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Because I'm a man !

Because I'm a man, when I lock my keys in the car, I will fiddle with a coat hanger long after hypothermia has set in. Calling AAA is not an option. I will win. ______________________________________________
Because I'm a man, when the car isn't running very well, I will pop the hood and stare at the engine as if I know what I'm looking at. If another man shows up, one of us will say to the other, 'I used to be able to fix these things, but now with all these computers and everything, I wouldn't know where to start.' We will then drink a couple of beers and break wind, as a form of holy communion. _______________________________________________
Because I'm a man, when I catch a cold, I need someone to bring me soup and take care of me while I lie in bed and moan. You're a woman. You never get as sick as I do, so for you, this is no problem. _______________________________________________
Because I'm a man, I can be relied upon to purchase basic groceries at the store, like beer, milk or bread. I cannot be expected to find exotic items like 'cumin' or 'tofu.' For all I know, these are the same thing. _______________________________________________
Because I'm a man, when one of our appliances stops working, I will insist on taking it apart, despite evidence that this will just cost me twice as much once the repair person gets here and has to put it back together. _______________________________________________
Because I'm a man, I must hold the television remote control in my hand while I watch TV. If the thing has been misplaced, I may miss a whole show looking for it...though one time I was able to survive by holding a calculator. ( applies to engineers mainly). _______________________________________________
Because I'm a man, there is no need to ask me what I'm thinking about. The true answer is always either sex, cars, sex, sports or sex. I have to make up something else when you ask, so don't ask. _______________________________________________
Because I'm a man, I do not want to visit your mother, or have your mother come visit us, or talk to her when she calls, or think about her any more than I have to. Whatever you got her for Mother's Day is okay; I don't need to see it. And don't forget to pick up something for my mother, too. _______________________________________________
Because I'm a man, you don't have to ask me if I liked the movie. Chances are, if you're crying at the end of it, I didn't ...and if you are feeling amorous afterwards...then I will certainly at least remember the name and recommend it to others. _______________________________________________
Because I'm a man, I think what you're wearing is fine. I thought what you were wearing five minutes ago was fine, too. Either pair of shoes is fine. With the belt or without it, looks fine. Your hair is fine. You look fine. Can we just go now? _______________________________________________
Because I'm a man, and this is, after all, the year 2009, I will share equally in the housework. You just do the laundry, the cooking, the cleaning, the vacuuming, and the dishes, and I'll do the rest...Like wandering around in the garden with a beer wondering what to do.This has been a public service message for women to better understand men.


10,000 E. African albinos in hiding after killings !

NAIROBI, Kenya – The mistaken belief that albino body parts have magical powers has driven thousands of Africa's albinos into hiding, fearful of losing their lives and limbs to unscrupulous dealers who can make up to $75,000 selling a complete dismembered set.
Mary Owido, who lacks pigment that gives color to skin, eyes and hair, says she is only comfortable when at work or at home with her husband and children.
"Wherever I go people start talking about me, saying that my legs and hands can fetch a fortune in Tanzania," said Owido, 36, a mother of six. "This kind of talk scares me. I am afraid of going out alone."
Since 2007, 44 albinos have been killed in Tanzania and 14 others have been slain in Burundi, sparking widespread fear among albinos in East Africa.
At least 10,000 have been displaced or gone into hiding since the killings began, according to a report released this week by the International Federation for the Red Cross and Crescent societies.
East Africa's latest albino murder happened in Tanzania's Mwanza region in late October, when albino hunters beheaded 10-year-old Gasper Elikana and chopped off his leg, the report said. The killing left Elikana's father, who tried to defend his son, seriously injured.
Albinism is a hereditary condition, but occurs only when both parents have albinism genes. All six of Owido's children have normal skin color.
African albinos endure insults, discrimination and segregation throughout their lives. They also have a high risk of contracting skin cancer in a region where many jobs are outdoors.
Owido, a high school teacher in the western Kenyan town of Ahero, says she was forced to transfer from a better teaching job on the Kenya-Tanzania border town of Isebania in 2008 after an albino girl she knew was murdered and her body parts chopped off.
The surge in the use of albino body parts as good luck charms is a result of "a kind of marketing exercise by witch doctors," the International Federation for the Red Cross and Crescent societies said.
The report says the market for albino parts exists mainly in Tanzania, where a complete set of body parts — including all limbs, genitals, ears, tongue and nose — can sell for $75,000. Wealthy buyers use the parts as talismans to bring them wealth and good fortune.
"Albinism is one of the most unfortunate vulnerabilities," said International Federation for the Red Cross and Crescent societies Secretary General Bekele Geleta. "And it needs to be addressed immediately at an international level."
The chairman of the Albino Association of Kenya, Isaac Mwaura, called the murders deplorable but said the killings have given albinos a platform to raise awareness.
Almost 90 percent of albinos living in the region were raised by single mothers, Mwaura said, because the fathers believed their wives were having affairs with white men.
"When I was born my father said his family tree doesn't have such children and left us," Mwaura said.
Some African communities believe that albinos are harbingers of disaster, while others mistakenly think albinos are mentally retarded and discourage their parents from taking them to school, saying it's a waste of money, he said.
Due to a lack of education, many albinos are illiterate and are forced into menial jobs, exposing them to the sun and skin cancer, he said. Those who manage to finish school face discrimination in the work place and are never considered for promotions.
"People are very blind to albinism but it is very visible. Now that we have this issue in Tanzania is when people have started to talk about albinism," Mwaura said. "Before there was a studious silence."
By TOM ODULA, Associated Press Writer



