By Queena Lee-Chua Inquirer MANILA, Philippines--After the 9/11 attacks in the United States, I visited a Muslim vendor at the Greenhills Shopping Center tiangge. I asked her if she had experienced any repercussions, but she assured me: “We are fine. We are all friends here.” For many years, Muslim and Christian stall owners have been engaged in friendly competition, as they ply their trade side by side. At an international conference, I asked a Singapore educator how their country had managed to remain peaceful despite the variety of ethnic groups and religions there. He replied: “Chinese, Malay, Indian, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu -- we grow up together. In school, each group can choose to learn its own dialect and its own faith, but everyone is required to mingle with each other, and all students must learn English. We respect one another’s religions; our temples, churches, mosques are near each other.” Violence is typically the subject of sociology or psychology. My classes at Ateneo de Manila University study violence in terms of prejudice, groupthink, aggressive instincts. A few years back, I tried using math to model conflict, specifically how game theory (popularized by Nobel laureate John Nash, portrayed in the movie “A Beautiful Mind”) could shed light on the Spratly Islands dispute and the 1986 Edsa Revolution. However, there were too many real-life factors that my simple model could not control, so I stopped that line of research. But math, it turns out, can prevent violence. Not game theory this time, but a new field called the science of complex systems, whose principles have long been used to study how chemicals, like oil and water, or solid, liquid and gas, behave in the laboratory, and the boundaries between them. Of course, humans are certainly more complex than molecules. But according to a landmark report that appeared in the prestigious journal Science (Sept. 14, 2007), math can help make sense of how different groups interact. The lead author of the report is a Filipino -- May T. Lim of the University of the Philippines’ National Institute of Physics in Diliman, Quezon City. “I have always been interested in science, as well as music, literature and the arts, although between science and recess, I would have picked recess any day,” Lim says. What motivated her to pursue physics? “MacGyver!” she says -- certainly prescient, because, as any 1980s TV buff knows, MacGyver does use his scientific skills to combat violence. The study on math and violence started three years ago, in the latter half of 2004, shortly after Lim went to the New England Complex Systems Institute (Necsi) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “My personal involvement started about a year later,” she recalls. “I had been working on using modeling to describe other systems during my doctorate work at UP before that. But my mentor and co-author, Necsi president Yaneer Bar-Yam, started research on violence seven years ago in his book ’Making Things Work.’” More than 100 million people have died in ethnic violence in the last century. Researchers try to pinpoint probable roots, such as resource competition, territorial squabbles, economic competition. But Lim and Bar-Yam, together with Richard Metzler, now focus on something that has been neglected so far—the boundaries between different groups. “We performed statistical analyses comparing the predicted to the reported violence, evaluating the ability of the model to determine both where violence occurs and where violence does not occur,” the scientists report. Different ethnic, cultural or social groups interact in various ways, depending on how much they are mixed. Social and political factors can trigger violence, but it is more likely to occur with specific types of boundaries. What boundaries? For one, violence tends to occur when boundaries between different groups are not clear. “When a group is large enough to impose its cultural standards publicly, but not large enough to prevent them from being broken, violence normally occurs,” Lim says. Think of islands or peninsulas composed of one cultural group, surrounded by a different one. These areas may most likely become hotspots of violence because the boundaries are not well-defined. By studying census figures, Lim and her group discovered that unclear boundaries were linked to violence during the Bosnian wars in the former Yugoslavia and recent conflicts in India. For their study on India, the scientists created a map based on the 2001 census showing the relative population sizes of different groups like Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains. By looking at the boundaries between the groups, they predicted -- with an astonishing 90-percent accuracy -- locations of extreme violence, especially in Kashmir, Punjab and other areas in Northwest India. The scientists also predicted accurately that other areas would have lesser violence, such as Jharkhand. To prevent violence, policymakers need to identify areas at risk and make boundaries clearer. (“Good fences make good neighbors,” said the poet Robert Frost.) True, groups that are separated by clear boundaries can still experience some antagonism because of other reasons. But boundaries prevent mixing, which minimizes the chance of violence. The scientists cite Ireland as an example. Because of historical and religious differences, we should expect unstoppable conflict there. But because of clear boundaries that hinder much mixing, violence has generally been prevented in the past years. Does this mean that we should erect fences among us, the higher the better? Not exactly, and certainly not all the time, say the scientists: “Caution is warranted to ensure that the goal of preventing violence does not become a justification for it. Even a peaceful process of separation is likely to be objectionable.” They urge us to think about negative effects of separation, such as displacement of populations. But there is another way. A friend told me once that he almost came to blows with a neighbor over the task of clearing a giant tree felled by a typhoon: “The tree lay practically between our gardens. After much argument, we finally came to our senses and cooperated. He cleared the tree, and I paid him for it.” This brings us to the second result of Lim’s study -- one I find more congenial than erecting high fences. Violence can be prevented by thoroughly mixing different groups so that islands and peninsulas do not even form. The study confirms what my Singaporean colleague told me. In Singapore, more than 80 percent of the population live in public housing, where rules specify the percentage of ethnic groups occupying housing blocks. National laws force cultural mixing, and various peoples literally have no choice but to live and grow up side by side. There are social tensions at times, but violence is generally absent. Why is this so? In places where people are highly mixed, no group becomes big enough to develop a strong identity, or to impose its culture on others. Groups “are neither imposed upon nor impose upon other groups, and are not perceived as a threat to the cultural values or social and political self-determination of others,” the scientists say. Lim and her group believe that their work can be applied to deal with violence in Iraq and Africa. The model has yet to be applied to the Philippines. “That would be an interesting project,” Lim muses. She adds: “The key is to understand how the boundary structure of the population and the geography interact. When violence is sporadic, like what happens in our country, the conditions are likely to be just barely meeting those that promote violence. “Ethnic violence is a very serious problem. But now we have the ability to help prevent it using a scientific approach.” Lim’s research has already proven my “suki” right. As long as different groups mix closely together, as they do in the Greenhills tiangge, there is hope for us. The author is a professor of mathematics and psychology at the Ateneo de Manila University. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
