Half-Animal, Half-Plant

Half-Animal, Half-Plant Microbe

Half-Animal, Half-Plant Microbe

Japanese scientists have found a mysterious marine microbe, half of which cells eat algae like animals while the rest perform photosynthesis like plants.

Professor Isao Inoue, a member of the University of Tsukuba research team, told the Mainichi Daily News he believes the microbe demonstrates part of the process of single-cell marine microbes evolving into plants.

The research team discovered the single-cell microbe, a kind of flagellate, on a beach in Wakayama Prefecture, and called it “hatena” or “mystery.”

The microbe is originally green and is made up of algae. When it divides into two cells, one takes over the algae from its parent and remains green and the other turns colorless, Mainichi reported.

The animal-type colorless cell develops an organ like a mouth and uses it to eat algae, while the plant-type green one uses algae it has in its body to perform photosynthesis and produce energy, according to the team.

The researchers believe that as the marine microbes evolve into plants, only the chloroplasts in algae they had taken in their cells developed, while the other organs degenerated.

 

Source:  spacedaily.com

 

TEPCO might freeze the exploded nuclear reactor

TEPCO estimated that between 20 trillion and 40 trillion becquerels (units of radioactivity representing decay per second) of radioactive tritium have since leaked into the ocean:

 

In lieu of the Japanese government doing the right thing and finally coming clean about the epic environmental catastrophe that is Fukushima, which it hopes to simply dig under the rug even as the inconvenient reality gets worse and thousands of tons of radioactive water make their way into the ocean, one is forced to rely on third-party sources for information on this tragedy. We present a useful primer from Scientific American on Fukushima “water retention” problem and “what you need to know about the radioactive water leaking from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean.”

Radioactive Water Leaks from Fukushima: What We Know

Scientists on both sides of the Pacific have measured changing levels of radioactivity in fish and other ocean life since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. On Aug. 2, 2013, when Japan’s Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) gave its first estimate of how much radioactive water from the nuclear plant has flowed into the ocean since the disaster, the company was finally facing up to what scientists have recognized for years.

“As an oceanographer looking at the reactor, we’ve known this since 2011,” said Ken Buesseler, a marine chemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole, Mass. “The news is TEPCO is finally admitting this.”

TEPCO estimated that between 20 trillion and 40 trillion becquerels (units of radioactivity representing decay per second) of radioactive tritium have leaked into the ocean since the disaster, according to the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. The Fukushima plant is still leaking about 300 tons of radioactive water into the ocean every day, according to Japanese government officials. [Infographic: Inside Japan’s Nuclear Reactors]

Japan is haunted by two lingering questions from this aftermath of the disaster: First, how the radioactivity might seriously contaminate ocean life that represents a source of seafood for humans; second, whether it can stop the leaks of radioactive water from the Fukushima plant.

Radioactivity is not created equal

The Fukushima plant is leaking much less contaminated water today compared with the immediate aftermath of the nuclear meltdown in June 2011 — a period when scientists measured 5,000 to 15,000 trillion becquerels of radioactive substances reaching the ocean. Even if radioactivity levels in the groundwater have spiked recently, as reported by Japanese news sources, Buesseler expects the overall amount to remain lower than during the June 2011 period.

“The amount of increase is still much smaller today than it was in 2011,” Buesseler told LiveScience. “I’m not as concerned about the immediate health threat of human exposure, but I am worried about contamination of marine life in the long run.”

The biggest threat in the contaminated water that flowed directly from Fukushima’s reactors into the sea in June 2011 was huge quantities of the radionuclide called cesium. But the danger has changed over time as groundwater became the main source for leaks into the ocean. Soil can naturally absorb the cesium in groundwater, but other radionuclides, such as strontium and tritium, flow more freely through the soil into the ocean. (TEPCO is still coming up with estimates for how much strontium has reached the ocean.)

Tritium represents the lowest radioactive threat to ocean life and humans compared with cesium and strontium. Cesium’s radioactive energy is greater than tritium, but both it and tritium flow in and out of human and fish bodies relatively quickly. By comparison, strontium poses a greater danger because it replaces the calcium in bones and stays for much longer in the body.