An iceberg is a large piece of freshwater ice that has broken off from a snow-formed glacier or ice shelf and is floating in open water
Since the density of pure water ice is ca. 920 kg/m³, and that of sea water ca. 1025 kg/m³, typically, only one ninth of the volume of an iceberg is above water. The shape of the remainder under the water can be difficult to surmise from looking at what is visible above the surface. This has led to the expression "", generally applied to a problem or difficulty, meaning that the visible trouble is only a small manifestation of a larger problem.


Tricks That MAKE You Look SMART

Click to enlarge the picture

Americans Toss Out 40 Percent of All Food

U.S. residents are wasting food like never before.
While many Americans feast on turkey and all the fixings today, a new study finds food waste per person has shot up 50 percent since 1974. Some 1,400 calories worth of food is discarded per person each day, which adds up to 150 trillion calories a year.
The study finds that about 40 percent of all the food produced in the United States is tossed out.
Meanwhile, while some have plenty of food to spare, a recent report by the Department of Agriculture finds the number of U.S. homes lacking "food security," meaning their eating habits were disrupted for lack of money, rose from 4.7 million in 2007 to 6.7 million last year.
About 1 billion people worldwide don't have enough to eat, according to the World Food Program.
Growing problem
The new estimate of food waste, published in the journal PLoS ONE, is a relatively straightforward calculation: It's the difference between the U.S. food supply and what's actually eaten, which was estimated by using a model of human metabolism and known body weights.
The result, from Kevin Hall and colleagues at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, is about 25 percent higher than similar estimates made in recent years.
Last year, an international group estimated that up to 30 percent of food - worth about $48.3 billion - is wasted each year in the United States. That report concluded that despite food shortages in many countries, plenty of food is available to feed the world, it just doesn't get where it needs to go.
Previous calculations were typically based on interviews with people and inspections of garbage, which Hall's team figures underestimates the waste.
Related problems
ScienceNOW, an online publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, reports that food waste occurs at the manufacturing level and in distribution, but more than half is wasted by consumers, according to a separate study earlier this year by Jeffery Sobal, a sociologist at Cornell University.
Meanwhile, Hall and colleagues say a related and growing problem, obesity, may be fueled by the increased availability of food in this country and the incessant marketing of it. All that extra food is bad for the environment, too.
Addressing the oversupply of food in the United States "could help curb to the obesity epidemic as well as reduce food waste, which would have profound consequences for the environment and natural resources," the scientists write. "For example, food waste is now estimated to account for more than one quarter of the total freshwater consumption and more than 300 million barrels of oil per year representing about 4 percent of the total U.S. oil consumption."
Robert Roy Britt/

