Herrera. "Then in my time and my dad's time, the C'waam are going away. He said, `You'd better watch out. In your time and your son's time, the trout will be going away.'

He continued: "We are continuing to try to fix a problem we never created.''

When pioneers followed the Applegate Trail across the Black Rock Desert to the Klamath Basin in the late 1800s, they faced a problem that defined the West. There were deep soils on wide open lands, but rain did not fall in summer to sustain their crops.

So in 1905 Congress authorized the construction of a vast network of canals to redistribute the water that flowed from melting snowpacks in the Cascade Range into the lakes and marshes, then down the Klamath River to the Pacific.

Coincidentally that same year, wildlife photographer William L. Finley was in the Klamath Basin, taking pictures of the millions of birds that filled the skies over the marshes — known as the Everglades of the West.

Finley wrote a story for The Atlantic Monthly about the market hunters who were wiping out white egrets and grebes to decorate ladies' hats. He got the attention of a fellow member of the Audubon Society, President Theodore Roosevelt, who in 1908 created the nation's first waterfowl refuge on Lower Klamath Lake.

But from the beginning, the fate of the refuges came second to the Klamath Project, which whittled away at the basin's natural wetlands and marshes, turning them into farm fields. The water the refuges get is what's left over from farming.

"It was the social values of the time — man over nature,'' said Jim Hainline, a biologist on the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. "The natural system took a big hit.

"It worked for the purposes for which it was intended. Now we have a real change in the social values of the country. People are more urban and they want to see the countryside more natural.''

It is the same dynamic that drastically cut back logging on national forests.

In 1992, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service set a minimum amount of water in Upper Klamath Lake — the project's primary reservoir — to maintain good water quality for the endangered suckers. For the first time, the farmers' claim to the water was shaken.

In 1997, the coho salmon of the Klamath River were listed as threatened.

Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies are prohibited from operations that jeopardize the survival of a protected species. This spring, biologists for Fish and Wildlife and the fisheries service said that business as usual for the Klamath Project threatened extinction for the suckers as well as the salmon.

Fish and Wildlife set an even higher minimum level for Upper Klamath Lake to sustain the suckers, and the fisheries service called for flows into the Klamath River to keep coho alive.

And now there's talk of starving bald eagles.

Failing to put enough water on the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge threatens to starve as many as 950 bald eagles that come to the basin each winter to fatten up on the waterfowl before scattering around the West to nest and raise their young, Fish and Wildlife warned this year.

"There have been nothing but Band-Aid fixes for the last 10 years,'' said Wendell Wood of the Oregon Natural Resources Council, an environmental group.

"The only solution now is Uncle Sam writes the big check,'' either to pay farmers not to grow crops, or buy their land outright, Wood said. "Anything else results in the loss of species and the loss of economies that are dependent on those species.''

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which runs the Klamath Project, is stuck in the middle, bound by tradition to serve the farmers, and bound by the law to protect fish and wildlife.

"We're not going to make anybody happy,'' said Karl Wirkus, the director of the Klamath Project. "This conflict is all over the place in the West.''

While environmentalists look into buying the land of farmers willing to sell out, the bureau has been buying water from farmers with wells, paying farmers not to irrigate, and running the various possibilities through a computer model. But it is not nearly enough in a drought year, when available water is half that in a normal year.

"We've been sitting around now for the last couple of weeks trying to decide should we plant,'' said farmer Rod Blackman, whose grandfather sold a dairy in Oklahoma in the 1920s and moved here after reading a newspaper ad promising endless supplies of water from an irrigation project built by the federal government.

Blackman bought his seed potatoes in December, secured his operating loans from the bank, and paid rent on fields he hopes to plant along with the fields he owns.

But without water, all of that could turn to dust.

"If we don't get water, our outfit is basically done,'' Blackman said, sitting in the small office tucked into a corner of the cavernous shop where his crew keeps the farm's tractors, trucks, winnowers and harvesters running. "You could sell out and move someplace else, but nobody wants to buy ground that you can't grow anything on.

