California Electrical System Is On The Verge Of Failure, NYTimes
"Four years after it led the nation into a sweeping
deregulation of the electric industry, California is at the brink
of a breakdown in its power supply. Yesterday, as a heat wave
caused electric demand to soar across the West, the nation's most
populous state nearly ran out of power for the third straight day.
To reduce the strain on California's electric grid, regulators
ordered utilities to curtail supplies to big commercial users that
have agreed to cut their electric consumption in times of
The electrical power grid is one of those networks that are
essential for the working of industrialized nations. It has been
recognized for quite a while that the distribution and flow of
electrical energy across those networks shares many properties of
complex adaptive systems. It is therefore surprising that it is
controlled by rather crude techniques like regulators ordering
(sic!) commercial users to cut their electric consumption in times
of shortage. This smells like an anachronism left over from last
centuries centrally planned economies in Eastern Europe in a time
of globally networked microcomputers. One might wonder why in such
a vital area of society the experts didn't come up with anything
more intelligent than "rolling blackouts" to respond to highly
There are examples of more adaptive , market based control
mechanism for instance in the air travel industry. Here, too, the
demand is a highly varying variable which is not completely
unpredictable: Airlines respond to this fluctuating demand by a
correspondingly adaptive pricing policy for tickets: For the same
service "travel from A to B" the air-fair can differ by more than
an order of magnitude depending on the time of the flight and
The idea is not new to have electrical appliances remotely
controlled for instance by signals transmitted through the
power-lines or using "Blue
Tooth" technology . If the power company would introduce a
price policy that is coupled to the state's reserve power margin
("electric power supply") they could broadcast the current market
price for electricity directly to the appliances that could be
programmed for what prices to "buy electricity" or turn themselves
In that way one would introduce a control landscape that would
leave the decision to the user when they buy how much electricity
instead of having a fixed price for electricity and dictate the
user in times of high demand when it can be used or not.
Music Revolution On The Internet, Wired News
It has been suggested that music is part of our genetic
00-28.8) and has provided evolutionary advantages such as
enhanced group identity and coordination. Music also seems to play
a central role for every new generation to find a their identity
and distinguish teenagers and college students from the older
adults over thirty.
As a consequence it has become a major economical force and
brought considerable wealth to individual musicians and their
"record labels". With the Internet and music compression formats
like mp3 (which allows to store music of 20 CD's in the space of
one) the tradition of "pressing" records and selling them in
stores might soon be over. Advertisement for a band or a musician
is done through websites, the distribution of music can be done
through sharing music files among hard-drives of the music
audience with programs like "napster". Micro-payment software will
allow artists to collect fees for each song directly from the
In a way the Internet (MP3) music community constitutes already
a sub-network on the Internet/Global
Brain that plays an avant-garde role of the coming information
society. As in basically all historical revolutions, the existing
stakeholders in traditional music business will struggle to keep
their economic power base. The current legal battle against
Napster also shows that the Internet allows to instantly bypass
the "attacked" nodes in the network in the case that it should be
shut down. This adaptability makes the Internet (together with
their human users) less vulnerable to attacks against central
nodes than simple "scale-free networks" (ComDig
"92 percent. That's how much the traffic increased on
Napster last week over the previous week after the company was
ordered shut down by order of Judge Marilyn Patel. Two days later,
the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals came to the rescue and granted
Napster its much ballyhooed stay, but the legions of file-trading
lovers had already been counted."
Use of the recreational drug Ecstasy causes a severe
reduction in the amount of serotonin in the brain, according to a
study in the July 25 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of
the American Academy of Neurology.
The study examined the brain of a 26-year-old man who had
died of a drug overdose. He had been using Ecstasy for nine years,
and in the last months of his life had also started using cocaine
and heroin. His brain was compared to those from autopsies of 11
"The levels of serotonin and another chemical associated
with serotonin were 50 to 80 percent lower in the brain of the
Ecstasy user," said study author Stephen Kish, PhD, of the Centre
for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada. "This is the
first study to show that this drug can deplete the level of
serotonin in humans."