Metal-detector enthusiast unearths $5.5 million in gold

LONDON – The largest haul of Anglo-Saxon gold ever discovered, unearthed by a metal-detector enthusiast in a farmer's field, has been valued at 3.28 million pounds ($5.5 million) by a committee of experts.
The Staffordshire Hoard, found by Terry Herbert in central England in July, comprises over 1,500 mainly gold and silver items thought to date back to the 7th century.
Under Treasure Trove laws, the money will be split between the finder, Herbert, and the landowner, Fred Johnson.
The find has been compared in importance to the spectacular Sutton Hoo burial site, a huge ship grave in eastern England excavated in 1939.
The cache comprises sword-hilts, fragments of gold helmets, some elaborately decorated, and other pieces of weaponry inlaid with precious stones.
The two museums which hope to acquire the hoard, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum, along with the finder and the landowner, have all approved the valuation.
A dozen or so items from the hoard have gone on show at the British Museum in London. Hundreds of people queued for hours when a small selection of items were displayed in Birmingham earlier this year.


Hunting For Planets In The Dark

Dark energy isn't good for life in the universe. This mysterious substance, which cosmologists believe makes up around 70 percent of the universe, may eventually pull apart galaxies, then stars and planets, and finally atoms and molecules, in what some call the Big Rip.
It's ironic, then, that the search for dark energy might help in the search for life in the universe. That's because planet hunting through a technique called microlensing requires a similar sort of instrument as a dark energy mission.
"Both dark energy and microlensing planet studies are best done with a wide-field telescope optimized for infrared observing," says Peter Garnavich a cosmologist from the University of Notre Dame.
In Europe, the Euclid mission is a proposed space telescope for characterizing dark energy, but some believe that it might be more attractive to funding agencies if it included an exoplanet survey. A similar collaboration is being considered in the United States.
"There is less money for research, so it is important to have robust, low-risk missions that maximize the scientific return," says Euclid-team-member Jean-Philippe Beaulieu of the Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris (IAP). Converging technology
The first evidence of dark energy came from supernova observations made a decade ago. The data showed that the farthest supernovae were fainter than expected, which meant that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. No known force can do that, so it was theorized that some unknown energy must be pulling everything apart.
To get a better understanding of dark energy, cosmologists want to measure how the acceleration has changed over time. This could be done in one of three ways:
(1) with more supernova observations,
(2) by mapping out the way galaxies cluster together, or
(3) by observing the apparent distortion in the shapes of distant galaxies caused by matter along the line of sight.
All of these techniques require a large space telescope that can stare at a big piece of the sky, but this fits the bill of another astronomical enterprise.
"The microlensing planet search will also need a large detector and big sky footprint, so it is natural to think that these two seemingly different programs could work with the same space telescope," Garnavich says.
Originally, the marriage of planet hunting and dark energy was part of the DUNE mission that was proposed to the European Space Agency (ESA) as part of its Cosmic Vision 2007.
However, ESA decided that DUNE should be merged with another dark energy project called SPACE. The resulting mission, Euclid, is still under review.
The Euclid design is still being hammered out, but the main instrument is a 1.2-meter diameter telescope for high-resolution optical imaging. It would map the distribution of galaxies across the sky, as well as measure the amount of distortion (so-called weak lensing) caused by the bending of light as it travels through regions of dense matter on its way to us.
Without any design changes, this dark-energy telescope could also search for microlensing events, which are caused by a similar light-bending effect involving stars and planets rather than galaxies.
Massive lensesA microlensing surveys detects planets by looking at a large number of target stars and waiting for another star to pass near the line of sight. The mass of the foreground star will bend light around it, causing the background star to suddenly brighten.
The increase in flux can be anywhere from a factor of a few to a factor of a thousand.
If there is a planet around the foreground star, it may invoke an additional blip in the observed light. In the typical microlensing event, the planet causes the background star to brighten (or sometimes darken) by 20 to 30 percent, Beaulieu says.
The data from a microlensing event tells astronomers the mass of the star and planet and the orbital separation between them, and also the distance to the system. But because microlensing systems are typically very far away, there is little chance to learn more. A microlensing planet is only observed once.
Despite this limitation, important statistical information can be collected, says Beaulieu. Microlensing is more sensitive to planets at orbital radii larger than an astronomical unit, or AU, which is the Earth-Sun separation.
That means microlensing searches complement other planet-hunting techniques, like radial velocity and transiting, that are more sensitive to planets that orbit very close to their star.
"We are arriving at one AU from both ends," Beaulieu says. "Transiting searches like Kepler are moving out from the hot part. Microlensing surveys are coming in from the cold part."
Filling in the cold part of the planet census - beyond the "snow line" where surface water is frozen rather than liquid - is important in modeling how planetary systems form.
"Without any understanding of low-mass planets in more distant orbits, it will be difficult to understand how the different regions of the proto-planetary disk interact during the planet formation process." says David Bennett from the University of Notre Dame. Bennett is the principal investigator of the Microlensing Planet Finder (MPF), a dedicated planet-hunting spacecraft that NASA is considering.
Aiming higherThere are a number of ground-based telescopes that are watching the skies for microlensing events. So far they have netted 9 planets, with 6 or 7 more candidates for which the data has not yet been published, Beaulieu says.
Moving a telescope from the ground into space will increase angular resolution and allow more small stars to be observed. Since there's only about a one-in-a-million chance that a background star will be microlensed, observing more stars means better odds of finding planets, especially those that are Earth-like.
Beaulieu and his colleagues have determined that - with 3 months of observations from Euclid - they could survey 200 million stars and possibly detect 10 Earth-like planets.
ESA is currently reviewing Euclid and 5 other similar-sized missions, in order to select which 2 will be selected for launch in the coming decade as part of Cosmic Vision 2015-2025.
"I think that a microlensing planet search would significantly improve Euclid's chances of being funded," says Bennett, whose MPF project might also be coupled to a dark energy mission.
The main drawback of these joint ventures is that planet-hunters and cosmologists would have to share observing time, which would also mean sharing financial support.
"Space agencies often divide up their funding into areas based on broad topics like cosmology or solar system," Garnavich says. "When a project comes along that can produce good science across these divisions, often the territorial imperative kicks in and the bureaucrats are unwilling to share funding or work with another group even in their own organization."
by Michael Schirber/Moffett Field CA (SPX)/ EXO WORLDS

