Saturday, April 30, 2011

The world's smelliest flower

The titan arum is a giant among plants, with a massive flowering structure that rises some three metres above the ground. Its flowering is rare and unpredictable, and always grabs the headlines! The titan arum or Amorphophallus titanum is a flowering plant with the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world. Due to its odor, which is reminiscent of the smell of a decomposing mammal.

The Titan Arum plant, nicknamed the Corpse flower because of its pungent smell of putrid flesh, is in full blossom after 75 years at the University of Basel in Switzerland. The eight foot plant, indigenous to Indonesia's rainforests, has the chief unbranched shoot in the world. On average, they bloom once in a decade. Titan Arum is coveted by collectors and plant enthusiasts around the world because of its strange blooming patterns.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Southern storms death toll nears 300

Dazed Southerners on Thursday reassured one another and began the procedure of rebuilding after a barrage of storms maintained nearly 300 lives and reduced once-familiar neighborhoods to piles of bricks and lumber.

The grim death toll from the 24-hour storm period sustained to rise, with 294 counted in six states. Among them were two university students in Alabama. Nearly 1 million customers were without electricity.

The vast majority of fatalities occurred in Alabama, where at least 207 people rotten, according to state and local officials. Gov. Robert Bentley and other officials stood Thursday afternoon in the bright sunshine in Tuscaloosa, the epicenter of the state's misery, to detail the damage and recovery effort.

"People's lives have just been turned upside down," Bentley said. "It affects me expressively. When I fly over this, it is hard."

The South endured the second deadliest tornado outbreak in the nation's history since 1950. Weather experts said humidity, cooler temperatures and vertical wind shear made for a deadly concoction.

The death toll in the hard-hit city of Tuscaloosa, in west-central Alabama, was at 38 as of Thursday, said Mayor Walter Maddox. Infrastructure losses are ache revival efforts, he said.

The storms are being compared to the "super outbreak" of tornadoes April 3 and 4, 1974, Craig Fugate, the FEMA administrator, said Thursday. In that period, 148 tornadoes were reported in 13 states, and 330 people died. States affected were Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

New Retinal Implant allows Blind People to See Shapes and Objects

One blind person was even able to recognize and find objects placed on a table in face of him, as well as walking around a room separately and future people, reading a clock face and differentiating seven shades of grey. The device, which has been developed by the corporation Retinal Implant AG together with the Institute for Ophthalmic Research at the University of Tuebingen, represents an unprecedented advance in electronic visual prostheses and could eventually revolutionize the lives of up 200,000 people worldwide who suffer from blindness as a result of retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease.

In this disease light receptors in the eye cease to purpose. Writing in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Prof. Dr. Eberhart Zrenner (founding Director of Retinal Implant AG and Director and Chairman of the University of Tuebingen Eye Hospital) states that "The results of this pilot study provide strong evidence that the visual functions of patients blinded by a hereditary retinal dystrophy can, in principle, be restored to a degree enough for use in daily life."

The device -- known as a subretinal implant -- sits underneath the retina, directly replacing light receptors lost in retinal deterioration. As such, it uses the eyes' natural image processing capabilities beyond the light discovery stage to produce a visual perception in the patient that is stable and follows their eye movements. Other types of retinal implants known as epiretinal implants -- sit outside the retina and because they bypass the intact light-sensitive structures in the eyes they require the user to wear an external camera and processor unit.

The subretinal implant described in this paper achieves unprecedented clarity because it has a great deal more light receptors than other similar devices. As Prof. Dr. Zrenner states, "The present study...presents proof-of-concept that such devices can restore useful vision in blind human subjects, even though the ultimate goal of broad clinical application will take time to develop."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

How the First Earth Day Came About

What was the purpose of Earth Day? How did it start? These are the questions I am most frequently asked.
Actually, the idea for Earth Day evolved over a period of seven years starting in 1962. For several years, it had been troubling me that the state of our environment was simply a non-issue in the politics of the country. Finally, in November 1962, an idea occurred to me that was, I thought, a virtual cinch to put the environment into the political "limelight" once and for all. The idea was to persuade President Kennedy to give visibility to this issue by going on a national conservation tour. I flew to Washington to discuss the proposal with Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who liked the idea. So did the President. The President began his five-day, eleven-state conservation tour in September 1963. For many reasons the tour did not succeed in putting the issue onto the national political agenda. However, it was the germ of the idea that ultimately flowered into Earth Day.

I continued to speak on environmental issues to a variety of audiences in some twenty-five states. All across the country, evidence of environmental degradation was appearing everywhere, and everyone noticed except the political establishment. The environmental issue simply was not to be found on the nation's political agenda. The people were concerned, but the politicians were not.

