New ‘Waterproof’ Rice soon to be growing in South Asia

time-lapse-harvest

“Waterproof” versions of popular varieties of rice, which can withstand 2 weeks of complete submergence, have passed tests in farmers’ fields with flying colors. Several of these varieties are now close to official release by national and state seed certification agencies in Bangladesh and India, where farmers suffer major crop losses because of flooding of up to 4 million tons of rice per year. This is enough rice to feed 30 million people.

The flood-tolerant versions of the “mega-varieties”—high-yielding varieties popular with both farmers and consumers that are grown over huge areas across Asia—are effectively identical to their susceptible counterparts, but recover after severe flooding to yield well.

The new varieties were made possible following the identification of a single gene that is responsible for most of the submergence tolerance. Thirteen years ago, Dr. Mackill, then at the University of California (UC) at Davis, and Kenong Xu, his graduate student, pinpointed the gene in a low-yielding traditional Indian rice variety known to withstand flooding. Xu subsequently worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Pamela Ronald, a UC Davis professor, and they isolated the specific gene—called Sub1A—and demonstrated that it confers tolerance to normally intolerant rice plants.

Dr. Ronald’s team showed that the gene is switched on when the plants are submerged. Sub1A effectively makes the plant dormant during submergence, allowing it to conserve energy until the floodwaters recede.

As a long-time geek, it’s nice to see that a significant piece of the funding for the research that developed this strain of rice came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Judge overturns Florida ban on adoption by gays


Martin Gill (L) gets a hug from his attorney after the verdict

A Florida circuit judge has struck down a 31-year-old state law that prevents gays and lesbians from adopting children, allowing a North Miami man to adopt two half-brothers he and his partner have raised as foster children since 2004.

“There is no question, the blanket exclusion of gay applicants defeats Florida’s goal of providing dependent children a permanent family through adoption,” Judge Cindy S. Lederman wrote in her 53-page ruling.

The best interests of children are not preserved by prohibiting homosexual adoption.”

The state attorney general’s office has appealed the decision.

Of course.

Lederman said there is no moral or scientific reason for banning gays and lesbians from adopting, despite the state’s arguments otherwise. The state argued otherwise.

Perish the thought that the state of Florida would pay attention to science for political policy.

Richest farmers still getting subsidies


Republican farmer’s golf cart

Too many rich farmers continue to receive U.S. farm subsidies in spite of income caps designed to restrict their participation, and the Agriculture Department needs to do more to enforce the rules says the auditing arm of Congress.

More than 2,700 people whose gross income topped $2.5 million — making many of them ineligible for farm programs — received more than $49 million in payments between 2003 and 2006, the Government Accountability Office said in a report.

“If this is true, it is a prime example of the kind of waste I intend to end as president,” President-Elect Barack Obama said in a news conference on Tuesday…

About 2 million farmers and farm entities receive about $16 billion per year in programs designed to help stabilize incomes when prices fall or to help protect sensitive land.

The farm programs have long been criticized for spurring overproduction and hurting world markets, as well as for giving money to people who don’t need it.

No one has an argument over subsidies and loans assisting traditional family farms, folks working towards healthier, more natural crops. Farming is a tough, chancy business.

I also know a few lawyers who got involved for tax shelters.

Terrorists kill dozens in coordinated attacks in Mumbai

More than 60 people have been killed in a series of attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai with two five-star hotels among the targets of gunmen armed with powerful assault rifles and grenades.

Maharashtra state police chief A.N. Roy told the NDTV channel that “unknown terrorists” had opened fire in “at least seven to eight places” across the city.

“Fifty-eight bodies have been brought in. There are another 50 who are injured, some critical, who have been transferred to the nearby J.J. Hospital,” a spokesman for the city’s St George’s Hospital told AFP by telephone.

Television reports put the death toll as high as 80, while the Press Trust of India said as many as 200 people had been injured.

At the time of posting, CNN is covering this as an ongoing attack – hostages held at two or more hotels – terrorist gangs hurling hand grenades from the roofs of the hotels.

UPDATE:

At least 78 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in a series of attacks by terrorist gunmen at seven sites in Mumbai, including two luxury hotels.

Johnny Joseph, chief secretary for the Maharashtra state of India, said at least 78 people died and an estimated 200 were injured. He warned the death toll could rise further.

Continue reading

Spanish wind power hits record 43% of demand

Spain’s wind farms briefly provided a record 43 percent of demand for electricity early on Monday.

