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     Volume 4 Issue 31 | January 28, 2005 |

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Plastic Bags made from Orange Peels and CO2
A team of researchers from the Cornell University hope to kill two birds with one stone after they have developed a plastic bag which is made out of orange peels and CO2, which makes it both biodegradable and renewable at the same time. The scientists describe a way to make polymers using limonene oxide, which is found in citrus fruits and carbon dioxide, with the help of a novel "helper molecule," a catalyst developed in the researchers' laboratory. "Almost every plastic out there, from the polyester in clothing to the plastics used for food packaging and electronics, goes back to the use of petroleum as a building block," the researchers wrote in their study. "If you can get away from using oil and instead use readily abundant, renewable and cheap resources, then that's something we need to investigate. What's exciting about this work is that from completely renewable resources, we were able to make a plastic with very nice qualities." .

Scientists Develop Protein-rich Potato
A genetically engineered, protein-enriched potato is being readied for commercial field-testing in India. Developed by Asis Datta at the National Centre for Plant Genome Research in Jawaharlal Nehru University, the "protato" - "pro" from protein and "tato" from potato - has up to 35 percent more protein than a normal potato due to a gene transfer from the amaranth plant. Potato, a starch-rich tuber, contains barely one percent protein while the amaranth plant has nutrition-rich leaves and seeds used for culinary purposes. Scientists have isolated the gene in the amaranth responsible for protein synthesis and have introduced it into potato, thus increasing the tuber's protein content. Protato would make a world of difference in nutrition since more than 40 percent of the world's malnutrition was caused by protein deficiency. Though India is the world's largest potato producer, it does not export any since domestic consumption itself is high.

DNA Technology Identifies Criminals on the Spot
Using a hand-held scanner, police officials will soon be able to identify criminals at the crime spot itself, thanks to a new DNA technology developed by British scientists. The scanner that is pre-fed with a massive DNA database, when fed with parts of skin, hair or body fluids from the crime spot, would break it down and turn it into a unique DNA profile. The machine would then send a digital message to a central computer, which would respond with the person's identity if he figures on the police's rapidly growing database. According to one detective, in future the only way criminals would be able to avoid being caught would be if they were "booted and suited" in protective clothing and carried their own oxygen supply. "Just now we have ways of DNA profiling in a laboratory that take a little time. We are trying to miniaturise that into a little device," says Adrian Linacre, an expert in forensic science.

Probe Lands on Titan 350 Years After its Discovery
After a seven-year, four-million-kilometre journey, the European Space Agency (ESA)'s Huygens probe is now sitting on Titan, Saturn's largest moon. The probe landed on Titan's surface Jan 14, 350 years after it was discovered. The probe has begun sending data, including first pictures and audio, which sounds like some celestial heartbeat. "Huygens is mankind's first successful attempt to land a probe on another world in the outer solar system," said Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA's director general. "This is a great achievement for Europe and its US partners in this ambitious international endeavour to explore Saturn system." Though Titan is classified as a moon, it is larger than the planets Mercury and Pluto. It has a planet-like atmosphere that is denser than those of Mercury, Earth, Mars and Pluto. "Titan was always the target in the Saturn system where the need for 'ground truth' from a probe was critical. It is a fascinating world and we are now eagerly awaiting the scientific results," said David Southwood, director of ESA's scientific programme.

Spider Silks The Intelligent Materials of the Future
The distinctive toughness of spider silk could allow manufacturers to improve wound-closure systems and plasters, and to produce artificial ligaments and tendons for durable surgical implants. The silk could also be woven into strong textiles to make parachutes, body armour, ropes and fishing nets. A whole range of ecological materials could emerge from the industrial production of spider silk. Thomas Scheibel, from the Department of Chemistry of the Technische Universität in München explains that there are currently over 34,000 described species of spider, each with a specific tool-kit of silks with different mechanical properties serving specific purposes. For example, major ampullate silk, a very tough silk with a tensile strength comparable to Kevlar, is used for the primary dragline or scaffolding of the spider's web. Minor ampullate silk with its very low elasticity is used to reinforce the web, while the strong and stretchy flagelliform silk forms the capture spiral of the web. "The future objective might not be to prepare identical copies of natural silk fibres but rather to capture key structural and functional features in designs that could be useful for engineering applications" explains the author.

Albatrosses Fly Non-stop and in Sleep
The albatross, traditionally regarded as a sign of good luck for sailors, can fly across 25,000 miles, sometimes making non-stop trips around the southern half of the globe. Until recently, little was known about where the massive seabirds -- which breed on islands north of Antarctica -- went during the non-breeding season quoted a reputed Science magazine. According to the study, 12 of the birds were seen to have circled the globe at a latitude just south of Africa and South America, with some birds even circling twice. The birds, with wingspans of six and half feet, need little energy for flight. Albatrosses fly at night and sometimes seem to sleep on their wings, said biologist and lead researcher John Croxall. Some albatrosses flew nearly 600 miles a day, and one of them made a 13,000-mile trip in 46 days, he continues. Albatrosses are among the world's most endangered birds, in part because an estimated 75,000 are snagged on hooks used by long-line fishing boats. One solution could be the weighting of fishing lines to keep baited hooks away from the birds, he said.

Source: Webindia123.com / NewScientist.com

Compiled by: Imran H. Khan

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