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Monday, June 16, 2008

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2008 June 16

Inside the Coma Cluster of Galaxies
Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA);
Acknowledgment: D. Carter (LJMU) et al. and the Coma HST ACS Treasury Team

Explanation: Almost every object in the above photograph is a galaxy. The Coma Cluster of Galaxies pictured above is one of the densest clusters known - it contains thousands of galaxies. Each of these galaxies houses billions of stars - just as our own Milky Way Galaxy does. Although nearby when compared to most other clusters, light from the Coma Cluster still takes hundreds of millions of years to reach us. In fact, the Coma Cluster is so big it takes light millions of years just to go from one side to the other! The above mosaic of images of a small portion of Coma was taken in unprecedented detail by the Hubble Space Telescope to investigate how galaxies in rich clusters form and evolve. Most galaxies in Coma and other clusters are ellipticals, although some imaged here are clearly spirals. The spiral galaxy on the upper left of the above image can also be found as one of the bluer galaxies on the upper left of this wider field image. In the background thousands of unrelated galaxies are visible far across the universe.

Original here

Astronomers find 'super-Earths'

RESEARCHERS today said they discovered a batch of three "super-Earths" orbiting a nearby star, and two other solar systems with small planets as well.

They said their findings, presented at a conference in France, suggest that Earth-like planets may be very common.

"Does every single star harbour planets and, if yes, how many?" asked Michel Mayor of Switzerland's Geneva Observatory.

"We may not yet know the answer but we are making huge progress towards it," Mr Mayor said in a tatement.

The trio of planets orbit a star slightly less massive than our Sun, 42 light-years away towards the southern Doradus and Pictor constellations.

A light-year is the distance light can travel in one year at a speed of 300,000km per second - or about 9.5 trillion kilometres.

The planets are bigger than Earth - one is 4.2 times the mass, one is 6.7 times and the third is 9.4 times.

They orbit their star at extremely rapid speeds - one whizzing around in just four days, compared with Earth's 365 days, one taking 10 days and the slowest taking 20 days.

Mayor and colleagues used the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher or HARPS, a telescope at La Silla observatory in Chile, to find the planets.

More than 270 so-called exoplanets have been found. Most are giants, resembling Jupiter or Saturn. Smaller planets closer to the size of Earth are far more difficult to spot.

None can be imaged directly at such distances but can be spotted indirectly using radio waves or, in the case of HARPS, spectrographic measurements. As a planet orbits, it makes the star wobble very slightly and this can be measured.

"With the advent of much more precise instruments such as the HARPS spectrograph ... we can now discover smaller planets, with masses between 2 and 10 times the Earth's mass," said Stephane Udry, who also worked on the study.

The team also said they found a planet 7.5 times the mass of Earth orbiting the star HD 181433 in 9.5 days. This star also has a Jupiter-like planet that orbits every three years.

Another solar system has a planet 22 times the mass of Earth, orbiting every four days, and a Saturn-like planet with a three-year period.

"Clearly these planets are only the tip of the iceberg," said Mr Mayor.

"The analysis of all the stars studied with HARPS shows that about one third of all solar-like stars have either super-Earth or Neptune-like planets with orbital periods shorter than 50 days."

How the Steam Engine Changed the Worl

Each Monday, this column turns a page in history to explore the discoveries, events and people that continue to affect the history being made today.

It is fitting that the first person to devise a working steam engine would be a man named Hero.

Sixteen hundred years after the ancient Greek scientist first made mention of the untapped power of steam, the technology would become the hero and the engine that drove the Industrial Revolution.

When it was refined by 18th century scientists such as James Watt, steam power overcame the limitations of using relatively weak men or tired horses to do grunt work and sped factories along at a pace never before seen.

Hampered by beasts

The Middle Ages aren't usually associated with industry, but societies across Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia and Africa did indeed have factories and manufacturing plants, albeit slow-working ones.

Textile production, for example, was a bustling trade, but had to deal with the geographic separation of the grazing sheep that provided the wool, the water-powered mills built along mountain streams and the cities where the cloth was purchased at market. The packhorses or mules that transported goods between them were expensive and slowed down by the weight of their load. Horses were also used to lug buckets of water out of flooded mines, but needed frequent breaks and lots of care to keep them in good shape.

Yet beasts of burden may have remained the mechanism of choice had it not been for the 17th-century British glassmakers that required enormous amounts of coal to keep their hot furnaces burning.

The horse-pulley system used to drain coal mines proved inadequately slow in keeping up with the glassmakers' need for the fossil fuel, and there were lucrative rewards for anyone who could develop a better way to drain the mines. Scientists began tinkering seriously with steam in the early 1600s and, like most inventions of the day, it was a team effort that ultimately led to the first working steam engine.

In 1698, British inventor Thomas Savery patented a steam-powered pump, which he described as an "engine to raise water by fire." Savery's very basic engine relied on steam to create a vacuum and pull water upwards through a pipe — a theory that had been around for several centuries but never successfully applied. The technology was improved with pistons and cylinders by Thomas Newcomen, a blacksmith, and again by Watt in the mid-18th century.

By that time, the speedy engine's reputation was gaining steam well beyond mining circles, moving indoors to other areas of industry from metalworking to textiles, where it was adapted to the rotating wheel system common in European mills.

A savvy businessman, Watt marketed his machine by calculating the number of horses his engine would replace, coining the term "horsepower" in the process.

The revolution begins in earnest

The simultaneous perfection of the steam engine and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is a chicken and egg scenario that historians have long debated. The world was becoming an industrialized place before the advent of steam power, but would never have progressed so quickly without it, they argue.

Factories that still relied on wind or water power to drive their machines during the Industrial Revolution were confined to certain locales; steam meant that factories could be built anywhere, not just along fast-flowing rivers.

Those factories benefited from one of the world's greatest partnerships — that of Watt and Matthew Boulton, a British manufacturer. Together, they tailored Watt's steam engine to any company that could use it, amassing great fortunes for themselves but also sharing research over vast distances.

