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Science Progressing: March 16

Science Progressing is your weekly guide to the science and technology policy news you should not have missed. Did we leave anything out? Tweet or facebook us and let us know.

Americans doubtful of American science dominance; China investing big
A poll found that 60 percent of people believed that the U.S. would not lead the world in science and technology innovation in 2020. A scary feeling considering the importance science and technology to our economy. With China increasing their basic research budget by a significant 12.4 percent this year and skeptical politicians and flat funding for basic research here at home, the palpable apathy of the public is even more distressing.

Flat NIH funding: What’s in it for me?
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health are coming out against the flat funding proposed by the Obama administration. Mincing no words, one researcher says “”It’s an epidemic of cures delayed, labs closed, and of the US falling behind in research.” With the NIH being a incubator for some of the most useful  biomedical research, it is perplexing that funding will not keep at least with inflation much less increase to support Obama’s own bio-economy initiative.

Synthetic biology garners resistance
“An extreme form of genetic engineering” is how a group of 111 organizations characterize synthetic biology. They reason that a moratorium is necessary until increased regulation and oversight measures are put in place. A 2010 presidential commission report into synthetic biology came to different conclusions.

The full costs of the Keystone pipeline
A Cornell University study reported that the eventual costs of the Keystone pipeline over time will economically and environmentally outweigh the exaggerated benefits that have been claimed by pipeline backers. By studying the history of other pipelines, they have concluded it is not if but when the pipeline spills that will undoubtedly push costs far over any benefits. Tar sands oil is course and heavy and acts like “liquid sandpaper” flowing through the steel pipes, leading researchers to estimate 91 significant spills at a cost of 700 million each over a 50 year usage.

Smart meters could replace nuclear plant
South Korea is on track to have smart meters installed in 50 percent of homes by 2016. The energy savings are estimated to be enough to shut down an entire nuclear power plant.

Consumers to GM: Stop funding climate denial
An online petition has collected more than 30,000 signatures after it was revealed that the notorious climate denial “think tank,” Heartland Institute, has been receiving large injections of cash from General Motors. The alleged internal documents leaked last month revealed Heartland’s strategies to weaken science standards in schools and how to continue to please donors hostile to climate science.

How to prevent cyberwar
The World Cyber Security Technology Research Summit at Queen’s University Belfast is scheduled for its second annual meeting on March 16. The communications between nations and private business on cybersecurity is key, according to Eugene Kaspersky, CEO and co-founder of the largest antivirus company in Europe, to maintaining the internet “as a platform for economic growth and societal development.” Kaspersky Labs, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the UK’s Home Office, the European Commission, McAfee, the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit, Cisco, SRI International, Georgia Tech, IBM and CyLabs will all be represented at the summit.

Woolly mammoth clone within three years
Russian and South Korean scientists make deal to collaborate on cloning a woolly mammoth. The Russians whom discovered a pristinely preserved mammoth in the Siberian permafrost last August are already in negotiations with Japanese researchers to clone the animal. With the two competing, there is a high likely hood of having mammoth soon rather than later.

Shape versus content: An epigenetic view of DNA
A new imaging technique is giving geneticists further insight in to the physical changes that occur when genes are switched on or off. The actual way that the DNA is folded may play a large role in actual gene expression. This epigenetic response means that it’s not just the content of the gene but how it is physically located in relation to other genes that determine the full extent of expression.

Laser lighting rod
French researchers have demonstrated in a lab that a laser can be used to guide lightning strikes. Even more impressive, they were able to redirect the lightning mid-strike. One wonders whether this technology could be used to collect energy from storms.

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