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Wed, 18 Jan 2017
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Science & Technology


Crop Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies Are Thwarting Research

Biotechnology companies are keeping university scientists from fully researching the effectiveness and environmental impact of the industry's genetically modified crops, according to an unusual complaint issued by a group of those scientists.

"No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions," the scientists wrote in a statement submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency. The E.P.A. is seeking public comments for scientific meetings it will hold next week on biotech crops.

The statement will probably give support to critics of biotech crops, like environmental groups, who have long complained that the crops have not been studied thoroughly enough and could have unintended health and environmental consequences.

The researchers, 26 corn-insect specialists, withheld their names because they feared being cut off from research by the companies. But several of them agreed in interviews to have their names used.

The problem, the scientists say, is that farmers and other buyers of genetically engineered seeds have to sign an agreement meant to ensure that growers honor company patent rights and environmental regulations. But the agreements also prohibit growing the crops for research purposes.

So while university scientists can freely buy pesticides or conventional seeds for their research, they cannot do that with genetically engineered seeds. Instead, they must seek permission from the seed companies. And sometimes that permission is denied or the company insists on reviewing any findings before they can be published, they say.


Lost and found: palace of Robert the Bruce

Historians and archaeologists claim to have found the remains of King Robert the Bruce's palace, lost for more than 700 years.

The discovery is being hailed as one of the most important in decades as it pinpoints the location of a monument many believe is as important to Scotland's history as Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace.

Beneath the Pillanflatt in Renton, in a run-down area of West Dunbartonshire, historians claim to have found a number of artefacts and foundations matching descriptions in ancient documents about the location of the king's home.


Cosmic Coincidence

© Space Weather

What are the odds? On Tuesday morning, Feb. 24th, Saturn and Comet Lulin will converge in the constellation Leo only 2 degrees apart.

At the same time, Comet Lulin will be making its closest approach to Earth (38 million miles), while four of Saturn's moons transit the disk of the ringed planet.

Oh, and the Moon will be New, providing dark skies for anyone who wishes to see the show.


Transgenes found in wild corn

© Marco Ugarte/AP/PA
Greenpeace stages a protest against a new Mexican bio-security law that, it claims, does not include safeguards to prevent transgenic contamination of corn seeds.

Now it's official: genes from genetically modified corn have escaped into wild varieties in rural Mexico. A new study resolves a long-running controversy over the spread of GM genes and suggests that detecting such escapes may be tougher than previously thought.

In 2001, when biologists David Quist and Ignacio Chapela reported finding transgenes from GM corn in traditional varieties in Oaxaca, Mexico, they faced a barrage of criticism over their techniques. Nature, which had published the research, eventually disowned their paper, while a second study by different researchers failed to back up their findings.

But now, Elena Alvarez-Buylla of the National Autonomous University in Mexico City and her team have backed Quist and Chapela's claim. They found transgenes in about 1 per cent of nearly 2000 samples they took from the region (Molecular Ecology, vol 18, p 750).


Student Finds Rare Lincoln Fingerprint

© Jeffrey Sabo, Miami University
Confirmed thumbprint of Abraham Lincoln, the second one found in collections at Miami University.

A student at Miami University has discovered what experts say is a fingerprint belonging to Abraham Lincoln from nearly 150 years ago.

Lydia Smith, a first-year psychology major from Granville, Ohio, was transcribing a letter written by Lincoln on Oct. 5, 1863, for a class project when she noticed a smudge that she suspected could be the 16th president's thumbprint. Lincoln historians have confirmed the print.

The Papers of Abraham Lincoln, a project of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, reviewed and confirmed the print, making it the second rare fingerprint of the 16th president housed at Miami's libraries.


Google Earth's 'Atlantis' Just A Data Glitch

While Google's mapping program is turning up many formerly hidden objects, a lost city under the sea isn't one of them, says a company spokesperson.

The addition of sea-floor topography to Google Earth earlier this month revealed what some claim could be the lost city of Atlantis.

But Google says the undersea grid lines spotted by aeronautical engineer Bernie Bamford while browsing Google Earth's ocean maps are data artifacts rather than sunken streets.

Comment: SoTT called this one.


Quark star may hold secret to early universe

© P Challis and R Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center For Astrophysics)/NASA/ESA/STScI/SPL)
SN 1987A

A new kind of star may be lurking in the debris from a nearby supernova explosion. If confirmed, the "quark star" could offer fresh insights into the earliest moments of the universe.

When supernovae explode, they leave behind either a black hole or a dense remnant called a neutron star. However, recent calculations suggest a third possibility: a quark star, which forms when the pressure falls just short of creating a black hole.

Astronomers believe these form after the neutron star stage, when the pressure inside a supernova rises so high the neutrons disintegrate into their constituents - quarks. These form an even denser star than neutrons.


Space Shuttle Launch Delayed for the Fourth Time

NASA had no other viable alternative but to delay the launch of the space shuttle for the fourth time due to a few small mistakes revealed by the latest data report on the craft.

Shuttle managers gathered at Kennedy Space Center for a meeting that took 13 hours and ended with the decision not to launch the space shuttle next week, as scheduled. NASA planned to launch the shuttle to the International Space Station no sooner than February 27. The assembly of shuttle engineers did not settle on a new launch date yet.


Satellite collision debris may hamper space launches - scientist

The debris from a recent collision involving two communications satellites could pose a serious threat for future launches of spacecraft into a geostationary orbit, a Russian scientist said on Friday.

One of 66 satellites owned by Iridium, a U.S. telecoms company, and the Russian Cosmos-2251 satellite launched in 1993 and believed to be defunct collided on February 10 about 800 kilometers (500 miles) above Siberia.

"Future launches will have to be adjusted with regard to the fact that the debris [from the collision] has spread over an 800-km area and will gather at a common orbit in 5-6 years," said Alexander Stepanov, director of the Pulkovo Observatory in St. Petersburg.

Cloud Lightning

Siberia: The Kondyor Massif

© Jesse Allen. Data courtesy of GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS and the U.S./Japan Aster Science Team
Geologists say it is an intrusion of igneous, or volcanic, rock that pushed up through overlying layers of sediment. Electric arcs provide a better explanation.

A six-kilometer-wide circle of rock contrasts with the surrounding topography in Northern Siberia. It looks like a crater formed by the impact of a stone from space or an extinct volcano, but neither explanation seems to fit more detailed observations.

The Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA's Terra satellite observed Kondyor Massif on June 10, 2006. A three-dimensional image of the formation was created in order to provide an indication of its proportions. There is little vegetation within the ring of rock as the ASTER image reveals. A river flows out of the massif on the north side, fed by rainwater collecting within the uplifted rim.