News briefs on California condors laying eggs, a new grasshopper control method and the dangers of decaffeinated coffee.
THE JOYS OF PARENTING? The female half of a pair of rare California condors—which accidentally lost their first egg of the season when it rolled over the edge of the birds' nest as they were squabbling over who would enjoy the privilege of sitting on it—has laid another one, causing glee among biologists. The couple is believed to be the same one that fledged a chick in 1980 (they squabbled over feeding the youngster back then!).
OL' MAN RIVER: A New Orleans college student—outraged by the amount of carcinogenic material being dumped into the Mississippi River—has begun bottling the suspect liquid for sale in French Quarter gift shops. The vials carry a guarantee that their contents can "remove paint, kill weeds, and cultivate tumors". (The claims aren't all that outlandish, either . . . considering that the New Orleans municipal water supply contains at least 250 questionable elements, including arsenic, cyanide, and mercury salts.)
BOMBS AWAY: U.S. Department of Agriculture officials have enlisted the aid of a radio-controlled model airplane flying club for a "pilot" project which involves spreading a virus-laden spray over cabbage looper-infested fields near Columbia, Missouri. By using the mini-aircraft to create isolated "hot spots" of the virus, researchers can gauge the rate of growth and effectiveness of the natural pest deterrent.
LOG TREATMENT BAN IMMINENT? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed regulations that would restrict the use of wood preservatives-such as creosote, inorganic arsenic compounds, and pentachlorophenol (PCP)which have been shown to pose health risks to humans. These substances have been used in the past to treat the lumber contained in many log home kits, and the agency suggests that owners of houses constructed from such packages recoat interior PCP-treated surfaces with a sealer such as polyurethane, to minimize vaporization from the toxic chemical.
THIS WON'T HURT A BIT: Immunocastration—a nonsurgical method of castrating male animals which consists of injecting them with anti-LHRH (a pituitary gland suppressant)—has been shown to be effective in sheep, cattle, chickens, and other animals intended for slaughter, according to the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center. Scientists are not yet sure whether the drug will work on long-lived companion animals, such as horses, which will likely require periodic booster shots. The potential side effects of the treatment include hardening of the arteries and eventual immunity to the injections.
HOPPER HELP: A new microbial grasshopper control named "Locucide Bait" can be up to 95% effective over the course of two generations of grasshoppers, when applied to affected areas. The active ingredient is the protozoan disease, Nosema locustae , which is mixed with bran and scattered over crops. For information on the new product and its availability, write Sidwell Enterprises, Inc., Dept. TMEN, Parker, Colorado.
THE ENEMY WITHIN: Two reports given at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society claim that trees are able to vary the chemical composition of their leaves to ward off unwanted insect pests . . . and that other plants have a similar defense against noxious bugs. Members of the sunflower family, such as daisies, black-eyed Susans, and marigolds—for example—are equipped with sunlight-activated chemicals (called polyacetylenes) which can actually burn the tissue of insects that feed upon a "protected" plant.
DECAFFEINATION DOUBTS: The federal government is conducting carcinogen tests on methylene chloride, a chlorinated hydrocarbon commonly employed to remove caffeine from coffee beans (the same substance is also used as an industrial solvent and paint stripper). Two previous caffeine-reducing treatments—those involving the use of chloroform and trichloroethylene—were banned after they proved to pose cancer risks.
FUTURE ROCK? A panel of experts has developed the Cyborg chair, a robotic rocker—the result of a $1.75 million project—that constantly tilts the seat through an angle of four degrees, at the rate of one degree per minute. Researchers say they undertook a quest for the perfect chair because half the average person's waking life is spent sitting, and 80% of the world's population suffers from back problems of one kind or another.
Scientists at Northern Arizona University are experimenting with synthetic polymer materials which may be SPRAYED ONTO PLANTS TO PREVENT FROST DAMAGE ... Three-quarters of the U.S. population—a total of about 173 million people— LIVE ON ONLY 16% OF THE NATION'S LAND . New York City cops the dubious honor of being the most densely populated area, with an average of 23,453 people per square mile ... The USDA has given a San Francisco-based plant permission to obtain a full delivery of rationed natural gas because the firm produces an item that's deemed—by the agency—to have "essential agricultural uses". The "necessity" turns out to be MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE , a controversial food additive ... A four-year monitoring program by the Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey shows that a 36.7% REDUCTION IN BLOODLEAD LEVELS has been achieved for almost all age groups in the U.S. population. Researchers attribute part of the decrease to the reduced amount of lead now used as a gasoline additive ... According to the USDA's list of "Specific Foods Not Consumed by the Most Number of Households", PROCESSED EGGS AND MEAT SUBSTITUTES top the roster, with 99% of reporting households saying they never use the products ... Two federal agencies are beginning a study aimed at reducing the 1,400 COLLISIONS THAT OCCUR ANNUALLY BETWEEN AIRCRAFT AND BIRDS . The research will examine, among other factors, the estimated density of earthworms that appear on airport runways following rainstorms.
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