Boeing Receives Contract To Develop Miniature Weapon Technology

St. Louis MO (SPX) Boeing has received a $500,000 U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory contract on Sept. 30 for the first phase of a program to demonstrate miniature weapon technology for use on unmanned airborne vehicles (UAV).
"UAVs are increasingly called upon to perform strike operations, and this weapon technology is designed specifically for those missions," said Carl Avila, director of Boeing Phantom Works' Advanced Weapons and Missiles.
"The concept behind this technology is designed to generate very low collateral damage and allows warfighters to engage a variety of targets, including those in a suburban terrain environment."
As the prime contractor during the initial nine-month program, Boeing will use its experience on the Joint Direct Attack Munition and Small Diameter Bomb programs to develop the system integration
, seeker, avionics, guidance and control, and mission planning systems.
Key suppliers KaZaK Composites Inc. will build the airframe, Ensign Bickford Aerospace and Defense Company will design and build the warhead, and Systima Technologies Inc. will provide integration and testing services for the launcher.
Science Applications International Corporation will provide systems engineering for the seeker and seeker algorithms, and the Mustang Technology Group will provide height-of-burst and radar options. The two-year second phase of the program, if awarded, is valued at $6.5 million.


Thousands of strange creatures found deep in ocean

NEW ORLEANS – The creatures living in the depths of the ocean are as weird and outlandish as the creations in a Dr. Seuss book: tentacled transparent sea cucumbers, primitive "dumbos" that flap ear-like fins, and tubeworms that feed on oil deposits.
A report released Sunday recorded 17,650 species living below 656 feet, the point where sunlight ceases. The findings were the latest update on a 10-year census of marine life.
"Parts of the deep sea that we assumed were homogenous are actually quite complex," said Robert S. Carney, an oceanographer at Louisiana State University and a lead researcher on the deep seas.
Thousands of marine species eke out an existence in the ocean's pitch-black depths by feeding on the snowlike decaying matter that cascades down — even sunken whale bones. Oil and methane also are an energy source for the bottom-dwellers, the report said.
The researchers have found about 5,600 new species on top of the 230,000 known. They hope to add several thousand more by October 2010, when the census will be done.
The scientists say they could announce that a million or more species remain unknown. On land, biologists have catalogued about 1.5 million plants and animals.
They say they've found 5,722 species living in the extreme ocean depths, waters deeper than 3,280 feet.
"The deep sea was considered a desert until not so long ago; it's quite amazing to have documented close to 20,000 forms of life in a zone that was thought to be barren," said Jesse Ausubel with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a sponsor of the census. "The deep sea is the least explored environment on earth."
More than 40 new species of coral were documented on deep-sea mountains, along with cities of brittlestars and anemone gardens. Nearly 500 new species ranging from single-celled creatures to large squid were charted in the abyssal plains and basins.
Also of importance were the 170 new species that get their energy from chemicals spewing from ocean-bottom vents and seeps. Among them was a family of "yeti crabs," which have silky, hairlike filaments on the legs.
In the mid-Atlantic, researchers found 40 new species and 1,000 in all, said Odd Aksel Bergstad, an oceanographer with the University of Bergen in Norway who was reached by telephone in the Azores islands.
"It was a surprise to me to find such rich communities in the middle of the ocean," he said. "There were not even good maps for the area. Our understanding of the biodiversity there was very weak."
More than 2,000 scientists from 80 countries are working to catalog the oceans' species.