Not fishing for trouble
A number of fish species caught off the coast of the Fukushima Prefecture in 2011 and 2012 had levels of cesium contamination greater than Japan’s regulatory limit for seafood (100 becquerels per kilogram), but both U.S. and Japanese scientists have also reported a significant drop in overall cesium contamination of ocean life since the fall of 2011. The biggest contamination risks came from bottom-dwelling fish near the Fukushima site.

The radioactive groundwater leaks could still become worse in the future if TEPCO does not contain the problem, U.S. scientists say. But they cautioned against drawing firm conclusions about the latest impacts on ocean life until new peer-reviewed studies come out.

“For fish that are harvested 100 miles [160 kilometers] out to sea, I doubt it’d be a problem,” said Nicholas Fisher, a marine biologist at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, N.Y. “But in the region, yes, it’s possible there could be sufficient contamination of local seafood so it’d be unwise to eat that seafood.”

The overall contamination of ocean life by the Fukushima meltdown still remains very low compared with the effects of naturally occurring radioactivity and leftover contamination from U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons testing in the 1960s. Fisher said he’d be “shocked” if the ongoing leaks of contaminated water had a significant impact on the ocean ecosystems.

Source of radioactive water

TEPCO is facing two huge issues in stopping the radioactive water leaks. First, groundwater from nearby mountains is becoming contaminated as it flows through the flooded basements of the Fukushima plant’s reactor buildings. The water empties into the nuclear plant’s man-made harbor at a rate of about 400 tons per day — and TEPCO has struggled to keep the water from leaking beyond existing barriers into the ocean.

“This water issue is going to be their biggest challenge for a long time,” said Dale Klein, former head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “It was a challenge for the U.S. during Three Mile Island [a partial nuclear meltdown in Pennsylvania on March 28, 1979], and this one is much more challenging.”

Second, TEPCO must also deal with contaminated water from underground tunnels and pits that hold cables and pipes for the Fukushima nuclear plant’s emergency systems. The underground areas became flooded with highly radioactive water during the initial meltdown of the Fukushima plant’s reactors, and have since leaked water into the ocean despite TEPCO’s efforts to seal off the tunnels and pits.

TEPCO has also been racing to deal with the problem of storing hundreds of thousands of tons of radioactive water from the Fukushima plant, said Hiroaki Koide, a nuclear engineer at Kyoto University in Japan. The Japanese utility is testing a water decontamination system called ALPS that can remove almost all radioactive substances except for tritium, but has put much of the contaminated water in storage tanks in the meantime.

“The tanks are an emergency solution that is not suitable for long-time storage,” Koide said. “Water will leak from any tank, and if that happens, it will merge with the groundwater.”

What must be done

So what solutions exist beyond building more storage tanks? Klein reviewed a number of possible solutions with TEPCO when he was picked to head an independent advisory committee investigating the Fukushima nuclear accident.

One possible solution involves using refrigerants to freeze the ground around the Fukushima plant and create a barrier that stops the inflow of groundwater from the mountains. TEPCO is also considering a plan to inject a gel-like material into the ground that hardens into an artificial barrier similar to concrete, so that it can stop the contaminated groundwater from flowing into the ocean.

Such barriers could help hold the line while TEPCO pumped out the water, treated it with purification systems such as ALPS, and then figured out how to finally dispose of the decontaminated water.

“My priority would be stop the leak from the tunnel immediately,” Klein said. “Number two would be to come up with a plan to stop the inflow and infiltration of groundwater. Number three is to come up with an integrated systematic water treatment plan.”

Meanwhile, both Japanese and U.S. scientists continue to gather fresh scientific data on how the radioactivity impacts ocean life. Despite low contamination levels overall, studies have shown great differences in certain species depending on where they live and feed in the ocean.

“The most straightforward thing the Japanese can do now is measure the radionuclides in fish tissue, both at the bottom of the ocean and up in the water column at different distances from the release of contaminated groundwater,” Fisher said.

