Thursday, February 28, 2008
As an employee of the National Center for Science Education, Nick Matzke was involved with everything from situations that never made the press to coaching the lawyers in the Dover trial, which gained international attention. One thing that apparently became clear is that, due to the highly technical material and a flood of misinformation on the topic, the public (and even many scientists) simply don't know what the current state of knowledge is when it comes from evolution. As part of an effort to rectify that, the NCSE and the AAAS's Dialog on Science, Ethics, and Religion organized a session on the state of the art in our understanding of evolution, which Matzke moderated.
Four speakers took on topics that appear to be the frequently misunderstood by the public. One of these—the origin of life—isn't directly part of evolutionary theory, but is frequently associated with it by the public. The remaining topics covered major events in the evolutionary history that produced humans, including the origin of bilateral animals during the Cambrian explosion, the origin of tetrapods, and the evolution of human ancestors. Throughout the talks, there were two recurrent themes: we can identify major environmental changes that might have sparked new selective pressures, and many of the major adaptations we view as designed for a specific lifestyle actually originated as an adaptation for something else entirely.
The origin of life
Evolutionary theory, both as proposed by Darwin and elaborated since, deals with the diversification of modern living organisms from a limited number of ancestral living organisms. But the lack of a strong theory for the origin of life is actually treated as an argument against evolution by many of the opponents of teaching the theory. Many of the principles of evolution, including heritable variations and selective pressures, are also applied by origin of life researchers. As such, the two topics appear inextricably linked.
The discussion of life's origins was handled by Andy Ellington of the University of Texas - Austin. He started by noting that simply defining life is as much of a philosophical question as a biological one. He settled on the following: "a self replicating system capable of Darwinian evolution," and focused on getting from naturally forming chemicals to that point. To do so, Ellington developed three different themes.
Chemicals in living organisms can form without life
An RNA ligase ribozyme
The basic idea has been recognized for over a century, but the work of Stanley Miller was cited for triggering the modern era of scientific work on the topic. Since the classic Miller-Urey experiments, science has steadily expanded the range of essential molecules that can be produced under conditions that might reasonably expected to have been present on the early earth.
Ellington emphasized that progress has been slow—we knew how cyanide could react to form the DNA component adenine in the 1960s, but it took over three decades to recognize that a few more reactions converted it to its relative, guanine. And the roadblocks continue to fall. After all attempts to produce sugars created a tar-like sludge, someone eventually found that a small amount of borate could help ethanol form large amounts of ribose, another component of RNA.
The first molecules that could replicate led directly to modern life
With the components of nucleic acids in place, Ellington traced a path through the RNA world to a molecule that could self-replicate. Past attempts to jump to a complex, self-replicating RNA molecule seem to have been on the wrong track. Short palindromic RNA sequences can apparently help catalyze the formation of complementary sequences, meaning what's needed is actually an RNA that can link these short sequences into longer, more complex ones. A number of such sequences, termed RNA ligases, have been identified. Several labs have shown that these ligases can then be improved by an essentially Darwinian process of random mutation followed by selection for increased efficiency.
Modern RNA activities tell us about the RNA world
Ellington's final point was that we can still see remnants of the RNA world in aspects of biology that are common to all life. He noted that many of the cofactors used by modern proteins, including ATP itself, are derivatives of the chemical components of RNA. Researchers have also been able to evolve RNAs that successfully bind these cofactors, which suggests that proteins would only need to have gradually replaced these RNAs. That replacement, Ellington suggested, has never actually been completed: the central core of the ribosome, a complex essential for protein production in all organisms, turns out to be formed from RNA. During questions, he also emphasized that basic cellular metabolism uses some amino acids as intermediates, and suggested that proteins resulted from early RNA "life" simply using what it had lying around, tying in nicely with the theme of preadaptation.
Ars spoke to Dr. Ellington after the talk and asked him about the separate thread of origin of life research that focuses on identifying the energy-harvesting reactions required for the first life. He was very excited about the potential for user-generated genomes to help unify the two fields. The ability to customize a genome would not only help scientists identify the very minimal metabolism necessary for life, but would eventually allow researchers to start replacing proteins with their catalytic RNA equivalents. Ellington suggested that the result—a cell with a hybrid RNA/protein world—would eventually allow us to explore the transition to the first cells.
