Random Samples

Science  22 Sep 2006:
Vol. 313, Issue 5794, pp. 1711


    This epaulette shark (Hemiscyllium freycineti), which pulls itself along the ocean floor on its fins, is one of about 50 new species spotted during a survey led by Washington, D.C.-based Conservation International in a rich coral reef area off the coast of Papua, the western (Indonesian) half of New Guinea. Findings were announced by lead researcher Mark Erdmann on 18 September in Jakarta.


    The Wisconsin group that owns 13 of the 21 human embryonic stem (hES) cell lines used by federally funded researchers says it will start supplying new lines that purport to offer an alternative to embryo destruction—if the government finds them eligible for funding.

    The lines were derived by Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) in Alameda, California, using a process described last month in a paper in Nature: taking single cells, or blastomeres, from early embryos, which in theory could be done without harming the embryos (Science, 25 August, p. 1031). ACT would scale up production of the cells, and WiCell Research Institute in Wisconsin would test and distribute them.

    National Institutes of Health stem cell czar James Battey says that for ACT's cells to pass muster, it would have to be shown that blastomeres cannot develop into embryos, because federal researchers are not allowed to experiment with human embryos. And, he adds, “no one can say with complete certainty that there is no risk to the embryo that remains.” Also, NIH would have to get a legal opinion on whether such cells are kosher under President George W. Bush's directive that no work with hES cell lines derived after 9 August 2001 can be federally funded.

    Scientists agree that even if ACT's process works, it would be no substitute for legislation allowing federally funded researchers to use new lines derived from leftover embryos created at fertility clinics.


    More than half of the 67 million tons of textile fibers produced annually are petroleum-based synthetics. But with rocketing oil prices, agricultural byproducts are gaining attention as natural fiber sources, scientists reported last week at the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco, California.

    Textile scientist Yiqi Yang of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, said he has gotten fibers from rice straw that are “long and fine enough for textiles but still very strong.” Using alkali and enzymes, he and student Narendra Reddy extracted finger-length fibers that they say rival linen and cotton in flexibility and strength. Adding cotton, they spun a yarn and wove it into rice/cotton fabric. Yang estimates that 58 million tons of textile fiber could be produced from half of the 580 million tons of waste rice straw grown each year. Brian George, a textile engineer at Philadelphia University in Pennsylvania, says the relative stiffness of such fibers makes them hard to work with unless they are blended with cotton or flax, but that the idea seems economically viable if the fibers “can be processed on standard textile equipment.”

    Yang says rice-straw fibers are stronger than those from cornhusks, which he managed to make a sweater out of a few years ago. His next project is to get spinnable fibers from chicken feathers, whose honeycomb structure, he says, could potentially make for textiles lighter and warmer than wool.

    Cornhusk sweater. CREDIT: Y. YANG

    The motivations of suicide bombers differ depending on their sex, says a researcher at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. Psychiatrist J. Anderson Thomson Jr. says that whereas males see themselves as part of a larger entity, females seem more propelled by individual motives.

    Male suicide attackers are not lone losers but members of tightly knit bands bound by ties of rage and religion. Their behavior is consistent with our ancient history of “male-bonded coalitionary violence,” involving “lethal raids” practiced by small bands against their enemies, argues Thomson. But women do not fit this pattern. In a paper delivered at the biennial meeting of the International Society for Human Ethology in Detroit, Michigan, last month, Thomson mentioned Chechen, Palestinian, and Hindu female suicide terrorists who had been shunned for adultery or because they had been raped, divorced because of infertility, or whose husbands or brothers had been murdered by the enemy. In these cases, he asserts, the motives have more to do with shame or personal revenge than a larger cause. And rather than being motivated by bonds with their fellows, Thompson added, all these women were “recruited, trained, directed, or in some manner controlled by men.”


    Brian Jenkins, a longtime terrorism expert at the RAND Corp. in Santa Monica, California, says that although the paper offers only anecdotal evidence, it contains “some interesting insights. … There clearly is a sex difference.”