And that could speed up global warming with 'incalculable consequences', says alarming new research
The Independent (U.K.), July 23, 2006
The vast Amazon rainforest is on the
brink of being turned into desert, with catastrophic consequences for
the world's climate, alarming research suggests. And the process, which
would be irreversible, could begin as early as next year.
Studies by the blue-chip Woods Hole
Research Centre, carried out in Amazonia, have concluded that the
forest cannot withstand more than two consecutive years of drought
without breaking down.
Scientists say that this would spread
drought into the northern hemisphere, including Britain, and could
massively accelerate global warming with incalculable consequences,
spinning out of control, a process that might end in the world becoming
The alarming news comes in the midst
of a heatwave gripping Britain and much of Europe and the United
States. Temperatures in the south of England reached a July record of
36.3C on Tuesday. And it comes hard on the heels of a warning by an
international group of experts, led by the Eastern Orthodox " pope"
Bartholomew, last week that the forest is rapidly approaching a "
tipping point" that would lead to its total destruction.
The research carried out by the
Massachusetts-based Woods Hole centre in Santarem on the Amazon river
has taken even the scientists conducting it by surprise. When Dr Dan
Nepstead started the experiment in 2002 by covering a chunk of
rainforest the size of a football pitch with plastic panels to see how
it would cope without rain he surrounded it with sophisticated
sensors, expecting to record only minor changes.
The trees managed the first year of
drought without difficulty. In the second year, they sunk their roots
deeper to find moisture, but survived. But in year three, they started
dying. Beginning with the tallest the trees started to come crashing
down, exposing the forest floor to the drying sun.
By the end of the year the trees had
released more than two-thirds of the carbon dioxide they have stored
during their lives, helping to act as a break on global warming.
Instead they began accelerating the climate change.
As we report today on pages 28 and 29,
the Amazon now appears to be entering its second successive year of
drought, raising the possibility that it could start dying next year.
The immense forest contains 90 billion tons of carbon, enough in itself
to increase the rate of global warming by 50 per cent.
Dr Nepstead expects "mega-fires"
rapidly to sweep across the drying jungle. With the trees gone, the
soil will bake in the sun and the rainforest could become desert.
Dr Deborah Clark from the University
of Missouri, one of the world's top forest ecologists, says the
research shows that "the lock has broken" on the Amazon ecosystem. She
adds: the Amazon is "headed in a terrible direction".
Fred Pearce is the author of 'The Last Generation' (Eden Project Books), published earlier this year
The researchers grew layers of mouse cells and larger tissues, such as
corneas, in the lab. After "wounding" these tissues, they applied
varying electric fields to them, and found they could accelerate or
completely halt the healing process depending on the orientation and
strength of the field (Nature, vol 442, p 457).
New research has shown that fatherhood brings about dramatic enhancements in male brains. Although the researchers don't suggest it, this effect may be nature's way of counteracting the dramatic decrease in male brain function that occurs in proportion to the number of times they get laid in a given week (Note: this particular malady was brought to national attention on the popular TV show Seinfeld).
A major new discovery about the structure of DNA molecules has been announced. Researchers have found there is a pattern to the organization of nucleosomes in DNA, which may explain why certain parts of the moleculare are accessible or inaccessible to transcription. This in turn may help explain how certain genes are conserved in nature, and why certain parts of the DNA molecule are more or less vulnerable to mutation and modification.
DNA - the long, thin molecule that carries our hereditary material - is
compressed around protein scaffolding in the cell nucleus into tiny
spheres called nucleosomes. The bead-like nucleosomes are strung along
the entire chromosome, which is itself folded and packaged to fit into
the nucleus. What determines how, when and where a nucleosome will be
positioned along the DNA sequence? Dr. Eran Segal and research student
Yair Field of the Computer Science and Applied Mathematics Department
at the Weizmann Institute of Science have succeeded, together with
colleagues from Northwestern University in Chicago, in cracking the
genetic code that sets the rules for where on the DNA strand the
nucleosomes will be situated. Their findings appeared today in Nature.
The benefits of this discovery could be numerous and far reaching...
The team's findings provided insight into another mystery that has long
been puzzling molecular biologists: How do cells direct transcription
factors to their intended sites on the DNA, as opposed to the many
similar but functionally irrelevant sites along the genomic sequence?
The short binding sites themselves do not contain enough information
for the transcription factors to discern between them. The scientists
showed that basic information on the functional relevance of a binding
site is at least partially encoded in the nucleosome positioning code:
The intended sites are found in nucleosome-free segments, thereby
allowing them to be accessed by the various transcription factors. In
contrast, spurious binding sites with identical structures that could
potentially sidetrack transcription factors are conveniently situated
in segments that form nucleosomes, and are thus mostly inaccessible.
Since the proteins that form the core of the nucleosome are
among the most evolutionarily conserved in nature, the scientists
believe the genetic code they identified should also be conserved in
many organisms, including humans. Several diseases, such as cancer, are
typically accompanied or caused by mutations in the DNA and the way it
organizes into chromosomes. Such mutational processes may be influenced
by the relative accessibility of the DNA to various proteins and by the
organization of the DNA in the cell nucleus. Therefore, the scientists
believe that the nucleosome positioning code they discovered may aid
scientists in the future in understanding the mechanisms underlying
A bill has been proposed to do away with the penny -- that most useless an annoying of coins. Thank you!!!! As far as I'm concerned, if you can't buy a payphone call with it, or 10 to 15 minutes on a parking meter, then it's just not worth having anymore -- so I would also propose getting rid of nickels and dimes too. I proposed this in an earlier blog post here.