After President Kennedy's tour, I still hoped for some idea that would thrust the environment into the political mainstream. Six years would pass before the idea that became Earth Day occurred to me while on a conservation speaking tour out West in the summer of 1969. At the time, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, called "teach-ins," had spread to college campuses all across the nation. Suddenly, the idea occurred to me - why not organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment?

I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the political agenda. It was a big gamble, but worth a try.

At a conference in Seattle in September 1969, I announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment and invited everyone to participate. The wire services carried the story from coast to coast. The response was electric. It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air - and they did so with spectacular exuberance. For the next four months, two members of my Senate staff, Linda Billings and John Heritage, managed Earth Day affairs out of my Senate office.

Five months before Earth Day, on Sunday, November 30, 1969, The New York Times carried a lengthy article by Gladwin Hill reporting on the astonishing proliferation of environmental events:

"Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation's campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam...a national day of observance of environmental being planned for next spring...when a nationwide environmental 'teach-in'...coordinated from the office of Senator Gaylord Nelson is planned...."

It was obvious that we were headed for a spectacular success on Earth Day. It was also obvious that grassroots activities had ballooned beyond the capacity of my U.S. Senate office staff to keep up with the telephone calls, paper work, inquiries, etc. In mid-January, three months before Earth Day, John Gardner, Founder of Common Cause, provided temporary space for a Washington, D.C. headquarters. I staffed the office with college students and selected Denis Hayes as coordinator of activities.

Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Largest Fossil Spider Established in Volcanic Ash

The largest fossil spider exposed to date once ensnared prey back in the age of dinosaurs, scientists find.

The spider, named Nephila jurassica, was discovered buried in ancient volcanic ash in Inner Mongolia, China.

Tufts of hairlike fibers seen on its legs showed this 165-million-year-old arachnid to be the oldest known species of the largest web-weaving spiders living today — the golden orb-weavers, or Nephila, which are big sufficient to catch birds and bats, and use silk that excels like gold in the sunlight.

The fossil was about as large as its contemporary relatives, with a body one inch (2.5 centimeters) wide and legs that reach up to 2.5 inches (6.3 cm) long. Golden orb-weavers nowadays are mainly tropical being, so the ancient environment of Nephila jurassica probably was similarly lush.

"It would have lived, like today's Nephila, in its orb web of golden silk in a payment in a forest, or more likely at the rim of a forest close to the lake," researcher Paul Selden, director of the Paleontological Institute at the University of Kansas, told LiveScience. "There would have been volcanoes nearby producing the ash that forms the lake residue it is entombed within."

Spiders are the most many predators on land today, and help keep insect numbers in check. So these findings help us "understand the development of the insect-spider predator-prey relationship," Selden said, suggestive of that golden orb-weavers have been ensnaring insects and influencing their evolution since the Jurassic Period

"There were many large or medium-sized flying insects around at that time on which it would have fed arbitrarily," Selden said.

In modern golden orb-weaver species, females are characteristically much larger than males. This new fossil was a female, suggesting this trend stretches back at least as far as the Middle Jurassic, Selden said — that is, back previous to the first known bird, Archaeopteryx, or giant dinosaurs such as Brachiosaurus and Diplodocus.

Although this is the largest fossil spider known to date, it is not the oldest. Two species from Coseley, England, Eocteniza silvicola and Protocteniza britannica, both come from about 310 million years ago.

Selden and his colleagues are now investigating other fossil spiders from China, "as well as those from elsewhere in the world — currently Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, Italy and Korea," he said.
The scientists detail their findings online April 20 in the journal Biology Letters.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Branson charitable Caribbean island to lemurs

British billionaire Richard Branson plans to turn over one of his Caribbean islands to lemurs.

Well, perhaps not the Whole Island, but Branson wants to set up a colony of the rare primates on Moskito Island, one of two private isles he owns in the British Virgin Islands, according to news reports.

Branson, whose Virgin group covers businesses from airlines to music to casinos, told the reporters last week that illegal classification in Madgascar, which he says has increased since a coup two years ago, intimidates lemur populations on that island, the only place in the world the animals live in the wild.

"We've been helping to try and protect lemurs, and sadly in Madagascar because of the government being conquers the space for lemurs is getting less and less," the BBC quoted him as saying.

Some scientists are questioning whether a species should be introduced into territory half a world away from its homeland.