Ecstasy, which is known chemically as
methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, is structurally related to
the hallucinogen mescaline and the stimulant amphetamine. MDMA
causes neurons, or nerve cells, to release serotonin, a
neurotransmitter that controls mood, pain perception, sleep,
appetite and emotions. Ecstasy users report an increased awareness
of emotion and a heightened sense of intimacy.
"Some of the behavioral effects of this drug are probably
due to the massive release and depletion of serotonin," Kish said.
"And the depression that people feel after going off the drug
could also be explained by the depletion of serotonin in the
The low levels of serotonin were found in the striatal area
of the brain, which plays a key role in coordinating movement. In
addition to serotonin, the level of 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid,
also known as 5-HIAA and a major breakdown product of serotonin,
was also low in the brain of the Ecstasy user.
"Of course, these findings should be confirmed through
additional studies," Kish said. "Conclusions based on a single
case can only be tentative."
Researchers confirmed the man's drug use through analysis of
his brain, blood and hair. The analysis also confirmed that he had
been using cocaine and heroin in the last months of his life. Kish
said other research has shown that those drugs do not affect
The man started using Ecstasy once a month at age 17. His
usage increased, and in the last three years of his life he used
it four to five nights a week at "rave" clubs, usually including a
three-day weekend binge during which he took six to eight tablets.
On the day after these binges, his friends said he appeared
depressed and had slow speech, movement and reaction time.
Kish said research should also be done to determine whether
increasing serotonin levels in people who are going off the drug
would help eliminate some of the behavioral problems that occur
Uncovering the structure of a "Rosetta Stone"
protein may help scientists understand how cells are programmed to
die, and in turn, the role loss of the process plays in cancer.
(…) First proposed in 1999 by researchers at UCLA, Rosetta
Stone proteins occur when two proteins that are separate in some
forms of life are fused in another form of life. The fusion
"event" almost always reveals a previously hidden interaction
between the two nonrelated proteins.
"This may be the first example in cancer biology of separate
proteins in one form of life fused in another," says Dr. Brenner,
who is a member of Jefferson's Kimmel Cancer Center. One of the
two proteins, Fhit, has been implicated in many common human
cancers. Dr. Brenner and his co-workers report their results July
27 in the journal Current Biology. (…)
In 1998, Dr. Brenner's group, working with Drs. Huebner and
Croce, determined the 3-dimensional structure of the Fhit protein
in its active form. Later in 1998, the same researchers discovered
that in the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster and the flatworm
Caenorhabditis elegans, the Fhit protein is naturally fused to an
unrelated protein called Nit. Curiously, the NitFhit fusion
protein is found in invertebrates, while vertebrates such as
humans and mice and fungi such as baker's yeast contain separate
Nit and Fhit proteins. Scientists believe that gene and protein
fusions occur because pairs of proteins work in the same
biological pathways. In the case of Nit and Fhit, he says, "if you
found a Nit and Fhit sequence in the mouse and human, you would
have no initial idea that they function in the same pathway," he
says. "In finding them as part of the same polypeptide in
invertebrates, there's an indication that they do."
Because the human Fhit protein is inactivated in many human
cancers and loss of Fhit leads to cells with defects in programmed
cell death, the scientists wanted to discover additional proteins
in the Fhit pathway. When they examined the expression of Nit and
Fhit in the mouse, they saw both proteins rise and fall in seven
of eight tissues almost identically. They also found Nit in every
organism in which they had found Fhit. These results made the case
for NitFhit as a Rosetta Stone protein very strong.
The Jefferson scientists are particularly encouraged that
the flatworm is a leading system in which to study cell death.
According to Dr. Brenner, the structure of NitFhit tells us that
Fhit is functioning in a large complex with Nit in the worm.
Following the activity of Nit in worms and other organisms "ought
to take us to the next vista point.
Artificial Ecosystem Selection, PNAS
For a number of years there has been a debate among
biologists if evolutionary principles can be generalized beyond
individual species. There has been some reports of "group
selection" for instance that a breeding a group of animals to
improve performance (e.g. hens producing eggs) leads to better
results than selecting from the performance of individual animals.
