Friday, September 7, 2007
After years of trying to drill our way out of the energy crisis, we have
another chance to do what we should have done all along: increase
efficiency. It would put us a lot closer to meeting carbon emission
goals. Both houses of Congress passed energy bills; they must now be
reconciled by a conference committee. Historically, this is where it
falls apart - the conferees tend to keep sugar and fat in both bills and
slash the broccoli. We need the 35 mpg fuel economy in the Senate bill,
and the 15% renewable electricity requirement in the House bill, as well
as cuts of some oil-industry tax breaks. Finally, both bills call for
more ethanol from corn. That's just crazy! For all its good intentions,
ethanol from corn doesn't balance. Why can't scientists make themselves
heard on a simple question of energy?
An academic consortium announced in 2003 that the human genome had been
successfully decoded, but the other runner in the race, J. Craig Venter of
the J. Craig Venter Institute just kept running. He says the consortium
stopped half way to the goal. The consortium, led by James Watson, co-
discoverer of the double helix, had decoded the male haploid genome, from
a group of people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Venter
has decoded the full diploid genome of just one person - himself. So far,
the experts seem to agree that Craig's genome is better, which is not to
say he has better genes. He has genes linked to Alzheimer's, alcoholism,
obesity, antisocial behavior, tobacco addiction, substance abuse, and wet
earwax. And if there's a gene for vanity, he's probably got that too.
Having those genes does not mean he has those conditions. It does explain
why privacy advocates would be concerned about decoding the genome.
Dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter, plays a key role in addiction.
Imaging shows that people addicted to alcohol or to methamphetamine have
fewer dopamine receptors than healthy people, and so, it turns out, do
obese people, suggesting eating may be addictive. Human behavior used to
be considered a "soft science." Brain imaging and genome studies have
made it a frontier.
The Indian spacecraft will not commit suicide. It will stay in orbit and
drop a probe to the surface, sacrificing its offspring for enlightenment.
It sounds right out of the Old Testament.