Ellington's summary of the state of the art is that "we'll never know exactly what happened, but we're getting a really good idea of what is possible."
The Cambrian explodes and fish get limbs
The Cambrian explosion
A Halwaxiid, poised to explode into
three branches of animal life
Douglas Erwin of the Smithsonian then made the jump to the origin of modern animal life during the Cambrian explosion—as he put it, "3 billion years of boredom later..." Erwin presented the Cambrian explosion as a matter of three big ideas as well: biological challenges, ecological opportunities, and developmental potential. The biological challenges of the era are pretty obvious: in his view, the global glaciations that left glacial sediments in the tropics and are likely to have shut down or severely limited the global carbon cycle.
These changes, however, were accompanied by two events that, in Erwin's view, were essential enablers of a broad radiation of species. Both had the common feature of allowing many organisms access to a resource that was essentially unlimited, and thus free from competition. The first of these was oxygen, which reached unusually high levels in the Cambrian atmosphere. Results published while this article was in preparation reveal that the radiation of animal life closely tracked oxygenation of the ancient ocean. The second was nutrient-rich sediments. Tracks from the first burrowing animals appear in sediments just prior to the Cambrian, and Erwin argues that these animals kept resources in the sediments circulating within the biological community long after they would have otherwise settled out and been buried.
Erwin also described animal life that was poised to explode. The prior era was filled with the Ediacaran Fauna, which he described as, "no eyes, no appendages, lots of fronds, and maybe some guts." But that era also generated fossil embryos that suggest that bilateral animals predated the Cambrian. More telling, however, has been the findings of modern genomics and evo-devo. Genomic studies reveal that many of the genes involved in producing complex animals predate animals themselves, and some of the key regulators of bilateral animal development exist in Cnidarians, which don't share that body plan. Other work has revealed that genetic networks of regulatory genes that are used in appendage and body plan specification probably predate the origins of either limbs or a body plan.
In short, the genetic tools were in place were in place for millions of years before the Cambrian, but it took the Cambrian's unique combination of environmental challenges and opportunities to force organisms to deploy them in new adaptive combinations.
Vanishing gaps in the vertebrate invasion of land
A key event in the origin of modern humans occurred in swamps nearly 400 million years ago. Prior to that time, vertebrates made do with fins and life in the water. Ted Daeschler of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia reviewed our latest understanding of how those fish wound up on land, with limbs to propel them.
Which is a fish, which is a tetrapod? Trick question—they're all tetrapods.
Daeschler pointed out that a few decades ago, we had two species that don't even appear on the diagram here, Eusthenopteron and Icthyostega, and a big gap in between them. Although scientists always want to know more, the gap wasn't a huge problem for them, as they could recognize subtle features of skeletons that the lobe-finned fish shared with the earliest tetrapods. But it was a problem in terms of public relations, as the public had a hard time tracking these subtleties, allowing opponents of evolution to focus on the gap and declare it unbridgeable.
In the 1980s and 90s, other species, such as Pandericthys and Acanthostega, began to fill this gap. Daeschler indicated that a clear pattern emerged, one that linked the appearance of these species with a specific environment and one that represented a new ecological opportunity. All of the fossils were found on a band that, given the then-current arrangement of the continents, was equatorial. The specific environment, however, was one that hadn't existed previously: broad, alluvial valleys and flood plains that were transformed in the wake of the origin of trees. The recognition that this environment spurred tetrapod evolution has led directly to the discovery of Gogonasus and, perhaps the most famous transitional species ever, Tiktaalik.
In this environment, many of the features of the transitional species were preadaptive. Lobed fins aided maneuvering in a complex environment in the same way that limbs later did, in water or out. Muscle attachment sites in the bones of the fins worked equally well when used in legs. For paleontologists, the discoveries that filled the gaps revealed that this major transition occurred through a series of forms that were mosaic, with features added to the tetrapod repertoire in an order that's essentially random. Tiktaalik has a broad, fish-like snout, but the far end of its skull has been reordered to allow the first flexible neck seen in a tetrapod.
Two messages were clear from Daeschler's summary. The first is that there's so much left to discover; we don't know which gap will wind up filled next, just that gaps continue to be filled with rich information. He'll continue chasing road crews as they dig through Pennsylvania for as long as they'll let him. The second message is that it's time to let go of the false distinctions that are left over from Linnean times and only serve to confuse the public. In Daeschler's view, all of these animals, on both sides of the former gaps, are tetrapods. Some have limbs, some have fins, but they're clearly all part of a boundary- and gap-less transition.
