Second Wave

               For Spiritually Evolving Humans

Archive for January, 2008


Joanie January 19th, 2008

By Annalee Newitz
January 16, 2008

yeast.jpg There is now a way to extend the lifespan of organisms so that
humans could conceivably live to be 800 years old. In an amazing
development, scientists at the University of Southern California have
announced that they’ve extended the lifespan of yeast bacteria tenfold –
and the recipe they used to do it might easily translate into humans. It
involves tinkering with two genes, and cutting down your calorie intake.
Tests have already started on people in Ecuador.

According to an announcement from PLoS Genetics:

Researchers have created baker’s yeast capable of living to 800 in yeast
years without apparent side effects. The basic but important discovery,
achieved through a combination of dietary and genetic changes, brings
scientists closer to controlling the survival and health of the unit of all
living systems: the cell. “We’re setting the foundation for reprogramming
healthy life,” says study leader Valter Longo of the University of Southern

Longo’s group put baker’s yeast on a calorie-restricted diet and knocked out
two genes - RAS2 and SCH9 - that promote aging in yeast and cancer in

“We got a 10-fold life span extension that is, I think, the longest one that
has ever been achieved in any organism,” Longo says. Normal yeast organisms
live about a week.

“I would say 10-fold is pretty significant,” says Anna McCormick, chief of
the genetics and cell biology branch at the National Institute on Aging
(NIA) and Longo’s program officer. The NIA funds such research in the hope
of extending healthy life span in humans through the development of drugs
that mimic the life-prolonging techniques used by Longo and others,
McCormick adds.

Baker’s yeast is one of the most studied and best understood organisms at
the molecular and genetic level. Remarkably, in light of its simplicity,
yeast has led to the discovery of some of the most important genes and
pathways regulating aging and disease in mice and other mammals.

Longo’s group next plans to further investigate life span extension in mice.
The group is already studying a human population in Ecuador with mutations
analogous to those described in yeast.

“People with two copies of the mutations have very small stature and other
defects,” Longo says. “We are now identifying the relatives with only one
copy of the mutation, who are apparently normal. We hope that they will show
a reduced incidence of diseases and an extended life span.”

Longo cautions that, as in the Ecuador case, longevity mutations tend to
come with severe growth deficits and other health problems. Finding drugs to
extend the human life span without side effects will not be easy.


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Published by David Sunfellow
NewHeavenNewEarth (NHNE)
Phone: (928) 225-2366
Fax: (815) 642-0117


Joanie January 19th, 2008

Larry King Live
January 18, 2007

Are UFOs descending on Texas? Strange sights in the night skies over Texas
fuel other-worldly questions and controversy. Larry gets firsthand accounts
of what these small-town locals saw and heard this week. As eyewitnesses,
investigators and experts come together.

Watch Program On YouTube:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:


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Published by David Sunfellow
NewHeavenNewEarth (NHNE)
Phone: (928) 225-2366
Fax: (815) 642-0117

Joanie January 3rd, 2008

2007 began with comet McNaught – what an incredible year it has been – very Plutonian indeed! Lot’s of deep stuff came up, almost for everyone – to be looked at with honesty and love – for the sheer purpose of getting more real and true. It’s not easy to unearth and leave behind an old self – but that’s exactly what almost everyone is going through, this past year and… how could it be otherwise… to be continued through 2008.

 The signs are as good as they can be. The first big comet flared up already in late October – 17P/Holmes – and still is very bright, visible to the naked eye, inviting all those who haven’t had a chance to see it to get out and look north.

And then, wonder oh wonder! Comet 8P/Tuttle, just in last few days, has brightened substantially, having its closest approach to Earth right at New Year ’s Eve! 8P/Tuttle is now visible to the naked eye as well – and just a couple constellations away from 17P/Holmes. (see link for finder chart at the end of this mail)

 Comets, at any time have been understood as harbingers of something hitherto unknown – inviting us to look out for the new, exciting, miraculous. Having one comet appear around New Year is most auspicious, to have two of them side by side is simply astonishing!

 Over the days to come, when you find time, go out into the night – preferably to a remote place where there aren’t too many artificial light interfering – and let the starlight shower on you – no, not only the comets! Let these special guests just be the persuaders to get you out. Let them tease you to overcome your lethargy, to go and get out under the magical firmament, and simply lift your head…

 And have this in mind – the light you see – the thousands and millions of tiny glittering dots of light are photons that have traveled for hundreds or thousands of years, or even way longer; to finally arrive at their destiny, which is you! Get into the space of no mind, and open yourself to divine inspiration. Give way to the sensation that you’re directly connected with these guardians of eternity. Allow being nourished by the sheer attunement to this infinite depth, realize how far your eyes can see!  