September 2007 Archives
By Ma. Diosa Labiste Inquirer ILOILO CITY--If lifeâs a lotto, science teacher Josette Biyo has won it several times. On Sept. 19, she copped another grand prize, the Presidential or Lingkod Bayan award, given by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) to government workers in recognition of their commitment to the ideals of public service. And Biyo, 49, who is also the director of the Philippine Science High School in Western Visayas, exemplifies that dedication as a government employee. Biyo, who has a doctorate in biology, was cited for âdeveloping a culture of science among the youth through research, resulting in the high quality of researches of students and faculty members, gaining both national and international recognition.â Her work on âintroducing science research modules and innovations, giving motivational speeches makes her a world-class teacher worthy of emulation,â according to the CSC. Biyo is one of the five individual recipients of the Lingkod Bayan awards. Other awardees are Air Force Capt. Giemel Espino, Trade Undersecretary Zenaida Maglaya, Chief Supt. Samson Tucay and Gov. Rolando Yebes of Zamboanga del Norte. Two institutional awards were given to the Benguet State University for developing potato and sweet potato varieties for the Cordillera, and the Philippine General Hospital. Most meaningful âI have won many top awards but this (Lingkod Bayan) is the most meaningful of them all. The screening was rigid and I didnât expect to emerge as one of the five winners,â said Biyo. She felt honored to have competed with politicians and ordinary government workers who must have spent years doing their work unrecognized. Biyo, who joined the government in 1994, is proud to be recognized as an outstanding public employee, aside from being a science teacher. As a winner, she is entitled to an automatic promotion or a salary equivalent to the next higher position, but the latter is more likely since she is already holding the top position as a director. The award also comes with a prize of P100, 000. Past awards Before she received the Lingkod Bayan award, Biyo had won several coveted national and international awards that come with handsome cash prizes. The biggest was the 2002 Intel Excellence in Teaching given in Louisville, Kentucky, in the United States. She not only bagged $5,000 but, as part of the recognition, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln laboratory also named an asteroid after her. The Intel award propelled her to celebrity status and opened the door for more awards (a room in her house is filled with these awards). She received an honorary degree of doctor of humanities from the Manila Central University and numerous invitations to give speeches in the country and abroad. She also became an endorser of insurance and a pharmaceutical company that eventually supported some science research projects of students, and received citations and medals of merit from President Macapagal-Arroyo, the Senate and expatriates in the US for being the first Filipino and the first Asian teacher to win the Intel award. Biyo was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men in 1998. She received the Metrobank Outstanding Teacher in 1997 and the 2004 Metrobank award âfor those who stand out for continuing excellence and service.â The first one has no cash reward, but Metrobank gives P100, 000 to winners. Press darling Biyo was recognized as outstanding Ilonggo in the field of education by the Iloilo provincial government in 2003. She is a âpress darlingâ or a bankable personality to be profiled by magazines and coffee table book writers. The stories they wrote conferred on her more recall, giving a face to an otherwise cut-off world of science teaching, and an interesting hook and angle that attracted more readers. For example, the repeated quote was from Biyoâs book published in 2005 and titled âA Trip to Planet Biyo: I dreamt of stars â¦ I got a planet.â The book, which she distributed to students, schools and private groups, has the message âBeing a teacher is a noble profession; being a Filipino is something to be proud of.â Biyo said many had listened to her message, as shown by the e-mail, letters and feedback that she got. She believed that she âhas inspired individuals and companies to pursue their dreams, and even convinced several people, especially teachers, doctors and nurses to stay in the country.â Biyo tries to wear her celebrity status lightly. She said through SMS: âIn winning the awards, you donât have to be somebody else. Just be yourself and enjoy what you are doing. No rocket science needed. Just consistency of purpose and giving the best of your self for the glory of God and country.â
By Agence France-Presse WASHINGTON--Scientists have sequenced the DNA in the hair of woolly mammoths dating back 50,000 years, paving the way to further research on many extinct species, according to a study published Thursday. "Hair shafts are a promising source of DNA," said the authors of the study from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Copenhagen, published in the September 28 edition of Science. The research, which examined short fragments of mitochondrial DNA from the hair shafts of 13 Siberian mammoths stored in museum collections around the world, could open up vast new possibilities. "Long-term hair survival occurs in a variety of natural environments, and large quantities are present in taxonomic collections representing most extant, and many recently extinct" mammals, the authors wrote. The findings may "now allow us to add molecular-genetic data to the collections of Charles Darwin, Alexander von Humboldt and Carl von Linne," they added. Until now, researchers have relied on old bones as a source of DNA for extinct species. But this can lead to significant damage as bones have to be bored to remove cell samples. Old bones have also often been contaminated by bacteria over the centuries which can skew the results of any DNA sequencing. On the other hand, the DNA preserved in the keratine of a hair sample is often still perfectly intact. Hair samples can also be washed without altering their genetic make-up, the authors added. "The finding that DNA can be extracted from a specimen kept at room temperatures for two centuries puts a large number of collections stored in natural history museums within reach of molecular genomic analysis," the study adds. The technique, known as "sequencing-by-synthesis", sequenced the mitochondrial genomes of 13 woolly mammoths including the famous Adams mammoth which was discovered in the Siberian permafrost in 1779. After being excavated, the mammoth which is still the most complete skeleton of the creature ever found, has been stored at the Saint Petersburg Zoological Museum at room temperature for the past 200 years. Scientists now hope that with the data they have already collected they will be able to complete the whole DNA sequence of the woolly mammoth. The research could also be used to work out how and why some species died out.