Grupthink is a service where anyone can create and participate in polls on various subjects. It's similar to an idea I once had about polling the global mind in real-time (although their system does not show votes happening in real-time, presently). It reminds me of several other Web 2.0 sites, but it's nicely done. Worth a look.
Also ... some goodies -- At the event we will be giving away...
A 30 gb video iPod
A case of Metromint minted water
In addition to an open bar...we'll have free metromint
Atlassian will be offering a discount of 10% off Confluence and Jira
THIS MONTH'S SPONSOR
Atlassian is an Australian software company with a new office in San Francisco. Over 4,000 customers in more than 60 countries rely on Atlassian JIRA, a professional issue tracker, and Atlassian Confluence, the enterprise wiki, to help them share knowledge, collaborate, and manage their projects.
In 1999 I flew to the edge of space with the Russian air force, with Space Adventures. I made it to an altitude of just under 100,000 feet and flew at Mach 3 in a Mig-25 piloted by one of Russia's best test-pilots. These pics were taken by Space Adventures from similar flights to mine. I didn't take digital stills -- I got the whole flight on digital video, which was featured on the Discovery Channel.
In 1999 I was invited to Russia as a guest of the Russian Space Agency to participate in zero-gravity training on an Ilyushin-76 parabolic flight training aircraft. It was really fun!!!! Among other people on that adventure were Peter Diamandis (founder of the X-Prize and Zero-G Corporation), Bijal Trivedi (a good friend of mine, science journalist), and "Lord British" (creator of the Ultima games). Here are some pictures from that trip...
Peter F. Drucker Peter F. Drucker was my grandfather. He was one of my principal teachers and inspirations all my life. My many talks with him really got me interested in organizations and society. He had one of the most impressive minds I've ever encountered. He died in 2005 at age 95. Here is what I wrote about his death. His foundation is at http://www.pfdf.org/
Mayer Spivack Mayer Spivack is my father; he's a brilliant inventor, cognitive scientist, sculptor, designer and therapist. He also builds carbon fiber trimarans in his spare time, and studies animal intelligence. He is working on several theories related to the origins of violence and ways to prevent it, new treatments for learning disabilities, and new theories of cognition. He doesn't have a Web site yet, but I'm working on him...
Marin Spivack Marin Spivack is my brother. He is the one of the only western 20th generation lineage holders of the original Chen Family Tai Chi tradition in China. He's been practicing Tai Chi for about 6 to 10 hours a day for the last 10 years and is now one of the best and most qualified Tai Chi teachers in America. He just returned from 3 years in China studying privately with a direct descendant of the original Chen family that created Tai Chi. The styles that he teaches are mainly secret and are not known or taught in the USA. One thing is for sure, this is not your grandmother's Tai Chi: This is serious combat Tai Chi -- the original, authentic Tai Chi, not the "new age" form that is taught in the USA -- it's intense, physically-demanding, fast, powerful and extremely deadly. If you are serious about Tai Chi and want to learn the authentic style and applications, the way it was meant to be, you should study with my brother. He's located in Boston these days but also travels when invited to teach master classes.
Louise Freedman Louise specializes in art-restoration. She does really big projects like The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, The Gardner Museum and Harvard University. She's also a psychotherapist and she's married to my dad. She likes really smart parrots and she knows how to navigate a large sailboat.
Kris Thorisson Kris has been working with me for years on the design of the Radar Networks software, a new platform for the Semantic Web. He has a PhD from the MIT Media Lab. He designs intelligent humanoids and virtual realities. He is from Iceland, which makes him pretty cool.
Kimberly Rubin Kim is my girlfriend and partner, and also a producer of 11 TV movies, and now an entrepreneur in the pet industry. She is passionate about animals. She has unusual compassion and a great sense of humor.
Kathleen Spivack Kathleen Spivack is my mother. She's a poet, novelist and creative writing teacher. She was a personal student of Robert Lowell and was in the same group of poets with Silvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop and Anne Sexton. She coaches novelists, playwrites and poets in France and the USA. She teaches privately and her students, as well as being published, have won many of the top writing prizes.
Josh Kirschenbaum Josh is a visual effects whiz, director and generalist hacker in LA. We have been pals and collaborators since the 1980's. Josh is probably going to be the next Jim Cameron. He's also a really good writer.
Joey Tamer Joey is a long-time friend and advisor. She is an expert on high-tech strategic planning.
Jim Wissner Jim is among the most talented software developers I've ever worked with. He's a prolific Java coder and an expert on XML. He's the lead engineer for Radar Networks.
Jerry Michalski I have been friends with Jerry for many years; he's been advising Radar Networks on social software technology.
Chris Jones Chris is a long-time friend and now works with me in Radar Networks, as our director of user-experience. He's a genius level product designer, GUI designer, and product manager.
Bram Boroson Bram is an astrophysicist and college pal of mine. We spend hours and hours brainstorming about cellular automata simulations of the universe. He's one of the smartest people I ever met.
Bari Koral Bari Koral is a really talented singer songwriter. We co-write songs together sometimes. She's getting some buzz these days -- she recently opened for India Arie. She worked at EarthWeb many years ago. Now she tours almost all year long and she just had a hit in Europe. Check out her video, on her site.
Adam Cohen Adam Cohen is a long-term friend; we were roommates in college. He is a really talented composer and film-scorer. He doesn't have a Web site but I like him anyway! He's in Hollywood living the dream.