 Let this time around New Year’s Eve be filled with glorious golden moments. Allow for divine inspiration to descend on you and become a vessel for the infinite love that is constantly showering on us.

Note that both comets numbers add up to eight – what a synchronicity! The eight is the most complex of the nine digits aside from the zero. The eight implies mastery – it’s two to the power of three, the crown of the sequence 2 – 4 – 8. The eight is a challenging number, no doubt to that! Mastery of all three dimensions is implied – getting in charge of the material universe in all its complexity. The symbol of the eight – the vertical infinity symbol – is maybe the one most potent symbol of all the numbers – even way more complex then the zero. Eight in fact is two zeros piled on top of each other, and there’s an enormous dynamism in the eight! Just take a piece of paper and draw a big eight – and don’t stop when you have drawn one complete eight – just keep your hand moving – go with the flow. Let your hand be taken by the infinity of motion – enjoy that feeling of the perpetual motion taking over, almost all by itself! While letting your hand follow the rhythm of the eight, pay attention to the fact that two opposing circular directions are contained in the eight – clockwise and counter clockwise. Hence, the eight is a binary system, a double star, the two stars rotating around one another in opposite directions, reminding of the Yin/Yang symbol.

 And contemplate this for a while:  2008 = 2 + 0 + 0 + 8 = 10 = 1

 For two more years there are two zeros in the year number – in my opinion the zero is the joker – it can take on any shape or value – it’s all and nothing! This first decade of the third millennium symbolizes the sowing of seeds. Visualize this for a moment, and feel the tremendous excitement which is in that process of giving passage to the divine, clearing the way for something which indeed is simply inconceivable.

In numerology 2008 is a 10/1-year – the beginning of a new 9-year cycle. To be open and available and host divine inspiration, cutting through all which still comes from the past is necessary. We need to clean ourselves in order to create inner space. Cleaning constantly, erasing all the painful memories which still rule our lives.

Khoji Lang, Astrologer  

 You can find many amazing pictures of the comets on, featuring 8P/Tuttle on December 27, and 17P/Holmes on December 28.

 And this is the link to the ‘finder page’, showing where to let your eyes dive into the sky…


Joanie January 3rd, 2008

By Brian Johnson

It was 1897 when Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, was studying wealth
and income distribution in 19th Century England. During the course of his
studies, he discovered that the majority of land and income was controlled
by a minority of the population. In fact, 20% of the population controlled
80% of the wealth and income.

On further analysis, mythical lore says that he found that this principle
held true not only in different countries and different time periods, but
also in contexts such as his garden — where he discovered that 20% of his
peapods yielded 80% of the peas that were harvested!

Since our pal Vilfredo identified the trend, many researchers have been busy
pointing out some additional modern applications. Check these out:

- 20% of criminals account for 80% of crime

- 20% of motorists account for 80% of accidents

- 20% of married individuals account for 80% of divorces

- 20% of your carpet probably gets 80% of the wear

- 20% of streets account for 80% of the traffic

- 20% of product flaws account for 80% of problems

- 20% of clients usually account for 80% of an organization¹s profits

I could go on, but I think you get the idea!

Oh, why not a few more?

- 20% of the clothes in your closet are worn 80% of the time

- 20% of beer drinkers drink 80% of the beer

OK. I¹m done for now. :)

Your job, however, is not complete. Look around you. See where you spend
your time. See where you get your results. Is it 50/50 or more like 80/20?

As Richard Koch, author of The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Success by
Achieving Less, advises:

³80/20 Thinking requires, and with practice enables, us to spot the few
really important things that are happening and ignore the mass of
unimportant things. It teaches us to see the wood for the trees.²


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Published by David Sunfellow
NewHeavenNewEarth (NHNE)
Phone: (928) 225-2366
Fax: (815) 642-0117


Joanie January 3rd, 2008

By Rick Weiss
Washington Post
Monday, December 17, 2007; A01

It has been 50 years since scientists first created DNA in a test tube,
stitching ordinary chemical ingredients together to make life’s most
extraordinary molecule. Until recently, however, even the most sophisticated
laboratories could make only small snippets of DNA — an extra gene or two
to be inserted into corn plants, for example, to help the plants ward off
insects or tolerate drought.

Now researchers are poised to cross a dramatic barrier: the creation of life
forms driven by completely artificial DNA.

