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TSA removes body scanners from airports ~ The TSA has finally abandoned the controversial practice of making passengers go through full-body X-rays The Transportation Security Administration will remove all X-ray body scanners from airports, Bloomberg News reports. The reason: Software couldn’t be developed by a congressionally mandated deadline to automatically detect suspicious items on the body. Instead, TSA officers viewed images of passengers’ naked bodies to see if they were carrying weapons or other contraband, a process that privacy advocates have dubbed a “virtual strip search.”
Privacy had not been the only concern dogging the scanners. A ProPublica investigation found that the TSA had glossed over the small cancer risk posed by even the low doses of radiation emitted by X-ray scanners. The stories also showed that the United States was almost alone in the world in X-raying passengers and that the Food and Drug Administration had gone against its own advisory panel, which recommended the agency set a federal safety standard for security X-rays. In addition, ProPublica reported that, outside airports, other security agencies are exposing people to radiation in more settings and in increasing doses. (Salon)
Council boost for growing concept A clean, green approach to living has attracted thousands of dollars in council backing in the hope Palmerston North communities will take up a challenge to grow food to feed themselves.
Permaculture - where architecture meets agriculture - has earned a tick of approval worth about $9,000 for 16 Palmerston North households who will receive scholarships to gain an education in the alternative style of land husbandry this year.
The philosophy focuses on sustainable use of land to promote a resilient eco-system.
The concept has been around for decades, but the Palmerston North City Council has given permaculture advocates a financial boost to spread the word in 2013. (Stuff.co.nz)
27 Science Fictions That Became Science Facts In 2012 We may never have our flying cars, but the future is here. From creating fully functioning artificial leaves to hacking the human brain, science made a lot of breakthroughs this year. - 1. Quadriplegic Uses Her Mind to Control Her Robotic Arm
Quadriplegic Uses Her Mind to Control Her Robotic Arm
At the University of Pittsburgh, the neurobiology department worked with 52-year-old Jan Scheuermann over the course of 13 weeks to create a robotic arm controlled only by the power of Scheuermann's mind.
The team implanted her with two 96-channel intracortical microelectrodes. Placed in the motor cortex, which controls all limb movement, the integration process was faster than anyone expected. On the second day, Jan could use her new arm with a 3-D workspace. By the end of the 13 weeks, she was capable of performing complex tasks with seven-dimensional movement, just like a biological arm.
To date, there have been no negative side effects. (Buzz Feed)
Genetically modified salmon can feed the world The debate over genetically engineered salmon should be put in the proper context: As the world's population grows at an accelerating pace, so does the consumption of seafood.
This is true not only because there are more mouths to feed, but also because as people become more aware of the health benefits associated with eating seafood, more are switching from meat to fish. To satisfy this demand, we have become very sophisticated fishers, with ever-growing fleets, factory fishing ships and very effective gear.
We efficiently hunt our own seafood in the wild; it seems natural to all of us, while we do not hunt for wild chicken, beef or pork. But fish is harvested at a rate that exceeds the fisheries' ability to replenish themselves. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, more than 50 percent of the world's main fisheries stocks are fully exploited, while another 28 percent are over-exploited or depleted. - The public should not be scared by the term "genetic engineering." This powerful platform requires making only relatively minor and very targeted modifications to the animal genome, compared, for example, with selective breeding and domestication, where we manipulate many genes over generations without knowing exactly what is altered. We have all been eating selectively bred fish, chicken, beef and other animals for many years without thinking twice about it. - The AquAdvantage salmon is no different from conventional farmed salmon in its composition and health benefits, and the Food and Drug Administration has concluded that it is safe for people to eat. - Indeed, AquAdvantage salmon are sterile fish, and therefore unable to reproduce even if they escape. (CNN)
FDA rules won't require labeling of genetically modified salmon As the Food and Drug Administration considers whether to approve genetically modified salmon, one thing seems certain: Shoppers staring at fillets in the seafood department will find it tough to pick out the conventional fish from the one created with genes from another species.
Despite a growing public demand for more information about how food is produced, that won't happen with the salmon because of idiosyncracies embedded in federal regulations.
The FDA says it cannot require a label on the genetically modified food once it determines that the altered fish is not "materially" different from other salmon - something agency scientists have said is true. - The agency warned the dairy industry in 1994 that it could not use "Hormone Free" labeling on milk from cows that are not given engineered hormones, because all milk contains some hormones.
It has sent a flurry of enforcement letters to food makers, including B&G Foods, which was told it could not use the phrase "GMO-free" on its Polaner All Fruit strawberry spread label because GMO refers to genetically modified organisms and strawberries are produce, not organisms.
