After five years of debate and two Presidential vetoes, the strip mine reclamation bill is law and for the most part it’s a strict law. Within a year, coal mine operators will have to take up a very finicky brand of landscape gardening on a gargantuan scale.
Although surface mining for coal did not become widespread in the U.S. until the early 1960’s, by last year it accounted for more than 60% of the nation’s coal production. Land is currently going under the shovel at about 1000 acres a week; the present total is about 1 million acres.
Restoring the land would be no problem if it were only an exercise in filling up holes and smoothing out dirt. But the new law demands more. Land must be restored to “a condition capable of supporting the uses it was capable of supporting prior to any mining”—and this degree of reclamation, if it can be accomplished at all, will require money, time, and care, plus a detailed understanding of ecology, climate, hydrology, and the chemistry and physics of soils.
Strict Law Challenges Strip Mine Operators: New strip mine reclamation law puts burden on mine operators to prove they can restore the land to its original shape, productivity
Human fibroblast cells change as they age and undergo many divisions. The young cells (left) are smaller, have fewer inclusions, and are more regularly arranged than the late-passage cells (right), which show irregular nuclei. These changes have been termed cellular senescence. The cells have been magnified about 500x (Paul Phillips and Vincent Cristofalo, Wistar Institute).
One thing that has become clear is that a sudden, dramatic change that sets off the aging process is unlikely. Aging appears to be a continuum in which incremental changes, whatever their nature, slowly increase their effects. Even its outward manifestations are hardly noticed unless one looks at old photographs or sees someone familiar after a lengthy absence.
Though research in the 1950s and 1960s provided a few clues about aging at the molecular level, several of the theories proposed then have had a lasting effect. In addition, in 1961 Leonard Hayflick and Paul Moorhead, then at Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, made the unexpected—in fact, revolutionary—discovery that cells in culture have a limited rather than an unlimited ability to divide. This finding provided a sharp stimulus to aging research.
Biochemical Studies of Aging: Fitting more pieces into a far-from-finished mosaic
Binney & Smith, makers of Crayola-brand crayons since 1903, created a small flap last year when the company retired eight old-line colors and replaced them with new ones. Gone were blue gray, green blue, lemon yellow, maize, orange red, orange yellow, raw umber, and violet blue. The replacements are cerulean, dandelion, fuchsia, jungle green, royal purple, teal blue, vivid tangerine, and wild strawberry. Marketing research indicated children would better appreciate these more vivid colors.
And this spring the company will begin marketing Silver Swirls. This new kind of crayon resembles twirl ice cream in appearance, with pigmented wax inhomogeneously mixed with silver. These are meant to hold the interest of older children, who can buff pictures to a high sheen with face tissue after coloring. As with all new product development, Binney & Smith brought groups of children to its Easton, Pa., headquarters to try out Silver Swirls.
The children not only rated the colors but gave them their names. Those in the box of eight are aztec gold, cinnamon satin, granite gray, mystic maroon, pearly purple, polished pine, quick silver, and shadow blue. Larger boxes will have 16 and 24 colors. With aztec gold, the company followed its custom of spelling proper names with lower-case letters, because research shows that young children find these easier to read.
-Stephen J. Stinson
New Colors Bring the Rainbow And More to Crayola’s Palette: Ever-varying mixtures of pigments, paraffin, and stearic acid have meant new products for that staple of all school children—the Crayola crayon
The physical sciences have played a significant role in opening of the Dead Sea Scrolls—termed by some scholars the greatest store of ancient Hebrew documents ever found. Among them is the “Lamech Scroll,” whose individual layers of gelatinized leather were almost completely stuck together. But it was unrolled—by James Bieberkraut of Hebrew University (above)—by humidifying the scroll and prying the relaxed leather apart with surgical instruments.
To the naked eye—even that of a scholar—much of this part of the Thanksgiving Scroll—one of the Dead Sea Scrolls—is unintelligible. But with an infrared photograph, Rabbi Dr. Joseph M. Baumgarten of Baltimore Hebrew College reads: “And my heart was writhing with anguish, and my loins with trembling;/ and my groan cometh verily unto the abyss,/ And in the chambers of the nether world it is hidden together (?) ./ And I dread when I hear Thy judgment with the mighty in…”
Ensuring food safety requires vigilance on many fronts, from pork to seafood and from dairy products to produce.