By Agence France-Presse WASHINGTON--Men with deep voices have more children, probably because they have a wider choice of mates, according to a study released Tuesday. "We found that men with deep voices have more children than their high-pitched counterparts," said Coren Apicella, a graduate anthropology student at Harvard University, who spent six months in northern Tanzania last year, studying the nomadic, hunter-gatherer Hadza people. The study, a collaborative effort between Harvard University in Massachusetts, McMaster University in Canada and Florida State University, was the first to try to determine if there is a link between voice pitch in men and "Darwinian fitness" in humans. "Darwinian fitness, in lay terms, means the number of children we have," said Apicella, who told Agence France-Presse that the research did not find a link between voice pitch and the children's health or mortality rate. The mortality rate of children fathered by men with high-pitched voices was not significantly greater than that of children fathered by deep-voiced men, she said. "Based on these findings, we speculate that the associations reported between reproductive success and voice pitch in men are probably mediated by greater access to fecund women," the study says. "It doesn't seem like deep-voiced men are passing on good genes to their offspring, as has been hypothesized in the past, but probably has to do with them having greater access to women," said Apicella. Apicella visited nine Hadza encampments and had 49 men and 52 women from the nomadic tribe "sit in my Landrover and say 'Hujambo', which means 'hello', into a microphone," she told AFP. The recordings were then analyzed for sound frequency. Study participants were also asked to report how many children they have, and how many were still alive. "The man with the lowest-pitch voice in the study fathered 10 children, of whom nine are still living, and the man with the highest-pitch voice fathered three children, of whom one is still living," Apicella told AFP. Voice pitch was not found to be a good predictor of a women's Darwinian fitness.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net ENVIRONMENT Secretary Lito Atienza is asking mobile phone users to be careful when disposing of their mobile phones, batteries, and chargers, warning that these could have potentially toxic chemicals. These chemicals can leak into waterways or escape into the air and could cause danger to human health. Likewise, some of the parts from mobile phones can mix with other harmful substances in dump sites or sanitary landfills, posing even more danger. "Improperly disposed cell phone batteries or e-waste is the new hazard of our high-tech age, particularly in the Philippines, which is considered the texting capital of the world. We must therefore ensure that like other garbage, our electronic waste is properly handled," Atienza said. As such, the DEN has recently started a new program aimed at putting designated drop-off points for discarded mobile phone parts, particularly the batteries. The project, simply called “Cell Phone Waste Collection and Recycling,” is a joint undertaking of the DENR-National Solid Waster Management Commission (DENR-NSWMC), the Department of Trade and Industry-Board of Investment and the Japan International Cooperation Agency. DENR has also partnered with mobile phone manufacturers such as Alcatel, LG Electronics, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson, as well as mobile network service providers Globe Telecom, Smart Communications and Sun Cellular for the project. The goal is to put 20 collection bins in three Metro Manila malls, namely, Ayala Malls Glorietta and Greenbelt in Makati City, SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City and Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan City. The collected waste will be sorted and stored in a temporary storage area at the malls and will later be collected by HMR Envirocycle Philippines for recycling. DENR-NSWMC Executive Director Zoilo Andin said that there is a growing number of mobile phone purchases in the country, which translates to an increase in disposal of used batteries and other potentially hazardous cell phone electronic waste. These could be improperly disposed and mixed with the municipal solid wastes. The group also formed a technical working group to provide technical knowledge and monitoring for the implementation of the project, which would still be in its pilot phase. Members of the technical working group are representatives from the cell phone manufacturers, network service providers, commercial establishments, transport and storage facilities and the National Telecommunications Commission.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net STUDENTS from Grace Christian High School and the Philippine Science High School will lead the Philippine contingent for the upcoming 2007 World Robot Olympiad to be held in Taipei, Taiwan. The students from the two schools were the top winners during the recently held 6th Philippine Robotics Olympiad at the Alabang Town Center in Muntinlupa City. They beat 69 other schools to become the country's representatives for the 2007 WRO. Winning in the elementary level is Grace Christian High School "Team A" composed of Carlos Cheng, Jordan Chua and Kyle David Dee, with their coach Warren John Ong. They won the Best in Robo Rally category, as well as the Best of the Best category. Meanwhile the High School Level winner is Philippine Science High School "Bicol Team A" composed of Anton Mari Carreon, Reiland Cordial and Emmanuel Valdoria, with their coach Sevedeo Malate. They won in the Best Robo Ambulating Rally and the Best in Train of Alishan categories. The event is sponsored by Felta Multimedia, which distributes the Lego Mindstorm robotics kit that was used during the competition, and supported by the Department of Science and Technology-Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI). In an interview, Felta Multimedia president Mylene Abiva Sazon said the top team in each level will be fully supported for their competition in the 2007 WRO. However, the second and third winners for each level will also have a chance to join in the competition. "For the second placers, we’ll be paying for their hotel accommodations only while the third placers will have to shoulder their expenses," Sazon said. She noted that the interest in robotics has increased this year, following the Philippine team's win of its first gold medal in the 2006 WRO in China by students from the First Asia Institute of Technology and Humanities in Tanauan City, Batangas. She also said robotics has become more than just a pasttime for students joining the competition but a serious activity that develops critical thinking and problem solving skills in young people. "Hopefully, we [will] surpass our performance last year for the upcoming contest," Sazon said. The WRO is an international competition of primary and secondary students who develop small robots with rudimentary programming. Competitions vary from obstacle courses, racing and dioramas depicting robots in various activities.