Researching the abyss has been costly and difficult because it involved deep-towed cameras, sonar and remotely operated vehicles that cost $50,000 a day to operate, Carney said.
Once the census is complete, the plan is to publish three books: a popular survey of sea life, a second book with chapters for each working group and a third focusing on biodiversity.
By CAIN BURDEAU, Associated Press Writer.



Will a Computer's Conscious Mind Emerge?

If the human brain is data being passed from neuron to neuron at its basic level and we can simulate that in a computer, shouldn’t a conscious mind start to emerge ?

As you might have heard, supercomputers are now powerful enough to simulate crucial parts of cat brains and are on their way to map sections of the human mind to learn more about its basic functions. One day in the near future, we may very well be looking at complete simulations of a human brain that can imitate our key mental abilities. And if you believe some of the more ambitious computer science theoreticians, we’d make a giant leap towards creating conscious and aware artificial intelligence.
If the human brain is data being passed from neuron to neuron at its basic level and we can simulate that in a computer, shouldn’t a conscious mind start to emerge?
Simulated Thought Is a Long Way from Real Thinking
This argument, advanced by Michael Vassar or the Singularity Institute and his colleagues, is one of those ideas that sound intuitively plausible, but highly dubious in practice. The difference between simulated thinking and conscious thinking can be illustrated by thinking about the difference between a computer simulated boat and a real one.
High end graphic programs will let you draw a boat and put it on a virtual plane of water. It will let you specify the environment, solve a number of Navier-Stokes equations, calculate the exact amount of force to apply to each section of the ship and then it will calculate how the ship reacts to the changes. The end result is a visualization of what we think looks right instead of a real boat.
If you want to simulate how the brain works, you need to imitate the electrical signals there that tell neurons which neurotransmitters to release. It's a messy and complicated process rife with constant misfiring.
Just like our example of a virtual boat, a digital human brain would be a visualization of what we’re pretty sure happens in our heads according to current scientific knowledge. This is why the manager of IBM’s Cognitive Computing Unit, Dharmendra Modha, says"Our hope is that by incorporating many of the ingredients that neuroscientists think may be important to cognition in the brain, such as general statistical connectivity pattern and plastic synapses, we may be able to use the model as a tool to help understand how the brain produces cognition."Translation: the simulations of a human brain will give us an approximate map of how the thought process plays out and a conscious, self-aware mind is not going to arise from this statistical construct. The point is to try and make a computer that comes up with several approaches to tackling a problem, not to create a virtual human, or a digital cat that can match wits with a real human or a real feline respectively.
A Computer Brain is Still Just Code
In the future, if we model an entire brain in real time on the level of every neuron, every signal, and every burst of the neurotransmitter, we’ll just end up with a very complex visualization controlled by a complex set of routines and subroutines.
These models could help neurosurgeons by mimicking what would happen during novel brain surgery, or provide ideas for neuroscientists, but they’re not going to become alive or self aware since as far as a computer is concerned, they live as millions of lines of code based on a multitude of formulas and rules. The real chemistry that makes our brains work will be locked in our heads, far away from the circuitry trying to reproduce its results.
Now, if we built a new generation of computers using organic components, the simulations we could run could have some very interesting results.
content provided by Greg Fish / Discovery News