Opposition against such a generalization of evolutionary
principles were mainly based on theoretical arguments.
Swenson et al. claim that selection principles can be
generalized to whole ecosystems with many competing species
because phenotypic variation has a heritable basis. They showed
experimentally that soil ecosystems can be selected according to
their above ground biomass and that they evolve under this
selective pressure better than predicted from theoretical models.
They also point out that artificial ecosystem selection
("breeding") can have many practical applications:
"Difficult biological problems, such as the breakdown of
toxic substances in the soil, might similarly require coordinated
teams of species rather than a single species. Creating these
teams from the 'bottom up,' by testing many different species in
many combinations, is possible in principle but difficult in
practice. Ecosystem selection provides a simple 'top down'
alternative, by creating a large number of ecosystems heritable
phenotypic variation at the level of ecosystems, which allows
their properties to be shaped by standard artificial selection
Species Diversity Driven By Milankovitch Climate Oscillations, PNAS
Abstract: We suggest Milankovitch climate oscillations
as a common cause for geographical patterns in species diversity,
species' range sizes, polyploidy, and the degree of specialization
and dispersability of organisms. Periodical changes in the orbit
of the Earth cause climatic changes termed Milankovitch
oscillations, leading to large changes in the size and location of
species' geographical distributions. We name these recurrent
changes "orbitally forced species' range dynamics" (ORD). The
magnitude of ORD varies in space and time. ORD decreases gradual
speciation (attained by gradual changes over many generations),
increases range sizes and the proportions of species formed by
polyploidy and other "abrupt" mechanisms, selects against
specialization, and favor dispersability. Large ORD produces
species prone neither to extinction nor gradual speciation. ORD
increases with latitude. This produces latitudinal patterns, among
them the gradient in species diversity and species' range sizes
(Rapoport's rule). Differential ORD and its evolutionary
consequences call for new conservation strategies on the regional
to global scale.
Giant Honeybees Return To Their Nest Sites, Nature
There are numerous examples from many animal species who
migrate mostly seasonally over considerable distances and return
to precisely the same location every year. The precise mechanism
of this spatial memory is not known in many (all?) cases although
much progress has been made to understand animal navigation based
on magnetic or topographic cues. From salmons to migrating birds
and whales, however, at least one could assume that the memory of
the home site resides in individual animals who "remember" where
they were coming from.
Two groups report now that even certain species of bees find
their way back to their home site although none of the scouting
bees has ever been there. Based on genetic analysis they could
identify that swarms with the same queen have returned to exactly
the same site for several years even in one case where the site
was not available in one year. That would imply that the swarm had
somehow "remembered" the location of the site over a period of two
years. It is known that all worker bees simply don't live long
enough to survive the round trip between two sites. Only the queen
lives for several years but it is hard to imagine that she is
communicating the location of the home sites to the swarm. Other
theoretical explanations based on characteristic odors are not
very convincing over such large distances in space and time.
Nitric Oxide And Salicylic Acid Signaling In Plant Defense, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci.
Abstract: Salicylic acid (SA) plays a critical
signaling role in the activation of plant defense responses after
pathogen attack. We have identified several potential components
of the SA signaling pathway, including (i) the H2O2-scavenging
enzymes catalase and ascorbate peroxidase, (ii) a high affinity
SA-binding protein (SABP2), (iii) a SA-inducible protein kinase
(SIPK), (iv) NPR1, an ankyrin repeat-containing protein that
exhibits limited homology to I B and is required for SA signaling,
and (v) members of the TGA/OBF family of bZIP transcription
factors. These bZIP factors physically interact with NPR1 and bind
the SA-responsive element in promoters of several defense genes,
such as the pathogenesis-related 1 gene (PR-1). Recent studies
have demonstrated that nitric oxide (NO) is another signal that
activates defense responses after pathogen attack. NO has been
shown to play a critical role in the activation of innate immune
and inflammatory responses in animals. Increases in NO synthase
(NOS)-like activity occurred in resistant but not susceptible
tobacco after infection with tobacco mosaic virus. Here we
demonstrate that this increase in activity participates in PR-1
gene induction. Two signaling molecules, cGMP and cyclic ADP
ribose (cADPR), which function downstream of NO in animals, also
appear to mediate plant defense gene activation (e.g., PR-1).