Scientists in Maryland have already built the world’s first entirely
handcrafted chromosome — a large looping strand of DNA made from scratch in
a laboratory, containing all the instructions a microbe needs to live and

In the coming year, they hope to transplant it into a cell, where it is
expected to “boot itself up,” like software downloaded from the Internet,
and cajole the waiting cell to do its bidding. And while the first synthetic
chromosome is a plagiarized version of a natural one, others that code for
life forms that have never existed before are already under construction.

The cobbling together of life from synthetic DNA, scientists and
philosophers agree, will be a watershed event, blurring the line between
biological and artificial — and forcing a rethinking of what it means for a
thing to be alive.

“This raises a range of big questions about what nature is and what it could
be,” said Paul Rabinow, an anthropologist at the University of California at
Berkeley who studies science’s effects on society. “Evolutionary processes
are no longer seen as sacred or inviolable. People in labs are figuring them
out so they can improve upon them for different purposes.”

That unprecedented degree of control over creation raises more than
philosophical questions, however. What kinds of organisms will scientists,
terrorists and other creative individuals make? How will these
self-replicating entities be contained? And who might end up owning the
patent rights to the basic tools for synthesizing life?

Some experts are worried that a few maverick companies are already gaining
monopoly control over the core “operating system” for artificial life and
are poised to become the Microsofts of synthetic biology. That could stifle
competition, they say, and place enormous power in a few people’s hands.

“We’re heading into an era where people will be writing DNA programs like
the early days of computer programming, but who will own these programs?”
asked Drew Endy, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

At the core of synthetic biology’s new ascendance are high-speed DNA
synthesizers that can produce very long strands of genetic material from
basic chemical building blocks: sugars, nitrogen-based compounds and

Today a scientist can write a long genetic program on a computer just as a
maestro might compose a musical score, then use a synthesizer to convert
that digital code into actual DNA. Experiments with “natural” DNA indicate
that when a faux chromosome gets plopped into a cell, it will be able to
direct the destruction of the cell’s old DNA and become its new “brain” –
telling the cell to start making a valuable chemical, for example, or a
medicine or a toxin, or a bio-based gasoline substitute.

Unlike conventional biotechnology, in which scientists induce modest genetic
changes in cells to make them serve industrial purposes, synthetic biology
involves the large-scale rewriting of genetic codes to create metabolic
machines with singular purposes.

“I see a cell as a chassis and power supply for the artificial systems we
are putting together,” said Tom Knight of MIT, who likes to compare the
state of cell biology today to that of mechanical engineering in 1864. That
is when the United States began to adopt standardized thread sizes for nuts
and bolts, an advance that allowed the construction of complex devices from
simple, interchangeable parts.

If biology is to morph into an engineering discipline, it is going to need
similarly standardized parts, Knight said. So he and colleagues have started
a collection of hundreds of interchangeable genetic components they call
BioBricks, which students and others are already popping into cells like
Lego pieces.

So far, synthetic biology is still semi-synthetic, involving single-cell
organisms such as bacteria and yeast that have a blend of natural and
synthetic DNA. The cells can reproduce, a defining trait of life. But in
many cases that urge has been genetically suppressed, along with other
“distracting” biological functions, to maximize productivity.

“Most cells go about life like we do, with the intention to make more of
themselves after eating,” said John Pierce, a vice president at DuPont in
Wilmington, Del., a leader in the field. “But what we want them to do is
make stuff we want.”

J. Craig Venter, chief executive of Synthetic Genomics in Rockville, knows
what he wants his cells to make: ethanol, hydrogen and other exotic fuels
for vehicles, to fill a market that has been estimated to be worth $1

In a big step toward that goal, Venter has now built the first fully
artificial chromosome, a strand of DNA many times longer than anything made
by others and laden with all the genetic components a microbe needs to get

Details of the process are under wraps until the work is published, probably
early next year. But Venter has already shown that he can insert a “natural”
chromosome into a cell and bring it to life. If a synthetic chromosome works
the same way, as expected, the first living cells with fully artificial
genomes could be growing in dishes by the end of 2008.

The plan is to mass-produce a plain genetic platform able to direct the
basic functions of life, then attach custom-designed DNA modules that can
compel cells to make synthetic fuels or other products.

It will be a challenge to cultivate fuel-spewing microbes, Venter
acknowledged. Among other problems, he said, is that unless the fuel is
constantly removed, “the bugs will basically pickle themselves.”

But the hurdles are not insurmountable. LS9 Inc., a company in San Carlos,
Calif., is already using E. coli bacteria that have been reprogrammed with
synthetic DNA to produce a fuel alternative from a diet of corn syrup and
sugar cane. So efficient are the bugs’ synthetic metabolisms that LS9
predicts it will be able to sell the fuel for just $1.25 a gallon.