Spain is the third-largest generator of wind power in the world, with about 16,000 MW of installed capacity and plants to have 20,000 MW by 2010.

The lobby further estimated that wind farms in 2007 saved Spain importing the equivalent of 6 million tonnes of crude oil, which would have cost 1.104 billion euros.

Online shopping declines – just like everywhere else

Just as many Web retailers feared, online shoppers are being unusually frugal this holiday season.

During the first 23 days of November, consumers spent $8.19 billion online, a 4 percent drop from the same period last year. That marks the first annual decline since e-commerce took off.

“We thought that things would solidify in November,” said Gian Fulgoni, chairman of comScore, who said gut-wrenching declines in the stock market and the auto industry crisis “spooked people who might have been thinking the worst was behind us…”

We have our fingers crossed that the stock market will not go through another 2,000-point meltdown and that the decline in gas prices will build up some cumulative buying power,” Mr. Fulgoni said. “However, if there is any more significant bad news just over the horizon, all bets are off.”

What shopping? I’m doing none.

Even though gasoline prices have dropped [for how long?], I’m not changing my revived frugal habits.

I grew up with frugal in a New England factory town. Turning off lights, stopping cold drafts, only necessary trips [usually by public transit back then], were automatically part of your life. Some I never stopped. You don’t forget to turn off lights, for example.

When gasoline prices skyrocketed, I stepped back and examined driving patterns and I’ve cut the number of trips to town in half. There aren’t any great reasons to increase that frequency.

I’ve been online for 25 years. Banking, shopping, all moved online as they became available – and secure. Still ain’t wasting money on getting a new HDTV 6 inches wider than the one we already own.

Financial crisis? You ain’t seen nuthin’, yet!

The head of Shell, Jeroen van der Veer, warned the Confederation of British Industry on Monday that we “had better make speed, or else the lights would go out. A sense of urgency is needed“.

Van der Veer pointed out that the financial crisis would be a problem for a couple of years, “but the energy challenge will be a problem for at least 50 years”.

He told the audience to face three hard truths. First, the world’s population will increase from 6 to 9 billion over the next couple of decades and these people will all want electricity and transport.

Second, oil and gas alone will not be able to provide this fuel: renewables in time will come into their own but we are a while away from that future at the moment.

And third, CO2 levels will go up in concentration higher than the levels recommended by the scientists.

This last idea is particularly depressing, given that scientists such as James Hansen of NASA believe that these recommended levels are too high anyway. It is a grim little list, made even grimmer by the source: not a deep green thinker, but the head of one of the largest energy companies in the world.

No solutions offered in this article, btw. But, Van der Veer’s view of how most nations will try to “solve” energy problems is even more daunting.

Lose a tool bag in space? A guy in New Jersey found it.


Oops!

Veteran spacewalker and Endeavor astronaut Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper lost her grip on the backpack-sized bag on Nov. 18 while cleaning up a mess from a leaking grease gun…

Once the tool bag floated away, some thought they’d seen the end of it. Not quite. A satellite tracker at Spaceweather.com now is monitoring both the space station and the tool bag.

After sunset on Nov. 22, Edward Light, using 10 x 50 binoculars, spotted the bag in space while he scanned the sky from his backyard in Lakewood, N.J., Spaceweather.com reported. On the same night, Keven Fetter of Brockville, Ontario, video-recorded the bag as it passed by the star Eta Pisces in the constellation Pisces.

More bag-viewing opportunities are expected.

The satellite tracker predicts the tool bag will make a series of passes over Europe this week. Then, late next week, the tool bag is expected to reappear in the evening skies of North America, and should be visible through binoculars a few minutes ahead of the ISS.

Now, that’s cool. Anyone tell NASA?

Israeli rabbis plan to pray for the economy


Rabbi Yona Metzger
Daylife/AFP/Getty Images

Jewish leaders in Israel have named a special day of prayer aimed at curbing the global financial crisis.

Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger and Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar issued a joint statement calling for Jews across the country to synchronize prayers for economic stability Thursday, the first day of the Jewish month of Kislev.

“Education and Torah institutions are failing to make ends meet, and many are in danger of closure,” the rabbis wrote. “Factories and businesses are firing workers, and many household heads are no longer able to support their families. Therefore, we call on the public to pray one hour before mincha (the afternoon prayer) on Thursday in synagogues across the nation.”

Certainly, we can find some True Believers in the U.S.A. who think that’s a solution.