Transportation was one of those important beneficiaries. By the early 1800s, high-pressure steam engines had become compact enough to move beyond the factory, prompting the first steam-powered locomotive to hit the rails in Britain in 1804. For the first time in history, goods were transported over land by something other than the muscle of man or animal.

The United States was the pioneer in shipping, putting a passenger steamship on the water in 1807.

That landmark trip, a 150-mile journey from New York to Albany on a ship called The Clermont, took 32 hours to complete. Perhaps it was the reason for the ensuing boom in rail travel.

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Using Brainwaves To Chat And Stroll Through Second Life: World's First


At a recent demonstration in Japan, a student in a remote location (Yagami Campus) moved an avatar using brainwaves, and live video footage and the moving avatar were shown within the computer game, Second Life. (Credit: Image courtesy of Keio University)

On 7th June 2008, Keio University succeeded in the world’s first demonstration experiment with the help of a disabled person to use brainwave to chat and stroll through the virtual world.

The research group led by Assistant Prof. Junichi Ushiba of the Faculty of Science and Technology of Keio University applied the technology “to operate the computer using brain images released last year and succeeds in enabling a disabled person suffering muscle disorder (41 year old male) to stroll through “Second Life®*”, a three-dimentional virtual world on the Internet, to walk towards the avatar of a student logged in at Keio University located 16km from the subject’s home, and to have a conversation with the student using the “voice chat” function.

This demonstration experiment opens a new possibility for motion-impaired people in serious conditions to communicate with others and to engage in business. This experiment is a marriage of leading-edge technologies in brain science and the Internet, and is the world’s first successful example to meet with people and have conversation in the virtual world.

This research is an achievement of the Biomedical Research Project at Keio University, a collaboration project of the Faculty of Science and Technology, Tsukigase Rehabilitation Center and the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine of the School of Medicine. This experiment was demonstrated at the 17th Keio University Faculty of Science and Technology Open Lecture on 7th June 2008.

About the technology

The system uses electrodes as small as 1cm in diameter that are attached to the scalp. A computer detects brainwaves from the sensory-motor cortex when the subject slightly moves fingers of his/her right and left hand, and moves the avatar accordingly. The computer also detects the subject’s will to move forward, and makes the avatar move forward.

The system released last year used a desktop computer, but the new system uses a portable electroencephalograph commercially available, and made it possible to bring the system to the subject’s home. The subject walks toward the avatar controlled by a student, and talks to it. Moving images of this demonstration experiment can be seen at the following website: http://www.bme.bio.keio.ac.jp/01news/

Development in the Future

Detection of brainwaves will become more accurate, which will lead to smoother control of avatars. The technology will be used to develop communication tools and business tools to support the lives of people with serious movement disorders.

*Second Life® is a 3-D virtual community, created and operated by U.S.-based company Linden Lab, with a growing population from more than 100 countries around the globe. Residents of Second Life® can create their own homes, vehicles, nightclubs, stores, landscapes, clothes and games. They control avatars, which are characters to replace themselves, to stroll through the virtual world and teleport. Chatting with other residents and commercial activities are also possible. Linden dollars, the virtual currency used in Second Life® can be changed to real US dollars.

Original here


Harvard Team Creates the World's 1st Synthesized Cells

FROM BLOG: The Daily Galaxy: News from Planet Earth & Beyond - The Daily Galaxy is an eclectic multimedia presentation of fascinating news and goings on from around the world.
The following blog post is from an independent writer and is not connected with Reuters News. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not endorsed by Reuters.com.

Humancellstained_2 A single cell is the most awesomely sophisticated molecular machine yet produced. A self-directing, self-replicating micro-factory capable of complex constructions, automated repair and even (like all good sci-fi-sounding devices) self-destruct. The first cells, however, were much less "complex mechanisms" and significantly more "Shake and Bake" - a model that we're now ready to build ourselves.

These proto-cells didn't have any sophisticated cellular functions, consisting of nothing more than a fatty cell wall just dense enough to have an inside and an outside, with a speck of DNA on the "not-outside" side. This child's model of a cell drifted in the chemical soup that created it until the correct nucleotides were absorbed and allowed it to replicated the DNA.

If it sounds hideously unlikely, be aware that some Harvard researchers, including Harvard Medical School's Jack Szostak, have managed exactly that. Mixing some fatty acids and DNA in a test tube of water, they found that the lipid molecules formed a crude ring around the information-rich core. Even more strikingly, nucleotides added to the solution successfully entered the cell and replicated the DNA within a day. We can only hope the scientist took this chance to raise the test tube and cry "In my hand I hold the secret to LIFE ITSELF!", triggering dramatic lightning strikes and thunder in the background.

There are still a few tricks to work out, such as how the original ancestor cells successfully split in two without spilling their precious genetic cargo - but come on. These guys just replicated what took a planet and millions of years in a couple of terms with less than ten dollars of glassware. Awe and wonder are deeply subjective quantities, but I can say for a fact: if you are not impressed by this work, you are wrong.

Posted by Luke McKinney.

Original here

Death special: The plan for eternal life

Quest for immortality
Watch the full-size video

Watch our exclusive video interviews with Anders Sandberg, Aubrey de Grey and Nick Bostrom

I'M SITTING in a darkened hall listening to neuroscientist Anders Sandberg describe how to scan ultra-thin sections of brain. First, embed the brain in plastic, then use a camera combined with laser beam and diamond blade to capture images of the tissue as it is sliced.

The method is being developed (in mice, so far) to better understand the architecture of the brain. But Sandberg, who is based at the University of Oxford, has a rather more ambitious aim in mind. For him, this work is merely the first step towards uploading the contents of human brains - memories, emotions and all - onto a computer.

This is the opening session of the ninth annual meeting of the World Transhumanist Association (WTA) in Chicago. Sandberg and his fellow transhumanists plan to bypass death by using technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), genetic engineering and nanotechnology to radically accelerate human evolution, eventually merging people with machines to make us immortal. This may not be possible yet, the transhumanists reason, but as long as they live long enough - a few decades perhaps - the technology will surely catch up.