At a DuPont plant in Tennessee, other semi-synthetic bacteria are living on
cornstarch and making the chemical 1,3 propanediol, or PDO. Millions of
pounds of the stuff are being spun and woven into high-tech fabrics
(DuPont’s chief executive wears a pinstripe suit made of it), putting the
bug-begotten chemical on track to become the first $1 billion biotech
product that is not a pharmaceutical.

Engineers at DuPont studied blueprints of E. coli’s metabolism and used
synthetic DNA to help the bacteria make PDO far more efficiently than could
have been done with ordinary genetic engineering.

“If you want to sell it at a dollar a gallon . . . you need every bit of
efficiency you can muster,” said DuPont’s Pierce. “So we’re running these
bugs to their limits.”

Yet another application is in medicine, where synthetic DNA is allowing
bacteria and yeast to produce the malaria drug artemisinin far more
efficiently than it is made in plants, its natural source.

Bugs such as these will seem quaint, scientists say, once fully synthetic
organisms are brought on line to work 24/7 on a range of tasks, from
industrial production to chemical cleanups. But the prospect of a
flourishing synbio economy has many wondering who will own the valuable
rights to that life.

In the past year, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been flooded with
aggressive synthetic-biology claims. Some of Venter’s applications, in
particular, “are breathtaking in their scope,” said Knight. And with
Venter’s company openly hoping to develop “an operating system for
biologically-based software,” some fear it is seeking synthetic hegemony.

“We’ve asked our patent lawyers to be reasonable and not to be
overreaching,” Venter said. But competitors such as DuPont, he said, “have
just blanketed the field with patent applications.”

Safety concerns also loom large. Already a few scientists have made viruses
from scratch. The pending ability to make bacteria — which, unlike viruses,
can live and reproduce in the environment outside of a living body — raises
new concerns about contamination, contagion and the potential for mischief.

“Ultimately synthetic biology means cheaper and widely accessible tools to
build bioweapons, virulent pathogens and artificial organisms that could
pose grave threats to people and the planet,” concluded a recent report by
the Ottawa-based ETC Group, one of dozens of advocacy groups that want a ban
on releasing synthetic organisms pending wider societal debate and

“The danger is not just bio-terror but bio-error,” the report says.

Many scientists say the threat has been overblown. Venter notes that his
synthetic genomes are spiked with special genes that make the microbes
dependent on a rare nutrient not available in nature. And Pierce, of DuPont,
says the company’s bugs are too spoiled to survive outdoors.

“They are designed to grow in a cosseted environment with very high food
levels,” Pierce said. “You throw this guy out on the ground, he just can’t
compete. He’s toast.”

“We’ve heard that before,” said Jim Thomas, ETC Group’s program manager,
noting that genes engineered into crops have often found their way into
other plants despite assurances to the contrary. “The fact is, you can build
viruses, and soon bacteria, from downloaded instructions on the Internet,”
Thomas said. “Where’s the governance and oversight?”

In fact, government controls on trade in dangerous microbes do not apply to
the bits of DNA that can be used to create them. And while some industry
groups have talked about policing the field themselves, the technology is
quickly becoming so simple, experts say, that it will not be long before
“bio hackers” working in garages will be downloading genetic programs and
making them into novel life forms.

“The cat is out of the bag,” said Jay Keasling, chief of synthetic biology
at the University of California at Berkeley.

Andrew Light, an environmental ethicist at the University of Washington in
Seattle, said synthetic biology poses a conundrum because of its
double-edged ability to both wreak biological havoc and perhaps wean
civilization from dirty 20th-century technologies and petroleum-based fuels.

“For the environmental community, I think this is going to be a really hard
choice,” Light said.

Depending on how people adjust to the idea of man-made life — and on how
useful the first products prove to be — the field could go either way,
Light said.

“It could be that synthetic biology is going to be like cellphones: so
overwhelming and ubiquitous that no one notices it anymore. Or it could be
like abortion — the kind of deep disagreement that will not go away.”

The question, if the abortion model holds, is which side of the synthetic
biology debate will get to call itself “pro-life.”


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Published by David Sunfellow
NewHeavenNewEarth (NHNE)
Phone: (928) 225-2366
Fax: (815) 642-0117


Joanie January 3rd, 2008

November 20, 2007

By Meryl Rothstein

Internet censorship is the book burning of the modern age, denying as much
as a third of the world’s population access to news and information.