…Some microorganisms are simply late bloomers. Michael P. Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety & Quality Enhancement, University of Georgia, Griffin, says E. coli 0157 was first recognized as a human pathogen in 1982. It may have started out in a less virulent form, simply causing mild diarrhea. But he says it may then have been hijacked by a Shigella gene that codes for shiga toxin, turning it into a much fiercer organism.
CDC estimates that E. coli 0157 causes just 20,000 cases of illness a year compared with more than 2 million for Salmonella and Campylobacter—but “the severity of symptoms puts 0157 in a category of its own,” Doyle stresses. Many cases start out with severe abdominal cramping, which men compare to an appendicitis attack and women to labor pains, he says. Victims then get bloody diarrhea, and in about 10% of cases, kidney failure. Many will have to have blood transfusions and dialysis. And some will lapse into a coma and die.
The organism is “rewriting the rule book of food microbiologists from several different perspectives,” Doyle continues. “One is that it has an unusual tolerance to acid. Highly acidic foods that we’ve recognized for many years to be safe from most foodborne pathogens—like fermented sausage and apple juice—are now considered to be potentially hazardous if we don’t give them a heat treatment or other treatment to control 0157. This organism can survive for weeks or months in these types of foods, depending on temperature.”
Perhaps even worse, “this organism appears to have a low infectious dose … [fewer] than 10 cells can cause illness,” says Doyle. In the investigation following the 1992-93 outbreak associated with Jack in the Box hamburgers in the western U.S., the “highest population we found in any contaminated lot was 15 E. coli 0157 per g.”
-Sophie L. Wilkinson
Eating Safely in a Dirty World: Science battles foodborne pathogens and speeds up bacterial detection methods
Fibers pipe lights to hundreds of spots on airport runway sign (left). Some auto dashboards are illuminated by fibers (right).
One of the basic tasks in modern life, transmitting optical images from one spot to another, may be in for an upheaval as a new technology emerges. After a spate of key advances, optical fibers are at last on the verge of competing on a large scale with wire, cable, and microwave transmission networks.
Advantages offered by glass and plastic optical fibers are small size, high capacity through multiplexed signals, an easy add-on feature for future capacities, low material cost, excellent bending of signals over long distances, and freedom from interference from impinging force fields. These features lead Bell Telephone Laboratories to speculate that optical fiber cables may one day carry far more information than other comparably built light-guiding media.
…A market curiosity up to now in specialized applications such as medical probing devices, optical fibers have been slowly building capability in the past 20 years. The thin strands (typically 0.002 inch in diameter) are made up of a light-carrying core of one material, chiefly glass, polymethyl methacrylate, or polystyrene, sheathed in a second layer of glass or specialty polymer. The sheathing layer has a lower refractive index than the core has, trapping the transmitted light in a zigzag course along the central path.
New Technology Spurs Use of Optical Fibers: After spate of technical advances, optical fibers are on threshold of wide use in transportation and communications fields
Scanning electron micrograph of T-lymphocyte infected with human immunodeficiency virus shows small spherical virus particles on cell surface (U.K. National Institute for Biological Standards and Control).
The end of the 1980s marks the close of the first decade of humanity’s experience with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). First identified in the U.S. as a few clusters of unusual diseases affecting young homosexual men in 1981, AIDS has evolved into an epidemic and worldwide public health crisis that has been compared to outbreaks of bubonic plague in centuries past.
The 5th International Conference on AIDS, held early this month in Montreal, highlighted both how far society has progressed in grappling with AIDS and how far it has yet to go. Scientific presentations at the conference mapped the remarkable strides that have been made in understanding AIDS and the initial steps taken toward treating it. The conference also delineated many of the scientific and social challenges that will face humankind in the 1990s.
