Random Samples

Science  08 Dec 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5805, pp. 1519

    Extracting toner in Giuyu. CREDIT: BASEL ACTION NETWORK

    Delegates from 120 governments met in Nairobi, Kenya, this week to discuss what to do about e-waste, particularly the oceans of electronic junk that arrive daily in poorer countries of Asia and Africa.

    According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), about 50 million tons of e-waste is generated annually—with the United States being by far the largest producer. The Basel Convention, adopted in recent years by most European countries, calls for a ban on the export of all hazardous wastes—which includes electronics because of their toxic components—from rich to poor countries.

    But as richer countries try to discourage throwing e-waste in landfills, the “recycling” business has grown apace. About 80% of the world's high-tech rubbish ends up in Asia—90% of that in China, and most of that in Giuyu, north of Hong Kong. After workers extract a few desirable parts, most is left to pollute the environment.

    Even goodwill gestures are ending up as junk, according to UNEP Director Achim Steiner. More than half of the computers donated to Africa are obsolete or unusable because of lack of technical support.

    There's been some progress at addressing e-waste, however. Last month, for example, three Asian countries signed on to a pilot scheme for the collection and environmentally sound disposal of “end-of-life” mobile phones.


    Scientists will be racing to complete a series of studies on the skeletal remains and teeth from 17 aboriginal Tasmanians before London's Natural History Museum turns over the material to the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC) next year.

    1878 photo of Trucannini, the “last” Tasmanian aborigine. CREDIT: W.L. CROWTHER LIBRARY/STATE LIBRARY OF TASMANIA

    Very few museums have remains from Tasmanian aboriginals, who were driven into extinction by the British. Only a few descendents remain of a dozen women who escaped the slaughter.

    Starting in January, scientists will have 3 months to do studies, including imaging, measurements, and DNA and isotopic analyses, to discern population variation, migration and mating patterns, life spans, pathologies, and dietary habits. The museum's science director, Richard Lane, notes that people of Tasmania, which separated from mainland Australia about 12,000 years ago, were “quite different” from mainland dwellers. For example, he says, unique and varied types of mitochondrial DNA have been found in Tasmanians.

    The handover follows many years of negotiations and passage of a new Human Tissue Act that permits British institutions to deaccession such holdings. TAC plans to cremate the remains.

    Museum Director Michael Dixon says, “We do not believe that the scientific value should trump all other claims.” But Smithsonian Institution anthropologist Douglas Owsley says, “The loss of [remains from] any of these rare groups is very unfortunate.” He notes that the planned research will be “no substitute” for techniques that are bound to come along in the next decade or so.



    At right is a work by New York City sculptress Mara Haseltine that has been donated to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York by Human Genome Sciences Inc., the company founded by the artist's father, William Haseltine. Called Waltz of the Polypeptides, the 24-meter-long sculpture, based on observations from state-of-the-art cell-imaging techniques, depicts a ribosome in the act of producing an infection-fighting protein.

  4. NETWATCH: Reef Watching

    With reefs under threat from pollution, coral-breaking fishing nets, diseases, climate change, and a host of other causes, keeping an eye on their environment is ever more important. The Coral Health and Monitoring Program from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides baseline atmospheric and oceanic data for reefs in the United States and the Caribbean. The site connects to two monitoring networks. One offers hourly readings of air temperature, wind speed, and other variables for eight Florida reefs; the other collects data on additional features such as salinity and light levels at different wavelengths and depths.


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