But a new brand of activists — or “hacktivists” — are using their computer
expertise to help people stranded in Web-censored countries abroad (and
corporate offices and military bases at home) jump the firewall. The key
innovation, developed by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, is a
software program called Psiphon. In the latest version (due out this
winter), prospective users, or aid groups, contact the Citizen Lab to
receive passwords and Web links. Once signed in, users are then patched
directly into the Psiphon network of servers. A search bar pops up on their
own screen, and they can surf the Web freely. All censors see is an
unfamiliar IP address, which could be for anything from a bank transaction
to an eBay sale.

According to Ronald Deibert, the lab’s director, the biggest threat to the
system is censors who might sign up for the service to learn Psiphon’s IP
addresses and block them. But the lab has developed a high-tech shell game
to counter this measure. As soon as one address is blocked, Psiphon assigns
it to another region and puts in a new one. When the next one gets
discovered, Psiphon again swaps in a new one. The process can go on
indefinitely, until the censors grow tired or the firewalls come down.


By Meryl Rothstein

As fast and small as our electronics and computers are today, there is one
major drawback. They are hard and rigid and fragile. Completely the opposite
of what Stéphanie Lacour is making: bendable, stretchable circuits that will
one day be used to make electronic skin and malleable computers.

In 2002, as a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton, Lacour found a way to
make metal stretch by embedding it in rubbery silicone. Doing so allowed it
to expand to twice its original length without breaking. The next step was
building a flexible circuit. Lacour, now heading her own lab at Cambridge
University, did this by consolidating all the hard microcomponents of the
circuit into tiny rigid “safe zones,” which are networked to one another by
stretchable metal. The final product is a silicone patch the size of a stick
of gum that bends and twists like a rubber band.

The most obvious application is for prostheses. Imagine a computerized hand
that can feel heat from a stove or a lover. Lacour hopes to develop the
first such prosthetic glove in two to five years. Initially, it will need to
be hooked up to a tiny computer to alert the wearer to various sensations.
The next step is a system that mimics the shape of neurons and relays
signals directly to the brain, enabling the wearer to process tactile
information in real time.

But those without prostheses will benefit from Lacour’s innovation as well.
She envisions T-shirts embedded with electronics that can detect if a baby
has stopped breathing and a foldable GPS-enabled map. Then there are the
crazier, more fun ideas Lacour dreams up on a daily basis — things like
interactive tattoos that might change from a lion to a tiger to a skull,
depending upon your mood or outfit.


By Christine Ajudua

Eighty-two thousand people die from cancer in Bangladesh every year, many
due to arsenic poisoning. But building upon her discovery of a way to get
rust nanoparticles to bind to arsenic, Vicki Colvin has invented a new,
astonishingly easy way to clean the water supply: Sauté a teaspoon of rust
in a mixture of oil and lye, which breaks down the rust into nano-sized
pieces. Retrieve the rust particles with a household magnet. Then immerse
the rust-covered magnet into a pot of contaminated water. Pull out the
arsenic. The system is up to a hundred times more efficient than existing
methods, and requires no electricity or manufacturing infrastructure, so
even the poorest of villagers can use it.

Depending upon government regulations, Colvin’s extraction system should go
global in as few as five years. Yet ultimately, Colvin, a professor of
chemistry and chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice University, has
bigger plans. She sees her method as just the first step toward developing
an easy point-of-use water-purification system that would cover virtually
every pollutant. The filter would have a dipstick to tell you what’s in the
water and a reader to tell you what you need to add to pull it out –
perhaps silver nanoparticles to kill bacteria or a protein to capture


By Doug Cantor

There will come a time when computers and robots don’t need humans to
program them. For mechanical engineer Hod Lipson, that time is now. And it
all starts with his four-legged starfish robot.

Beginning with no idea of what it looks like, the starfish makes random
motions and measures how it tilts. It then generates about a hundred
different hypotheses about what its structure might be, moves itself again,
collects more data to determine which models are potentially correct, and
behaves accordingly. It continues this process of weeding out less-useful
models until an accurate one is found and takes hold, a process inspired by
Darwinian evolution. And if anything happens to it — for example, it loses
one of its legs or falls from a table — it can then generate a new model to
adapt to different circumstances, with no human assistance.

Well beyond smart robots, this self-adapting technology could one day be
used to erect buildings that can repair themselves, airplanes that
anticipate mechanical problems, and bridges that sense and readjust for
potential structural pitfalls.

In the shorter term, a self-modeling robot could be used to explore the
planets, repairing and reprogramming itself depending upon conditions on the


By Christine Ajudua

Kurt Zenz House isn¹t the first scientist to suggest sequestering carbon
dioxide in the ocean. But he is the first to come up with a solution that
might actually work.