Modern human origins and learning
The origins of modern humans
The final scientific speaker in the session was John Relethford, an anthropologist in the SUNY system. He had so many big messages that he settled on a top-ten list to present them. The first item was simply that humans have evolved, period. The evidence is so overwhelming that Relethford feels that any remaining argument is simply between two religious perspectives on that fact; science has moved on. Item two was to emphasize that we did not evolve from modern apes. Ape is both a generic and a species term, and biologists need to be careful to use it correctly, because we're confusing the public by being sloppy.
His third message was that scientists study human origins—the plural part is important. The toolkit that we regard as human, including upright walking, tool use, brain size, etc. all arose at different times, some separated by millions of years. A correlate of this was point four: "humanity's birth was feet first," as he put it. Upright walking may date back over six million years, and was definitely present four million years ago. At the time, there were no tools and our ancestors had ape-like teeth and cranial capacity. Relethford suggested we're still not sure what walking adapted us for, but it clearly kept us going for millions of years before we realized it liberated our forelimbs to manipulate sophisticated tools.
Big brains took their time
That delay might have been due to point five, the fact that cranial capacity increased very slowly and gradually over the course of human evolution. This illustrated Relethford's idea six: there's no free lunch. Any adaptation has a cost, and the advantages of expanding brain size were constantly balanced against the selective cost of a big brain's increased energy use and heat output. There was also more than one way to achieve these balances as, for much of their history, our ancestors were not alone. There were many overlapping homo and australopithecus species in the past, as Relethford noted in point seven, and the question of what constitutes a species is often contentious when it comes to our ancestors.
Relethford's final points backed out to the big picture of science and humanity in general. Eighth on his list was the contention that we should always expect the unexpected, as new discoveries represent the strength of science, not its weakness. He suggested that if people didn't like the excited confusion caused by H. florensis, then they probably shouldn't be paying paleontologists. He also voiced disdain for those who speculate that some form of alien intervention was necessary to produce sophisticated humans or the great works of prehistory. "Our ancestors were not dummies," he stated as point nine, suggesting that this type of thinking was little more than a generation gap taken to an extreme.
His final point was that the full package of modern human traits took millions of years to evolve, so questions as to where we're headed are somewhat irrelevant. In the time span we should be concerned with, Relethford suggested, all the relevant evolution will be cultural.
The state of the art meets the public
With the state of the art established, the final speaker, Martin Storksdieck of the Institute for Learning Innovation looked at how to get that information to a public has such a hard time accepting what science is discovering. He argued that, while most of the attention has focused on childhood education, we really should be going after the parents. Everyone is a lifelong learner, Storksdieck said, but once people leave school, that learning becomes a voluntary matter that's largely driven by individual taste.
Storksdieck discussed a number of key aspects of this voluntary learning. He argued that a surprising amount of it is faith-based; adults don't have the time or need to learn large frameworks like evolution, so they're often willing to accept or reject information based reasons beyond its consistency with scientific understanding. As an example, he noted his own understanding of chemistry was weak, so he'd simply have to accept what Andy Ellington told him about the RNA world. The result is that what's accepted or not becomes largely a matter of social influences.
Here, Storksdieck offered two specific suggestions. The first is to get people in positions of leadership involved, as people pay attention to them, regardless of their grip on the facts. His example was Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, who set the country's battle against AIDS back significantly simply by expressing doubt in our scientific and medical understanding of the conditions. His other suggestion was that we should, as he put it, keep preaching to the choir. Enthused learners are the best communicators of information, and arming them with more of what we know is the best way to get that information before the public.
The series of talks was possibly the best overview of the state of knowledge in any field that I have ever seen, and the enthusiasm of the researchers and their excitement about the topics was palpable. I expect that, if the public saw more presentations like this, which revealed not only the full depth of our understanding, but also the enthusiasm, humor, and humanity of the people that have generated that understanding, then the teaching of evolution would generate only a small fraction of the resistance that it currently does.
Bob McNichol, 57, fromin the west of the country, lost his sight in a freak accident when red-hot liquid aluminium exploded at a re-cycling business in November 2005.
"I thought that I was going to be blind for the rest of my life," McNichol told RTE state radio.