To many, these ideas sound seriously scary, and transhumanists have been attacked for jeopardising the future of humanity. What if they ended up creating a race of elite superhumans bent on enslaving the unmodified masses, or unwittingly programmed an army of self-replicating nanobots that would turn us all into grey goo? In 2004, political scientist Francis Fukuyama singled out transhumanism as the world's "most dangerous idea".

Now this small-scale movement aims to go mainstream. WTA membership has risen from 2000 to almost 5000 in the past seven years, and transhumanist student groups have sprung up at university campuses from California to Nairobi. It has attracted a series of wealthy backers, including Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, who recently donated $4 million to the cause, and music producer Charlie Kam, who paid for the Chicago conference. For the first time the organisation has recruited celebrity speakers, such as actor-environmentalist Ed Begley Jr and Star Trek veteran William Shatner.

Other well-known speakers are also on the roster, including AI developer Ben Goertzel, longevity biologist Aubrey de Grey and futurist Ray Kurzweil, the group's unofficial prophet. Kurzweil has recently caused a stir with his best-selling book The Singularity is Near, which explores what happens when our technologies become smarter than us. With transhumanists looking to woo the masses to their cause, I've come to Chicago to find out whether they deserve their dangerous reputation.

Saving humanity

They don't look very threatening, though perhaps not very diverse either. Most WTA members are white, middle-aged men, but WTA secretary and former Buddhist monk James Hughes (see "Essay: The end of death?") hopes to attract a wider range of people by highlighting the organisation's democratic aims. The WTA insists that any new technology is used in a fair and ethical way, he says, with global treaties set up to regulate progress. Some transhumanists campaign for equal access to healthcare and for safeguards on new technology.

AI theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky also believes the movement is driven by an ethical imperative. He sees creating a superhuman AI as humanity's best chance of solving its problems: "Saying AI will save the world or cure cancer sounds better than saying 'I don't know what's going to happen'." Yudkowsky thinks it is crucial to create a "friendly" super-intelligence before someone creates a malevolent one, purposefully or otherwise. "Sooner or later someone is going to create these technologies," he says. "If a self-improving AI is thrown together in a slapdash fashion, we could be in for big trouble."

The theme of saving humanity continues with presentations on cyborgs, cryonics and raising baby AIs in the virtual world of Second Life, as well as surveillance tactics for weeding out techno-terrorists and a suggested solution for the population explosion: uploading 10 million people onto a 50-cent computer chip. More immediate issues facing humanity, such as poverty, pollution and the devastation of war, tend to get ignored.

I discover the less egalitarian side to the transhumanist community when I meet Marvin Minsky, the 80-year-old originator of artificial neural networks and co-founder of the AI lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Ordinary citizens wouldn't know what to do with eternal life," says Minsky. "The masses don't have any clear-cut goals or purpose." Only scientists, who work on problems that might take decades to solve appreciate the need for extended lifespans, he argues.

He is also staunchly against regulating the development of new technologies. "Scientists shouldn't have ethical responsibility for their inventions, they should be able to do what they want," he says. "You shouldn't ask them to have the same values as other people."

The transhumanist movement has been struggling in recent years with bitter arguments between democrats like Hughes and libertarians like Minsky. Can Kurzweil's keynote speech unite the opposing factions? On the final day of the meeting, the diminutive 59-year-old takes the podium, complete with horn-rimmed glasses, utilitarian blue suit and Mickey Mouse watch. Kurzweil offers a few possible solutions to today's global dilemmas, such as nano-engineered solar panels to free the world from its addiction to fossil fuels. But he is opposed to taxpayer-funded programmes such as universal healthcare as well as any regulation of new technology, and believes that even outright bans will be powerless to control or delay the end of humanity as we know it.

"People sometimes say, 'Are we going to allow transhumanism and artificial intelligence to occur?'" he tells the audience. "Well, I don't recall when we voted that there would be an internet."

Death - Delve deeper into the riddle of human mortality in our special report.

Original here


Scientists Find Smallest Form of Life, if It Lives

By WILLIAM J. BROAD

Creepy things from beneath the sea are clichés of modern exploration, but the abyss has now produced a surprise so bizarre as to have touched off hot international debate: tiny, mysterious, apparently living creatures far smaller than any known bacterium -- so small as to strain the limits on what is needed for independent life.



Dr. Philippa Uwins
An electron micrograph shows filaments projecting from sandstone. The filaments are called nanobes because of their size, 20 to 150 nanometers, smaller than cells.
While their finders hail these oddities as a strange new form of microbe teeming with tendrils, their colonies seeming to grow like wild, skeptics see them as probably the newest delusion in a global hunt for the smallest living things.

Their discoverers call them nanobes (pronounced NAN-obes), because their size is in the realm of nanometers (or billionths of a meter). At 20 to 150 nanometers in length, they are smaller than cells, smaller than fungi, smaller than the smallest known bacterium and roughly the same size as viruses, which are considered nonliving parasites because they need hosts to reproduce. Thus, nanobes call into question the minimum size requirements for terrestrial life.

If alive, the find bears on the pervasiveness of terrestrial life, new forms of which are being discovered so deep in such abundance that some scientists suspect the planet has a hidden biosphere of microbes extending down miles whose total mass may exceed that of all surface life. The find might also influence hunts for microscopic aliens perhaps hidden in the solar system's deep netherworlds, the discovery of which would prove that life in the universe is not unique to Earth but an inherent property of matter.

Scientists in Australia at the University of Queensland discovered the tiny oddities four years ago in ancient sandstones retrieved from an oil drilling site some three miles below the Western Australian seabed. Described publicly for the first time in late 1998, the fuzzy tangles of filaments resembled fungi and appeared to reproduce quickly, forming dense colonies of tendrils. Laboratory analysis of them repeatedly found signs of DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, the master molecule of heredity and life.

