EPA bans carbofuran in food crops

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WASHINGTON (UPI) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has revoked all regulations permitting small amounts of the residue of carbofuran in food.

The EPA’s Monday decision was hailed by the American Bird Conservancy as marking “a huge victory for wildlife and the environment.”

The action involves a pesticide sold under the name “Furadan” by the FMC Corp. The EPA said the toxic insecticide does not meet current U.S. food safety standards. The EPA said its ruling will eliminate residues of carbofuran in food, including imports. Ultimately, the federal agency said, it will remove the pesticide from the market.

The conservancy said the agency’s announcement confirms a proposed action first announced in July. FMC Corp. will have 90 days to challenge the decision. Once the rule becomes final, the EPA will proceed with the cancellation of registration for all uses of the pesticide.
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“Carbofuran causes neurological damage in humans, and one of the most deadly pesticides to birds left on the market,” said George Fenwick, president of the conservancy. “It is responsible for the deaths of millions of wild birds since its introduction in 1967, including Bald and Golden Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks and migratory songbirds. This EPA decision marks a huge victory for wildlife and the environment.”
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The EPA said it was encouraging growers to “switch to safer pesticides or other environmentally preferable pest control strategies.”

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 18thn May 2009

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Flesh eating robot on wheels


Chew Chew

Chew Chew the gastrobot (Pic: New Scientist)

At last, a robot that is powered by food – but watch out, this gastrobot’s ideal food is flesh!

According to this week’s New Scientist, a researcher at the University of South Florida has developed a 12-wheeled monster called Chew Chew, with a microbial fuel cell stomach that uses E. coli bacteria to break down food and convert chemical energy into electricity.

“Turning food into electricity isn’t unique,” says Wilkinson. “What I’ve done is make it small enough to fit into a robot”.

The microbes produce enzymes that break down carbohydrates, releasing electrons which are harnessed to charge a battery by a reduction and oxidation reaction.

Wilkinson says this is analogous to blood supply and respiration in a mammal – but delivering electrons instead of oxygen.

Gastrobot consists of three 1-metre long wheeled wagons complete with pumps for redox solution, battery bank, oesophagus, ultrasonic eyes, mouth, DC motor and E.coli powered stomach.

Unfortunately, the microbial fuel cell doesn’t produce enough power to actually move Chew Chew. Instead, the electricity is used to charge the batteries and only when these are fully charged does can the robot move. When the batteries are drained, the cycle must then be repeated.

According to New Scientist, early applications for gastrobots are likely to include mowing lawns – grazing on grass clippings for fuel.

The ideal fuel in terms of energy gain is meat, says inventor Stuart Wilkinson, but at the moment Chew Chew lives on sugar cubes.

Catching meat would require the robot to produce more energy and besides Wilkinson isn’t so sure it’s good to give gastrobots a taste for meat.

Conversion to eat carion flesh or decaying corpses is another option.

“Otherwise they’ll notice there’s an awful lot of humans running around and try to eat them,” he warns.

Tags: science-and-technology

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 13th May 2009

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Banned toiletries could make

bomb


Toiletries

Bomb-making ingredients could be hidden in small bottles and carried on planes. Alternatively, toiletries themselves could be used to make explosives (Image: iStockphoto)

Hair gels and lotions may have been banned from carry-on luggage as they could be assembled on board a plane to make a bomb, a US criminologist says.

Professor Alfred Blumstein from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, who helped write a government report on threats to airlines from explosives, was speaking after UK police say they had foiled a plot to blow up aircraft flying to the US.

This prompted authorities to ban liquids, including drinks, hair gels and lotions, from carry-on baggage.

“My hunch is that the reason they are prohibiting this stuff is that it does obviously have the potential of being assembled on board so that it doesn’t look like a bomb going through the x-ray machine,” says Blumstein.

Such mundane items as nail polish remover, disinfectants and hair colouring contain chemicals that can be combined to make an explosion and are not detectable by “sniffing” machines, which detect plastic explosives but are not used with all baggage.

Explosive ingredients can be concealed in bottles or other innocent-looking containers that would pass through x-ray machines.

That does not mean they are easy to make into bombs, cautioned Dr Neal Langerman, a San Diego consultant who is former chair of the American Chemical Society‘s Division of Chemical Health and Safety.

“Many of the ingredients like acetone are household chemicals,” Langerman says.

But some kind of expertise is usually needed to buy peroxide that is concentrated enough to work in an explosive, he says.

Bombers who attacked London Underground trains and a bus in July 2005 used homemade peroxide-based explosives carried in backpacks.

On-board explosives

People have tried several times to use such easily concealed explosives on aircraft.