Aftersaid there was nothing more they could do, McNichol heard about a miracle operation called Osteo-Odonto-Keratoprosthesis (OOKP) being performed by Dr Christopher Liu at the Sussex Eye Hospital in Brighton in .
The technique, pioneered inin the 1960s, involves creating a support for an artificial cornea from the patient's own tooth and the surrounding bone.
The procedure used on McNichol involved his son Robert, 23, donating a tooth, its root and part of the jaw.
McNichol's right eye socket was rebuilt, part of the tooth inserted and a lens inserted in a hole drilled in the tooth.
The first operation lasted ten hours and the second five hours.
"It is pretty heavy going," McNichol said. "There was a 65 percent chance of me getting any sight.
"Now I have enough sight for me to get around and I can watch television. I have come out from complete darkness to be able to do simple things," McNichol said.
MONTEREY, California -- Psychologist Philip Zimbardo has seen good people turn evil, and he thinks he knows why.
Zimbardo will speak Thursday afternoon at the TED conference, where he plans to illustrate his points by showing a three-minute video, obtained by Wired.com, that features many previously unseen photographs from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (disturbing content).In March 2006, Salon.com published 279 photos and 19 videos from Abu Ghraib, one of the most extensive documentations to date of abuse in the notorious prison. Zimbardo claims, however, that many images in his video -- which he obtained while serving as an expert witness for an Abu Ghraib defendant -- have never before been published.
The Abu Ghraib prison made international headlines in 2004 when photographs of military personnel abusing Iraqi prisoners were published around the world. Seven soldiers were convicted in courts martial and two, including Specialist Lynndie England, were sentenced to prison.
Zimbardo conducted a now-famous experiment at Stanford University in 1971, involving students who posed as prisoners and guards. Five days into the experiment, Zimbardo halted the study when the student guards began abusing the prisoners, forcing them to strip naked and simulate sex acts.
His book, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, explores how a "perfect storm" of conditions can make ordinary people commit horrendous acts.
He spoke with Wired.com about what Abu Ghraib and his prison study can teach us about evil and why heroes are, by nature, social deviants.
Wired: Your work suggests that we all have the capacity for evil, and that it's simply environmental influences that tip the balance from good to bad. Doesn't that absolve people from taking responsibility for their choices?
Philip Zimbardo: No. People are always personally accountable for their behavior. If they kill, they are accountable. However, what I'm saying is that if the killing can be shown to be a product of the influence of a powerful situation within a powerful system, then it's as if they are experiencing diminished capacity and have lost their free will or their full reasoning capacity.
Situations can be sufficiently powerful to undercut empathy, altruism, morality and to get ordinary people, even good people, to be seduced into doing really bad things -- but only in that situation.
Understanding the reason for someone's behavior is not the same as excusing it. Understanding why somebody did something -- where that why has to do with situational influences -- leads to a totally different way of dealing with evil. It leads to developing prevention strategies to change those evil-generating situations, rather than the current strategy, which is to change the person.
Wired: You were an expert defense witness in the court-martial of Sgt. Chip Frederick, an Abu Ghraib guard. What were the situational influences in his case?
Zimbardo: Abu Ghraib was under bombardment all the time. In the prison, five soldiers and 20 Iraqi prisoners get killed. That means automatically any soldier working there is under high fear and high stress. Then the insurgency starts in 2003, and they start arresting everyone in sight. When Chip Frederick [starts working at Abu Ghraib] in September, there are 200 prisoners there. Within three months there's a thousand prisoners with a handful of guards to take care of them, so they're overwhelmed. Frederick and the others worked 12-hour shifts. How many days a week? Seven. How many days without a day off? Forty. That kind of stress reduces decision-making and critical thinking and rationality. But that's only the beginning.
He [complained] to higher-ups on the record, "We have mentally ill patients who cover themselves with [excrement]. We have people with tuberculosis that shouldn't be in this population. We have kids mixed with adults."
And they tell him, "It's a war zone. Do your job. Do whatever you have to do."
Wired: How did what happened at Abu Ghraib compare to your Stanford prison study?
Zimbardo: The military intelligence, the CIA and the civilian interrogator corporation, Titan, told the MPs [at Abu Ghraib], "It is your job to soften the prisoners up. We give you permission to do something you ordinarily are not allowed to do as a military policeman -- to break the prisoners, to soften them up, to prepare them for interrogation." That's permission to step across the line from what is typically restricted behavior to now unrestricted behavior.