"Our recent work provides further evidence" that the tangles are in fact alive, said Dr. Philippa J. R. Uwins, a scientist at the University of Queensland's center for Microscopy and Microanalysis, who leads the research. "They're extraordinary and incredibly pretty, the way they grow between the minerals. I'm fascinated by them."

Dr. Uwins's team has written two new papers, one being reviewed for publication and the other just submitted, that describe the most recent evidence and experiments. So far, the main findings are that the colonies grow spontaneously, contain DNA, are rich in biological elements like carbon, oxygen and nitrogen, and when cut in two show distinct outer and inner layers, including a possible nuclear area that holds DNA.

In a bid for skeptical rigor, the team has sought nonbiological explanations but has concluded that none can account for the observations. Its future research goals include quantifying the growth rate of the colonies and sequencing their DNA, which could help connect them to the known tree of terrestrial life.

It might seem that firm knowledge about the minimal size requirements for life would be old stuff. After all, it was several centuries ago that Antony van Leeuwenhoek first opened human eyes to the invisible world of microscopic life, describing a riot of "wee animalcules." But it turns out that the lower limits of life are still a biological mystery and their elucidation has only recently become a popular scientific objective.

The topic exploded in debate four years ago when scientists reported finding tiny fossil microbes in a 4.5-billion-year-old, potato-size Martian meteorite that crashed to earth in Antarctica long ago. At 20 to 200 nanometers, the putative Martian fossils were smaller than any known terrestrial life, and that discrepancy quickly sowed doubts about the veracity of the alien-life discovery.

Since then, many papers have tried to prove the existence of tiny terrestrial analogs and, by extension, the plausibility of the Martian fossils. The Australian team's paper is one of the genre's most recent entries.

To help sort through the rush of claims, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration asked the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences to convene an expert panel. It met in late 1998 and recently published a 148-page report, "Size Limits of Very Small Micro-organisms."

The 18 experts said that known terrestrial bacteria in the range of 200 nanometers probably marked the lower size limit for current life, but held out the possibility that primitive unknown microbes might have been as small as 50 nanometers, about the size of the Australian nanobes.

"A tremendous number of papers are coming out," said Dr. John A. Baross, a biologist at the University of Washington in Seattle who was on the panel's steering group.

"But there's no way a free-living cell is going to be less than 100 nanometers," he said, noting that such lilliputian sizes would seemingly leave too little room for the enzymatic and genetic machinery essential for life. For instance, a single ribosome, a kind of tiny factory that cells use in great numbers to make proteins, could fill a membrane sphere 50 to 60 nanometers wide.

Dr. Norman R. Pace, a microbiologist at the University of Colorado and another member of the research council's steering group, agreed that nanobes were highly unlikely to be alive. Their lower size limit of 20 nanometers, he noted, was about the width of 10 DNA molecules, making them too small to support all the other needed cellular machinery. "I don't think much of it," he said of the nanobe claim.

The rough 100-nanometer size limit for living things, Dr. Baross of the University of Washington noted, "doesn't rule out biological entities that are 20 or 30 or 50 nanometers wide. They're just not going to be free-living and self-replicating. We don't know if these things might exist and have some function. They might be signaling or doing all sorts of novel things."

The Australian nanobes, he added, might well represent such components of life, perhaps working together in a primordial kind of communalism only now coming to light and soon to rewrite the textbooks.

"They can't be anything like the traditional micro-organism we know about," he said of the nanobes. "We have to think about them in a different way, and one is that they are components" that function as a living organism only in totality, the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

"We're very interested in whether these small things are biological in nature," Dr. Baross said, "and, if so, what their function is."

In the research council's report, Dr. Jeffrey G. Lawrence, a biologist at the University of Pittsburgh, laid out a detailed analysis of such hypothetical communal life made up of extraordinarily tiny components, calling the aggregate a meta-cell.

"Such organisms need not maintain a full complement of genes," Dr. Lawrence wrote, referring to the basic unit of heredity. His own computer simulations, he added, predicted the existence of stable meta-cell components that held as few as a single gene.

"One may consider the meta-cell to be a single-celled organism whose genome is distributed through a network," Dr. Lawrence wrote.

In contrast to a hypothetical meta-cell component bearing a single gene, the smallest known living bacterium has 470 genes, making the theoretical entity seem quite puny.

Dr. Jack W. Szostak, a geneticist at Harvard, said in the research council's report that certain terrestrial environments like compressed sediments might be conducive to the evolution of very small whole organisms of about 50 nanometers.

"Given present uncertainties," he wrote, "it seems wise to be prepared to detect life-forms of a wide range of sizes."

In Australia, Dr. Uwins stumbled on her nanobes while examining just the kind of compressed sediments that Dr. Szostak proposed as a possible realm of diminutive life. The sandstone samples came from deep petroleum exploration wells off western Australia.

Today, Dr. Uwins and her Australian colleagues Dr. Richard I. Webb, Dr. Anthony P. Taylor and Dr. Thomas Loy are working hard to cut through the theorizing by proving the existence of extremely small life. The team's main tool is a Jeol 890 scanning electron microscope, an instrument that is able to magnify objects nearly one million times. By contrast, most electron microscopes have magnifications less than half as strong.

"That's an extreme speciality machine, very expensive and very powerful," said Steve Hamilton of Jeol U.S.A., in Peabody, Mass. "There are only two or three in the United States."

Stunning electron micrographs of the nanobes, printed in the November-December 1998 issue of American Mineralogist, a journal of the Mineralogical Society of America, show riots of filaments and tendrils, their ends often swollen and suggestive of reproductive budding. Constrictions along some of the filaments "most likely represent septa," or cavities within the nanobes, the team wrote.

Dissective cuts through the axes of some of the filaments "demonstrate that nanobes have an amorphous membrane structure," the team wrote. Such an outer covering, the scientists added, "is consistent with biological material and excludes the presence of crystalline mineral compounds."

The colonies of nanobes grew so rapidly and so large, the team reported in American Mineralogist, that within weeks of becoming established on growth substrates they became visible to the naked eye, appearing as dense colonies of opaque, white, brown or gray filaments.