Spray-on Skin Offers Fast Healing for Burns

Spray-on skin might sound like science fiction, but the new tech could spare burn victims from painful skin grafts.
ReCell technology uses a postage stamp-sized piece of skin to create spray-on that can cover a page's-worth of burned skin. Avita Medical
Spray-on skin that heals burns in days, not weeks, is set to begin clinical trials as soon as next month.
Avita Medical's ReCell technology uses a postage stamp-sized piece of skin from a patient to heal a page's-worth of burned skin. The technology could save the lives of burn victims by reducing the risk of deadly infections as early as next year.
"We need to get these burn wounds closed quickly," said John Geisel, a scientist at Avita Medical developing the technology. "Until we do, these wounds lose blood and a patient runs the risk of a life-threatening infection."
WATCH VIDEO: Regrowing skin, bones and even organs might seem like something out of a mad scientist's lab, but the reality isn't so crazy.
In second and third degree burns, the kind of burns ReCell is designed to heal, the outer few layers of skin are damaged or destroyed. To heal the burned skin scientists currently can either graft skin from another part of the victim's body, or use artificial skin grown in petri dishes, which can come from another donor or from the burn patient.
Grafting is fast with a low chance of rejection but it uses a lot of skin. For a patient that has burned 40 to 50 percent of their body grafting isn't much of an option; to cover a page's-worth of burned skin requires a page's-worth of healthy skin be removed.
Artificially grown skin from another donor is fast but also raises the risk of rejection, which can further increase the chance of a life-threatening infection. Skin can be grown using a patients own cells, harvested from a much smaller area than a full graft, which is more reliable but takes weeks to grow.
ReCell combines the speed and reliability of a skin graft with the small donor site of artificially grown skin. As little as six one-thousands of an inch-deep of skin is scraped from an area the size of a postage stamp. Once taken, the donor site looks like a small rug burn, raw and pink with pinprick bleeding. A full graft leaves the donor site bleeding.
Contained in those six-thousands of an inch are basal stem cells and melanocytes, cells that give skin its particular color and texture. The structural materials holding these cells in place are dissolved with trypsin, a enzyme harvested from pigs, and then sprayed back onto a burn site.
Once on the burned area, the skin stem cells and melanocytes begin to divide and expand. In less than a week that stamp-sized donor site of skin can turn into a page's worth of new, healthy skin. Skin that matches the tone and texture of the original skin more closely than skin grafts usually do.
A clinical trial of ReCell, using 106 patients with second degree burns, is set to begin in December and end about one year later. If the Food and Drug Administration approves, ReCell could be available for purchase soon after the clinical trial is completed. ReCell is already available for use in Mexico, Canada, Europe and several other countries.
Part of the funding for the clinical trial comes from a $1.4 million U.S. Army grant to help develop regenerative medicine for wounded soldiers returning from battle. James Holmes, a doctor at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, is running the clinical trial. Holmes expects that if ReCell is approved for use in the United States, it will save the lives of burn victims.
"What's available today is the same technology that was available 30 years ago," said Holmes.
"In a burn you are always working against time. ReCell will allow us to turn back the clock on all kinds of burns."
By Eric Bland/Discovery News

Authorities: Man tied lizards to chest at airport !

LOS ANGELES – Federal officials say they arrested a man who strapped 15 live lizards to his chest to get through customs at Los Angeles International Airport.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Friday that 40-year-old Michael Plank of Lomita, Calif., was returning from Australia when U.S. Customs agents found two geckos, two monitor lizards and 11 skinks — another type of lizard — fastened to his body Tuesday.
Plank has been released on $10,000 bond and will be arraigned in federal court on Dec. 21.
Authorities say the lizards' value totals more than $8,500.
All Australian reptiles are strictly regulated and Plank did not have a permit for them.


Art of Paper (Dollar) Folding !

"Escaping a Bull" jumps !

You know, escaping a bull would make Olympic Gymnastics a lot more interesting.
And cartwheels in bull fights might make it more fair for the bull.
/Offbeat Earth

Mad Science? Growing Meat Without Animals !