It told the maker of Spectrum Canola Oil that it could not use a label that included a red circle with a line through it and the words "GMO," saying the symbol suggested that there was something wrong with genetically engineered food. - Ever since the FDA approved the first genetically altered material for use in food in 1992, when Monsanto developed a synthetic hormone injected into cows to increase milk production, the agency has held that it cannot require food producers to label products as genetically engineered.
In the intervening years, the use of genetically engineered crops has skyrocketed; 93 percent of this year's soybean crop is genetically engineered, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. (Washington Post)
FDA won’t allow food to be labeled free of genetic modification: report 'Extra labeling only confuses the consumer,' biotech spokesman says - That the Food and Drug Administration is opposed to labeling foods that are genetically modified is no surprise anymore, but a report in the Washington Post indicates the FDA won't even allow food producers to label their foods as being free of genetic modification.
In reporting that the FDA will likely not require the labeling of genetically modified salmon if it approves the food product for consumption, the Post's Lyndsey Layton notes that the federal agency "won't let conventional food makers trumpet the fact that their products don't contain genetically modified ingredients." (The Raw Story)
Federal Court Rescinds USDA Approval of Genetically Engineered Sugar Beets Order Bans Planting or Sale of Controversial Crop. Court Denies Monsanto Request to Allow Continued Planting. - Today Judge Jeffrey White, federal district judge for the Northern District of California, issued a ruling granting the request of plaintiffs Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and the Sierra Club to rescind the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) approval of genetically engineered “Roundup Ready” sugar beets. In September 2009, the Court had found that the USDA had violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by approving the Monsanto-engineered biotech crop without first preparing an Environmental Impact Statement. The crop was engineered to resist the effects of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, which it sells to farmers together with the patented seed. Similar Roundup Ready crops have led to increased use of herbicides, proliferation of herbicide resistant weeds, and contamination of conventional and organic crops.
In today’s ruling the Court officially “vacated” the USDA “deregulation” of Monsanto’s biotech sugar beets and prohibited any future planting and sale pending the agency’s compliance with NEPA and all other relevant laws. USDA has estimated that an EIS may be ready by 2012.
This case is Center for Food Safety v. Vilsack, No. C08-00484 JSW (N.D. Cal. 2010). (Center for Food Safety)
Genetically Altered Salmon Get Closer to the Table The Food and Drug Administration is seriously considering whether to approve the first genetically engineered animal that people would eat — salmon that can grow at twice the normal rate. The developer of the salmon has been trying to get approval for a decade. But the company now seems to have submitted most or all of the data the F.D.A. needs to analyze whether the salmon are safe to eat, nutritionally equivalent to other salmon and safe for the environment, according to government and biotechnology industry officials. A public meeting to discuss the salmon may be held as early as this fall.
Some consumer and environmental groups are likely to raise objections to approval. Even within the F.D.A., there has been a debate about whether the salmon should be labeled as genetically engineered (genetically engineered crops are not labeled).
The salmon’s approval would help open a path for companies and academic scientists developing other genetically engineered animals, like cattle resistant to mad cow disease or pigs that could supply healthier bacon. Next in line behind the salmon for possible approval would probably be the “enviropig,” developed at a Canadian university, which has less phosphorus pollution in its manure.
The salmon was developed by a company called AquaBounty Technologies and would be raised in fish farms. It is an Atlantic salmon that contains a growth hormone gene from a Chinook salmon as well as a genetic on-switch from the ocean pout, a distant relative of the salmon. - Virtually all Atlantic salmon now comes from fish farms, not the wild.
The F.D.A. must also decide on the environmental risks from the salmon. Some experts have speculated that fast-growing fish could out-compete wild fish for food or mates.
Mr. Stotish said the salmon would be grown only in inland tanks or other contained facilities, not in ocean pens where they might escape into the wild. And the fish would all be female and sterile, making it impossible for them to mate.
The F.D.A. is expected to hold a public meeting of an advisory committee before deciding whether to approve the salmon. Typically at such advisory committee meetings, much of the data in support of the drug application is made public and there is some time allotted for public comment.