In trying to nail down the life issue, the team treated the nanobes with three kinds of DNA stains, in each case getting positive results.

In its new research, the team is doing molecular and structural analyses to see if the organisms are related to bacteria or fungi, or belong to a different evolutionary tree altogether. New photomicrographs have revealed details of nanobe interiors, have pinpointed areas rich in DNA and have found "a whole range of interesting morphologies that look like life-cycle stages in fungi," Dr. Uwins said in an interview. "They're striking."

The researchers say they are increasingly confident that their investigations are going to bolster the Martian meteorite find.

Today, a top goal of the Mars exploration program is to see if life started on Mars early in its history, with experts eager to look for Martian microbes and microbial fossils.

Dr. Baross of the University of Washington said the kind of ferment now churning in biology would aid the hunt.

"It's developing the tools and attracting really smart people into this field," he said. "Most of us in microbiology are prepared for any kind of surprise," including organisms smaller than expected theoretically and tiny alien life.

"Dogma in microbiology is out the window in the past few years," Dr. Baross added. "The field has rediscovered itself. It's essentially a new science."

Original here

Dragon lizards who were born to run have a design fault

Lizards from the Outback have been put on treadmills to help scientists to determine whether it is better to run on two legs or four.

The conundrum raised in the George Orwell novel Animal Farm has perplexed zoologists since the discovery of dragon lizards that can run on two legs and on four. Researchers have speculated that it is an evolutionary advance. Others argued that it meant the animals could flee predators more quickly. Close analysis of their bodies and speed tests on treadmills have revealed however that two legs are slightly more inefficient than four. Rather than provide the animals with an advantage in the wild, the ability to rear up on their hind legs as they scuttle across the Outback is simply a design fault.

Experiments in which lizards were prompted to sprint on treadmills showed that they lifted on to their hind legs because the rate of acceleration altered their centre of gravity and made it impossible to keep four feet on the ground. They were simply accomplishing the reptilian equivalent of a cyclist’s wheelie.

Observations of how fast the lizards ran on the treadmills showed that speed could be ruled out as the cause because the animals were able to run just as fast on four legs. The theory that lifting up on two legs was an evolutionary advance and a step towards an entirely bipedal lifestyle was quashed when researchers realised that ancient species of lizard spent just as much time on two legs as the modern varieties.

Dr Christofer Clemente, of the University of Cambridge, said that rising up on their hind legs was the price that lizards had to pay for the speed and manoeuvrability that turned them into “the jet fighters of the Outback”.

He said: “I think it’s just an evolutionary accident. It’s a consequence of them wanting to run really quickly. As they are moving, it causes the front of the body to flip up. The reason we think this comes about is these lizards have adapted themselves to be really quick and manoeuvrable runners. One of the ways they do that is by moving the centre of gravity towards the back of the lizard – that makes them more manoeuvrable. A fighter jet has a centre of gravity near the back. It makes it more manoeuvrable but less stable. Boeing 747s have a centre of gravity much closer to the nose. These lizards are like the fighter jets. They are really quick, really manoeuvrable but really unstable.”

The findings by the Anglo-Australian research team, published in The Journal of Experimental Biology, also ruled out a theory that the lizards ran on two legs to breathe better. Lizards cannot take breaths when running because the muscles they use to expand and contract the lungs have to be used to move the animals forward. It had been suggested that with the front legs off the ground the muscles would be able to operate the lungs, but this was proved to be wrong.

Lizard kings

— Komodo dragons are the largest lizards. They can grow to 3m (10ft) and weigh more than 200lb (90kg)

— The fastest recorded lizard is the spiny-tailed iguana, at 33km/h

— As well as being able to change colour chameleons can rotate their eyes independently of one another

— There are more than 4,670 species of lizards

— Horned lizards scare away predators by squirting blood from their eyes

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China Alone Increased Worldwide CO2 Pollution 2% Last Year


It had been known, but disputed, for a year that China was the new king of carbon, having pumped more of the heat-trapping gas into the atmosphere annually than the United States. Now, with a new analysis from the Netherlands, the rise of China's polluting power has been confirmed.

The world's carbon dioxide emissions increased 3% in 2007, and China was responsible for fully two thirds of that increase, according to the report. It now emits 14% more than the United States every year, and that figure is expected to grow as the country continues to burn coal, clear forests and make cement to fuel its own economic boom, while manufacturing the world's disposable goods.

China is now responsible for about one quarter of the world's annual carbon dioxide pollution, while the U.S. is responsible for one fifth. It takes all of Europe and India combined to approach the level of pollution the U.S. creates every year. And the U.S. still leads the world in pollution per person: It takes almost four Chinese people (and more than 10 Indians) to equal the pollution of a single American.

The big picture here is, one, that greenhouse gas pollution continues to increase, despite ever clearer warnings that global warming is a real and present threat. From the Arctic, where ice is melting at an unexpected pace, to raging wildfires across the U.S. West and other extremes of weather, the warning signs are hard to miss.

But finding a way not only to reduce emissions in the United States, where technological development is easier and first-world living standards are already in place, but also in China, where industrial development is a key to bringing millions out of poverty, is an open question. In the United Nations' negotiations about climate change, and in parallel discussions among the world's top polluters convened by President Bush, a key question has been how to transfer clean energy technology created by free market enterprise in the West to China, India and other nations that would otherwise follow the West's model of a decades-long high-polluting march toward modernization.

So far, there hasn't been an answer found to that question. Meanwhile, the stakes are only getting higher.

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Senator Attacks Solar Energy Industry

In a blistering attack, Nevada’s Republican senator John Ensign has launched an offensive against solar energy lobbyists, ahead of a crucial vote on renewable energy tax credits.

Breaking ranks with the the state’s increasingly important solar industry, Ensign said that efforts by the Solar Energy Industry Association to force his hand on tax breaks had in fact had the opposite effect of “personally alienating” him and other senators.