HERE'S a great video from ReelNASA that shows the two solid rocket boosters that power the Space Shuttle. Follow their journey from launch to splashdown.
By Agence France-Presse PARIS--A man's testicles could one day provide a plentiful and accessible supply of adult stems cells to help him fight off disease or regenerate damaged organs, according to a study published Wednesday. Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York have already isolated the multi-purpose cells in mice, and successfully coaxed them to grow into cardiac cells, brain cells and working blood vessel tissue. If the same technique can be extended to men, the study points out, it would sidestep the morally charged debate over using embryonic stems cells for the same purpose. In experiments, a team led by Shahin Rafii of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute was able to cultivate "multi-potent adult spermatogonial-derived stem cells" (MASCs) without recourse to genetic manipulation. "What is really novel about our work is that... these mouse stem cells do not require any addition or tweaking of genes to get them to form multi-potent cells that then go on to produce all these cell types," said Rafii in a statement. The reprogramming of adult cells in connective tissue to produce multi-potent stem cells, another technique used, carries an enhanced risk of malignancy, the researchers said. Spermatogonial progenitor stem cells (SPCs) in the testes are specialized in the generation of the precursor of sperm. "They are remarkably efficient, keeping men fertile well into advanced age," said the study's lead author, Marco Seandel, who found a method for growing large quantities of SPCs in the laboratory. Once this step had been mastered, another team set about concocting the perfect biochemical soup for tricking the SPCs to replace their normal function of creating germs cells with their newly assigned task of making "multi-potent" stem cells. Stem cells, also found in the embryo and in bone marrow, can grow into almost any kind of cell or tissue in the body. Already used to treat leukemia, they hold enormous promise for the regeneration of failing organs and the treatment of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, arthritis and a host of other illnesses. One advantage of generating stem cells from the patient is the elimination of any risk of tissue transplant rejection. Extending these techniques to humans -- men, in this case -- is the next challenge, said Pier Paolo Pandolfi, a professor at Harvard who collaborated in the study published in the British journal Nature. The researchers are hoping that the same method of genetic marking that allowed them to isolate the hard-to-spot SPCs in mice will also work for humans. The study speculated that the approach might also work in the female ovary, which also contains a large population of germ cells, but said that experiments to test the theory had yet to be carried out.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net THE NATIONAL Program for Sustainable Upland Farming Through Conservation Farming Villages (CFV) will be receiving P30.2 million from the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA). Likewise, the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD), a sub-agency of the Department of Science and Technology, will provide a counterpart fund of P8.5 million. The total amount will be used put up model CFVs, otherwise known as "Barangay Sagip-Saka" in selected land degradation hotspots in the country to enhance the transfer of conservation farming technologies and practices anchored on participatory planning, monitoring and evaluation processes at the community level. PCARRD deputy executive director Danilo Cardenas said CFVs mark the beginning of a journey in the collective effort for the implementation for sustainable upland management and development. Cardenas said the scientific community has been advocating measures to prevent the effects of natural catastrophes such as floods and landslides. "We look forward to the time that sustainability of our natural resources will be achieved, where no erosions will occur, no landslides, and no flooding. This is the core motive of our project -- to save the land and eventually improve the lives of millions," Cardenas said. The CFV project is included in the latest batch of funding recipients of NEDA's KR2 Productivity Enhancement Project. Twelve other beneficiaries from this batch cover 10 regions around the country, getting a total of P12.6 million. The first two batches of KR2-funded projects totaled 55 amounting to some P99 million. The new batch of recipients of KR2 includes the production of market-oriented organic food products in Calabarzon by the University of the Philippines-Los Baños; ecotourism development of Bangrin Marine Protected Area in Bani, Pangasinan; pineapple by-products processing and utilization by the Camarines Norte State College; cassava processing plant and trading capital by the local government of Aborlan, Palawan; cage culture of groupers at barangay Batuhan by the local government of Pola, Oriental Mindoro; and organic fertilizer production by the local government of Luban, Occidental Mindoro, among others.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net MOST people would still think that making robots feel is within the realm of science fiction, but few know that science is better than fiction. A young and upbeat Filipino scientist, John John Cabibihan, is paving the way to making robots "feel." In scientific terms, it is called "tactile sensing," the detection and measurement of physical objects through contact. It is a subset of the general research on robotics, particularly with artificial limbs. Tactile sensing gives these machines the ability to feel objects in the real world. Tactile sensing is also subset field of bionics (or biomimetics), which is generally a study to imitate natural systems and their subsequent artificial application. Cabibihin, who holds a degree in biomedical robotics, is one of the few researchers worldwide to focus on tactile sensing. He was also involved, albeit on a smaller scale, in the development of the famed Cyberhand Project, a collaboration by several European institutions to create a prosthetic hand that not only is able to imitate human movements, but also has an extra feature which is sensory feedback. The young scientist became more interested in the latter feature, while also discovering that little research has been made on tactile sensing in the last three decades, compared to robotics. There are design gaps in tactile sensing citing earlier researches that identify these concerns. Cabibihan took his undergraduate and graduate degrees in manufacturing engineering and management at the De La Salle University in the Philippines, subsequently becoming a faculty member, then pursuing a post-graduate grant at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Italy. He then became a visiting researcher at France's ENS de Cachan. All throughout his studies Cabibihan's focus was on the application of artificial skin and tactile sensing for robots. His Ph.D work in Italy is "to establish the design rules and guidelines in selecting a tactile sensory system and its embedding material that would be comparable in their basic functionality to the human fingertip." Cabibihan also identified the type of material that can imitate human skin and be the primary contact point for sensing objects. It was also the skin-like material that he followed up in his post-graduate work. He hopes that eventually, a new type of material fully imitating the sensory aspects of human skin will be eventually made and used. Cabibihan is delving into bio-robotics. The scientist even believes that the future could be similar to the idea of humanoid robots as depicted in the "I, Robot" short stories of Isaac Asimov. In it, robots have the ability to fully interact with humans and even protect humans when their lives are in danger. Cabibihan said his field requires a multidisciplinary approach where scientists with knowledge on different areas of expertise would work together to contribute to a single program, just as in the European Cyberhand Project. As such, he encourages Filipino students to focus on a particular field of study and make contributions to similar research. He believes that Filipinos can excel in this field due to the great interest in robotics. However, academic institutions should also initiate research activities. "We should align our directions on research," he said.
