SciTech Briefs

Science to boost development in Africa

An estimated $157 million has been proposed for science and technology initiatives across the African continent. Western and African governments will pool their funds to help get a variety of projects, from biotechnology to laser research, off the ground. This proposal confirms the importance of science to progress and is in keeping with the UN?s millennium development goals for Africa.


Banana extinction might be imminent

Americans consume more bananas than any other kind of fruit. The Cavendish banana ? the kind available in supermarkets ? is produced and sold worldwide. However, its flaw lies in the strain?s genetic uniformity: Each Cavendish is a twin of the last. While this lends a nice consistency at the breakfast table, the genome is no longer diverse enough to resist infection. Fungi or bacteria that attack one banana will affect an entire plantation. This did in fact happen, 50 years, ago when the Gros Michel banana, reputed to be larger and tastier than the Cavendish, was wiped out by a fungus called the Panama disease. An infection in the Cavendish variety could easily spread across the globe in as few as five years, scientists say.

Source: Popular Science

Pleas for human organs pervade Internet

Patients in need of organ transplants are taking matters into their own hands and, with the far-reaching influence of the Internet, are seeking compatible persons to donate a kidney or a liver to save their lives. The implications are twofold. On one hand, a broader audience means more possibilities for a matching volunteer; more lives may be saved. On the other hand, skeptics fear that unscrupulous deals and organ trafficking will increase; lives may be saved at others? expense. ?The Web has suddenly created much wider access, which in some ways is great,? said Jeffrey P. Kahn, a University of Minnesota bioethicist. ?But we need to create access in a way that is equitable and doesn?t lead to people being disadvantaged or exploited.?

Source: The Washington Post

Panda cub to venture out in November

The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., will reopen its Panda House in November to visitors eager to see the new giant panda cub. Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, the father and mother, can be seen in the yard now. The baby panda, born on July 9, remains unnamed. Possibilities include Tai Shan, which means ?peaceful mountain,? Long Shan, which means ?dragon mountain,? and Sheng Hua, which means ?Washington China.? For those interested the panda cub?s name, votes can be cast at the zoo?s website.

Source: CNN

Swearing is hardwired into humans

Cursing seems to be a human constant. Researchers who study language evolution and the psychology of swearing have found that every language, dialect, and group of people has its own taboo lexicon. In fact, studying strong language may provide clues to the links between higher and bestial brain functions. Physical responses to curses include spiked skin conductance patterns, rising arm hair, quickening pulse, and shallow breathing. Apparently, hearing those four-letter words will literally ?get a rise? out of the listener.

Source: The New York Times