In a scathing letter, later released to the press, Ensign accused the lobby group of squandering goodwill by accusing him of favouring “billionaire hedge fund managers” over job creation in Nevada. Indicating the depth of his feelings on the issue, he went on to say “It is rare to have such overwhelming bipartisan support in today’s political climate but the solar industry had it and your association’s leadership squandered it.”

Nevada solar executives had privately become increasingly unhappy with the Senator’s record of voting against bills containing the tax credits. Ensign said that he opposed the bills because the funds for tax breaks would have been raised by increasing the burden on the oil and gas industry. Earlier this spring, he co-sponsored an alternative approach, calling for tax credits without the corresponding offsets. It made it through the Senate by a vote of 88-8, but has become bogged down in the House.

Last Tuesday, the senate voted to block progress on the Consumer First Energy Act and the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act. However, with a new vote expected this week, the rift is likely to dismay observers hopeful of progress on the hotly disputed tax credits bill. A block would be particularly damaging to the renewables industry, which wants to make investment decisions against a background of long-term stability in renewable energy policy.

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Honda releases the zero-emission FCX Clarity

Honda said 50,000 people have signed up to lease the Clarity, which rolls out in July. (Honda)

Honda's new zero-emission, hydrogen fuel cell car rolled off a Japanese production line Monday and is headed to southern California, where Hollywood is already abuzz over the latest splash in green motoring.

The FCX Clarity, which runs on hydrogen and electricity, emits only water and none of the gases believed to induce global warming. It is also two times more energy efficient than a gas-electric hybrid and three times that of a standard gasoline-powered car, the company says.

Honda expects to lease out a "few dozen" units this year and about 200 units within a year. In California, a three-year lease will run $600 a month, which includes maintenance and collision coverage.

Among the first customers are actress Jamie Lee Curtis and filmmaker husband Christopher Guest, actress Laura Harris, film producer Ron Yerxa, as well as businessmen Jon Spallino and Jim Salomon.

"It's so smooth," said Harris, who played villainness Marie Warner on the hit TV show "24." "It's like a future machine, but it's not."

Harris, Spallino and Yerxa were flown to the ceremony, courtesy of Honda. Yerxa says he's excited to show off the car and believes there's "a lot of interest."

The biggest obstacles standing in the way of wider adoption of fuel cell vehicles are cost and the dearth of hydrogen fuel stations. For the Clarity's release in California, Honda said it received 50,000 applications through its Web site but considered only buyers living near hydrogen fuel stations in Torrance, Santa Monica and Irvine.

"This is indeed a historic day for both Honda and American Honda -- a new chapter in our nearly fifty-year history in America," said John Mendel, a senior vice president at America

Honda Motor Co. at a morning ceremony here. "It's an especially significant day for American Honda as we plant firm footsteps toward the mainstreaming of fuel cell cars."

Initially, however, the Clarity will go only to a chosen few starting July and then launch in Japan this fall.

Although Honda Motor Co. was the first Japanese automaker to launch a gas-electric hybrid vehicle in the U.S. in 1999, it has been outpaced by the dominance of Toyota's popular Prius.

Toyota announced in May that it has sold more than 1 million Prius hybrids, while both the Honda Insight and the hybrid Accord have been discontinued due to poor sales.

The FCX Clarity is part of Honda's plan to keep pace with rivals in green technology. It also plans to launch a gas-electric hybrid-only model, as well as hybrid versions of the Civic, the sporty CR-Z and Fit subcompact.

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17 Reasons Why Bicycles Are the Most Popular Vehicle in the World Today

Bicycle LaneBicycling it isn’t always easy. Busy streets, honking horns, and inadequate city funding for bike lanes and paths can make bicycling an uphill battle. However, with green in the news, the economy in a slump, and summer on its way, it’s getting easier to find reasons why there are some 1.4 billion bicycles and only about 400 million cars in the world today.

This week, EcoWorldly authors from six continents contributed articles on bicycling in their country. With exerpts from those articles and others in the blogosphere, here are seventeen very good reasons to bicycle no matter where you live. Click the headings as you go to read more.

1. The number one thing on most carowner’s minds these days is the price of oil.

“The popularity of bicycles as gasoline prices hit the roof is on a remarkable rise in many US cities,” observes Kenya correspondant, Sam Aola Ooko.

“During the week of 3 June to 9 June,” writes Sam, “in San Fransisco, the price for a gallon of regular is now US$ 4.73, in Washington, DC it is US$ 4.21 while in Wilmington it is US$ 4.40. But how much does it cost to ride around these days? The answer is zero, as it has always been.”

Associated Press Writer, James Macpherson, agrees. “Bicycle shops across the country are reporting strong sales so far this year, and more people are bringing in bikes that have been idled for years,” he writes.

2. Bicycling can make you healthy and hot… er… hotter.

Bicycling with even light effort (10-12 miles per hour) burns 400-500 calories an hour. To shape her legs for the Miss Universe competition, Miss Korea, Lee Ji-seon, started getting her workouts on a bicycle. Apparently, Miss Universe 2007, Zuleyka Rivera of Puerto Rico, is of a similar mind. She cycled through Mexico City in support of replacing cars with bicycles.

EcoWorldly’s UK correspondant, Pem Charnley, connects bicycling with solving the obesity problem in England: “I think, in all honesty, that the UK has come to the realisation that we’ve collectively reached critical mass around the waistline. Every time the news reports that we’re the most overweight in the European Union, pride and roars of approval sweep the land. It’s all we have left since we gave Hong Kong back.

“Devon is an incredibly picturesque county,” he adds, “and it seems an absolute waste to be constantly watching soccer on the TV, when outside lies the undulating greenery of England.”

3. Old bicycles can be modified and made into useful tools.

From generating human-powered home electricity to pumping water, modified bicycles have the power to do more than get you from point A to point B.

“The Engineering for Developing Communities (EDC) program at the University of Colorado at Boulder developed a prototype of a human powered bicycle for pumping water in communities where electricity is unavailable,” reports United States correspondant, Nayelli Gonzalez. “Their model was able to pump at a maximum of 18 feet below ground, at 2.5 gallons per minute.”

