MANILA, Philippines—A US scientist admonished Pangasinan Representative Mark Cojuangco for “dangerously misrepresenting” a scientific study in a bid to make the lawmaker’s proposal to reopen the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) “look good.” Dr. Kelvin Rodolfo, professor emeritus of the University of Illinois Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said he was dismayed Cojuangco misused the 2005 study the American and two fellow scientists made. "I am dismayed that our paper was cited by Cojuangco in his exploratory note. He is being ignorant of scientific data," said Rodolfo. Cojuangco authored a House bill seeking to revive the $2.3-billion BNPP mothballed over two decades ago. A visibly angry Rodolfo, during a Friday conference on nuclear power at the University of the Philippines National Institute of Geological Sciences (UP-NIGS), accused Cojuangco of "dangerously misrepresenting" the scientific study, which covered the geology of Subic Bay. Rodolfo, also an adjunct professor at UP-NIGS and a staunch critic of nuclear energy, argued that the paper did not certify the safety of the area where the BNPP is located. A heated exchange ensued during the open forum when Cojuangco tried to rebut Rodolfo's accusations, saying that the rest of his proposed measure was based on solid scientific data. Cojuangco also said that the bill was meant to ensure long-term availability of power in the country and reduce the effects of global warming. But Rodolfo rebuked Cojuangco saying that the lawmaker should have understood the purpose of their paper, which studied geologic faults in Subic Bay and not Natib where the BNPP stands. Rodolfo said his team even found by accident some geologic faults previously undetected. These could in fact cause some danger to surrounding areas of Subic, which includes Natib, some 10 kilometers away, he said. "What you're doing is cherry-picking arguments that would make your proposal look good," Rodolfo said. Trying to calm down, Cojuangco finally apologized to Rodolfo and said he would amend his bill. "I'm going to try to put amendments in my explanatory note that you are anti-nuclear." Rodolfo also posted online a statement about the alleged misuse of the study.
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On Tuesday morning, news of hundreds of dolphins stucked in the shallow waters in Bataan baffled scientists from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). What could have driven these animals to shore at the risk of drowning. According to one Filipino scientist, the dolphins could be reacting to a "heat wave or disturbance at sea" such as a possible major underwater earthquake. Some interesting details from the Izah Morales' story on INQUIRER.net:
Dolphins, which are mammals, have ears that are sensitive to large changes in pressure underwater, he said. "If their eardrums are damaged they become disorientated and they float up to the surface." ...smaller schools of dolphins numbering "in the tens and twenties" had beached themselves elsewhere in the Philippines previously, but this was the first time so many had done so at the same time and place.This story was eventually picked up by foreign media, including the Daily Mail, which collated photos of the phenomenon. What drove those animals to swim to shallow waters? (Photo courtesy of AFP)
Agence France-Presse CHICAGO--Tickle a locust's hind legs and two hours later it will be transformed into an insect ready to form a crop-devastating swarm. While researchers know why -- the tickling simulates the jostling that usually solitary locusts experience when limited food suppliers force them to crowd -- they have puzzled for decades over how the radical biological transformation occurs. A study released Thursday by the journal Science found that the brain chemical serotonin triggers the switch from aversion to attraction. "Serotonin profoundly influences how we humans behave and interact, so to find that the same chemical in the brain is what causes a normally shy antisocial insect to gang up in huge groups is amazing," said study co-author Swidbert Ott of Cambridge University. The researchers discovered that locusts in swarm mode -- called gregarious locusts -- had serotonin levels three times higher than those in a solitary behavior phase. Once in this phase, the green locusts turn bright yellow, gain large muscles that equip them for prolonged flight and actively seek the company of other locusts. They can develop into swarms of billions and fly 60 miles (96 km) in five to eight hours in search of food. But when they were injected with serotonin-blocking chemicals, locusts still in their antisocial phase remained calm and did not transform into the swarm phase in response to the leg tickling or presence of a crowd. And when the locusts were injected with chemicals that stimulated serotonin they were transformed into the swarm phase without the stimulus. "Up until now, whilst we knew the stimuli that cause locusts' amazing 'Jekyll and Hyde'-style transformation, nobody had been able to identify the changes in the nervous system that turn antisocial locusts into monstrous swarms," said study co-author Michael Anstey of University of Oxford. "The question of how locusts transform their behavior in this way has puzzled scientists for almost 90 years, now we finally have the evidence to provide an answer." While the discovery "harbors considerable potential" for dealing with the harmful insects, it will not likely to a short-term pest control solution, said Paul Anthony Stevenson of Germany's Leipzig University. "To be effective, antiserotonin-like chemicals would need to be applied when the animals are solitary locusts and scarce targets in vast expanses of desert -- about three locusts per 100 square meters (1,076 sq ft)," Stevenson wrote in an accompanying article. "Current serotonergic drugs are not designed for passing through the insect cuticle and sheath encasing the nervous system, nor are they insect-selective, hence their use is ecologically unjustifiable."
