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Archive for the ‘science news’ Category

As unlikely as it sounds, termites might provide a partial solution to our energy needs. Lisa Margonelli reports in The Atlantic:

But where humans have failed, the termite succeeds—spectacularly. A worker termite tears off a piece of wood with its mandibles and lets its guts work on it like a molecular wrecking yard, stripping away sugars, CO2, hydrogen, and methane with 90 percent efficiency. The little biorefineries inside each termite allow the insects to eat up $11 billion in U.S. property every year. But some scientists and policy makers believe they may also make the termite a sort of biotech Rumpelstiltskin, able to spin straw—or grass, or wood by-products—into something much more valuable. Offer a termite this page, and its microbial helpers will break it down into two liters of hydrogen, enough to drive more than six miles in a fuel-cell car. If we could turn wood waste into fuel with even a fraction of the termite’s efficiency, we could run our economy on sawdust, lawn clippings, and old magazines.

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If so, get ready for your 15 minutes of fame. ScienceDaily reports that the bug in question has stumped researchers at London’s Natural History Museum.

Experts checked the new bug with those in the Museum’s national insect collection of more than 28 million specimens. Amazingly, there is no exact match.

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Great article, “Science 2.0—Is Open Access Science the Future?”, from Scientific American about the move toward more open science from several different quarters. One example comes from scientists at MIT, who have created a wiki for sharing lab data and more at OpenWetWare.

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According to an article in the Telegraph, MIT researchers are using cell phones to call owls.

When Eben Goodale wants to count the birds, he places a call that triggers phones in the forest to play, via speakers, pre-recorded owl calls, such as hoots and whistles.

Territorial owls raise their heads and approach what they think may be an intruder. If they respond with a hoot, the phones transmit the sound back to the “owl project” website.

Hey, Con Bio students, spark any thesis ideas?

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We’ve bookmarked the Encyclopedia of Life. It’s an ambitious, important project that probably won’t be completed until 2010. Until then, it’s worth keeping an eye on.

Comprehensive, collaborative, ever-growing, and personalized, the Encyclopedia of Life is an ecosystem of websites that makes all key information about life on Earth accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world. Our goal is to create a constantly evolving encyclopedia that lives on the Internet, with contributions from scientists and amateurs alike. To transform the science of biology, and inspire a new generation of scientists, by aggregating all known data about every living species. And ultimately, to increase our collective understanding of life on Earth, and safeguard the richest possible spectrum of biodiversity.

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New genetic analysis suggests that chimpanzees have adapted to their environment more rapidly than humans have.

Read the full story in Technology Review.

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