"It doesn't seem like it's the American way. If food was expensive and hard to get, this wouldn't be happening.''

The Klamath Water Users have hired their own scientists, who argue that Fish and Wildlife is wrong to blame low water for the fish kills that took up to 90 percent of the endangered suckers in Upper Klamath lake from 1995 to 1997. They blame hot weather and a lack of wind for creating conditions that stopped natural mixing of the lake.

Steve Lewis, who directs the Fish and Wildlife office in Klamath Falls, is taking the farmers' arguments into consideration, but also notes there is a chance that any more fish kills could wipe out the suckers completely.

The Bureau of Reclamation has been considering taking the issue to the so-called "God Squad,'' the cabinet-level panel that can grant exemptions to the Endangered Species Act to protect economic interests. But it appears to be a long shot.

Rod Blackman can't help thinking about one spring back in the late 1980s, when he was planting potatoes on leased ground along the Williamson River. Stopping in a store, he got talking to a member of the Klamath Tribes who had a job radio-tracking the suckers on their spawning run up the river.

"He'd tell us in the store that they were going to list these fish,'' as an endangered species, Blackman recalled. "We'd all laugh. `Who cares about that?'''

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On the Net:

Bureau of Reclamation: http://www.usbr.gov/main/index.html

Klamath Project: http://dataweb.usbr.gov/html/klamath.html

Endangered Species Act: http://endangered.fws.gov/esa.html

Ozone-Eating Clouds Form in Cold Polar Rings
By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON March 29, 2001 (Reuters) - Ozone-eating clouds that erode Earth's protection against ultraviolet radiation are born in thin rings of supercold air over the North and South Poles, scientists reported on Thursday.

The Sun's ultraviolet rays could cause skin cancer in humans and biological damage to other living things if Earth were not shielded by the ozone layer high in the atmosphere. But polar stratospheric clouds made of nitric acid and water deplete this protective layer.

Scientists have known about the clouds for years, but U.S. researchers have just discovered the bands of frigid air in the stratosphere that help to create them, according to an article in the current edition of the journal Science.

And as the Earth's surface gets warmer, due to heat trapped by so-called greenhouse gases, the stratosphere gets colder, making it an even better place to create the ozone-depleting clouds, NASA researcher Azadeh Tabazadeh said.

The more these high polar clouds proliferate, the slower Earth's recovery from ozone depletion, Tabazadeh said in a telephone interview from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Ames Research Center in California.

The polar stratospheric clouds do their work by sucking nitrogen out of the cold air. Because they are made up of large particles, each the size of a bit of road dust, the clouds are heavy and pull out the nitrogen as they fall toward Earth, Tabazadeh said.

Nitrogen is important because it reacts with the chlorine in human-made chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Now banned under international agreements, CFCs have long been identified as a prime cause of ozone depletion.

The polar stratospheric clouds pack a double punch, Tabazadeh said: they take away nitrogen, which can mitigate the effects of ozone depletion, and they also activate chlorine, which spurs ozone depletion.

Still, if Earth's climate stayed constant, the ozone layer should start recovering because CFCs are being limited. But Earth's surface climate is warming, which means the stratosphere is cooling.

"The surface warming causes a cooling in the stratosphere and the cooling promotes more ozone depletion," Tabazadeh said. "Global warming is actually affecting the ozone depletion."

"I think the best thing to do is try to control the global warming issue," she said. "And that could be controlled by less emissions of greenhouse gases and also less emissions of soot. It's very hard to regulate."
Wild Condor Lays an Egg
By FOSTER KLUG

PHOENIX March 28, 2001 (AP) — A California condor laid an egg in the wild for the first time since scientists began rearing, breeding and releasing the endangered birds in 1986. The egg, found Sunday in a cave on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, was cracked and nothing will hatch from it, but scientists called the discovery a major success in the condor release program.

"This tells us that captured birds released to the wild can lay an egg,'' said Jeff Humphrey, Arizona's condor reintroduction coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "It's a significant benchmark.''