Winston Churchill once predicted that it would be possible to grow chicken breasts and wings more efficiently without having to keep an actual chicken. And in fact scientists have since figured out how to grow tiny nuggets of lab meat and say it will one day be possible to produce steaks in vats, sans any livestock.
Pork chops or burgers cultivated in labs could eliminate contamination problems that regularly generate headlines these days, as well as address environmental concerns that come with industrial livestock farms.
However, such research opens up strange and perhaps even disturbing possibilities once considered only the realm of science fiction. After all, who knows what kind of meat people might want to grow to eat?
Advantages touted
Increasingly, bioengineers are growing nerve, heart and other tissues in labs. Recently, scientists even reported developing artificial penis tissue in rabbits. Although such research is meant to help treat patients, biomedical engineer Mark Post at Maastricht University in the Netherlands and his colleagues suggest it could also help feed the rising demand for meat worldwide.
The researchers noted that growing skeletal muscle in labs - the kind people typically think of as the meat they eat - could help tackle a number of problems:
Avoiding animal suffering by reducing the farming and killing of livestock.
Dramatically cutting down on food-borne ailments such as mad cow disease and salmonella or germs such as swine flu, by monitoring the growth of meat in labs.
Livestock currently take up 70 percent of all agricultural land, corresponding to 30 percent of the world's land surface, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Labs would presumably require much less space.
Livestock generate 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than all of the vehicles on Earth, the FAO added. Since the animals themselves are mostly responsible for these gases, reducing livestock numbers could help alleviate global warming.
Need to scale up
Stem cells are considered the most promising source for such meat, retaining as they do the capacity to transform into the required tissues, and the scientists pointed to satellite cells, which are the natural muscle stem cells responsible for regeneration and repair in adults. Embryonic stem cells could also be used, but they are obviously plagued by ethical concerns, and they could grow into tissues besides the desired muscles.
To grow meat in labs from satellite cells, the researchers suggested current tissue-engineering techniques, where stem cells are often embedded in synthetic three-dimensional biodegradable matrixes that can present the chemical and physical environments that cells need to develop properly. Other key factors would involve electrically stimulating and mechanically stretching the muscles to exercise them, helping them mature properly, and perhaps growing other cells alongside the satellite cells to provide necessary molecular cues.
So far past scientists have grown only small nuggets of skeletal muscle, about half the size of a thumbnail. Such tidbits could be used in sauces or pizzas, Post and colleagues explained recently in the online edition of the journal Trends in Food Science & Technology, but creating a steak would demand larger-scale production.
Dark thoughts
The expectation is that if such meat is ever made, scientists will opt for beef, pork, chicken or fish. However, science fiction has long toyed with the darker possibilities that cloned meat presents.
In Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson's epic sci-fi satire "Transmetropolitan," supermarkets and fast food joints sell dolphin, manatee, whale, baby seal, monkey and reindeer, while the Long Pig franchise sells "cloned human meat at prices you like."
"In principle, we could harvest the meat progenitor cells from fresh human cadavers and grow meat from them," Post said. "Once taken out of its disease and animalistic, cannibalistic context - you are not killing fellow citizens for it, they are already dead - there is no reason why not."
Of course, there are many potential objections that people could have to growing beef, chicken or pork in the lab, much less more disturbing meats. Still, Post suggests that marketing could overcome such hurdles.
"If every package of naturally grown meat by law should have the text, 'Beware, animals have been killed for this product,' I can imagine a gradual cultural shift," Post said. "Of course, we still have a long way to go to make a product that is even remotely competitive with current products."
Charles Q. Choi/