Japan’s cover for commercial whaling goes to court

Australia takes Japan to court to stop whaling hunts:

Australia takes Japan to court to stop whaling hunts.

Australia takes Japan to court to stop whaling hunts.

The future of Japan’s controversial whale hunts hangs in the balance following the start of a landmark legal case that could put a permanent end to the annual slaughter of hundreds of whales in the Antarctic.

Over the next two weeks, 16 judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague will consider a request by Australia to deny licenses to Japan’s whaling fleet, which kills almost 1,000 whales a year in the name of scientific research. The panel of judges, who opened the hearing earlier this week, are expected to rule by the end of the year, possibly before the next whaling season begins in the Southern Ocean.

The decision will be final, since the ICJ does not have an appeals process. And both Japan and Australia have agreed to abide by the decision.

Australia, with the support of New Zealand, this week challenged Japanese claims that its slaughter of up to 935 minke whales, and about 50 fin whales, every winter is vital to learn about the mammals’ breeding, migratory, and other habits ahead of a possible return to sustainable commercial whaling.

The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, but allows Japan to kill whales for scientific research. The meat from the whales is sold legally in Japanese stores and supermarkets – proof, say campaigners, that the hunts are simply a cover for commercial whaling.

“Japan seeks to cloak its ongoing commercial whaling in the lab coat of science,” Bill Campbell, Australia’s agent to the court, told the judges this week.

He later told journalists: “You don’t kill 935 whales in a year to conduct scientific research. You don’t even need to kill one whale to conduct scientific research.”

Japan insists it is abiding by article 8 of the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which permits the practice “for purposes of scientific research.”

“Japan’s research programs have been legally conducted for the purposes of scientific research, in accordance with the [convention],” Japan’s deputy minister for foreign affairs, Koji Tsuruoka, said outside the courtroom.

“Australia’s claim is invalid. Japan’s research whaling has been conducted for scientific research in accordance with international law.”

On Thursday, Philippe Sands, a lawyer acting for Australia, claimed that years of lethal research by Japan had added nothing to the body of scientific knowledge of whales, other than they eat large quantities of krill.

“What you have before you is not a scientific research program, it is a heap of body parts taken from a large number of dead whales,” he told the court. “Japan’s objectives are simply there to allow whales to be killed, not to establish a genuine program of science.”

Japan says minke populations have recovered sufficiently for the Antarctic hunts to continue.

“There are about 515,000 minke whales in the Antarctic, and Japan’s research is taking only about 815 a year,” said Noriyuki Shikata, a foreign ministry official who is part of the Japanese delegation. “This is below the reproductive rate and very sustainable.”

Japan has killed more than 14,000 whales since the global ban on commercial whaling was introduced in 1986, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

“In the court of public opinion, the verdict is already in,” says Patrick Ramage, director of IFAW’s global whale program. “Commercial whaling, whether conducted openly or under the guise of science is a cruel and outdated practice which produces no science of value.”

The Hague hearings are playing out against a backdrop of declining whale meat consumption in Japan and growing frustration with the use of taxpayers’ money – 800 million yen a year (about $8 million), according to Greenpeace – to subsidize the Antarctic fleet.

“Whale meat doesn’t sell in Japan, and I don’t see that changing any time soon,” says Nanami Kurasawa of the Dolphin and Whale Action Network, a Tokyo-based pressure group.

According to a recent study by the Nippon Research Group, whale meat consumption has fallen to about 1 percent of its 1960s peak. Current stockpiles of unsold whale meat have increased to nearly 5,000 tons, about four times greater than they were 15 years ago.

“Selling meat on the open market has been a total failure,” Mr. Kurasawa says. “If the court rules in Australia’s favor, it will be a good opportunity for Japan to stop the Antarctic hunts. It would be the intelligent thing to do.”

An IFAW survey conducted in Japan last year found that 26.8 percent of people agreed with the scientific whaling program, while 18.5 percent opposed it. The rest were undecided. The survey found that 88.8 percent of those polled had not bought whale meat in the previous 12 months.

