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Sunday, October 19, 2008

The week in science: diesels go green, bananas glow blue

By John Timmer

The case for fuel- and energy-efficient vehicles gets more compelling every year, and the two most popular stories this week both focused on new ways of getting more out of existing technology. One story focused on how two companies were managing to burn less fuel with diesel engines by figuring out ways of ensuring they never get switched on in the first place.

Future vehicles may rely on plug-in hybrid or purely electric tech, meaning that battery power becomes essential. Existing lithium battery tech will operate more efficiently when metal hydrides are incorporated into the electrode design.

Planetary science took center stage in upstate New York this week, as the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences held its annual meeting. Ars had a correspondent on hand, and he provided reports on some of the planetary happenings, including a discussion of how gravity fuels the geysers of Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons.

Publishing drives the dissemination of scientific information, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's a flawless system. One analysis of the publishing system, which suggested that the current system results in a systematic over-hyping of high-profile results (called a "winner's curse") appeared in the news section. Meanwhile, our own Chris Lee shared his thoughts on the scientific content of high-profile publications and concluded that, in some ways, they're less useful than their lower-profile peers.

Biology provided us with a couple of surprises this week. It turns out that ripe bananas don't only turn yellow; they glow blue. The ripening process results in a chlorophyll derivative that emits blue light when exposed to UV. Those of you with a black light are undoubtedly running off to check this.


Image © Wiley.

Deep in a South African mine, researchers have discovered what's really involved in living on the edge. So few nutrients are available that only a single species can hack it. Despite the tough environment, the organism has a large genome and a full complement of genes, simply because it needs them all to make it in the prevailing conditions.

Some of the other highlights from the week:

Check out Nobel Intent for your fix of the latest science news.

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