By INQUIRER.net THE CONFERENCE of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) recently elected Dr. William D. Dar as the new chair of its Committee for Science and Technology (CST). He was nominated as a distinguished Filipino by the cluster of Asian states on behalf of the region at the 8th COP session in Madrid. A TOYM awardee for agriculture, Dr. Dar was Secretary of Agriculture and Presidential Adviser on Rural Development in the Estrada government, the first alumnus of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) to assume the position. After the Estrada government, he became the first Filipino and Asian Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Andhra Pradesh, India -- a global institute serving Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Since leading ICRISAT, Dr Dar has intensively advocated a Grey to Green Revolution in the dry tropics of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa through Science with a Human Face. Towards this, he spurred the development of a new vision, mission and strategy for the Institute. In pursuing it, he has strengthened strategic partnerships with an array of stakeholders -- NARS, ARIs, NGOs, development agencies and the private sector. These initiatives led to a stronger ICRISAT working for a food-secure semi-arid tropics. Moment of opportunity for UNCCD In a widely perceived "moment of opportunity within the UNCCD" and its new ten-year plan for fundamental reform and re-invigoration of the global desertification pact, Dr. Dar urged the COP to be "demand-driven, based on open and transparent consultations with as wide a range of stakeholders as possible." He also challenged the committee to "breathe new intellectual life by opening our doors to the best brains we can find anywhere in the world, and to those at the grassroots and on the front lines of sustainable dry land development." While elected as a Filipino citizen, Dr. Dar’s achievements as ICRISAT Director General helped propel him to new global responsibility. He will serve as a link of the Alliance of CGIAR Centers to the UNCCD. CGIAR Centers carry out research highly relevant to the UNCCD such as the "Oasis," an ICRISAT-led CGIAR Challenge Program candidate. The Committee for Science and Technology is responsible for advising the UNCCD on all scientific issues relating to its mission on desertification, land degradation and drought. Signed by 191 countries, the UNCCD embodies the world's commitment to combat desertification and land degradation. Its creation was an outcome of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), popularly known as the Rio Earth Summit. Its importance was underscored by the 2000 Millennium Summit which issued the Millennium Development Goals and by the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. The Philippines is a signatory to the three Rio Conventions. Proud and challenging moment "It is a proud moment for me to be representing the Philippines," Dr. Dar said in his acceptance speech. "Although the UNCCD has successfully anchored desertification in the global development debate, what is needed is a strongly networked mechanism, delivering state-of-the-art science on environmental scarcity, land and water degradation and creating a global consensus on the need for action. "The CST also needs to pursue a bottom-up way of producing and using knowledge, thus making the connection to particular environments. The process of mapping out the UNCCD's policy goals should also include setting out thematic issues to be addressed during the coming ten-year period to avoid the missed opportunities. UNCCD must achieve the same level of scientific strength as the biodiversity and the climate change conventions." Besides the TOYM, Dr. Dar has received a slew of awards for his scientific and outstanding management work in both the Philippine government and private sector. Editor's note: You may download a PDF of Dr. William Dar's bio here.
By Agence France-Presse NEW YORK--Internet search giant Google on Thursday offered $30 million in prize money for companies to land a robot camera to roam on the moon and send back high-resolution snaps and data. Google launched Google Moon, a page on its site with images mapping out stretches of the orb's pock-marked surface. They are compiled from photographs taken by previous moon missions including the historic first landing by the Apollo 11 with Neil Armstrong and crew in 1969. The site is aimed at encouraging companies interested in the challenge, giving them visuals of the moon "so the teams can scout locations" for a robot camera, Google joked in a blog announcing the competition, launched jointly with the X Prize Foundation which promotes technological innovation. It offers a $20-million top prize for a vehicle that can move around automatically and transmit data back to Earth and a second prize of $5 million for a stationary device that sends data. A $5-million bonus is offered for a robot vehicle that discovers ice or water, that can travel further than five kilometers or captures images of space vehicles abandoned there from old missions. The prizes are offered until December 31, 2012, after which a lowered grand prize of $12 million can be won, the company said. Google's challenge recalls rewards for earlier achievements in flight, such as the $25, 000 paid to Charles Lindbergh who in 1927 became the first person to fly across the Atlantic. "It has been many decades since we explored the moon from the lunar surface, and it could be another six to eight years before any government returns," the foundation said in a statement. "We hope to usher in an era of commercial exploration and development, in which small companies, groups of individuals and universities can build, launch and explore the moon and beyond." The prize is counting on just a handful of competitors for what the foundation describes as "a global private race to the moon." It hopes private companies can develop simpler spacecraft than the heavy duty equipment used by big space agencies such as NASA, which plans another moon landing by 2020. Several major entrepreneurs have shown an interest in space travel and rockets, such as the co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, and Virgin boss Richard Branson who aspires to run a space tourism agency.