But Gregory Jaffe, biotechnology project director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said such meetings often do not give the public enough time to analyze the data. (New York Times)
Found: genes that let you live to 100 SCIENTISTS have discovered the “Methuselah” genes whose lucky carriers have a much improved chance of living to 100 even if they indulge in an unhealthy lifestyle. The genes appear to protect people against the effects of smoking and bad diet and can also delay the onset of age-related illnesses such as cancer and heart disease by up to three decades. No single gene is a guaranteed fountain of youth. Instead, the secret of longevity probably lies in having the right “suite” of genes, according to new studies of centenarians and their families. Such combinations are extremely rare — only one person in 10,000 reaches the age of 100. (London Times)
Four crucial resources that may run out in your lifetime On the rebuttal side, there are people promoting the idea that oil isn't a fossil fuel, created by dead biomass buried beneath the Earth's surface. The Russian theory of "abiotic oil" that became popular in the 1950s claims that oil is produced from a monstrous reserve of hydrocarbons in the Earth's primordial core. Oil is created in the Earth's incredibly hot mantle layer, and pushed up into the crust, where gargantuan reserves are available to us if we just drill deep enough. But it's a scientifically unproven theory, promoted in recent times most strongly by one man, Thomas Gold, an astronomer who died in 2004. And the responding arguments for biogenic oil, from Petroleum Geologists, are very strong. So it looks fairly clear that sometime in the next few decades, oil production is going to start to fall, just as global demand is rising. Prices are forecast to skyrocket, and the effect on societies worldwide will reflect just how important fossil fuels are to us. Apart from oil control wars - which many would say we're already witnessing in the middle east - we can expect the industrial world to be turned on its head, starting with the economy and ending with a complete lifestyle revolution where food production, among other things, is brought right back into the backyard. (Giz Mag)
Scientists debate blending species In Minnesota, pigs are being born with human blood in their veins. In Nevada, there are sheep whose livers and hearts are largely human. In California, mice peer from their cages with human brain cells firing inside their skulls.
These are not outcasts from “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” the 1896 novel by H.G. Wells in which a rogue doctor develops creatures that are part animal and part human. They are real creations of real scientists.
Biologists call these hybrids chimeras, after the mythical Greek creature with a lion’s head, a goat’s body and a serpent’s tail. They are products of experiments in which human stem cells were added to developing animal fetuses.
Chimeras are allowing scientists to watch, for the first time, how nascent human cells and organs mature and interact – not in the cold isolation of laboratory dishes but inside the bodies of living creatures. Some are already revealing deep secrets of human biology and pointing the way toward new medical treatments. (Washington Post)
GM Salmon Muscle In on Wild Fish When Food Is Scarce The advance of genetically modified crops and farm animals has opened up fears of ecological disaster if the engineered, or transgenic, organisms were to escape the confines of the farm. Assessing the environmental risk posed by transgenic populations requires an understanding of how they would compete with their wild counterparts under such circumstances. To that end, new laboratory research has found that wild salmon tend to experience reduced growth in the company of salmon engineered to attain a large body size. The presence of transgenic fish also increases the likelihood of population collapse when food is in short supply.
The study, published online today by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved growth hormone (GH) transgenic coho salmon, which have greater appetites and can grow up to seven times bigger than wild cohos. (Scientific American)
Mousepox 'Superbug' Test Riles: Some Say Fed-Backed Virus Research Could Aid Terrorists A research team backed by a federal grant has created a genetically engineered mousepox virus designed to evade vaccines, underscoring biotechnology's deadly potential and stirring debate over whether such research plays into the hands of terrorists.
The team at Saint Louis University, led by Mark Buller, created the superbug to figure out how to defeat it, a key goal of the government's anti-terrorism plan.
The researchers designed a two-drug cocktail that promises to defeat their exceptionally deadly virus. They hope to publish their work soon in a peer review journal.
“The whole focus was to contribute to the biodefense agenda of the country,” Buller said.
Buller spliced a gene known to suppress the immune system into the mousepox virus, then injected the combined strand into vaccinated mice. All of them died. (Associated Press)
'Spider-goats' start work on wonder web A HERD of goats containing spider genes is about to be milked for the ingredients of spider silk to mass-produce one of nature's most sought-after materials.
Scientists have for the first time spun synthetic spider silk fibres with properties approaching the real thing, paving the way for their use in artificial tendons, medical sutures, biodegradable fishing lines, soft body armour and a host of other applications. (London Telegraph)
GM goat spins web based future A goat that produces spider's web protein is about to revolutionise the materials industry.
Stronger and more flexible than steel, spider silk offers a lightweight alternative to carbon fibre.
Up to now it has been impossible to produce "spider fibre" on a commercial scale. Unlike silk worms, spiders are too anti-social to farm successfully.
Now a Canadian company claims to be on the verge of producing unlimited quantities of spider silk - in goat's milk.
Using techniques similar to those used to produce Dolly the sheep, scientists at Nexia Biotechnologies in Quebec have bred goats with spider genes. (BBC)