In Amazon, a frustrated search for cancer cures

SAO SEBASTIAO DE CUIEIRAS, Brazil (Reuters) – The task of harvesting the secrets of Brazil's vast Amazon rain forest that could help in the battle against cancer largely falls to Osmar Barbosa Ferreira and a big pair of clippers.
In jungle so dense it all but blocks out the sun, the lithe 46-year-old shimmies up a thin tree helped by a harness, a strap between his feet, and the expertise gained from a lifetime laboring in the forest.
A few well-placed snips later, branches cascade to a small band of researchers and a doctor who faithfully make a long monthly trip to the Cuieiras river in Amazonas state in the belief that the forest's staggeringly rich plant life can unlock new treatments for cancer.
They may be right.
About 70 percent of current cancer drugs are either natural products or derived from natural compounds, and the world's largest rain forest is a great cauldron of biodiversity that has already produced medicine for diseases such as malaria.
But finding the right material is no easy task in a forest that can have up to 400 species of trees and many more plants in a 2.5-acre (1-hectare) area, and in a country where suspicion of outside involvement in the Amazon runs strong.
"If we had very clear rules, we could attract scientists from all over the world," said the doctor, Drauzio Varella, with a mix of enthusiasm and frustration. "We could transform a big part of the Amazon into an enormous laboratory."
As it stands, though, foreigners are barred from helping oncologist Varella and the researchers from Sao Paulo's Paulista University, who are among a tiny handful of Brazilian groups licensed to study samples from the Amazon.
Varella, 66, believes his high profile has helped. He is a well-known writer and television personality who shot to fame in 1999 with a book and subsequent hit movie based on his work as a doctor in a brutal Sao Paulo prison called Carandiru.
But a move by his team in the 1990s to partner with the U.S. National Cancer Institute produced a storm of accusations of "bio-piracy" and for years it has been blocked from the international cooperation and funding that could increase the chances of finding the Holy Grail of a cancer cure.
Their work has also been regularly delayed by bureaucratic demands, once stopping their collections for two years.
In more than a decade of searching, the group has brought back 2,200 samples from this tributary of the mighty, tea-dark Rio Negro (Black River) to its laboratory in Sao Paulo, of which about 70 have shown some effect against tumors. Just those samples have given the team enough analysis work for 20 years, said Varella, a lanky marathon runner whose younger brother died of cancer.
"If we can find 70, imagine what a big university with international resources could do -- they could screen for an absurd amount of diseases," said Varella, who still spends part of his time treating prisoners in Sao Paulo.
"As well as the impact this could have on human health, it could bring resources for preservation and to improve the quality of life of people who live here."
Ironically, it was a foreigner who inspired Varella to begin his search. Robert Gallo, a U.S. researcher and leading AIDS expert who co-discovered the HIV virus, asked Varella during a trip to the Amazon in the early 1990s if anyone was researching the medical potential of the forest.
Among the natural products being used to fight cancer today is Taxol, a chemotherapy drug that comes from the bark of the Pacific yew tree.
David Newman, head of the Natural Products Branch of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, said several promising cancer drugs derived from natural sources as varied as a deep-water sponges and microbes are currently going through clinical trials. Often the natural compounds are tweaked or mimicked to better fight cancer cells.
"It's a detective story and a jigsaw puzzle, but you don't know how many pieces there are or what the picture looks like," he said. "In one teaspoon of soil from the Amazon, you find over a thousand microbes that have never been isolated."
Out of an estimated 80,000 species of flower-bearing plants in the Amazon, only about a fifth have been identified.
Newman said progress in Brazil has been greatly hampered by the inability of companies to patent a natural product under legislation passed in the 1990s, leaving no incentive to invest in research.
He cited the example of a Brazilian viper snake whose venom proved vital to the development of blood pressure drug captopril in the 1970s, a find that might not have happened under today's laws.
Further analysis of the promising compounds found by Varella's team has been held up while the university waits for access to a nuclear-magnetic resonance machine that can isolate the active elements.
"We're still a long way from discovering an actual medicine that could cure a type of cancer but we have strong signs that some plants have substances that inhibit the growth of tumors," said Mateus Paciencia, a bearded 34-year-old botanist.
Their main hope is that growing concern over the environment and increasing government efforts to slow the destruction of the Amazon by ranchers and loggers will turn the tide in favor of sustainable forest industries, of which they say their work is a prime example.
"There is nothing more sustainable than this," said Paciencia. "We take a kilogram worth of samples from a tree that weighs a ton and get an extract that lasts 10 years."
As he hung from a tree trunk, Ferreira said his relationship with the forest had been transformed by his job. He used to cut down trees with a chainsaw and sell the lumber in the city of Manaus, about 80 km (50 miles) down river from the research site.
"I think we'll find a medicine, and it won't take too long," he said. "If I deforest, I'm killing not just one plant but destroying a lot of other plants as well. So the job we're doing here is much better."
By Stuart Grudgings (Editing by Kieran Murray).