By Anna Valmero INQUIRER.net GOVERNMENT agencies and state universities and colleges (SUCs) must align their research and development (R&D) funding efforts, a lawmaker said. Senator Edgardo Angara said this year is a tough time and requires the country's R&D policymakers to limit research priorities to extend the value of limited resources. "We are in the midst of a recession this 2009 and we have a limited R&D budget. Given this, we must spend it wisely and ensure R&D efforts benefit the industry and create jobs," Angara said. This year, the focus of researches include solar and wind energy and vaccine research. In 2007, the country spent $81 million for R&D, or 0.14 percent of GDP, U.S. magazine Science has reported. For this year, Angara said the Congress plans to increase the current budget for R&D. But he did not give details on how much money will be allocated. COMSTE reported at the National R&D Conference in December that Filipino scientists pick their areas of research without coordination with other scientists and institutions. Thus redundant researches were seen during the conference, where many researches focused on biofuel crops, such as sweet sorghum and jathropa. To streamline the allocation of the R&D budget and reduce the occurrence of redundant researches, Angara said a group would soon monitor and integrate all budget spending across departments, agencies and SUCs. Currently, the Department of Science and Technology monitors the national R&D budget. “The challenge is how Filipino scientists and researchers can break cultural roadblocks and be able to coordinate with others on their researches. We know this is not easy but it can be done,” said Angara. “This undertaking requires commitment of all R&D stakeholders to report data accurately and a good IT system in place to analyze data.” Angara also announced during a conference the formation of two R&D institutes. One will focus on the renewable energy with budget coming from fossil fuel levies and another patterned after Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI). Angara said they are still studying if the ITRI model can succeed in the country. ITRI is a contract R&D institute, which acts like a private company and gets contracts from both the government and private sector.
THE Congressional committees on government reorganization and appropriation approved the creation of a “Climate Change Commission.” The committees are consolidating several proposals related to the creation of this new commission, including House Bills 400, 1775, 3291, 4051 and 4853. These proposals were from Representatives Roilo Golez (2nd District, Paranaque City), Orlando Fua (Siquijor), and Carmelo Lazatin (1st District, Pampanga), Rex Gatchalian (1st District, Valenzuela) and Ignacio Arroyo (5th District, Negros Occidental). The consolidated measure will require local government units (LGU) to implement climate action plans based on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The consolidated measure will also create a Climate Change fund for financial assistance to “priority adaptation” and “mitigation projects” identified by the commission. LGUs will also benefit from the Climate Change fund. Congressman Fua said the creation of a Climate Change Commission intends to lessen the impact of this global phenomenon to Philippines. "Sea level rise will exacerbate inundation, storm surges, erosion and other coastal hazards thus threatening vital infrastructure settlements and facilities that support livelihood of island communities," Fua said.
By Anna Valmero INQUIRER.net MANILA, Philippines --WWF aims to convince over 10 million Filipinos to switch off lights on March 2009 in support of the organization’s call for action on climate change. Worldwide, the 2009 campaign aims to reach out over 1 billion people, of which 760 million is in the Asia-Pacific. “The year of 2009 is a special year for climate change. It is when all countries come at the Copenhagen meeting to decide the successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol and set targets for greenhouse gas emissions to help reverse the effects of drastic climate change accelerated with human activities,” said David Valdes, WWF Philippines president and chief executive officer. “Earth Hour 2009 is a vote against climate change,” said Yeb Saño, WWF Philippines climate change and energy program head. The action is to call the attention of policymakers that people are aware and that authorities are needed to immediately act on the matter, he said. The Copenhagen meeting in 2009 will spell the big difference as policymakers draft a law that raises targets for carbon reduction and pressure countries like India, China and the United States to join the treaty, he said. Valdes said the Kyoto Protocol has not been very effective in curbing greenhouse gas emissions as developed countries like the United States have not ratified the bill. He added Kyoto Protocol targets are very low, when today the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is 50 percent above than the level in 1990. A consensus of 1,000 global scientists said 30 percent reduction in green house gases must be achieved. If greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, sea levels will rise by 2050, posing danger to communities near the sea. “It would spell doom for the Philippines which is an archipelagic country,” said Saño. For 2009, WWF aims to have three metro cities -- Manila, Cebu and Davao -- shut off lights for one hour, along with the rest of the country. All SM malls, including the country’s largest Mall of Asia, will participate in the event. “It is notable smaller countries like us are the one active on taking action on the matter. Developed nations are always saying the targets are too high but we either act now or we pay the effects of global warming later,” said Saño. He said the current financial meltdown is not an excuse to take action because “at stake is the future of our planet.” Both Saño and Valdes lauded the recent passage of the Renewable Energy bill, which took 19 years in the making. They however said that local policy makers pass a law enforcing energy efficiency and energy conservation to be adopted across all sectors --from business to households. Both said it is also crucial the local government focus on projects like development of sustainable mass transportation and renewable energy sources to help reduce the country’s reliance on imported fossil fuels. Earlier in March 28 at 8:30 p.m., about 50 million worldwide participated in the initiative. About 76 cities in 62 countries, including nine cities in the Philippines, will join Earth Hour 2009. Cities in the country expected to participate include Manila, Cebu, Iloilo, Baguio, Davao, San Fernando, Puerto Princesa, Legaspi and Cagayan de Oro. In March 28, from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., the cities of Pasay, Manila and Paramour switched off lights along the entire Roxas Boulevard seaside strip and Makati held its own. The whole province of Palawan and Tawi-Tawi also participated. The participation of over 1 million Filipinos helped save 80MWh of energy, of which 56MWh is savings in Luzon alone. The Earth Hour lights-out initiative started when over 2 million in Sydney in 2007 as public awareness campaign on curbing the effects of climate change.