UK-born Richard Reid was tackled by passengers in December 2001 while trying to detonate explosives stuffed in his shoes in an aircraft lavatory.

In 1994, Islamic fundamentalists set off liquid explosives on a Japan-bound Philippine Airlines plane, killing a Japanese passenger and injuring 10 others.

Dr Mark Ensalaco, an international terrorism expert at the University of Dayton in Ohio, says Thursday’s foiled operation appears to be identical to the Japan attack.

I stress identical with the explosives in liquids

Sourced and published by Henry Sap[iecha 13th MAY 2009

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Airport sniffer dogs safe from

un-employment


Heathrow Airport

The terrorism alert caused chaos at Heathrow Airport last week. But could new security technology prevent a repeat performance? (Image: Reuters/Toby Melville)

News Analysis No matter how sophisticated airport security technology becomes, it will probably never remove the need for sniffer dogs and bag searches, experts say.

The alleged foiled terrorist plot that affected flights between the UK and US last week has led to calls for newer, smarter security technology.

Devices on the horizon include insect-based sensors, wallpaper that sniffs out explosives as you walk past and smart closed-circuit TV that can pick a suspect out from a crowd or tell if you’ve left a bomb under a seat.

But Martin Cebis, whose company will present its all-in-one chemical sensing and surveillance system at an international military technology conference in the US next week, says would-be terrorists will probably always be one step ahead of technology.

“Ultimately you’re dealing with human ingenuity [and] you’re fighting a moving target and need to be able to adapt,” says Cebis, chief executive officer of Western Australia’s Embedded Technologies.

“I think you’ll still need searching and those kinds of things to occur.”

Cebis is also among a number of speakers who will brief security advisors and researchers in Canberra on the latest developments today.

Chemical sensing

One of the emerging areas of security, particularly in light of the alleged plot to carry liquid explosives onto planes, is in chemical sensing.

Associate Professor Adam McCluskey of the University of Newcastle is an Australian researcher developing chemical sensors based on drug design technology.

The sensors are can be “screen printed” onto fabrics, paper, plastics and even wallpaper.

“It’s basically a synthetic antibody,” he says.

“We’re applying drug design technology to generate polymeric scaffolds that specifically recognise the shape and electronics of the targeted molecule.”

The technique has been used to identify cocaine and heroin and is being developed to pick up chemicals like TNT and triacetone triperoxide, the chemical used in last year’s London Underground bombings.

“Instead of metal detectors we would have a bank of these sensors sucking the vapours off as you walk through,” he says.

He says while sniffer dogs will still be able to go places electronic noses can’t, sensing technology will be better able to detect specific substances.

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Dr Michael Borgas, is an atmospheric scientist at CSIRO, which is developing an electronic nose to detect chemicals.

He says the future of airport chemical sensing lies in miniaturised devices.

Researchers at CSIRO are also looking to insects like fruit flies for inspiration.

“If you can understand how insects sense and act upon various volatile chemicals you’d hopefully be able to mimic that with electronic devices,” he says.

“What you want is a hand-held device that can suck in tiny bits of air and detect the molecules that are in that air. In airports you’d just stick it in a [passenger’s] bag.”

Smart surveillance

Cebis says it will take more than high-tech chemical sensors, no matter how sensitive and discriminating they are.

“It’s fine to have sensors all over the place but you’ve got to be able to make intelligent decisions,” he says.

“The research challenge is to make cheap, sensitive, ubiquitous sensors coupled with smart surveillance technology.”

Cebis says closed-circuit TV will eventually be replaced by “smart” digital video technology that uses biometric identification and motion recognition to hone in on specific individuals and behaviour.

“They look at a scene and if there’s no motion they don’t film anything,” he says.

“Or a person may wander into a scene, deposit something and then move away. The fact that something was moving and now isn’t [will be picked up].”

Ting Shan of National ICT Australia (NICTA) will outline advances in face recognition technology at a security technology conference in Canberra next week.

Shan says new face recognition algorithms have been developed by NICTA and University of Queensland that aren’t befuddled by lighting, expression or angle of the face.

“It can synthesise a realistic frontal face image,” he says.

Impact of a new security environment

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Borgas says while the events in the UK have highlighted advances in security technology, he doubts they will be implemented overnight.

McCluskey hopes it will give governments an impetus to provide the research and development funds to allow some of the more promising ideas to bear fruit.

“Sometimes it takes an event of this nature to provide a significantly high profile and the government willing to take a chance on the technology,” he says.

Cebis say all the technology in the world will never completely replace the most humble of checks.

“But whether they need to be as intrusive and time consuming as they currently are depends on the technology,” he says.