The condor, a vulture-like scavenger, disappeared outside of California by 1924 and was listed as endangered in 1967.

The 6-year-old female that laid the egg was hatched in the San Diego Wild Animal Park. It was released in 1997 at the Vermillion Cliffs, 30 miles north of Grand Canyon National Park.

"We're terribly excited about this,'' said Maureen Oltrogge, a spokeswoman for Grand Canyon National Park. "It's the reward for a lot of hard work over the years.''

There are 160 endangered condors left in the world, with 25 living in the wild in Arizona. Scientists hope eventually to have a population of 150 condors in the Arizona wilderness, as well as boost the population along California's mountainous northern coast and in captivity.

Scientists are eager to retrieve and study the egg, but are waiting to see if another pair of condors in the area will breed.

"The birds in the wild now are trying to learn how to do this on their own,'' Humphrey said. "They don't have a frame of reference where they've seen other birds do it before.''

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On the Net:

Grand Canyon National Park: http://www.nps.gov/grca 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: http://www.fws.gov

The Peregrine Fund: http://www.peregrinefund.org
Cost of Clinton Probe $60 Million
WASHINGTON March 31, 2001 (AP) — With months of wrap-up work still unfinished, the independent counsel investigations of former President Clinton have cost American taxpayers close to $60 million, according to Congress' General Accounting Office.

The current independent counsel Robert Ray and his predecessor, Kenneth Starr, had by the end of last September spent $59.9 million looking into such matters as Whitewater, the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, the firings in the White House travel office and the controversy over FBI files, the GAO reported Friday.

Five independent counsels investigating officials in the Clinton administration have spent a total of more than $110.4 million, The Washington Post reported in Saturday editions.

Meanwhile, the independent counsel's office announced that Ray's top deputy, Keith Ausbrook, is leaving his post to become chief counsel to a House investigative subcommittee.

Ausbrook is joining the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations.
Volcanic Plumes Seen on Jupiter Moon
PASADENA, Calif. March 29, 2001 (AP) — Twin volcanic plumes that rise 250 miles above the surface of Jupiter's fiery moon Io appear in images taken by two NASA spacecraft and released Thursday.

Scientists have known about one of the towering plumes for the past four years. It has continued to spew gas and dust from a volcano called Pele each time the Galileo probe has flown past Io.

But when Galileo was joined at Jupiter this winter by the spacecraft Cassini, the two probes caught a second plume.

Peering at Io in ultraviolet wavelengths on Jan. 1 and 2, Cassini spied the new plume near the moon's north pole. The discovery was the first of an active plume in that region and the first to rival Pele's plume in size.

Images taken days earlier by Galileo but transmitted to Earth earlier this month show a red ring circling a volcanic area called Tvashtar Catena. Scientists said the new ring of deposits makes Tvashtar the likely source of the new plume.

Scientists working on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration mission hope Galileo will give them a closer look at Tvashtar when the spacecraft passes just 224 miles above the area in August. The craft will fly directly through the plume — if it's still present.

Io is the most volcanically active body in the solar system. Because it orbits so close to giant Jupiter, the planet's gravitational tug constantly flexes the moon like a metal bar bent back and forth. That dynamic causes the moon's extreme volcanism.

Galileo has orbited Jupiter since 1995 and will continue to do so until NASA sends it plunging into the planet's atmosphere in 2003. Cassini swung past Jupiter this winter to gain a boost on its way to a 2005 arrival at Saturn.

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On the Net:

Galileo Web site: http://galileo.jpl.nasa.gov

Jupiter Radiation Could Threaten Future Probes
PASADENA, Calif. March 29, 2001 (AP) — Radiation near Jupiter is far more severe than previously estimated, raising concerns about the survival of future probes, NASA reported.

The natural radio emissions coming from Jupiter's radiation belts were measured by an Italian-built antenna on the Cassini spacecraft when it flew past the planet in December.

The data, reported Wednesday, actually showed lower levels of the highest-energy electrons but forced scientists to increase their estimates of the amounts of electrons with slightly lower energy levels.