Biologist James Lazell, an knowledgeable researcher in the Virgin Islands and president of the U.S.-based Conservation Agency, called Branson's plan a "terrible idea," saying the lemurs could damage the island's ecological balance, according to the Beacon.

“They eat everything. They eat lizards. They eat fruits. They eats roots, insects, bird eggs, absolutely everything,” Lazell is quoted as saying.

Penelope Bodry-Sanders, vice-chairman of the Lemur Conservation Foundation, told The Guardian, "the jury is out on this."

Branson told The Guardian that his experts said risks were small and local species would be protected if it became evident the lemurs were posing a threat.

"We will have to play it by ear. If this works out well, we will bring in more lemur species and eventually hope to find a bigger island for them," the Guardian quotes him as saying.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Miss Maine USA to Bounce Big Pageant for Wedding

Miss Maine USA is going to sit out Donald Trump's Miss USA Pageant to be present at her big sister's wedding.

NBC moved the Miss USA Pageant from its customary slot in April to June. Emily Johnson says the new weekend is the only one in which she had other plans — plans that trump the competition.

Johnson, a Baylor University mark off and talented pianist, is allowed to keep her crown, but she's giving up the title, prizes and appearance.

Mackenzie Davis, executive director of the Miss Maine USA pageant, says she understand Johnson's reasoning, but she says Miss Maine is a serious promise and that she's let down Johnson withdrew from her duties.

The state's participant in the Miss USA Pageant will be the first runner-up, Ashley Marble, of Cumberland.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Italian activist found dead in Gaza after kidnap

An Italian pro-Palestinian campaigner has been found dead in the Gaza Strip hours after being abduct, security sources in the Hamas-governed territory say.

Vittorio Arrigoni was detained on Thursday morning by a radical group seeking the let go of their leader, who was arrested last month.

Hamas said Arrigoni was found hanged, after police conventional a tip-off.

He was the first foreigner abducted in Gaza since BBC journalist Alan Johnston was swift in 2007.

At least one person has been under arrest, and others are being sought, a Hamas official said. Arrigoni had been dead for several hours when he was found, the official further.

Arrigoni, 36, was detained by Salafist radicals, who have often been in conflict with Hamas, the BBC's Gaza correspondent Jon Donnison says.

They consider Hamas, an Islamist movement itself, too moderate, our reporter says.

The Salafists had in danger to execute Arrigoni unless several prisoners, including their leader, Sheikh Abu Walid al-Maqdasi, were released. Sheikh Maqdasi was under arrest by Hamas police last month in Gaza City.

In the video posted on YouTube, Arrigoni come into view to have been beaten and his eyes were covered with thick black tape.

A caption on the video read: "The Italian captive entered our land only to spread corruption." The video called Italy "the infidel state".

Arrigoni was a member of the International Solidarity Movement and had been in Gaza for several years.
Hamas had been credited with eliminating the threat of kidnapping in Gaza until his abduction.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Penguin declines may come down to krill

Mr. Popper may have had too many penguins, but today Antarctica seems to have too few.

Disruptions in the food supply, caused in part by warming climate, are to blame for shrinking populations of Adélie and chinstrap penguins across the West Antarctic Peninsula, a team of U.S. researchers argues. Rising temperatures alone are bad for these cool, tuxedoed birds, but the penguins’ struggles primarily stem from having too few krill to eat, the group reports online April 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Study coauthor Wayne Trivelpiece has kept a close eye on penguins off the tip of the West Antarctic Peninsula, which points fingerlike at Argentina, since the 1970s. Winter temperatures there and in the nearby Scotia Sea have climbed a whopping 5 to 6 degrees Celsius in recent decades.

In the early 1990s, Trivelpiece and his colleagues argued that shrinking ice masses might be a mixed blessing for penguins. Icebound Adélies (Pygoscelis adeliae) were expected to hurt, while the more free-roaming chinstraps (Pygoscelis antarctica) would hunt better with less ice. Instead, from the 1980s on populations of both species plummeted by more than half across the study sites.

As scientists dug into the mystery, it became clear that penguins were just the tip of the iceberg: “It was actually the penguins that pointed us, that said something has radically changed,” says Trivelpiece, an ecologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif.

In fact, the entire Scotia Sea seems to have had the rug pulled out from underneath it. The rug, in this case, is krill. Numbers of these tiny crustaceans, the bottom-most animals in marine food webs, have dropped by up to 80 percent throughout the region. Some of that has to do with whales and seals — many of these krill-eating species have resurged since the end of Moby Dick-era hunting. But, Trivelpiece says, the story also comes back to ice. Young krill grow big and fat while hiding under ice masses. Less ice means less krill, and that means both Adélies and chinstraps go hungry. Ironically, the empty buffet is especially bad even for chinstraps, Trivelpiece argues, since — unlike Adélies — these birds don’t live elsewhere in the Antarctic. So although these birds were once thought to represent climate change’s silver lining, he says, today “they’re likely to be one of the more impacted of all.”