-Rudy Baum and Ron Dagani
AIDS Research Advances Steadily, But Disease Still Exacting High Toll: Scientists at 5th International Conference on AIDS report progress in treating the disease, difficulties in developing a vaccine; epidemic continues unabated, particularly in central Africa
Bouncy tank. Arizona’s Aqua Fria High School football team scrimmages atop a collapsible fuel storage container to illustrate the container’s size. The bouncy tank, made at Goodyear’s aviation products division, measures 100 feet by 48 feet. Because the drop off the side of the tank is 7 feet, the team played with one restriction: “both ends tight and no flankers.” The storage container was made for the U.S. Army.
"Mini-Q" spectrometer. Dr. Peter H. Dawson (left) and Dr. N. Rey Whetten demonstrate a miniature mass spectrometer at General Electric’s research and development center. The GE scientists say the “Mini-Q” spectrometer will be invaluable for applications that require compactness and accuracy. For example, it could analyze gases in interplanetary space.
Some of the waste from the millions of turkeys consumed this week will be converted into renewable energy (Shutterstock).
Most turkey manure ends up as fertilizer, but as the demand for non-fossil-fuel energy grows, more people are looking to turn the smelly waste into energy. The thought of burning turkey litter to make electricity on a large scale was unheard of in the U.S. until Pennsylvania-based Fibrowatt was founded in 2000. The company claims its management team “built the world’s first three poultry-litter-fueled power plants in the U.K. in the 1990s.”
Last year in Minnesota, 48 million turkeys were raised—the most in any U.S. state—and Fibrowatt opened what it says is “the first poultry-litter-fueled power plant in the U.S.” The Minnesota plant, Fibrominn, is located in rural Benson, a town of 3,386 people, according to the 2000 census. Besides the new biomass plant, the only other thing going on in town is ethanol production, some of it at the Shaker’s Vodka distillery.
The process of converting turkey poop to fuel is simple: Burn turkey litter to boil water to make steam, which drives a turbine that generates electricity. Fibrowatt’s process uses combustion temperatures above 1,500 ºF and high-pressure steam at 850 ºF. The company claims the process is carbon neutral, meaning that the amount of carbon released is equal to the amount sequestered or offset.
Although the technology gives turkey farmers an alternative way to dispose of their waste, some people think the idea stinks. A campaign called FibroWATCH aims to stop Fibrowatt and what it calls poultry-litter incineration. Not only does the process smell, the group says, but it is not economical. Without incentives from the state, the Fibrominn plant probably would not have been built.
Happy Thanksgiving from the Watch Glass! Go ahead, have a little extra gravy (Wikimedia Commons).
Monika Christlbauer and Peter Schieberle of the Technical University of Munich recently applied aroma extract dilution analysis (AEDA) to a distillate isolated from a stewed beef and vegetable gravy, detecting 52 odor-active compounds (J. Agric. Food Chem. 2009, 57, 9114). The results of this type of study, Schieberle says, “give a blueprint of the aroma profile of a food” and “could be used, for example, to manufacture convenient foods with natural flavor.”
AEDA was developed by his group 20 years ago, Schieberle says, and employs trained human “sniffers” in combination with gas chromatography/olfactometry (GC/O) to find the most odor-active compounds in food. During AEDA, scientists perform GC/O on serially diluted aliquots of an aroma distillate; the sniffers help assign something called an FD factor, defined as the highest number of dilutions at which an odorant can still be perceived.
On the basis of these FD factors, Schieberle and Christlbauer found that the aroma of beef-and-vegetable gravy is largely shaped by three volatile compounds: 3-(methylthio)propanal, 3-mercapto-2-methylpentan-1-ol, and (E,E)-2,4-decadienal, which smell like cooked potato, sulfur, and deep-fried foods, respectively. In addition, the researchers, with the help of control samples of beef-only gravy, determined that the key odorants that give the beef-and-vegetable gravy its distinct aroma are not formed by a chemical reaction between its beef and vegetable components. In other words, the beef and vegetable odorants do not interact.
In the future, Schieberle and Christlbauer plan to characterize odorless aroma precursors in the gravy to elucidate compound formation pathways during cooking. Most likely, the German researchers won’t apply their molecular gastronomic approach to turkey gravy—that study will have to wait for a pro-turkey, Thanksgiving-loving food chemist in the U.S. or Canada.