While not as deadly, the slightly less energetic electrons would still threaten the electronics on any spacecraft within 200,000 miles of Jupiter.

"We got some surprises,'' said Scott Bolton, a physicist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The radiation is not measurable from Earth or any previous spacecraft to visit Jupiter.

NASA has no firm plans to send a spacecraft close in to Jupiter, although scientists have proposed a mission called INSIDE Jupiter to launch in 2003 and reach the planet in 2011. During its 15-month mission, the probe would travel within 2,500 miles of the planet.

Scientists have long known about the harsh radiation environment at Jupiter. NASA's Galileo spacecraft has endured more than three times the radiation exposure it was designed to withstand since arriving in orbit around Jupiter in 1995.

———

On the Net:

Jet Propulsion Laboratory: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov
Russia Considers Building Mir-2
MOSCOW March 28, 2001 (AP) — The Russian government is considering building a successor to the recently abandoned Mir space station, although there is no money now to do so, a top Cabinet official said Wednesday.

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov gave no details of the possible Mir-2, saying only that Russia's participation in the 16-nation International Space Station provides a technical base for building a new Russian station, the Interfax news agency reported.

He said the U.S.-led international project would remain Russia's top priority.

Mir's demise in the South Pacific last Friday — after a record-setting 15 years in orbit — was bemoaned by many Russian politicians and cosmonauts as the end of Soviet-era space might.

Russian Aerospace Agency chief Yuri Koptev has also left open the possibility of building a Mir-2, but said that its core module alone would cost a minimum of $400 million — a price that Russia's cash-strapped space industry can't afford.

After years of debate, Russia decided to abandon Mir because it was falling apart and was too expensive to maintain.

Man Serves 29 Years for Breaking Window
KINGSTON, Jamaica March 30, 2001 (Reuters) - A Jamaican man has been released from prison after spending 29 years behind bars for smashing a pane of glass.

Jamaican officials said Ivan Boroughs, 76, had not been forgotten but a court had been slow to act on his case.

Boroughs was charged with malicious destruction of property in December 1972 when he broke a pane of glass at a bank -- a charge which carries a maximum sentence of three years. He had been deemed mentally ill by court officials and thus unfit to stand trial.

Boroughs was released on Wednesday and went home to May Pen, in central Jamaica.

"I don't know why they kept me so long in prison. I'm just glad to be out. I did not enjoy staying there," he said. "I am looking forward to living a good life now. It's a long time to be in jail and I'm still upset.

Commissioner of Corrections John Prescod said officials had known that Boroughs was in prison.

"We did not forget him. We were monitoring his progress yearly but we had to wait on communication from the court and that did not come until Tuesday," Prescod said.

But the Legal Aid Council lashed out against the state for Boroughs' ordeal and said it would seek justice for him.

"I can't imagine that something like this took place," said its executive director Nancy Anderson. "He was not sentenced but he was said to be unfit to stand trial but yet he was remanded in custody for 29 years."

"There might be many like him in the system."
Scientists Stunned by Gender-Bender Chromosome
By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON March 29, 2001 (Reuters) - Call it the case of the cross-dressing chromosome.

Surprised scientists said Thursday that nearly half of all genes related to the earliest stages of sperm production reside not on the male sex Y chromosome as expected, but on the X chromosome, universally considered the female sex chromosome.

The finding, made by a team of researchers led by David Page of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Massachusetts and Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Maryland, may cause scientists to have second thoughts about the gender identity of the X chromosome.

Researchers also said the finding raises the possibility that infertility due to low sperm production may be passed on to male children through their mothers, much like color-blindness or hemophilia. Researchers until now have studied only the Y chromosome in the search for the genetic underpinnings of low sperm counts.

The study was published in the journal Nature Genetics.

"Scientists and non-scientists alike are comfortable thinking about the Y chromosome as a specialist in male characteristics," Page said in a statement. "By default, we've traditionally thought of the X chromosome as sexually neutral or as a specialist in female characteristics. Our findings indicate that the X chromosome has a specialty in sperm production, much like the Y chromosome does."