The key is depth. Whereas other plans to sequester carbon in the ocean were
plagued by fears that the CO2 would escape, House advocates going much
deeper — at least three thousand meters, or two miles below sea level into
the seabed. At that depth, House hypothesizes that the extreme water
pressure and low temperature will turn the carbon into a liquid denser than
the surrounding water, forming a layer that will prevent it from rising back
up into the ocean. “We can store all the CO2 from humanity for centuries,
and it wouldn’t change sea levels by a centimeter,” says House, a Harvard
Ph.D. candidate in earth and planetary sciences. “And there isn’t any major
life at that depth, so the footprint is very light.”

Estimated costs are about forty dollars to capture and store a ton of the
gas, about the amount of CO2 produced by a car every 500 to 1,500 miles,
depending on the make. House is currently in talks with a major oil company
to start field tests while a group of developers from New Jersey wants to
build the first power plant that would use his system.


By Doug Cantor

Plastic has changed little since its heyday in the 1960s. It’s still
ubiquitous, oil based, and dirty as hell for the environment. Makes you
wonder what we’ve been doing all these years.

For one thing, not listening enough to chemist Geoffrey Coates. In his lab
at Cornell University, he’s been reinventing plastic. Making it
environmentally friendly and biodegradable — with orange peels.

The key is limonene, a citrusy-smelling chemical compound made from orange
rinds that when oxidized and mixed with carbon dioxide and a catalyst can be
turned into a solid plastic. The final product can be made into anything
from Saran wrap to medical packaging to beer bottles and naturally
biodegrades in just a few months. And because it can be produced using
recycled CO2 from carbon-spewing factories, simply making Coates’s plastic
can help the environment.

Since 1999, when Coates and his colleagues first began experimenting with
limonene, they’ve discovered a number of other natural materials, such as
pine trees and soybeans, that can be manipulated into biodegradable polymers
as well. And more recently, they’ve been experimenting with artificially
creating polyhydroxybutyrate, a polypropylene-like plastic that is naturally
produced by bacteria.

While Coates’s natural polymers are more expensive to produce than most
current plastics, he stresses that this isn’t just another radical
innovation that will never make it out of the lab. Novomer
<>, a company he cofounded in 2004, will see its
green plastics used in high-end electronics in the next couple of years.
Once production is scaled up, less-expensive mainstream consumer products
such as food containers will follow soon after.


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Published by David Sunfellow
NewHeavenNewEarth (NHNE)
Phone: (928) 225-2366
Fax: (815) 642-0117


Joanie January 3rd, 2008

By Michael Moyer
Popular Science

Imagine a solar panel without the panel. Just a coating, thin as a layer of
paint, that takes light and converts it to electricity. From there, you can
picture roof shingles with solar cells built inside and window coatings that
seem to suck power from the air. Consider solar-powered buildings stretching
not just across sunny Southern California, but through China and India and
Kenya as well, because even in those countries, going solar will be cheaper
than burning coal. That¹s the promise of thin-film solar cells: solar power
that¹s ubiquitous because it¹s cheap. The basic technology has been around
for decades, but this year, Silicon Valley-based Nanosolar
<> created the manufacturing technology that could
make that promise a reality.

The company produces its PowerSheet solar cells with printing-press-style
machines that set down a layer of solar-absorbing nano-ink onto metal sheets
as thin as aluminum foil, so the panels can be made for about a tenth of
what current panels cost and at a rate of several hundred feet per minute.
With backing from Google¹s founders and $20 million from the U.S. Department
of Energy, Nanosolar¹s first commercial cells rolled off the presses this

Cost has always been one of solar¹s biggest problems. Traditional solar
cells require silicon, and silicon is an expensive commodity (exacerbated
currently by a global silicon shortage). What¹s more, says Peter Harrop,
chairman of electronics consulting firm IDTechEx, ³it has to be put on
glass, so it¹s heavy, dangerous, expensive to ship and expensive to install
because it has to be mounted.² And up to 70 percent of the silicon gets
wasted in the manufacturing process. That means even the cheapest solar
panels cost about $3 per watt of energy they go on to produce. To compete
with coal, that figure has to shrink to just $1 per watt.