In the same way in the Stanford prison study, I was saying [to the student guards], "You have to be powerful to prevent further rebellion." I tell them, "You're not allowed, however, to use physical force." By default, I allow them to use psychological force. In five days, five prisoners are having emotional breakdowns.
The situational forces that were going on in [Abu Ghraib] -- the dehumanization, the lack of personal accountability, the lack of surveillance, the permission to get away with anti-social actions -- it was like the Stanford prison study, but in spades.
Those sets of things are found any time you really see an evil situation occurring, whether it's Rwanda or Nazi Germany or the Khmer Rouge.
Wired: But not everyone at Abu Ghraib responded to the situation in the same way. So what makes one person in a situation commit evil acts while another in the same situation becomes a whistle-blower?
Zimbardo: There's no answer, based on what we know about a person, that we can predict whether they're going to be a hero whistle-blower or the brutal guard. We want to believe that if I was in some situation [like that], I would bring with it my usual compassion and empathy. But you know what? When I was the superintendent of the Stanford prison study, I was totally indifferent to the suffering of the prisoners, because my job as prison superintendent was to focus on the guards.
As principal [scientific] investigator [of the experiment], my job was to care about what happened to everybody because they were all under my experimental control. But once I switched to being the prison superintendent, I was a different person. It's hard to believe that, but I was transformed.
Wired: Do you think it made any difference that the Abu Ghraib guards were reservists rather than active duty soldiers?
Zimbardo: It made an enormous difference, in two ways. They had no mission-specific training, and they had no training to be in a combat zone. Secondly, the Army reservists in a combat zone are the lowest form of animal life within the military hierarchy. They're not real soldiers, and they know this. In Abu Ghraib the only thing lower than the army reservist MPs were the prisoners.
Wired: So it's a case of people who feel powerless in their lives seizing power over someone else.
Zimbardo: Yes, victims become victimizers. In Nazi concentration camps, the Jewish capos were worse than the Nazis, because they had to prove that they deserved being in this position.
Wired: You've said that the way to prevent evil actions is to teach the "banality of kindness" -- that is, to get society to exemplify ordinary people who engage in extraordinary moral actions. How do you do this?
Zimbardo: If you can agree on a certain number of things that are morally wrong, then one way to counteract them is by training kids. There are some programs, starting in the fifth grade, which get kids to think about the heroic mentality, the heroic imagination.
To be a hero you have to take action on behalf of someone else or some principle and you have to be deviant in your society, because the group is always saying don't do it; don't step out of line. If you're an accountant at Arthur Andersen, everyone who is doing the defrauding is telling you, "Hey, be one of the team."
Heroes have to always, at the heroic decisive moment, break from the crowd and do something different. But a heroic act involves a risk. If you're a whistle-blower you're going to get fired, you're not going to get promoted, you're going to get ostracized. And you have to say it doesn't matter.
Most heroes are more effective when they're social heroes rather than isolated heroes. A single person or even two can get dismissed by the system. But once you have three people, then it's the start of an opposition.
So what I'm trying to promote is not only the importance of each individual thinking "I'm a hero" and waiting for the right situation to come along in which I will act on behalf of some people or some principle, but also, "I'm going to learn the skills to influence other people to join me in that heroic action."
First 30,000 Represents Just 1.6% of Known Species
The first 30,000 species have been added to an ambitious on-line catalog of the world's diverse life forms, the Encyclopedia of Life.
For anyone fascinated by the natural world, this is big news. It's an inspiration. Plus, it might finally help us all remember how it is those taxonomic divisions fit together. (Was that "kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species" ... or "kingdom, class, phylum, family, order, genus, species"?)
The database will also be a tool for scientists and policymakers looking to understand, protect and restore the world's biodiversity, for its own sake and for various species' potential to provide useful and valuable services to humanity. (Think everything from cure for cancer to replacement pollinators should the honeybee crisis spiral downward.) Some have suggested the world is in the midst of its sixth great extinction event, this one caused not by volcanism, meteor strikes or other catastrophe, but instead by human pollution and encroachment into wild habitats.