Males have one X and one Y sex chromosome. Females have two X chromosomes, only one of which is active.

Researchers were examining the genetic underpinnings of spermatogonia -- stem cells in the testes that give rise to sperm. Unlike other stem cells, such as blood stem cells, which have been closely studied, sperm stem cells have remained largely unexplored.

STUDY INVOLVED SPERM STEM CELLS IN MICE

The researchers searched for genes that are active exclusively in sperm stem cells in mice. They came up with 25 genes, including 19 new ones, that were expressed exclusively in mouse sperm stem cells. But they were stunned by the fact that only three of them were associated with the Y chromosome and 10 were linked to the X chromosome.

Page said the finding had major implications for future research.

"The X chromosome is one of the most intensely studied chromosomes, and the X-linked mode of inheritance is a textbook classic -- it is one of the three modes of inheritance that we study in medical genetics," Page said.

In this mode, a genetic defect on the X chromosome may cause a disease (color blindness or hemophilia, for example). The mother, who has a defective gene on one of her two X chromosomes, is protected against the disease because women have two copies of the X chromosome, and her normal X chromosome compensates for the faulty one. Her sons have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the defective X chromosome and having the disease.

The mother's daughters experience a 50 percent chance of inheriting the defective X chromosome and becoming carriers.

Gates Shows Off Xbox
By JOJI SAKURAI

CHIBA, Japan March 30, 2001 (AP) — Microsoft Corp. made an aggressive pitch Friday on the home turf of top-selling rival Sony PlayStation 2 to attract Japanese gamers to its Xbox game console and convince skeptical software designers here to create games for the machine. Chairman Bill Gates told a packed hall at the Tokyo Game Show that the Japanese version of Xbox would be tailored to local tastes, with a smaller hand-held controller and U.S.-designed games adapted by a team of Japanese game developers.

"In the Japanese market feedback is naturally different from the United States,'' Gates said.

Microsoft's belief that Japan is essential to the Xbox's success was everywhere apparent at the game show.

"X-box'' banners festooned the Kaihin Makuhari train station outside of the exhibition hall. The Xbox booth was crammed with fans gazing at displays of a snowboarding game as a DJ interviewed software designers.

Gates timed his speech to coincide with an announcement that Japan's Sega Corp. would create 11 games for the Xbox, adding clout to the newcomer and giving a boost to its flagging efforts to lure game makers here.

Despite the attempt to woo, gamers had a mixed reaction.

"It's clear they're putting a lot of effort into it,'' said a company worker who only gave his surname Yamada. "But the graphics weren't any different from what I see in the Japanese game consoles.''

Sega's contribution to the Xbox, set for release this fall, will include the latest versions of "Panzer Dragoon'' and "Sega GT,'' the companies said in a joint statement released in Tokyo.

A team of Japanese software developers led by Takayuki Miyake, a top game designer lured away from rival Sony, will be remaking U.S.-developed games and creating its own software for worldwide release.

Microsoft expects to have 100 software designers on its Japanese team. It hopes to have 12 to 18 titles ready for the Xbox's debut and gave a sneak preview of some of its games.

Gates showed off a martial arts fight game with movie-quality graphics and prototypes of snowboarding, football and combat games.

Microsoft has said it plans to spend dlrs 500 million marketing the Xbox. On Thursday, Microsoft announced a deal with Japan's NTT Communications Corp. that will give Xbox users an online gaming service over a Japanese broadband network.

Gates touted the Xbox's DVD player, 8-gigabyte-memory hard drive and broadband Internet access.

But industry experts were skeptical about the Xbox's chances in Japan.

"I was underwhelmed,'' said independent software developer Jake Kazdal. "There was nothing to show.''

Kazdal said the console's bulk could be a turnoff for Japanese.

"It's too big for Japanese homes. That's a tea-table not a video machine.''

Check out the latest on the Xbox for yourself at http://www.xbox.com


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