The decline in consumption is reflected in smaller catches. The whaling fleet caught 853 whales in 2005, but only 266 in 2011. Last season, it returned with a record-low haul of 103 whales, blaming harassment by the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd.

Susan Hartland, a Sea Shepherd campaigner in the US, says a defeat for Australia at the ICJ would be “devastating to people worldwide who support the efforts to save the whales, and as more than 90 percent of the planet’s great whales have been wiped out, we need to fight hard to protect the remaining ones from the same fate.”

But some experts believe Australia could struggle to convince the court, given the unprecedented nature of the case. “If it was an easy case to make, previous Australian governments would have no doubt explored these options,” Don Rothwell, a legal expert at the Australian National University, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“The arguments that Australia will be making are ones that have never before been litigated or decided before by any international court, let alone the International Court of Justice.”

Japan’s Ambassador To China Killed

Japan’s Ambassador To China Killed; Attacks On Japanese Businesses, Citizens, Japanese Factories Set On Fire:

Japan’s Ambassador To China Killed; Attacks On Japanese Businesses, Citizens, Japanese Factories Set On Fire!!!

Japan’s Ambassador To China Killed; Attacks On Japanese Businesses, Citizens, Japanese Factories Set On Fire!!!

In the biggest flare-up on Sunday, police fired about 20 rounds of tear gas and used water cannon and pepper spray to repel thousands occupying a street in the southern city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong. Protesters attacked a Japanese department store, grabbed police shields and knocked off their helmets. One protester was seen with blood on his face. At least one policeman was hit with a flowerpot.” And while the populist reaction was widely expected, the most surprising development came from Japan, where the designated ambassador to Beijing mysteriously died several hours ago after collapsing in the street without any obvious cause. China takes aim at Japan’s economy in protests over island ownership. Chinese are trying to hurt Japan economically for leverage in a bitter dispute over contested islands, turning to angry protests and calls for boycotts of Japanese businesses, abetted in part by China’s government. Sporadic protests in China over the past week became larger and at times violent and spread to at least two dozen cities over the weekend. Protesters torched a Panasonic factory and Toyota dealership in the eastern port of Qingdao, looted a Heiwado Co. department store in the southern city of Changsha and ransacked Japanese supermarkets in several cities. Though larger numbers of police imposed more order on demonstrations Sunday, they fired tear gas to subdue rowdy protesters in the southern city of Shenzhen. In nearby Guangzhou city, protesters broke into a hotel that was next to the Japanese Consulate and damaged a Japanese restaurant inside. Japan has demanded that China ensure the safety of Japanese citizens and businesses. “Unfortunately, this is an issue that is impacting the safety of our citizens and causing damage to the property of Japanese businesses,” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, on Sunday. China-Japan Island Dispute Grows in ‘Blow’ for Global Economy. A territorial dispute between China and Japan worsened as Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said he’ll demand the Chinese government ensure the safety of Japanese citizens, thousands protested in Chinese cities and Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) and Panasonic Corp. (6752) reported damage to their operations. Demonstrators took to the streets in a dozen cities across China including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, calling for Chinese sovereignty over disputed islands and the boycott of Japanese goods. In the city of Shenzhen, police used tear gas and water cannons to stop protesters from reaching a Japanese department store, Radio Television Hong Kong reported.

Cultural stereotypes rooted in Genetic’s

Why the British are freethinking and the Chinese love conformity: It’s all in the genes claim scientists:

Gene DNA

Gene DNA

Cultural stereotypes may be deeply rooted in our genetic makeup, say scientists.  Common traits like British individualism and Chinese conformity could be attributed to genetic differences between races according to a new study.  The study, by the department of psychology at Northwestern University in Illinois, suggests that the individualism seen in western nations, and the higher levels of collectivism and family loyalty found in Asian cultures, are caused by differences in the prevalence of particular genes. Common traits like British individualism and Chinese conformity could be attributed to genetic differences between races according to new research.  ‘We demonstrate for the first time a robust association between cultural values of individualism–collectivism and the serotonin transporter gene,’ said Joan Chiao, from the department of psychology at Northwestern University.  Chiao and her colleagues combined data from global genetic surveys, looking at variations in the prevalence of various genes. The findings were matched with other research which ranked nations by levels of individualism and collectivism.  The team focused their attentions on the gene that controls levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain which regulates mood and emotions.