4. Bicycling builds social groups and better community development.

In Reggio Emilia, Italy, the “BiciBus” brings teachers, students, and parents together for bicycle commuting to and from schools.

“The BiciBus is a ‘two-wheeled bus,’” writes Italy correspondant, Eva Pratesi. “It consists of a group of students who go to and come back from school guided by volunteers by bicycle (parents, grandparents, teachers…). The students go to the route with their bicycles; they wait for the volunteers and the group and go on together toward the school.

BiciBus is preceded and supported by workshops and technical analysis in the classrooms to educate to sustainable mobility, traffic safety and bicycle knowledge. It’s also possible to organize school trips by bicycle an evening meetings with experts directed to the families in order to talk about health, sustainable mobility and safety.”

In Australia, a similar community bicycling program offers a similar program for adults as well. Cyclists can join the “Bike Bus,” a regularly scheduled commute with fixed routes and two commuting speeds: social and express.

San Francisco, California, has a third option. Though not as organized as a community bike bus program, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition can pair cyclists with “bike buddies” to share knowledge and tips or commute together to work.

5. Bicycling may encourage the breakdown of economic divides.

In wealthy countries, cycling has been adopted by all echelons of society. In fact, the word “cyclist” tends to conjure the image of a upper-middle class athletic type with an expensive carbon fiber bike, spandex outfit, and bicycle shoes. However, in poorer countries, people who have adopted driving as a social status often equate bicycling with poverty.

“Bicycling in Chiang Mai, Thailand, like in many developing country cities, is regarded with disdain because it supposedly reveals low economic status,” writes Thailand correspondant Masimba Biriwasha. “Many people are reluctant to turn to bicycles because of the social attitudes that demean human powered modes of transportation, including walking.”

EcoWorldly’s Sam Aola Ooko, adds, “In Nairobi, Kenya where I live, not many of those who drive here switch to bicycles, because bikes are regarded as [being useful only to] poorly paid factory who cannot afford the US $1 daily bus fare commuting to and from work.”

“In order for cycling to become an everyday reality in this city,” concludes Masimba, “the society will have to undergo major paradigm shifts at the attitudinal, city planning and policy making levels.” Perhaps that shift can begin one bicyclist at a time.

6. Bicycles are versitile machines with many uses.

Again, Sam Aola Ooko in Kenya: “In Africa, versatility is everything and depending on where you are, a bicycle can be a large farm truck or an ambulance saving lives deep in the African jungle.”

But, as Sam cautions, be careful to select a comfortable seat and have it properly adjusted by a professional bike mechanic.

7. By reducing air pollution, bicycling instead of driving also reduces rates of asthma and lung disease.

There is a strong and increasingly clear connection between car exhaust and life-threatening lung conditions. In South Korea, where I live, the number of deaths from lower respiratory conditions nearly doubled from 1992 to 2002. Worldwide, the World Health Organization estimates that 3 million people a year die from diseases related to air pollution. And this isn’t just in far-off countries. It includes Americans, Chinese, French, South Koreans, etc. In South Korea, asthma in particular is becoming more common. Currently, 3.9% of the population as a whole suffers from asthma. This number grows to around 12% for young children and the elderly.

8. Bicycling saves Australia nearly a quarter billion dollars in health costs each year.

Australia correspondant, Ross Kendall: “Cycling currently saves the government $227.2 million per year in health costs. The report is called Cycling: Getting Australia Moving and was written by academics from several leading Australian universities on behalf of the Federal Department of Health and Ageing.”

Despite the potential savings in dollars, health, and lives, Australia — like most countries — could stand to significantly improve its support of bicyclists. Still, Ross notes that “big cities have shown increases in bicycle traffic as has the country overall.”

Carectomy’s Josh Liberles adds “2007 marks the eighth consecutive year that bicycle sales have trumped the car market in Australia, with 1.47 million bicycles sold. In addition to the rise in sales, there’s also an increase in the amount people are riding. Cycling is currently the nation’s 4th most popular form of exercise and there has been a 17% increase in participation since 2001. Work commutes by bicycle in Melbourne have increased by a startling 42% in the same time, with a 22% increase across Australia.”

9. Bicycles require significantly less space than cars.

Therefore, an urban area developed for bicycles and pedestrians would be able to replace road area with businesses, walkways, and parks. For a perfect illustration, just take a look at this image. Now just imagine the impracticality of replacing every bicycle in China with a car.

Again, EcoWorldly’s Eva Pratesi: “With a population of about 400,000 inhabitants and a traffic density that affects the historical center, Florence is a city where bicycling is not a choice. Every day a continual coming and going of students and workers flows slowly in the city-center riding for kilometers. Cradle of new Humanism under the Medici Dynasty, Florence preserves today the ancient charm that bikers can appreciate moving towards their destinations.”

10. In some places, with a little modification, a single bicycle can be a business.

“Peruvians also are masters at modifying their bicycles in creative ways,” writes Peru correspondant, Levi Novey, “so that they can be used to transport goods and tools for their work and businesses. Fruits, vegetables, construction materials, ice cream, meat, bananas, pets, and countless other items can be transported by bicycle, when a cart has been added. Unlike in the United States though, these aren’t your everyday bicycle carts.”

11. Bicycles are efficient vehicles.

Swiss correspondant, Mark Seall, writes, “A bicycle, I once read somewhere, is the most efficient form of human transport ever developed. Coupled with the fact that bicycles are relatively cheap and trouble free, and suffer few of the traffic problems that dog other forms of transport it’s no wonder that cycling has never been more popular.”

But Mark is quick to add that bicyclists should be respectful of pedestrians. Indeed, it’s important for all cyclists to remember that in most places a bicycles follows the same rules of the road as any other vehicle. Check with your local bicycling group or city government to learn more about the rules of bicycling in your area.

