Daily Archives: 10/15/2005

Wave Power For Less

Scientists have come up with a simple, effective design for a wave powered generator, eliminating many of the complexities that have hampered earlier conceptual designs for power generation from ocean waves. An electrical coil attached to a moored buoy is passed through a stack of magnets secured to the ocean floor, generating an alternating electrical current. This design is much simpler than other conceptual generators, eliminating the troublesome hydraulics or rotary designs.

Interest is high in developing wave generation capabilities. Studies show that wave farms placed in strategic locations would be active approximately 50% of the time, as opposed to some wind farm that are idle 75% of the time due to lack of appreciable winds.

Speaking of wind farms, some environmentalists are not all that keen on wind farms. In particular, the collection of windmills in the Altamont Pass east of San Francisco has long been a sore point. The problem is birds. Wind farms, with thousands of spinning wind mills generating electricity, are whirling deathtraps for birds. Particularly vulnerable are raptors like eagles and hawks. You’d think such sharp-eyed birds would be able to avoid great big wind mills, but then raptors don’t really look where they’re going; they are busy scouring the ground for mice and rabbits. The wind mills in Altamont Pass record 800 to 1300 bird strikes a year, a tremendous toll on these species.

Coolest Thing I’ve Read All Week

T4 Bacteriophage I was reading through a stack of Scientific Americans this morning (catching up on my reading) and I came across and interesting article by Luis P. Villarreal from last December’s issue. Are Viruses Alive? discussed current thinking about viruses and whether they can be considered alive. The author thinks they exist of the fringes of life, and certainly are more active in evolution than climate change or other external factors since viruses deal in genetic material. Deciphering the human genome, scientists discovered bits of viral DNA in our genome. Viral genetic material is part of the genomes of most complex species, so apparently viruses can insert themselves into cells for long periods of time, even permanently. Towards the end of the article I read this shocking paragraph:

In fact, along with other researchers, Philip Bell of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and I contend that the cell nucleus itself is of viral origin. The advent of the nucleus – which differentiates eukaryotes (organisms whose cells contain a true nucleus), including humans, from prokaryotes, such as bacteria – cannot be satisfactorily explained solely by the gradual adaptation of prokaryotic cells until they became eukaryotic. Rather the nucleus may have evolved from a persisting large DNA virus that made a permanent home within prokaryotes. Some support for this idea comes from sequence data showing that the gene for a DNA polymerase (a DNA-copying enzyme) in the virus called T4, which infects bacteria, is closely related to other DNA polymerase genes in both eukaryotes and the viruses that infect them. Patrick Forterre of the University of Paris-Sud has also analyzed the enzymes responsible for DNA replication and has concluded that the genes for such enzymes in eukaryotes probably have a viral origin.

Think of that. Higher forms of life developed because some enterprising virus managed to insert itself into a bacterium and stay there permanently, eventually becoming an integral part of the eukaryotic cell. You, me, Fido your dog, the trout you ate for dinner, that oak tree out in the yard, all this from a virus hijacking a cell billions of years ago. Wow.

Art & Science Link-A-Palooza

Got a lot of cool links to mention in a short span of time, so let’s jump right into it!

  • The First Biplanes Were Dinosaurs – Here’s a neat little dino-fact. Looks like the first flying dinosaurs actually had two sets of wings that they used to glide from tree to tree. Take that Wright Brothers.
  • iBiblio’s Web Museum – A wonderful time waster for the art lover. Lots to look at and enjoy.
  • Hans Memling’s Faces – Slate gets into the art links with this nice essay and series of images.
  • More Hobbits, Again – After yesterday’s mention of homo floresiensis, how about some more stuff about the micro-man of Flores and his tiny brain? One thing’s for sure, these paleoanthropologists are a fractious bunch.
  • Andromeda in Infrared – The Spitzer Infrared Telescope took these incredibly detailed images of the Andromeda galaxy in infrared, revealing a ring of star formation throughout our neighboring galaxy.
  • Star Formation in the Center of the Milky Way – From Andromeda to our own galaxy… The Chandra X-Ray Observatory has recorded evidence of star formation in our own galaxy, in a most unlikely location. Chandra imaged hot, young stars impossibly close to the center of the Milky Way, home to a voracious super-massive black hole. Apparently the black hole can create as well as destroy.
  • Robot to Explore Pyramid of Cheops – A robot constructed by the University of Singapore is set to explore the Great Pyramid at Giza. The robot is designed to ascend through narrow ventilation shafts ascending from a chamber deep inside the ancient pyramid. Earlier attempts to plumb the depths of these shafts ended at closed stone doors. This new robot is equipped with a drill to pierce through the doors and explore for possible chambers beyond.