Termite Guts Yield Enzymes for Better Biofuel
November 25, 2007 05:27 PM -

WALNUT CREEK, CA--Termites -- notorious for their voracious appetite for wood, rendering houses to dust and causing billions of dollars in damage per year -- may provide the biochemical means to a greener biofuel future. The bellies of these tiny beasts actually harbor a gold mine of microbes that have now been tapped as a rich source of enzymes for improving the conversion of wood or waste biomass to valuable biofuels.

The genomic sequencing and analysis of the termite gut microbes by the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), the California Institute of Technology, Verenium Corporation (formerly Diversa), a biofuels company, INBio, the National Biodiversity Institute of Costa Rica, and the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, are highlighted in the November 22 edition of the journal Nature.

Astronauts finish station work for European lab
November 24, 2007 01:31 PM - Reuters

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Astronauts spent seven hours in space on Saturday to finish preparing the International Space Station for its next addition -- Europe's first permanent space laboratory.

Passengers unhurt after Antarctic ship hits ice
November 23, 2007 07:12 PM - Reuters

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - More than 150 passengers and crew escaped unhurt after their cruise ship hit ice in the Antarctic and started sinking on Friday, the ship's owner and coast guard officials said.

EU agrees public funding for satellite project
November 23, 2007 05:31 PM - Reuters

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union nations clinched a deal late on Friday to fund an ambitious satellite navigation project to rival the U.S. Global Positioning System using unspent cash from the EU budget, a presidency spokesman said.

Creator of hurricane intensity scale dies at 90
November 23, 2007 02:32 PM - Reuters

The Miami Herald quoted Saffir's son, Richard, as saying he died of a heart attack on Wednesday night at South Miami Hospital.

Tiny DNA molecules point up new scenario for first life on Earth
November 23, 2007 08:59 AM - University of Colorado at Boulder

A team led by the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Milan has discovered some unexpected forms of liquid crystals of ultrashort DNA molecules immersed in water, providing a new scenario for a key step in the emergence of life on Earth.

CU-Boulder physics Professor Noel Clark said the team found that surprisingly short segments of DNA, life’s molecular carrier of genetic information, could assemble into several distinct liquid crystal phases that “self-orient” parallel to one another and stack into columns when placed in a water solution. Life is widely believed to have emerged as segments of DNA- or RNA-like molecules in a prebiotic “soup” solution of ancient organic molecules.

History shows climate changes led to war
November 22, 2007 10:10 AM - Reuters

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Global warming is one of the most significant threats facing humankind, researchers warned, as they unveiled a study showing how climate changes in the past led to famine, wars and population declines.

The world's growing population may be unable to adequately adapt to ecological changes brought about by the expected rise in global temperatures, scientists in China, Hong Kong, the United States and Britain wrote in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Oddball white dwarfs embody new category of star
November 21, 2007 01:12 PM - Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Eight unusual examples of a burned-out celestial object known as a white dwarf detected in our Milky Way galaxy represent a previously unknown category of stars, astronomers said on Wednesday.

White dwarfs mark the end point in stellar evolution for all but the most massive of stars in the universe, with about 97 percent of stars, including our sun, destined to finish their existence this way, according to astronomers.

Global system expected to slash cyclone deaths
November 21, 2007 12:21 PM - Reuters

GENEVA (Reuters) - A new global earth observation system being constructed will help reduce deaths in cyclones like one which just ravaged Bangladesh, a scientist at the heart of the program said on Wednesday.

Cyclone Sidr, which struck a week ago, killed around 3,500 people, but the casualties were far fewer than in 1991 when about 143,000 people died or in 1970 when the death toll was some 300,000 in similar disasters.

Carnivorous plants use pitchers of 'slimy saliva' to catch their prey
November 21, 2007 08:58 AM -

Carnivorous plants supplement the meager diet available from the nutrient-poor soils in which they grow by trapping and digesting insects and other small arthropods. Pitcher plants of the genus Nepenthes were thought to capture their prey with a simple passive trap but in a paper in this week’s PLoS ONE, Laurence Gaume and Yoel Forterre, a biologist and a physicist from the CNRS, working respectively in the University of Montpellier and the University of Marseille, France show that they employ slimy secretions to doom their victims. They show that the fluid contained inside the plants’ pitchers has the perfect viscoelastic properties to prevent the escape of any small creatures that come into contact with it even when diluted by the heavy rainfall of the forest of Borneo in which they live.

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