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Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 13th May 2009

Radio waves pick up explosives


Minefield

New techology is being used to detect explosives, like those in landmines. So fields like this one in the Golan Heights region of Israel may be easier to clear (Image: Reuters/Yonathan Weitzman)

Scientists in Japan are using radio waves rather than x-rays to detect explosives such as TNT in landmines or luggage.

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They say their new technique is better than conventional methods of detection and can identify different types of white powder, from flour and salt to drugs and explosives.

The technique can also identify landmines, an improvement from traditional metal detectors that cannot tell bits of metal in the ground from an actual mine.

“Until now it has been very difficult to detect specific explosives such as TNT because they contain atoms of nitrogen that vibrate at very low frequencies,” says Professor Hideo Itozaki at Osaka University, one of the authors of the paper published in the latest issue of the journal Superconductor Science and Technology.

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He says the lower this resonant frequency, the harder it is to detect which atoms are present in a molecule. This, in turn, makes it harder to define what the molecule or substance is.

To overcome this, the scientists turned to a technique called nitrogen quadrupole resonance, which uses radio waves to detect atoms of nitrogen in different positions in a molecule.

For example, a nitrogen atom attached to a carbon atom will have a different resonance to one attached to an atom of oxygen.

Because the molecular structure of each explosive is different, the resonant frequency will be different.

The scientists then developed a device to detect these subtle differences in vibrations, a superconducting quantum interference device, or SQUID.

The device, which is only about 1 centimetre across, operates at -196°C, so needs liquid nitrogen to cool it.

“This will not hinder the equipment from being used in places such as airports as liquid nitrogen is becoming much easier to deal with and is already routinely used in hospitals and laboratories,” says Itozaki.

One hitch for now, though, is that the screening time takes “several minutes”, something the team is working to improve.

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 13th May 2009

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Plants to Detect Land Mines

The United Nations estimates that there are 110,000,000 land mines around the world which kill or maim 2000 people every month, and with highly specialised recovery personnel able to clear only 2 square metres each day the numbers are going up, not down. But GM technology may be able to reverse these horrific statistics. Scientists recently announced that they have developed a genetically modified plant which changes colour in the presence of a land mine.

Show Transcript            arttrans

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 13th May 2009

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Beer helps scientists find

landmines


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An ingredient of beer, brewer’s yeast, can ‘smell’ explosives (Image: iStockphoto)(Source: iStockphoto)

Biotechnologists have genetically engineered brewer’s yeast to glow green in response to an ingredient found in landmines, a new study shows.

The study, published today online in the journal Nature Chemical Biology, shows the yeast can detect, or smell, airborne particles from explosives.

The scientists engineered the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to sense molecules of the chemical DNT, or dinitrotoluene.

DNT is left over after making the explosive TNT, or trinitroluene. And dogs trained to sniff for explosives are believed in fact to be trained to detect DNT.

The scientists spliced a gene found in rats into the yeast’s genome so that the surface of its cells reacted in response to DNT.

To get a visual cue as to whether this ‘nose’ had detected DNT, the scientists also added a gene to turn the yeast a fluorescent green when contact was made.

The authors, led by Associate Professor Danny Dhanasekaran of Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, believe they have found a useful, if so far experimental, type of biosensor.

These gadgets use organisms to detect environmental chemicals, including biological or chemical weapons.

In the past, scientists have shown that organisms such as moths and bees can detect explosives

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 13th May 2009

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Scientists make herbicide-resistant plants

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MINNEAPOLIS (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they’ve developed a technique for modifying plant genes that could help provide sustainable food, fuel and fibre supplies.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota and Massachusetts General Hospital said their genome engineering tool can make a model crop plant herbicide-resistant without significant changes to its DNA.

“It’s still a (genetically modified organism), but the modification was subtle,” said Professor Daniel Voytas, lead author of the study and director of the university’s Center for Genome Engineering. “We made a slight change in the sequence of the plant’s own DNA rather than adding foreign DNA.”

Voytas said the technique has the potential to help scientists modify plants to produce food, fuel and fiber sustainably, while minimizing concerns about genetically modified organisms.

The scientists said they created a customized enzyme called a zinc finger nuclease to change single genes in tobacco plant cells. The altered cells were then cultured to produce mature plants that survived exposure to herbicides.

“This is the first real advance in technology to genetically modify plants since foreign DNA was introduced into plant chromosomes in the early 1980s,” Voytas said. “It could become a revolutionary tool for manipulating plant, animal and human genomes.”

The research was published online by the journal Nature.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 11th May 2009

Lithium in drinking water may boost mood

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LONDON (UPI) — Japanese researchers say low levels of lithium found naturally in some water systems may help prevent suicides.