Additionally, NO may activate PR-1 expression via an NO-dependent,
cADPR-independent pathway. Several targets of NO in animals,
including guanylate cyclase, aconitase, and mitogen-activated
protein kinases (e.g., SIPK), are also modulated by NO in plants.
Thus, at least portions of NO signaling pathways appear to be
shared between plants and animals.
Oxide And Salicylic Acid Signaling In Plant
Defense, Daniel F.
Klessig, Jorg Durner, Robert Noad, Duroy A. Navarre,
David Wendehenne, Dhirendra Kumar, Jun Ma Zhou, Jyoti
Shah, Shuqun Zhang, Pradeep Kachroo, Youssef Trifa,
Dominique Pontier, Eric Lam, and Herman Silva, Proc.
Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2000 August 1; 97(16): p.
- See also: Suramin
Inhibits Initiation Of Defense Signaling By Systemin,
Chitosan, And A Beta -Glucan Elicitor In
Suspension-Cultured Lycopersicon Peruvianum
Stratmann, Justin Scheer, and Clarence A. Ryan, PNAS
Role Of Antimicrobial Peptides In Animal
Defenses, Robert E. W.
Hancock and Monisha G. Scott, PNAS 2000;97
A Dynamic Model Of Social Network Formation, PNAS
Abstract: We consider a dynamic social network model
in which agents play repeated games in pairings determined by a
stochastically evolving social network. Individual agents begin to
interact at random, with the interactions modeled as games. The
game payoffs determine which interactions are reinforced, and the
network structure emerges as a consequence of the dynamics of the
agents' learning behavior. We study this in a variety of
game-theoretic conditions and show that the behavior is complex
and sometimes dissimilar to behavior in the absence of structural
dynamics. We argue that modeling network structure as dynamic
increases realism without rendering the problem of analysis
U.S. Proposes New Strategy to Fight Global Warming, NYTimes
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Energy
Laboratory has joined forces with seven companies to launch a new
industrial consortium that will support research on carbon
sequestration, or capturing carbon dioxide before it reaches the
The consortium, called the Carbon Sequestration Initiative
(CSI), began July 1st and has charter members of American Electric
Power, BP Amoco, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Norsk Hydro
(Norway), Texaco and TotalFinaElf (France).
The carbon sequestration strategy involves capturing carbon
dioxide emissions at their source and/or enhancing natural
processes to increase the removal of carbon from the atmosphere,
such as by planting trees.
The idea of reducing the emission of all greenhouse gases,
but especially carbon dioxide, is at the center of the climate
change debate. Should emissions limits on greenhouse gases come to
pass, scientists see companies in all industrial sectors quickly
becoming interested in identifying and evaluating their options
for controlling their carbon dioxide emissions.
"Carbon sequestration has been gaining increasing
international attention as a potential complement to current
carbon dioxide-mitigation strategies such as improved energy
efficiency and increased use of non-carbon energy sources," said
Howard Herzog, director of the Carbon Sequestration Initiative and
a principal research engineer at MIT.
"More than 85 percent of the world's energy needs are now
met using fossil fuels, and carbon sequestration would let us
continue using fossil fuels while we develop acceptable
Carbon sequestration activities are already being used by
several commercial entities. MIT notes that some power plants now
capture carbon dioxide for commercial markets, and petroleum
companies inject carbon dioxide into the ground for enhanced oil
recovery. At an offshore platform in the North Sea, carbon dioxide
is injected into a saline aquifer 1,000 meters below the seafloor,
sequestering a million tons of carbon dioxide annually.
MIT's Energy Laboratory has conducted research into
technologies to capture, utilize and sequester carbon dioxide
emissions from large stationary sources since 1989 and is
recognized internationally as a leader in this field. To improve
public understanding of carbon sequestration, CSI will perform
outreach activities to help educate a wider audience on the
possible uses of carbon sequestration. It will also link industry
to expanding governmental research activities in this area and
will help identify new business opportunities."