-Lauren K. Wolf
Newscripts: The science and smells of Thanksgiving
A collection of rare beer cans (Visitor7/Wikimedia Commons).
The National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA), Alexandria, Va., is urging people to consider drinking beer with Thanksgiving dinner. Our modern Thanksgiving meal is a lineal descendant of the first one, served in fall 1621 in Plymouth, Mass. Beer was on the menu then, NBWA says, so why not today?
“A tasty complement to a turkey and oyster stuffing dinner,” the group suggests, “is a golden-colored lighter beer, such as a pilsner or a lager. Heartier tastes like plum pudding and pumpkin pie are delicious with stronger, dark beers with a touch of bittersweet flavor, such as a stout.”
Tainted water was common in the 17th century; beer was popular partly because making it required boiling water, which killed the hazardous microbes, if any were present. The 102 Pilgrims and the crew on the Mayflower had plenty of beer on board when they set sail from Southampton, England, on Sept. 6, 1620. The Pilgrims debarked at the site later called Plymouth on Dec. 26, 1620. They had hoped to reach Virginia, but were running short of supplies. Pilgrim leader William Bradford wrote in a diary entry dated Dec. 19, 1620, “We could not now take much time for further search … our victuals being much spent, especially our beer.”
Newscripts: Wholesalers recommend beer for Thanksgiving
Cranberry harvest in New Jersey (Agricultural Research Service/USDA).
By the time this is read we assume that most people in the U.S. will have had their normal supply of cranberries for Thanksgiving dinner. But the incident with misuse of weed killer and abuse of careful growers is likely to remain in the public mind for a long while. Time will give more perspective, but even now some lessons in dealing with such problems might be learned.
A new weed killer, aminotriazole, was developed. Apparently some cranberry growers used it in 1957, even before the U.S. Department of Agriculture had approved directions for its use. Some used it before harvest, contaminating the berries. In 1958, USDA registered the product for use on cranberry bogs after harvest. The Food and Drug Administration refused to set a residue tolerance on the basis of limited knowledge of aminotriazole’s toxicity at that time.
Contamination was found in the 1957 crop, and the affected berries were voluntarily withheld from the market. Very little checking was done on the next year’s crop. In May 1959, FDA concluded that aminotriazole is a carcinogen. This was based on the growth of thyroid cancer in rats fed diets containing high levels of aminotriazole. Both FDA and the cranberry growers’ association then began checking on spraying practices and looking for contaminated berries.
On Nov. 9, Arthur S. Flemming, Secretary of HEW, made an announcement that contaminated berries had been found. It shook the public and started a frantic chain of action. The first reaction seemed to be that cranberries were out of the picture for Thanksgiving 1959. But emergency action proved effective, and adequately tested cranberries were on the market for Thanksgiving. However, there is little doubt that many growers who had been meticulous in their care suffered misfortune because of the careless actions of a few.
The idea of such a frightening scourge as cancer invading the homes and Thanksgiving traditions of the U.S. by means of a chemical created a sensation. In this atmosphere, separate principles—some scientific, some legal, some procedural—became confused.
The Cranberry Sensation: Administration of pesticide and food laws should be handled with care and without emotion
It’s a snap… To produce electricity from polonium-210 in a tiny atomic generator. The model shown here is still going strong after a full year of operation. And it has survived impact, vibration, and acceleration tests (requirements for space exploration) without damage, says its designer, The Martin Co. SNAP—system of nuclear auxiliary power—converts heat of radioactive decay into electricity by a series of thermocouples.
Numerous messages of sympathy on the death of President Kennedy have been received by the Society from foreign countries. Formal letters of condolence have come from the Chemical Society of Mexico, the Latin-American Federation of Chemical Societies, and the Argentine Chemical Association. Typical of their comments is this statement by the Argentine group: “We would like to convey to you the profound shock and deep sympathy which the assassination of President Kennedy has awakened amongst Argentine chemists.” Personal expressions of regret have come from individuals in France, Mexico, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and India.