By Agence France-Presse TOKYO -- A Japanese research team said Thursday it had created a technology that could eventually display on a computer screen what people have on their minds, such as dreams. Researchers at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories succeeded in processing and displaying images directly from the human brain, they said in a study unveiled ahead of publication in the US magazine Neuron. While the team for now has managed to reproduce only simple images from the brain, they said the technology could eventually be used to figure out dreams and other secrets inside people's minds. "It was the first time in the world that it was possible to visualise what people see directly from the brain activity," the private institute said in a statement. "By applying this technology, it may become possible to record and replay subjective images that people perceive like dreams." When people look at an object, the eye's retina recognises an image that is converted into electrical signals which go into the brain's visual cortex. The team, led by chief researcher Yukiyasu Kamitani, succeeded in catching the signals and then reconstructing what people see. In their experiment, the researchers showed people the six letters in the word "neuron" and then succeeded in reconstructing the letters on a computer screen by measuring their brain activity. The team said that it first figured out people's individual brain patterns by showing them some 400 different still images.
THE prestigious scientific publication Science Magazine has featured the Philippines' establishment of strong science, research and development programs through coordination among government offices, science and engineering firms. The story, "Philippines Plans Research Revival" written by Dennis Normile also cited the activities of the Congressional Commission on Science and Technology and Engineering (COMSTE) in its December issue. COMSTE is part of major initiative of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and members of Congress under Senator Edgardo Angara and Cavite Representative Joseph Abaya. The Science Magazine article highlighted the “Balik Scientist” program of the DOST, which encourages repatriation of Filipino scientists and engineers by offering them positions in the country's science and technology communities. The article also featured heads of science and engineering departments, such as DOST Secretary Estrella Alabastro, COMSTE Executive Director Fortunato de la Peña and Mapua Institute of Technology President Reynaldo Vea. Returnee Filipino doctor Edsel Salvana was also cited in the article. Salvana graduated from the University of the Philippines but worked abroad, particularly in the Medical College of Wisconsin and Case Western Reserve University.