Nanosolar¹s cells use no silicon, and the company¹s manufacturing process
allows it to create cells that are as efficient as most commercial cells for
as little as 30 cents a watt. ³You¹re talking about printing rolls of the
stuff — printing it on the roofs of 18-wheeler trailers, printing it on
garages, printing it wherever you want it,² says Dan Kammen, founding
director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the
University of California at Berkeley. ³It really is quite a big deal in
terms of altering the way we think about solar and in inherently altering
the economics of solar.²

In San Jose, Nanosolar has built what will soon be the world¹s largest
solar-panel manufacturing facility. CEO Martin Roscheisen claims that once
full production starts early next year, it will create 430 megawatts¹ worth
of solar cells a year — more than the combined total of every other solar
plant in the U.S. The first 100,000 cells will be shipped to Europe, where a
consortium will be building a 1.4-megawatt power plant next year.

Right now, the biggest question for Nanosolar is not if its products can
work, but rather if it can make enough of them. California, for instance,
recently launched the Million Solar Roofs initiative, which will provide tax
breaks and rebates to encourage the installation of 100,000 solar roofs per
year, every year, for 10 consecutive years (the state currently has 30,000
solar roofs). The company is ready for the solar boom. ³Most important,²
Harrop says, ³Nanosolar is putting down factories instead of blathering to
the press and doing endless experiments. These guys are getting on with it,
and that is impressive.²


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Published by David Sunfellow
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Fax: (815) 642-0117


Joanie January 3rd, 2008

December 6, 2007

Researchers discovered genetic evidence that human evolution is speeding up
– and has not halted or proceeded at a constant rate, as had been thought
– indicating that humans on different continents are becoming increasingly

“We used a new genomic technology to show that humans are evolving rapidly,
and that the pace of change has accelerated a lot in the last 40,000 years,
especially since the end of the Ice Age roughly 10,000 years ago,” says
research team leader Henry Harpending, a distinguished professor of
anthropology at the University of Utah.

Harpending says there are provocative implications from the study, published
online Monday, Dec. 10 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of

- “We aren’t the same as people even 1,000 or 2,000 years ago,” he says,
which may explain, for example, part of the difference between Viking
invaders and their peaceful Swedish descendants. “The dogma has been these
are cultural fluctuations, but almost any temperament trait you look at is
under strong genetic influence.”

- “Human races are evolving away from each other,” Harpending says. “Genes
are evolving fast in Europe, Asia and Africa, but almost all of these are
unique to their continent of origin. We are getting less alike, not merging
into a single, mixed humanity.” He says that is happening because humans
dispersed from Africa to other regions 40,000 years ago, “and there has not
been much flow of genes between the regions since then.”

“Our study denies the widely held assumption or belief that modern humans
[those who widely adopted advanced tools and art] appeared 40,000 years ago,
have not changed since and that we are all pretty much the same. We show
that humans are changing relatively rapidly on a scale of centuries to
millennia, and that these changes are different in different continental

The increase in human population from millions to billions in the last
10,000 years accelerated the rate of evolution because “we were in new
environments to which we needed to adapt,” Harpending adds. “And with a
larger population, more mutations occurred.”

Study co-author Gregory M. Cochran says: “History looks more and more like a
science fiction novel in which mutants repeatedly arose and displaced normal
humans — sometimes quietly, by surviving starvation and disease better,
sometimes as a conquering horde. And we are those mutants.”

Harpending conducted the study with Cochran, a New Mexico physicist,
self-taught evolutionary biologist and adjunct professor of anthropology at
the University of Utah; anthropologist John Hawks, a former Utah
postdoctoral researcher now at the University of Wisconsin, Madison;
geneticist Eric Wang of Affymetrix, Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif.; and
biochemist Robert Moyzis of the University of California, Irvine.

No Justification for Discrimination

The new study comes from two of the same University of Utah scientists –
Harpending and Cochran — who created a stir in 2005 when they published a
study arguing that above-average intelligence in Ashkenazi Jews — those of
northern European heritage — resulted from natural selection in medieval
Europe, where they were pressured into jobs as financiers, traders, managers
and tax collectors. Those who were smarter succeeded, grew wealthy and had
bigger families to pass on their genes. Yet that intelligence also is linked
to genetic diseases such as Tay-Sachs and Gaucher in Jews.

That study and others dealing with genetic differences among humans — whose
DNA is more than 99 percent identical — generated fears such research will
undermine the principle of human equality and justify racism and
discrimination. Other critics question the quality of the science and argue
culture plays a bigger role than genetics.

Harpending says genetic differences among different human populations
“cannot be used to justify discrimination. Rights in the Constitution aren’t
predicated on utter equality. People have rights and should have
opportunities whatever their group.”