ENVIRONMENTAL group Greenpeace recently announced the start of a photo contest that aims to encourage people to protect the environment. The contest, called "Celebrating Philippine Freshwaters and Looking at the Threats," is open to amateur and professional photographers and photography enthusiasts, who are Filipino-born or are legal residents of the Philippines. Greenpeace is looking for dramatic photographs whose subjects depict the protection of freshwater resources, particularly rivers, streams, lakes, springs, and groundwater reservoirs, among others. Photos can depict the effects of pollution and drought on these freshwater sources in the Philippines. The deadline for submission of entries is September 28, 2007. About 20 finalists will be chosen. Prizes range from P10, 000 pesos for the third prize winner, P20, 000 pesos for the second placer and P30, 000 pesos for the top prize. More details about the contest as well as the entry forms are available at the Greenpeace site.
HERE'S an interesting video of astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman sharing his photos from space, courtesy of New Scientist's YouTube channel.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net A STUDY from the University of Southeastern Philippines in Davao City has found that a compound from garden balsam (Impatiens balsamina), otherwise known as "kamantigue," can control a disease striking the durian. Durian is a major export product from southern Mindanao but is constantly being attacked by serious diseases by the fungi Phytophthora palmivora. Durian is constantly attacked by stem canker, root rot, leaf blight, die-back of seedlings and mature trees and the rotting of fruits. The study, headed by USEP Professor Belly Dionio, said that production losses in the durian industry across Southeast Asia are estimated to be around 20 percent to 25 percent annually. Dionio focused on garden balsam as an alternative to the otherwise hazardous use of expensive synthetic fungicides. An extract from red and violet garden balsam showed that it is toxic to P. palmivora and is as effective as the commercially available fungicide Fosetyl-al. Dionio’s research team found that by using the garden balsam extract, they were able to reduce lesions on durian plants as much as 86 percent when the extract is sprayed an hour before plants are introduced to the P. palmivora strain. Likewise, the plants show 78 percent reduction in lesions when these are sprayed with the garden balsam extract an hour after these are exposed to P. palmivora. Defoliation (death of leaves) due to the fungus is also lower in durian plants sprayed with the extract. They also found out that the extract can remain effective even if it is stored in room temperature for 13 weeks, making it viable as a cheap and safe long-term preventive measure against durian diseases.
By Mira Oberman Agence France-Presse CHICAGO--A major clue has been discovered in the case of the disappearing bees which are vanishing by the billions from colonies across the United States, according to new research released Thursday. No, it isn't radiation caused by cell phones, a change in flowering seasons because of global warming, poisons from genetically modified foods, or alien abductions, said researcher Diana Cox-Foster, who dismissed many of the theories bandied about since the bees began vanishing en masse last year. But it could be partly due to a virus known as the Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV), unknowingly imported along with live bees from Australia and in royal jelly, a secretion produced by bees, imported from China, according to the study published Thursday in the online edition of Science magazine. IAPV causes a bee's wings to shiver before it becomes paralyzed and dies, usually just outside the hive. Researchers believe that the virus may have mutated in the United States or combined with other "stressors" to cause billions of worker bees to die while out foraging for food, the study says. While the study's authors have not yet proven that the virus causes colony collapse disorder, they found that the presence of the virus in a bee colony helped predict colony collapse 96.1 percent of the time. Because the virus was found in some healthy bee colonies, the scientists believe it is not acting alone. Instead, they think colony collapse disorder is caused when a host of factors combine to weaken the worker bees. A prime candidate is the varroa mite, a parasite that weakens the immune system of bees and is not present in Australia -- where colony collapse disorder has not been a problem despite the presence of IAPV. "We are concerned about the amount of chemicals coming into colonies that may lead to further stress," Cox-Foster of Pennsylvania State University told reporters. Another potential stressor is poor access to food due to recent droughts, she added. Bee keepers first began noticing the sudden disappearance of their worker bees in 2004, shortly after live bee imports from Australia began. They would open up the hives to find honeycombs filled with food reserves and capped broods but just a few newly emerged adults to attend to the queen. Nearly a quarter of bee keeping operations across the country were hit by colony collapse over the past winter, claiming an average of 45 percent of their colonies. The hardest-hit colonies are in large commercial operations which truck their bees across the country to pollinate the nation's fruit and vegetable crops. Cheap, imported honey had already driven down the number of bee keeping operations in the United States and the spread of colony collapse disorder has raised concerns that there will not be enough bees to pollinate about 14.6 billion dollars worth of crops. "We've been able to meet the pollinating needs so far but we don't have a large margin," said study co-author Dr. Jeff Pettis of the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) research service. There are no plans to try to limit the movement of bee keeping operations in order to try to contain the spread of the disorder, he added. "The value of pollinating and the need to move bees to crops in bloom outweighs the localization need," he said in a conference call with reporters. And it probably wouldn't work even if they tried, he said. "It's hard to control the movement of flying insects." Instead, the USDA is considering a ban on imports from China and Australia and looking into breeding bees resistant to the virus, something Israel has already begun working on. "We're not going to likely come up with a treatment for viruses in bees so we'll have to manage bee health," Pettis said, adding that the USDA is working with bee keepers to improve nutrition and reduce exposure to parasites and pesticides.