A study at Oita University in Japan, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, found natural lithium levels ranging from 0.7 micrograms to 59 micrograms per litre in 18 communities in southern Japan, The (London) Daily Telegraph reported Friday.

Researchers found the suicide rate was significantly lower in communities whose water contained larger amounts of lithium.

High doses of the naturally occurring metal are used to treat bipolar and mood disorders.
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The findings have led some researchers to call for further study to consider the public health benefits of adding lithium to drinking water supplies, the newspaper said.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 4th May 2009

Cancer Drug Winners And Losers

Cancer

Cancer

Matthew Herper and Robert Langreth 06.02.08, 1:09 PM ET

Chicago – Every year, drug companies big and small make their way to the annual meeting of the American College of Clinical Oncology, a showplace for new cancer medicines.

The data presented at ASCO can have a huge impact both on the share prices of drug firms and on the long-term sales of their medicines. Here’s a roundup of the most important drug studies from the meeting and a look at how they will affect the companies involved.

Winner: Novartis (nyse: NVS news people )

The pharmaceutical giant stole the show. Zometa, a drug already approved to treat weakening bones in cancer patients,

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slashed the recurrence of breast cancer in pre-menopausal women by about 35% in an 1,800-person trial, when combined with standard treatment. It’s not clear why, but it may prevent tumors from spreading

(see “Novartis Steals The Show”).

Novartis’ kidney cancer treatment RAD001 delayed tumor growth by two months in patients who had failed Pfizer’s (nyse: PFE news people )

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Sutent. The drug would compete with Nexavar, from Onyx Pharmaceuticals (nasdaq: ONXX news people ) and Bayer (nyse: BAY news people ), and Torisel, from Wyeth (nyse: WYE news people ), but could benefit from a clinical trial designed that tested it specifically as an option in Sutent failures. The other drugs are approved as first choices, and compete with Sutent, which has the lion’s share. Novartis shares are up 2.3% to $53.50.

Novartis has 13 cancer drugs in development, more than any company but Pfizer, AstraZeneca (nyse: AZN news people ) and Genentech (nyse: DNA news people ). It expects to soon rank second in oncology sales after Genentech.

Loser: ImClone Systems (nasdaq: IMCL news people )

ImClone and its partners, Bristol-Myers Squibb (nyse: BMY news people ) and Merck (nyse: MRK news people ) KgAA disclosed last September that its Erbitux had extended survival in patients with non-small cell lung cancer in a clinical trial. But the final results–a five-week extension of life for the average patient–were barely statistically significant. That will allow ImClone and its partners to grab sales in the lung cancer market, especially in those patients who can’t take Avastin.

But it may not make up another result: clear proof that a gene test can help predict whether Erbitux is going to help colon cancer patients. Patients with a mutant version of a gene called KRAS comprise 40% of the people getting Erbitux, and they’ve been getting no benefit at all. As Forbes reported two weeks ago, this could lead to a sales slump. ImClone shares dropped 6% in early morning trading to $40.

(See: ImClone’s Gene Test Battle.)

Winner: Genentech

Genentech’s Avastin won’t face as much competition as many feared from ImClone’s Erbitux in non-small cell lung cancer, but new data also supported Avastin’s use in breast cancer.

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Shares are up 3.4% to $73.

Winners: Infinity Pharmaceuticals (nasdaq: INFI news people ) and Exelixis (nasdaq: EXEL news people )

On Saturday, Infinity announced it was skipping mid-stage trials and going directly from early-stage safety and efficacy tests into a study designed to get its IPI-504 approved as a treatment for patients with stomach tumors who are no longer being helped by Novartis’ Gleevec or Pfizer’s Sutent. It’s a small market, but it could result in a speedy approval.

Sunday Exelixis also said it is jumping directly into an approval trial, known as a Phase III study, from very early stage tests of its cancer drug XL184 in medullary thyroid cancer. It will be the first of Exelixis’ drugs to enter phase III. Fifty-three percent of patients taking the drug saw their tumors shrink. Infinity shares jumped 11% to $8.13, and Exelixis shares slipped 2% to $6.20.

Winner: Avant Immunotherapeutics nasdaq: AVAN news people

Avant is developing an immunotherapy, or cancer vaccine, for brain tumors with Pfizer. The vaccine is targeted against a mutated protein that only occurs in brain cancer cells. In a phase II trial, the average patient with glioblastoma who received the therapy, known as CDX-110, lived 33 months, twice as long as expected. Avant shares are up 36% to $19.20.

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“When we look at our patients they live at least twice as long” as would be expected, says Duke University neurosurgeon John Sampson. “We have a number of patients three or four years out with

no evidence of tumors.

Sourced and published by HenrySapiecha 3rd May 2009