By Richard Ingham Agence France-Presse POZNAN -- With political efforts to tackle global warming advancing slower than a Greenland glacier, schemes for saving Earth's climate system that once were dismissed as crazy or dangerous are gaining in status. Negotiating a multilateral treaty on curbing greenhouse gases is being so outstripped by the scale of the problem that those promoting a deus ex-machina -- a technical fix that would at least gain time -- are getting a serious hearing. To the outsider, these ideas to manipulate the climate may look as if they are inspired by science fiction. They include sucking carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the air by sowing the oceans with iron dust that would spur the growth of surface plankton. The microscopic plants would gobble up CO2 as they grow, and when they die, their carbon remains would slowly sink to the bottom of the sea, effectively storing the carbon forever. Another idea, espoused by chemist Paul Crutzen, who won the 1995 Nobel Prize for his work on the ozone shield, is to scatter masses of sulphur dioxide particles in the stratosphere. Swathing the world at high altitude, these particles would reflect sunlight, lowering the temperature by a precious degree or thereabouts. More ambitious still is an idea, conceived by respected University of Arizona astronomer Roger Angel, to set up an array of deflecting lenses at a point between Earth and the Sun. Like a sunshade, they would reduce the solar heat striking the planet. Put forward in various forums and magazines, these so-called geo-engineering proposals have been dismissed by science's mainstream as a distraction or crackpot, with the risk of further damaging the biosphere. And even if such schemes are safe, they could cost many times more than reducing the heat-trapping pollution from fossil fuels that causes the problem, say these voices. But as the enormity of the problem looms ever larger, geo-engineering is shedding its untouchable status. "The notion of deploying geo-engineering research and even commercializing geo-engineering is enjoying a level of respectability in science policy circles that would have been unthinkable even three years ago," says Jim Thomas of Canadian-based watchdog group, ETC. One reason is "the level of panic" surrounding greenhouse-gas levels, which are growing at around three percent a year and are now more than a third greater than before the Industrial Revolution, says Thomas. Another, he suggests, is "an astonishing switch" by former climate skeptics and conservative lobby groups in the United States. After years of denial or contestation, these powerful forces have now suddenly accepted that global warming is a problem. They have seized on geo-engineering as a solution that would make it unnecessary to slap costly curbs on big polluters, he argues. The scientific establishment is still far from endorsing geo-engineering. Indeed, the UN's Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its landmark fourth assessment report last year, cautioned of the potential risk and unquantified cost of such schemes. All the same, geo-engineering is now getting a serious look by scientists and several names are cautiously saying it would be worthwhile to at least launch small-scale experiments to see how they pan out. This year, Britain's de-facto academy of sciences, the Royal Society, raised eyebrows when one of its journals published geo-engineering papers, which were balanced by a review by a top climatologist, Stephen Schneider of Stanford University. The Royal Society is carrying out its own analysis of geo-engineering, although it also makes clear that this act is not a sign of its approval. The report will be published in the first half of 2009. In an interview with AFP on the sidelines of the UN climate talks here, IPCC chief Rajendra Pachauri agreed geo-engineering "is getting a closer hearing, and you are getting people who are very respectable advocating it in several cases." "But the very fact that it's undergoing scrutiny is a good sign, because [it reveals] all the implications and all the side effects that you might be saddled with," he said. David Santillo, a senior scientist with the Greenpeace Research Laboratories at the University of Exeter, southwestern England, said scrutiny is fine, but it should not be taken as acceptance. "There is a danger that the more these things get talks about, the more people assume that there is some inherent legitimacy with the proposals that are being put forward. That simply is not the case," said Santillo.
By Agence France-Presse CHICAGO -- Scientists have discovered a more efficient way of building a synthetic genome that could one day enable them to create artificial life, according to a study released Wednesday. The method is already being used to help develop next generation biofuels and biochemicals in the labs of controversial celebrity US scientist Craig Venter. Venter has hailed artificial life forms as a potential remedy to illness and global warming, but the prospect is highly controversial and arouses heated debate over its potential ramifications and the ethics of engineering artificial life. Artificially engineered life is one of the Holy Grails of science, but also stirs deep fears as foreseen in Aldous Huxley's 1932 novel "Brave New World" in which natural human reproduction is eschewed in favor of babies grown in laboratories. The J. Craig Venter Institute succeeded in synthetically reproducing the DNA of a simple bacteria last year. The researchers had initially used the bacteria e. coli to build the genome, but found it was a tedious, multi-stage process and that e. coli had difficulty reproducing large DNA segments. They eventually tried using a type of yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This enabled them to finish creating the synthetic genome using a method called homologous recombination, a process that cells naturally use to repair damage to their chromosomes. They then began to explore the capacity for DNA assembly in yeast, which turned out to be a "genetic factory," the Institute said in a statement Wednesday. The researchers inserted relatively short segments of DNA fragments into yeast cells through homologous recombination method. They found they were able to build the entire genome in one step, according to the study set to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "We continue to be amazed by the capacity of yeast to simultaneously take up so many DNA pieces and assemble them into genome-size molecules," said lead author Daniel Gibson. "This capacity begs to be further explored and extended and will help accelerate progress in applications of synthetic genomics." Senior author Clyde Hutchison added, "I am astounded by our team's progress in assembling large DNA molecules. It remains to be seen how far we can push this yeast assembly platform but the team is hard at work exploring these methods as we work to boot up the synthetic chromosome." Venter and his team continue to work towards creating a living bacterial cell using the synthetic genome sequence of the Mycoplasma genitalium bacteria. The bacteria, which causes certain sexually transmitted diseases, has one of the least complex DNA structures of any life form, composed of just 580 genes. In contrast, the human genome has some 30,000. Using the genetic sequence of this bacteria, the Maryland-based team has created a chromosome known as Mycoplasma laboratorium. They are working on developing a way to transplant this chromosome into a living cell and stimulate it to take control and effectively become a new life form.