“The EOL provides an extraordinary window onto the living world, one that will greatly accelerate and expand the potential for biological and biomedical discovery,” says Gary G. Borisy, director and chief executive officer of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Mass., and a member of the EOL Steering Committee and Distinguished Advisory Board.
The 30,000 species in the database now is miniscule, not even 2% of the 1.8 million species known to science. No surprise, then, that it will take til 2017 to fill the database with 250 years of scientific exploration and discovery.
"It is exciting to anticipate the scientific chords we might hear once 1.8 million notes are brought together through this instrument," says Jim Edwards, Executive Director of the EOL. “Potential EOL users are professional and citizen scientists, teachers, students, media, environmental managers, families and artists. The site will link the public and scientific community in a collaborative way that’s without precedent in scale.”
But the USA is quietly opening a more significant front this week in the battle against global warming by targeting its biggest source: power plants.
A Wisconsin coal-fired power plant operated by We Energies is scheduled to launch a pilot project to capture a portion of the carbon dioxide produced as the coal is burned. It will be the first time a U.S. power plant has corralled CO2, the main greenhouse gas, before it floats out of the smokestack.
Power plants produce nearly 40% of U.S. carbon emissions; the bulk of that is from coal plants.
The project is a small step on a long road. Alstom, the technology provider, will capture just 3% of the carbon and will immediately release it rather than storing it underground. Carbon storage is widely deemed the biggest hurdle in the worldwide effort to reduce power plant CO2 emissions.
Yet, the pilot program shows that even though the Bush administration recently canceled the clean coal plant called FutureGen, industry is forging ahead, if in a more scattershot style, to strike at the single biggest source of carbon discharges. The Pleasant Prairie, Wis., trial is one of a series of carbon-capture projects Alstom and others are planning at power plants around the nation in the next decade.
The year-long effort, estimated to cost at least $10 million, is being funded by We Energies, Alstom, the Electric Power Research Institute and 35 companies.
"It's a necessary first step," says Robert Hilton, head of business development for Alstom's global environmental business.
Clean coal plants are viewed as vital to fighting global warming. Gas-fired plants emit far less carbon than coal, but natural gas prices are volatile. Wind and solar power are intermittent. Nuclear reactors are emissions-free but pricey and could take many years to build. Despite recent price increases, coal is fairly cheap and abundant.
At the Wisconsin plant, Alstom has built a 90-foot-high addition criss-crossed by huge pipes and heat exchangers to capture the carbon, using a process called chilled ammonia. After coal is burned in a boiler, ammonium carbonate absorbs about 90% of the resulting CO2 to form ammonium bicarbonate, a solid and liquid. The carbon will then be separated under high pressure and released into the air as a gas.
Chilling the carbon and other flue gases eliminates contaminants, such as sulfur dioxide, and permits a much greater amount of carbon to be absorbed, Hilton says. That means the carbon capture uses far less electricity, freeing the power for the grid.
One concern about ammonia is its volatility. "You don't want it coming up the stack," says Howard Herzog, principal research engineer for the MIT Energy and Environment lab.
Hilton says scrubbers will prevent any ammonia from escaping.
The Wisconsin pilot program will be followed by similar but larger trials by Alstom at American Electric Power plants in West Virginia and Oklahoma. Those projects will store CO2 underground or pump it to oil fields to boost output.
Alstom has said carbon capture and storage should be widely available by 2019.
By capturing CO2 after it is produced, Alstom's technology can be used with hundreds of today's traditional pulverized coal plants, Hilton says. General Electric and Siemens are developing technology for a new type of plant that turns coal into synthetic gases, filtering out the CO2 before the gases are burned, a simpler process.
Such plants are 20% cheaper than traditional coal plants, assuming both types add carbon capture and storage, says MIT professor John Deutch.
The FutureGen plant, scheduled to be built in Mattoon, Ill., would have used gasification technology. The Department of Energy canceled it last month, citing construction costs that would have pushed its price tag to nearly $2 billion, most of which the DOE would have funded. Instead, the DOE says it will help fund several smaller gasification plants spearheaded by the power industry around the country.
Deutch says only the federal government can oversee the challenging task of burying carbon in rock formations. Researchers must ensure that the carbon doesn't contaminate water supplies, and officials must determine who is liable if the CO2 leaks to neighboring properties, he says.
Hilton, however, thinks Deutch is underestimating private efforts. "Sometimes government programs prolong a product coming to market," he says.