"Preparing for renewed international negotiations on cutting
levels of heat-trapping gases that may be warming the climate, the
United States is proposing that countries get just as much credit
for using forests and farmers' fields to sop up carbon dioxide,
the chief warming gas, as they would for cutting emissions from
smokestacks and tail pipes." (NYTimes, 2/8/00)
H. Eugene Stanley and colleagues at the Center for
Polymer Studies at Boston University and at the Universite di Roma
La Sapienza have created a computer model that is useful in
understanding how molecules move through super-cooled water.
Papers in the current issue of the journal Nature and in May 15th
issue of Physical Review Letters describe the results of their
work, which was supported, in part, by the National Science
Understanding the mechanisms of super-cooled water, that is
between the temperatures of 0 degrees and -38 degrees C, is key to
understanding the processes that allow life to continue in
sub-zero conditions. These conditions exist, for example, in the
cells of plants that continue to metabolize through the winter,
albeit at a slower pace - like a hibernating bear. Essential to
this metabolism is the fact that water can exist in a viscous
state, not just as the liquid we are familiar with, nor frozen
(which would block all metabolism), but in the super-cooled state
that scientists describe as glassy. Understanding just how these
molecules of super-cooled water move, carrying nutrients to the
cells of the plants in this low energy environment, has baffled
scientists for some time.
"What we found," Emilia La Nave, principal author on one of
the papers, "is that how molecules diffuse through super-cooled
liquid depends upon the way energy is distributed throughout the
liquid - its 'energy landscape'."
"A useful analog," she continues, "is a drunken mountaineer
amidst a large and confusing mountain range trying to find his way
home. Even though drunk, the mountaineer will be sensible enough
to find the mountain passes and stumble through them rather than
climb over each peak! The key to understanding the path of the
mountaineer lies in the topology of the landscape he traverses -
he picks the path of least resistance."
Similarly, by analyzing the "energy landscape" of
super-cooled water it is possible to make predictions about how
molecules will diffuse through the liquid. This give us a better
understanding about how life survives at temperatures below zero.
Does The Corpus Callosum Enable The Human Condition?, Response
- >Thus, while language emerged in the left hemisphere
at the cost of pre-
- >existing perceptual systems, the critical features
of the bilaterally present
- >perceptual system were spared in the opposite
half-brain. By having the
- >callosum serve as the great communication link
between redundant systems,
- >a pre-existing system could be jettisoned as new
functions developed in one
- >hemisphere, while the other hemisphere could
continue to perform the previous
- >functions for both half-brains.
This theory could be tested by studying people who had
hemispherectomy at an early age. (For a clinical review of some
cases, see http://www.c3.hu/~mavideg/jns/642696june1.html.)
Hemispherectomy has been done since the 1950s, so there should be
some patients available. This theory would predict that, for
example, you wouldn't find a hemispherectomy patient with full
functionality in both language processing and facial
But I've never heard of any such studies, and a quick web
search didn't turn up anything specific. However, there was some
general evidence that casts doubt on this hypothesis.
has a discussion of plasticity in hemispherectomies, stating
that both motor and language functions can be moved to the
doesn't have many details, but does contain this intriguing
sentence: "While transference of speech to the remaining
hemisphere may occur in children as old as 13, in many
hemispherectomy patients damage in the speech area has caused
language to be transferred before the operation."
describes the type of deficits this theory would predict, but is
trying to make a point about different hemisphere functioning.
Notably, he did not include examples of hemispherectomy of young
Links & Snippets
The Web And The Internet, AIMR Webcast
Dean LeBaron presents an overview of what the future could
be in the investment industry using the Internet as a tool. This
Webcast is available online in video and audio format (for slow
internet connections.) This presentation also has slides available
Organic Lasers Promise New Lease On Light, Science
Many of today's lasers are made from ceramic chips that
require expensive clean-room facilities to manufacture, and their
color palette is somewhat limited. Researchers have long pinned
their hopes on organic materials, which are typically easier and
cheaper to process. Now, on page 599, a team reports that they've
devised the first electrically powered solid state organic laser,
a step that could open the floodgates for novel lasers that are
cheaper and that shine in colors inorganics can't match.