By Richard Ingham Agence France-Presse PARIS--The extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago can be traced to a collision between two monster rocks in the asteroid belt nearly 100 million years earlier, scientists report on Wednesday. The smash drove a giant sliver of rock into Earth's path, eventually causing the climate-changing impact that ended the reign of the dinosaurs and enabled the rise of mammals -- including, eventually, us. Other asteroid fragments smashed into the Moon, Venus and Mars, pocking their faces with mighty craters, the US and Czech researchers believe. Mixing skills in time travel, jigsaw-making and carbon chemistry, the trio carried out a computer simulation of the jostling among orbital rubble left from the building of the Solar System. The sleuths were guided by an intriguing clue -- a large asteroid called (298) Baptistina, which shares the same orbital track as a group of smaller rocks. Turning the clock back, the simulation found that the Baptistina bits not only fitted together, they were also remnants of a giant parent asteroid, around 170 kilometers (105 miles) across, that once cruised the innermost region of the asteroid belt. Around 160 million years ago -- the best bet in a range of 140-190 million years -- this behemoth was whacked by another giant some 60 kms (37 miles) across. From this soundless collision was born a huge cluster of rocks, including 300 bodies larger than 10 kms (six miles) and 140,000 bodies larger than one kilometer (0.6 of a mile). Over eons, the fragments found new orbits with the help of something called the Yarkovsky effect, in which thermal photons from the Sun give a tiny yet inexorable push to orbiting rocks. As the family gradually split up, a large number of chunks -- perhaps one in five of the bigger ones -- crept their way out of the asteroid belt and became ensnared by the gravitational pull of the inner planets. Around 65 million years ago, a 10-km (six mile) piece crunched into Earth, unleashing a firestorm and kicking up clouds of dust that filtered out sunlight. In this enduring winter, much vegetation was wiped out and the species that depended on them also became extinct. Only those animals that could cope with the new challenge, or could exploit an environmental niche, survived. The trace of the great event, called the Cretaceous/Tertiary Mass Extinction, can be seen today in the shape of a 180-km (112-mile) -diameter impact crater at modern-day Chicxulub, in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. The trio of researchers -- William Bottke, David Vokrouhlicky and David Nesvorny of Southwest Research Institute in Colorado -- took their theory a stage further and checked out sediment samples from the Chicxulub site. They found traces of a mineral called carbonaceous chondrite, which is only found in a tiny minority of meteorites, as the earthly remains of plummeting asteroids are called. Most asteroids can be excluded from the Chicxulub event, but not Baptistina-era ones, they contend. Putting simulation and chemical evidence together, the team ruled out theories that a comet was to blame rather than an asteroid, and say there is a "more than 90 percent" probability that the killer rock was a refugee from the Baptistina family. The investigators also put a 70-percent probability that a four-km (2.5-mile) Baptistina asteroid hit the Moon some around 108 million years ago, forming the 85-km (52-mile) crater Tycho. The probability is lower than for Chicxulub because it is based only on a simulation. The peak of "Baptistina bombardment" was probably around 100 million years ago but is not over yet, the paper cautions. Many of the asteroids that skim dangerously close to Earth today owe their orbits to that great collision in the deep past, according to the authors. "We are in the tail end of this shower now," says Bottke. "Our simulations suggest that about 20 percent of the present-day near-Earth asteroid population can be traced back to the Baptistina family."
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net NINETY space scientists and satellite technology engineers from 17 Asian and Oceania countries are currently meeting in the Philippines to exchange views and discuss possible regional cooperation on space technology development. The 4th Sentinel-Asia Joint Project Team Meeting is being held at the Hotel Dusit Nikko in Makati City and is organized by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Technology (JAXA). It was also attended by the Philippine National Disaster Coordinating Council, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Science and Technology. The three-day event also brings together experts in the development of "small satellites" or purpose-built space satellites that weigh from 10 kilograms to 500 kilograms and can be used for low-earth orbit imaging for geographical mapping, climate change monitoring and disaster mitigation. It will also be a pre-event conference for the much larger 14th Session of the Asia Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum to be held in Bangalore, India from November 21 to 23. In an interview with INQUIRER.net, JAXA associate executive director Hideshi Kozawa said the ongoing meeting was set to prepare the items that will be discussed in the upcoming Bangalore conference and will mostly cover space satellite information sharing among different scientific and disaster risk management groups, as well as to disseminate the value of low-orbit earth observation technologies for environmental, geophysical and even economic purposes. Kozawa said one of the highlights for both the Sentinel-Asia Joint Project Team Meetting and the Asia Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum is the WINDS (Wideband Internetworking Engineering Test Demonstration Satellite) being developed by JAXA. WINDS will be a next-generation communications antenna to demonstrate the feasibility of space-based ultra high-speed Internet connectivity, as well as information distribution and disaster mitigation and prevention. It has a transfer speed of up to 155 megabits per second. Kozawa said WINDS is expected to be launched from Japan sometime between November and February 2008. “We intend to strengthen collaboration among Asian countries regarding climate change and disaster mitigation and to reduce cost from large scale environmental concerns. Governments should work together to improve their capabilities in disaster mitigation,” Kozawa said.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net THE PHILIPPINES already has one satellite in space, Aguila II which is used for communications, but not yet for earth observation. However, the concept of such an antenna floating in outer space to peer into our country may not be as far-fetched. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has been looking into space technology applications as a means to provide geologic and environmental information about the Philippines. Such information is useful for geologists, environmental scientists and even civil planners. One such plan is to create a small satellite with a single purpose, usually taking photographic images across the spectrum that reveal information about ground consistency. Such a satellite will provide real-time information that can be interpreted by disaster mitigation and environmental agencies. The Science and Technology Coordinating Council-Committee on Space Technology Applications (STCC-COSTA) is the DOST's primary sub-agency that deals with the possible use of small satellites for government purposes. STCC-COSTA technical secretariat Jose Edgardo Aban said that he is conducting a pre-feasibility study on the development and launching of small satellites. He describes these as equipment weighing between 100 to 200 kilograms. One machine could possible cost at least a billion pesos to build, plus millions more to maintain. Aban said that the small satellite's purpose is mostly to peer into geologic formations that are not normally seen from ground level. A possible satellite type that can be used for the Philippines is one that revolves around the earth from the equator and takes 90 minutes per revolution. Disaster mitigation agencies, such as the National Disaster Coordinating Council, Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology will have most use for the images taken by the small satellite to assess ground risks, such as potential landslides and flooding. Aban noted that most satellite-based images of Philippine geography are purchased from third-party satellite imaging agencies from abroad. However, because the Philippines is usually struck by natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides and flooding, agencies that need the images usually get them long after they are actually needed. “The most crucial period where disaster mitigation companies need the images are before, during and immediately after an incident. The agencies will use this information to plan their next move and to ensure efficient delivery of assistance to affected areas," Aban said. On the other hand, Aban said the cost of building and maintaining a small satellite could prove burdensome to the Philippine budget so partnerships with some Southeast Asian countries could be one possibility. “We've yet to link up with agencies from other governments and that's what we'll be doing during some regional events,” Aban said.
By Agence France-Presse PARIS--Scientists on Sunday announced they had uncovered the first gene that helps explain common differences in height among humans. Just a single change in the gene's DNA code determines whether people will be taller or shorter by up to one centimeter (0.4 of an inch), they said, adding that hundreds of other genes are also likely to play a role in height. Genetic heritage has long been known as the driver of height -- everyone knows that a child whose parents are both tall is also likely to grow up tall, too. Unlike obesity, where genes and environmental factors (nutrition and exercise for example) play a joint role, around 90 percent of the determinants for height are genetic. Even though the link is clearly there, finding "height" genes that are common across the population has been strangely elusive. Until now, the only evidence has been spotted among a small group of people with a rare condition that affects their stature. In a paper published by the journal Nature Genetics, British and US sleuths analyzed DNA from nearly 5,000 white people of European descent, mainly individuals living in Britain, Sweden and Finland. The exhaustive trawl threw up a gene called HMGA2. The change of just a single base "letter" in HMGA2's genetic code -- a "C" (for cytosine) instead of a "T" (for thymine) -- adds nearly a centimeter (0.4 of an inch) in height to individuals who inherited this variant from both parents. Those who got the "C" variant from only one of their parents were about half a centimeter (0.2 of an inch) taller than their "T" counterparts. After comparing this discovery to further studies of nearly 30,000 other people, the team believes around a quarter of white Europeans carry the double "C" variant. Around a quarter have the double "T" version, thus leaving them about a centimeter (0.4 inch) shorter than their double "C" counterparts. Many more other genes remain to be uncovered, for HMGA2 explains only 0.3 percent of the variability in human stature. "Height is a typical 'polygenic' trait, in other words many genes contribute towards making us taller or shorter," said lead researcher Tim Frayling of the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, southwestern England. "Clearly, our results do not explain why one person will be six feet five inches (192 cms) and another only four feet 10 inches (145 cms). This is just the first of many that will be found, possibly as many as several hundred." Another step is to explain why HMGA2 has this effect. Researchers believe it plays a role in growth through regulating cell growth. Interest in "height" genes is spurred by more than idle curiosity, for there could also be a windfall in knowledge about disease. Taller people are statistically more likely to be at risk from some kinds of cancer (prostate, bladder and lung, for instance), which implies that genes that regulate cell multiplication may also play some part in letting cancer cells proliferate. Statistics also throw up an association between shortness and heart disease. "This is the first convincing result that explains how DNA can affect normal variation in human height," said US researcher Joel Hirschhorn of the Broad Institute, Massachusetts, and a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. "Because height is a complex trait, involving a variety of genetic and non-genetic factors, it can teach us valuable lessons about the genetic framework of other complex traits, such as diabetes, cancer and other common human diseases."
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net TO HONOR the services and achievements of the late scientist and educator Paulo Campos Members of the esteemed Governing Board of the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) have named the NRCP executive boardroom the Paulo C. Campos Conference Room on August 31. Campos, who died last June 2 at the age of 86, was a medical doctor who was the Philippine pioneer in the field of nuclear medicine, a relatively unknown branch of medicine that delves into diagnosis and therapy using nuclear properties. He took his medical degree at the University of the Philippines under full scholarship and practiced at the nearby Philippine General Hospital. Back then, he already conducted various researches in medicine and often offered his services to the poor for free. One of the most prominent results of his work on nuclear medicine was the use of injected iodized oil into goiter patients. Some of his patients became doctors themselves. His own wife, Dr. Lourdes Espiritu-Campos, also became his patient. Campos’ research and subsequent development of goiter treatment became the basic routine adopted by the World Health Organization for goiter patients worldwide. For this, he was identified as the Father of Nuclear Medicine in the Philippines. Campos is survived by his wife and three children -- Jose Paulo, Paulo Junior and Enrique Placido -- all of whom are professionals in their own fields.