Analyzing SNPs of Evolutionary Acceleration

The study looked for genetic evidence of natural selection — the evolution
of favorable gene mutations — during the past 80,000 years by analyzing DNA
from 270 individuals in the International HapMap Project, an effort to
identify variations in human genes that cause disease and can serve as
targets for new medicines.

The new study looked specifically at genetic variations called “single
nucleotide polymorphisms,” or SNPs (pronounced “snips”) which are
single-point mutations in chromosomes that are spreading through a
significant proportion of the population.

Imagine walking along two chromosomes — the same chromosome from two
different people. Chromosomes are made of DNA, a twisting, ladder-like
structure in which each rung is made of a “base pair” of amino acids, either
G-C or A-T. Harpending says that about every 1,000 base pairs, there will be
a difference between the two chromosomes. That is known as a SNP.

Data examined in the study included 3.9 million SNPs from the 270 people in
four populations: Han Chinese, Japanese, Africa’s Yoruba tribe and northern
Europeans, represented largely by data from Utah Mormons, says Harpending.

Over time, chromosomes randomly break and recombine to create new versions
or variants of the chromosome. “If a favorable mutation appears, then the
number of copies of that chromosome will increase rapidly” in the population
because people with the mutation are more likely to survive and reproduce,
Harpending says.

“And if it increases rapidly, it becomes common in the population in a short
time,” he adds.

The researchers took advantage of that to determine if genes on chromosomes
had evolved recently. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, with each parent
providing one copy of each of the 23. If the same chromosome from numerous
people has a segment with an identical pattern of SNPs, that indicates that
segment of the chromosome has not broken up and recombined recently.

That means a gene on that segment of chromosome must have evolved recently
and fast; if it had evolved long ago, the chromosome would have broken and

Harpending and colleagues used a computer to scan the data for chromosome
segments that had identical SNP patterns and thus had not broken and
recombined, meaning they evolved recently. They also calculated how recently
the genes evolved.

A key finding: 7 percent of human genes are undergoing rapid, recent

The researchers built a case that human evolution has accelerated by
comparing genetic data with what the data should look like if human
evolution had been constant:

- The study found much more genetic diversity in the SNPs than would be
expected if human evolution had remained constant.

- If the rate at which new genes evolve in Africans was extrapolated back to
6 million years ago when humans and chimpanzees diverged, the genetic
difference between modern chimps and humans would be 160 times greater than
it really is. So the evolution rate of Africans represents a recent speedup
in evolution.

- If evolution had been fast and constant for a long time, there should be
many recently evolved genes that have spread to everyone. Yet, the study
revealed many genes still becoming more frequent in the population,
indicating a recent evolutionary speedup.

Next, the researchers examined the history of human populationsize on each
continent. They found that mutation patterns seen in the genome data were
consistent with the hypothesis that evolution is faster in larger

Evolutionary Change and Human History: Got Milk?

“Rapid population growth has been coupled with vast changes in cultures and
ecology, creating new opportunities for adaptation,” the study says. “The
past 10,000 years have seen rapid skeletal and dental evolution in human
populations, as well as the appearance of many new genetic responses to diet
and disease.”

The researchers note that human migrations into new Eurasian environments
created selective pressures favoring less skin pigmentation (so more
sunlight could be absorbed by skin to make vitamin D), adaptation to cold
weather and dietary changes.

Because human population grew from several million at the end of the Ice Age
to 6 billion now, more favored new genes have emerged and evolution has
speeded up, both globally and among continental groups of people, Harpending

“We have to understand genetic change in order to understand history,” he

For example, in China and most of Africa, few people can digest fresh milk
into adulthood. Yet in Sweden and Denmark, the gene that makes the
milk-digesting enzyme lactase remains active, so “almost everyone can drink
fresh milk,” explaining why dairying is more common in Europe than in the
Mediterranean and Africa, Harpending says.

He now is studying if the mutation that allowed lactose tolerance spurred
some of history’s great population expansions, including when speakers of
Indo-European languages settled all the way from northwest India and central
Asia through Persia and across Europe 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. He suspects
milk drinking gave lactose-tolerant Indo-European speakers more energy,
allowing them to conquer a large area.

But Harpending believes the speedup in human evolution “is a temporary state
of affairs because of our new environments since the dispersal of modern
humans 40,000 years ago and especially since the invention of agriculture
12,000 years ago. That changed our diet and changed our social systems. If
you suddenly take hunter-gatherers and give them a diet of corn, they
frequently get diabetes. We’re still adapting to that. Several new genes we
see spreading through the population are involved with helping us prosper
with high-carbohydrate diet.”


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Published by David Sunfellow
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Joanie January 3rd, 2008


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