 
All together now: Japanese men praying
Japanese men praying.  Their studies found that one version of the gene was far more common in western populations which, they said, was associated with individualistic and freethinking behavior.  Another version of the same gene, which was prevalent in Asian populations, they said was associated with collectivism and a greater willingness to put the common good first.  People with this gene appeared to have a different response to serotonin.
 
Free-thinking: A protestor at the Occupy site in front of St Paul's in London A protestor at the Occupy site in front of St Paul’s in London.  If they are confirmed, the findings made by Chiao and her colleagues would suggest that races may have a number of inherent psychological differences — just as they differ in physical appearances.  Chiao suggests that the version of the gene predominating in Asian populations is associated with heightened anxiety levels and increased risk of depression.  She adds that such populations respond by structuring their society to ward off those negative effects.  The success of such social structures would then ensure that the gene would spread.  She added the findings showed how culture could exert a powerful influence on human genetics and evolution.

0.3mm Organic Battery

NEC develops 0.3mm thick organic battery:

Organic Battery

Organic Battery

Organic batteries are an exciting area of research at the moment due to the benefits and potential they have to power our gadgets in the future. One of the companies at the forefront of organic battery development is NEC, which has been working on these polymer-based batteries since 2001 and had its first major release in 2005.  Organic batteries are desirable because they have a very high energy density considering their size, use no heavy metals, and are incredibly thin. That last feature is highlighted by NEC’s latest breakthrough, which has seen the creation of a 0.3mm thick organic radical battery.  Such a thin battery can be placed inside objects that are already very limited in thickness, for example, a sheet of e-paper, and of course a smart card or credit card. Until now the thickness was limited to 0.7mm, but NEC managed to cut that by over 50% all thanks to printed components.  The prototype battery was created by printing an integrated circuit and battery directly on to a polymer film. Such components allowed for a complete system to be built including a display, antenna, and encryption system. All of which sounds like the perfect solution for next-generation smart cards.  As for the power on offer from this super-thin battery, output is rated as 5kW/L with a capacity of 3mAh. In real terms that means the integrated display can be refreshed 2,000x, or the antenna can be used to transmit data 35x before a recharge is required. The recharge only takes around 30 seconds to top up the battery fully, and the capacity is only reduced by 25% after 500 charges.

Positive Energy change for Japan

 What appears to be an array of metal flower petals is not an art installation but part of a cutting-edge solar-power system meant to address the critical power shortage Japan now faces in the wake of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

energy

Energy

The disaster, which triggered a crippling nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, reignited worldwide debate about the safety of nuclear power and forced Japan to reevaluate its energy strategy.  Of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors, 52 have been shut down for maintenance; the remaining two are set to go offline this spring. The reactors are likely to remain inoperative while Japan’s central and local governments assess which (if any) of them can be restarted, leaving the country to make up for a 30-percent loss in power generation.  Rising electricity prices and limited supply threaten to hamper the recovery for manufacturers. So it makes sense that Solar Techno Park, the country’s first solar-power research facility, is operated not by the government but by a unit of the Tokyo-based JFE, the world’s fifth-largest steelmaker. Given the energy-intensive nature of steel production, reliable power will be key to the future of Japan’s steel industry. The facility, which opened in October last year, is developing advanced technology in solar light and thermal power generation that it aims to apply both in Japan and overseas.  Located along the industrial coast of the port city of Yokohama, the Solar Techno Park aims to achieve a combined output capacity of 40 to 60 kilowatts this spring. The facility’s most notable apparatus is the HyperHelios (seen here), a photovoltaic system consisting of rows of heliostats with mirrors that follow the sun and a receiving tower. Two types of solar thermal power systems are also being developed in the park.