Krill are important, but the problem may go deeper, says Oscar Schofield, a biological oceanographer at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. Marine crustaceans, for their part, gorge on tiny photosynthesizing organisms called phytoplankton.

Schofield’s research hints that climate change in the West Antarctic Peninsula may be similarly knocking out this critical bottom rung of the food chain. “Very small changes in the ocean and the atmosphere can have profound impacts on ecosystems,” he says.

Nevertheless, penguins may still be very picky about their ice, says William Fraser, an ecologist at the Polar Oceans Research Group in Sheridan, Mont. He studies penguins living south of Trivelpiece’s broods, and there some small chinstrap populations are growing. These chinstraps may be enjoying global warming’s summer of love, Fraser says.

Still, Trivelpiece is confident that much of the West Antarctic Peninsula’s marine food web is unraveling. If his team hadn’t followed the penguins, the problem may have festered unnoticed for some time, he says. “We’re very fortunate to have shown up about a decade before everything went to hell in a hand basket.”

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Kim Clijsters hesitation for French Open after ankle injury

Kim Clijsters' participation in the French Open is in grave doubt after she injured her ankle at a wedding.

The Australian Open champion was on a break with shoulder and wrist evils when she severely stressed medial and lateral ligaments in her right ankle.

She also tore the pills of the ankle joint and sustained both a haematoma and torn tendon sheath.

A statement on her website said: "Kim's presence in Paris is very uncertain. Her ankle is completely immobilized."

The French Open starts on 22 May, in precisely six weeks, and Clijsters' website stated: "Kim faces a recovery of at least four to six weeks."

The world number two's last competitive match was on 31 March, when she lost to the in-form Victoria Azarenka in the quarter-finals of the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami.

Shortly after her exit from that event, the 27-year-old proclaimed she would be out for a month to deal with shoulder and wrist problems, but her initial plans to return at the Italian Open in Rome in May will have to be revised.

Clijsters has twice been a losing finalist at the French Open, in 2001 and 2003. Last year an ankle injury forced her to miss the tournament.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Creepy – Genetically Modified Cows to Produce Human Milk


You might want to think two times about dunking that chocolate chip cookie into that glass of moo – scientists have developed new “human-like” milk that comes from cows, in an effort to create an option to breast milk and formula (what’s wrong with the original formula?).

Yes scientists have productively introduced human genes into 300 dairy cows to produce milk with the same goods as human breast milk.

The research, which is backed by a major biotechnology company, is being complete in hopes of getting these genetically modified dairy products on shelves at your local grocery store – maybe the next to the ice cream made from human breast milk?

If you think this bizarre idea of drinking genetically modified milk is a little bit stank and harmful to the cows, scientists already have answers prepared for detractors.

According to The Telegraph, Professor Ning Li, the scientist who led the research and director of the State Key Laboratories for AgroBiotechnology at the China Agricultural University says the milk would be completely safe and just like milk from regular dairy cows.

He said: “The milk tastes stronger than normal milk. No thanks!

“We aim to commercialize some research in this area in coming three years. For the “human-like milk”, 10 years or maybe more time will be requisite to finally pour this enhanced milk into the consumer’s cup.”

The world is becoming a creepy place…but I think we can all agree that the packaging isn’t nearly as nice as the original.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Bronx Zoo's lost Egyptian cobra found

The Bronx Zoo's lost deadly Egyptian cobra has been found "living and well".

The 20in (50cm) poisonous snake was discovered in the zoo's reptile house on Thursday morning, nearly a week after it runaway.

Officials say the cobra was twisting in a dark corner of the reptile house and that it is in good health.
The zoo's reptile house has been closed since the snake went lost last Friday but officials say they hope to reopen it soon.

"When we are sure that the snake is in good condition, we will reopen the Reptile House and plan to have the animal on exhibit," a declaration by the zoo said.

The zoo spread the good news via Twitter, saying: "FOUND! Bronx Zoo cobra found alive & well in Reptile House in non-public area. The key was endurance."

Zoo officials had earlier said they were confident the teenager Egyptian cobra was hiding in a non-public area of the Reptile House but approved that finding it would be difficult.

In the days that it was lost, the snake became amazing of a celebrity, gaining hundreds of thousands of followers on a Twitter account set up in its name.