Daily TIPs: Obama’s Science Plan, Boeing’s Fuel Search, World’s Malaria Effort, & More

9/26/08

Boeing Begins Jet Biofuel Initiative

Aircraft manufacturer Boeing has teamed up with 10 airlines, including Air France, Continental, and Virgin Atlantic, to form a Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group. Flightglobal reports that the group will look for ways to make renewable jet fuel, with the goal of at least partially replacing fossil fuel used in airplanes with biofuel by 2013. Boeing is funding two studies on making jet fuel from algae or the plant jatropha, being done at the Natural Resources Defense Council and Yale.

Digitizing Health Records Still a Challenge

Healthcare could be dramatically improved if every doctor a patient ever saw had access to all that patient’s health records, which could happen if the records were all digital. But only 15 to 18 percent of U.S. doctors use electronic records, partly because of the upfront costs of going digital. Technology Review talks to Karen Bell, who’s in charge of promoting digital records at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about what the problem is.

Bacteria Can Produce Plastic

Not all of the fossil fuel we use goes to power our cars or heat our homes: Some is used to make plastic. The Discovery Channel tells us that researchers at Genomatica, a company in San Diego, CA, say they’ve developed bacteria that make an important ingredient of the plastic that’s used in products from Spandex to car bumpers. The company says it can go into production as early as next year, and that its product will be cheaper even if the cost of oil drops as low as $50 a barrel.

New Method Produces Stem Cells from Adult Cells

A new method of producing stem cells from adult cells may provide a route to new therapies without the controversy of stem cells derived from embryos. New Scientist reports that researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have been able to turn liver cells from an adult mouse into stem cells, which now have the potential to become any cell in the body. Earlier this year, Japanese scientists also turned adult cells into stem cells, but their method used a virus that left behind genes that could lead to cancer.

Activists Say, Put Debates on the Internet

When the presidential and vice presidential candidates debate, they should take advantage of the Internet, say people on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. A group including liberal activist Arianna Huffington and the director of Newt Gingrich’s organization, American Solutions, signed a letter calling for the candidates to put footage from the debates on the Internet, and to take “Town Hall” style questions submitted online. CNET News reports that the group says that effective use of the Internet ensures “bottom-up democracy.”

Leaders Plan to Wipe Out Malaria in Seven Years

Malaria is one of the world’s greatest public health problems, killing more children than any other disease. Now world leaders, including United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, say that better science, improved record-keeping, and increased philanthropy make them believe they can reduce the number of malaria deaths to zero by 2015. The Washington Post reports that donors have given more than $3 billion to the Global Malaria Action Plan.

Tracking System Could Make Social Sites Profitable

Google is applying a system similar to its PageRank system for ranking websites to profiles on social networks such as Facebook and MySpace. BusinessWeek says the system looks at how often people post to others’ pages and measures whether users convince others to read a news story or watch a video clip. If it works, the system should allow advertisers to target ads more precisely, allowing the sites to charge more.

Obama Releases Science Funding Plan

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has released an 11-page “plan for science and innovation.” Nature reports that the plan calls for doubling the funding of the National Institutes of Health over 10 years, and spells out science policies in more specific details than had been released previously.

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