High Ozone Levels Found in Rural Air, Genes Migrating from Crops to Weeds, Remaining World Wilderness Area Estimated, and More

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PHOTO: FOTOLIA/KWEST
A study conducted by a Harvard atmospheric scientist shows that rural air in the eastern U.S. can have ozone concentrations as high or higher than those in urban regions.

High Ozone Levels Found in Rural Air

It comes as no surprise that the air in most American
cities contains excessively high levels of ozone–the major
irritant in smog. But the results of a study conducted by
Harvard atmospheric scientist Jennifer Logan show that
rural air in the eastern U.S. can be laced with ozone
concentrations as high or higher than those reported in
urban regions. For two years, Logan collected daily ozone
readings from 18 rural monitoring stations. She found that
high-ozone periods lasting up to three days occurred–often
at the same time, or within a day or two of each other–at
sites hundreds of miles apart. The scientist also observed
that the outbreaks were associated with slow-moving
high-pressure weather systems that keep low-altitude
pollutants from dispersing into the upper atmosphere.
Airborne hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides then have an
opportunity to mix and generate ozone concentrations high
enough to cause (among other problems) poor crop yields.
There may well come a day, say some observers, when
meteorologists will include high-ozone warnings in their
forecasts, to give farmers enough time to apply chemical
protectants (now being developed) designed to shield plants
from ozone damage.

Gene Migration from Super Crops to Monster Weeds

Genetic engineers are hard at work developing “super crops”–corn that grows faster, beans that repel insects,
tomatoes that ripen on the vine and stay firm for shipping.
But they may also be creating monster weeds. Recent
research suggests that some commercial crops genetically
engineered to thrive amidst drought, disease, and
pestilence may be able to pass their super powers on to
close but undesirable relatives. Scientists have found that
plants distribute their pollen much more widely than
previously believed, and that when some plants receive
pollen from close kin, a gene exchange takes place. As a
result, the recipient plant may later produce hybrid
progeny. Some commercial crops (potatoes, for one) have no
domestic wild relatives, but others do–sorghum, for
instance, breeds with Johnsongrass, a notorious pest weed.
Ecologists caution that great care should be taken to
consider an individual crop plant’s potential for gene
exchange before growing genetically altered strains in the
field.

Dutch Cow Curfew

It’s 8:00 PM, and farmers in Vierlingsbeek, Holland, had
best know where their cows are. If the animals are out
grazing around on pasture instead of sequestered in the
barn between the hours of 8:00 PM and 6:00 AM, their owners
are subject to stiff fines. U.S. Water News
reports that local authorities in Vierlingsbeek imposed the
cow curfew as a part of regulations designed to protect
groundwater from nitrate pollution.

One-Third of World Landmass Estimated Wild

How much of planet earth remains truly wild, more or less
untouched by man’s heavy hand? After carefully studying and
interpreting U.S. Defense aerial navigation charts,
environmental analyst J. Michael McCloskey and geographer
Heather Spalding have come up with an estimate:
approximately 18.56 million square miles, or about
one-third of the globe’s landmass. Antarctica is the
largest single untouched region (100% wilderness),
followed by North America (37.5%), the Soviet Union
(33.6%), Australasia, which encompasses all islands of the
southwest Pacific (27.9%), Africa (27.5%), South America
(20.8%), Asia (13.6%), and Europe (2.8%). Most of the area
deemed wilderness in North America makes up a bandlike
tract stretching across northern Canada and Alaska.
Unfortunately, less than 20% of the pristine lands
identified in the global inventory are protected by law. In
addition, write the researchers in the journal Ambio, “at
least half of the remaining stock of wilderness is not
self-protecting by virtue of its forbidding nature. It can
slip away easily with little notice…as billions more
are added to the human population.” The study supports the
urgent efforts of many to dramatically increase the size
and number of protected wilderness areas. “The new
inventory shows it’s still not too late,” says McCloskey.

Eating Smart Guides: Additives, Fast Food, Fat

For the past several years the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has published a series of helpful
posters providing useful facts about food. Among them are
“Chemical Cuisine” (which lists and describes common food
additives), “Fast Food Eating Guide” (an analysis of the
fat, sodium, sugar, and calorie content of more than 200
fast-food items), and “Life Saver Fat and Calorie Guide” (a
breakdown of several hundred common foods). Now, in
addition to the attractive 18″ × 24″ posters, CSPI is
offering the same information in compact, hand-held slide
charts; they are titled, respectively, “Eating Smart
Additive Guide,” “Eating Smart Fast Food Guide,” and
“Eating Smart Fat Guide.”

Energy Efficiency Career Training

Rekindled interest in energy efficiency and environmental
awareness suggests meaningful futures for students of
Colorado Mountain College’s Energy Efficient Building
Technology Program. The unusual one-year occupational
program takes a holistic approach to energy-efficient
building, incorporating a broad-based education in theory
and design with instruction in diverse practical
skills-such as blueprint reading, electrical wiring,
lighting and heating, photovoltaics, and energy auditing.
Intended for people who want a career in making buildings
more efficient or who want to learn about renewable
energies such as solar, the certification program claims an
impressive record: More than 75% of CMC graduates are
employed as consultants, builders, contractors, designers,
and researchers, and in other capacities in energy
efficiency-related industries.

Short Stature Linked to Reduced Cancer Risk

“Short stature is associated with reduced risk of cancer,
particularly in men,” reads a report by researchers from
the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes
of Health. In a study of over 12,000 people divided into
four height categories, the shortest 25% had about 50% less
cancer over a 10-year period than the three taller groups.
The study suggests that height may be an especially
significant risk factor in colon cancer among men: The
tallest 25% were more than twice as likely to get colon
cancer as the shortest group.

Frozen Corn Flavor Improved by Hole in the Cob

If you’ve ever eaten frozen corn on the cob, you may
already know that the corn can have an odd, cardboardlike
flavor if it has been in the freezer for more than a few
months. But C. Y. Lee, a Cornell University food scientist
studying the chemistry of enzymes blamed for bad taste in
frozen corn, has discovered a unique solution: drilling a
hole through the middle of the cob before blanching it. Lee
found that the taste-tainting enzymes, peroxidase and
lipoxygenase, are mostly on the outside of the cob and in
the bottom portion of the corn kernels. When corn on the
cob is prepared for freezing, it is blanched for several
minutes–but not long enough to deactivate the
offending enzymes, which therefore remain able to influence
the corn’s flavor. Longer blanching times help, but also
make the corn unappetizingly soft. A hole drilled
lengthwise through the cob before blanching allows the corn
to be cooked quickly, from both sides of the
kernels, and the enzymes’ flavor-wrecking abilities are
destroyed. Taste testers who compared drilled and undrilled
corn on the cob consistently preferred the bored variety.

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