Stories of Modern Science ... from UPI

By ALEX CUKAN, UPI Science Writer


American military officials are reconsidering nuclear interceptors for missile defense, an idea the United States abandoned 30 years ago, New Scientist reports. A Pentagon spokeswoman says Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asked the Defense Sciences Board to consider nuclear weapons in an upcoming study "which includes looking at everything that is technically viable." However, no decision has yet been made. The power of nuclear explosives means such a weapon would not need to score a direct hit to destroy incoming enemy warheads. But the effects of the blast could also knock out civilian satellites and electric power networks. A nuclear interceptor would destroy everything as long as it detonated close enough to the target and a nuclear explosion also could sterilize warheads carrying anthrax or other biological weapons. "The plan to reconsider nuclear interceptors could signal Pentagon concern that the current system will not work and shows how much trouble they're having with the fundamental problem of telling decoys from the nuclear weapons," says Fred Kelly, president of the Federation of American Scientists.



Speaking at the seventh International Human Genome Meeting in Shanghai,

Lap-Chee Tsui vowed to publish the complete sequence of the human genome by spring 2003, reports. Tsui, president of the London-based Human Genome Organization (HUGO), says technological advances in genetic research would allow new medical treatments to be developed for diseases such as diabetes, cancer and hypertension. HUGO, the largest international non-profit organization involved in human genome research, consists of a consortium of scientists from the United States, Britain, Japan, France, Germany and China. China is actively involved in the human genome projects in the hope of finding answers for a number of common ailments found in the country, according to Tsui. "In China, they will probably concentrate on the diseases that are affecting the Chinese population most, for example liver cancer, and a lot of the infectious diseases more commonly found there than in other places," he says. Chinese scientists are currently investigating plant genetics and bio-engineering research to improve the quality of its key crops such as rice.


The Black Death of the 1300s was probably not the modern disease known as bubonic plague, according to a team of anthropologists studying 14th century epidemics. "Although the diseases seem to have been similar, we are not convinced that the epidemic in the 14th century and the present day bubonic plague are the same," says Dr. James Wood, professor of anthropology at Penn State. "Old descriptions of disease symptoms are usually too non-specific to be a reliable basis for diagnosis." The researchers say that it was the symptom of lymphatic swelling that led 19th century bacteriologists to identify the 14th century epidemic as bubonic plague. Instead of being spread by rodents, the researchers believe that the Black Death was transmitted through person-to-person contact, as are measles and smallpox. "Church records indicate that the spread of the Black Death was more rapid than we formerly believed," Wood told the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Buffalo, N.Y.



Unable to cope with the its growing crocodile population, zoo authorities at the Ramnivas Bagh Zoo of Jaipur have decided to keep male and female crocodiles in different zones, reports. Deprived of love and sexual interaction, the male crocodiles often go wild and frequently resort to fights among themselves. Some have been hurt quite badly in these noisy encounters. The male crocodiles also appear moody and dejected. However, the female crocodiles appear to be accepting the situation well and have their emotions firmly under control. Jaipur Zoo has been famous for its crocodiles, but the uncontrolled birth rate of crocodiles has started creating budget problems so the amphibians have been secluded into separate male and female zones and no interaction is allowed.

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