In Europe, Hooligans Are Prime Subjects For Research, Science
One of the few burgeoning areas of violence research here
and in Europe is football hooliganism. With lower homicide rates
than in the United States and fewer incidences of killing sprees
such as the Littleton school shooting, Europeans are less
concerned about violence than Americans are--and that translates
into less money for research on the topic. Moreover, some
scientists argue that strict regulation of animal studies has
dealt a severe blow to a once-proud European tradition of
behavioral research on animal aggression.
Searching For The Mark Of Cain, Science
Hampered by political, ethical, and methodological problems,
a small group of researchers is trying to understand the
biological roots of violence. The field has generated some
interesting findings and hypotheses about how hormones, genes, and
the brain control aggressive behavior. But although the goal is to
ultimately find a treatment for violent behavior, researchers
emphasize that they are not advocating drugging everybody who has
ever committed a crime--or is deemed prone to do so.
The Snarls And Sneers That Keep Violence At Bay, Science
The ability to mete out violence appears to be linked to
survival in the animal kingdom. But a handful of researchers is
now making a persuasive case that scores are settled far more
often by subtle, nonviolent signals such as a curled lip or a
snarl. Their provocative idea is that inflicting violence on a
member of one's own species is a pathological condition that
arises when these signals are missed or misinterpreted.
The Violence Of The Lambs, Science
Researchers are increasingly coming to view violence as the
end result of multiple risk factors that may include a biological
vulnerability that can be brought out or reinforced by social
environment. Longitudinal studies are demonstrating that children
who become chronically violent adults generally are difficult from
early childhood. But just which early risk factors are most
powerful, and how they interact, is proving very tough to sort
Has America's Tide Of Violence Receded For Good?, Science
Experts in the young field of violence epidemiology blame guns
and crack cocaine for America's deadly crime surge in the early
1990s. Explaining the subsequent decline in violent crime rates
has been more difficult, however. Some of the factors that seem to
have helped squelch crime could be temporary, such as low
unemployment rates. But others, including a growing intolerance
for violence as a means of settling interpersonal disputes, seem
to have become cultural norms.
Early Insult Rewires Pain Circuits, Science
"On page 628, neuroscientists report that painful stimuli
delivered to rats shortly after birth permanently rewire the
spinal cord circuits that respond to pain. Not only do the
circuits contain more axons, but the axons extend to more areas of
the spinal cord than they normally would. (…)"
"Ruda et al. (…) show that hindlimb inflammation in rat
pups triggers exuberant growth of small-diameter,
pain-transmitting axons in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord.
These changes are coupled with an increase in the sensitivity of
the paw after inflammation in the adult. These results show that
painful stimuli in early development can cause long-term
alterations in the neuronal circuitry."
Parasites Make Scaredy-Rats Foolhardy, Science
In the 7 August issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society
of London B, researchers offer a striking demonstration of the
ability of some parasites to alter the behavior of their hosts for
their own benefit. Rats, the intermediate hosts of the protozoan
Toxoplasma gondii, appear to lose their fear of cats, Toxoplasma's
final host, when the parasite infects them. By precisely altering
rat brains, the parasite potentially increases its chances of
completing its life cycle.
Still More Greenhouse Forcing, Science
After all of the attention given to the known greenhouse gases,
Sturges et al. (p. 611) have found a new potential warming threat:
SF5CF3. This gas, the most potent greenhouse molecule found in the
atmosphere to date, has only existed for the last 40 years or so.
Its concentration is still low (about one tenth of a part per
trillion in 1999) but is increasing, and its source is unknown.
Because SF5CF3 has a long lifetime, it has
the potential to be a major component in the radiative balance of
Potent Greenhouse Gas Identified In The Atmosphere:
W. T. Sturges, T. J. Wallington, M. D. Hurley, K. P.
Shine, K. Sihra, A. Engel, D. E. Oram, S. A. Penkett, R.
Mulvaney, C. A. M. Brenninkmeijer , Science,
Volume 289, Issue 5479