12. Bicycling could save the average American at least $250,000.

According to Motor Trend and the American Institute for Economic Research, the average American car-owner can expect to pay between $240,704 and $349,968 during his driving lifetime. These figures will increase with the price of fuel and the rising cost of the vehicles themselves.

A bicycle can serve your transportation needs for commuting, shopping, and getting around town. Urbanites who are well acquainted with the frustration of paying parking tickets and towing fines will also find that bicycles are an excellent solution. Of course, you’ll still need that fuel: the occasional sandwich or cup of coffee will do nicely.

13. A bicycle crash alone isn’t likely to kill you.

In a sobering perspective on health, over 42,000 people die each year (1 million, worldwide) in the United States and some 2.8 million are injured as a result of automotive accidents. Another 70,000 lives are claimed each year in the United States from medical conditions associated with air pollution (3 million, worldwide). Therefore, for personal safety and the health and safety of others, giving up the car keys is extremely important. As anyone who has experienced a car accident will tell you, car crashes can happen to anyone, not just bad or drunk drivers.

14. Bicyclists breath in less air pollution.

Various studies indicate that bicyclists breathe in less air pollution, making cycling an even more healthy activity. Of course, bicycles emit no air pollution themselves, which ensures cleaner air and better lung health for everybody.

15. Bicycles are zero-emission vehicles.

Bikes get an infinite number of miles to the gallon of gas. Now that’s hard to beat! Bicycling emits no greenhouse, ozone, or any gasses of any sort. Cycling, therefore, is an excellent way for all of us to stand up to Global Warming, ozone thinning, acid rain, and other negative effects of air pollution that come in part from automobiles. If everyone bicycled or rode on public transit instead of driving, the United States could instantly cut about 30% of its air pollution in a single stroke.

16. Bicycling provides a social network.

In contrast to the irritation many car owners feel for other drivers, bicyclists are by and large a supportive community. In many cities, bicycle advocacy groups help to bring bicyclists together. The groups also lobby to add bicycle lanes, improve roads, promote education about bicycling, and support clean air initiatives. These groups generally also offer a wonderful and vibrant sense community for bikers with regular social events and advocacy opportunities. Some examples of bicycle groups such as these are the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, MassBike (Massachusetts), the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, and Bike New York.

17. By fostering energy independence, bicycling voids incentives for oil wars.

In countries like the United States, fossil fuels maintain a strong grip on the national economy and psyche. Access to oil is a strong incentive for territorial conflicts and even large international wars. It has been widely suggested, for example, that access to oil was one of the key motivators behind the U.S. invasion of the country of Iraq. Bicycling removes the incentive for these violent conflicts, thus helping to cure what has become known in the United States as an “addiction to oil.”

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Construction to Start on Rotating Wind-Power Tower

Remember way back last May when we talked about the twirling tower that seemed, well, off the wall? Surprise, surprise, it is set to start construction in Dubai this month.

Each of the 59 floors of the tower will be able to rotate independently of each other, and in between them will be wind turbines to generate all the power needed to run the tower, plus, apparently, several others. The tower is expected to generate 10 times the power it needs through solar panels on the roof and 48 wind turbines, each of which are expected to generate as much as 0.3 megawatts of electricity, creating an estimated 1,200,000 kilowatt hours of energy annually. These are some seriously big numbers…and we’ll see how they pan out.

As for the construction, the floors will be made of 12 individual units all created in a factory and spit out fully complete, with plumbing, electrical, air conditioning and everything else in place. The floors will then be fitted to a concrete tower core According to architect David Fisher, designer of the building, this construction will make it highly earthquake resistant, as well as just plain neat to watch as folks push the button that makes their floor spin.

An international press conference is set for June 24 in New York. We’ll keep tabs.


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Seven Ways to Save Energy by Saving Water

Though many states and localities are waking up to their water shortages and taking steps to plan for “peak water”, people generally continue to waste water and to ignore the energy-water link. In 2004 the Natural Resources Defense Council did a study in conjunction with the Pacific Institute called “Energy Down the Drain” on how saving water saves energy. We need to do more to spread the word. Here are seven ways to save energy by saving water:

1. Use local water.

Transporting water uses energy, so rainwater harvesting is a serious water-and-energy saver. According to the NRDC/Pacific Institute study “California’s State Water Project (SWP), which transports water from Northern California to Southern California is the state’s largest single energy user, consuming 2 to 3 percent of all electricity. It takes tremendous amounts of energy to pump the water 2,000 feet over the Tehachapi Mountains — the highest water lift of any water system in the world

2. Use less heated water in homes and businesses.

Heating water uses a great deal of energy. Small things magnified a million times over — like washing clothes with cold water or taking shorter showers — saves large amounts of energy.

3. Use energy-saving appliances.

Energy Star appliances will decrease water and energy use.

4. Learn from Australia.

Why reinvent the wheel? Since 2006, when the BBC reported Australia’s biggest drought in 1,000 years, the situation has not improved. In an island nation, this has a tendency to focus the mind, and water-and energy-saving inventions have been pouring forth from that country, while the government introduces policies that save energy and water almost daily.

5. Rethink your bathroom.

Toto, an innovative company from Japan (another island nation concerned about water use) offers an EcoPower hands-free faucet that recharges itself each time it is used.

6. Rip out that lawn and replace it with a rain garden.

Watering grass, fertilizing it with petroleum-based fertilizers, and mowing it with a gas or electric mower…..need I say more?

7. Eat more vegetables and grains; cut down on the beef.

Animal farming takes more energy and water. “Beef production requires large volumes of water–as much as 100 times that required to produce equivalent amounts of protein energy from grains.” (Environmental Health Perspectives, 2002 And the cows are fed from corn that is farmed using energy-hogging fertilizers, insecticides, and fossil fuels.

If you think about it, it’s impossible to separate our energy use from our water use. If we can start thinking holistically about the systems we use in our daily lives — and get our governments to create policies that promote wise use of energy and water, we’ll be more ready for the limits to resources that are only going to increase.

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Honda makes first hydrogen cars

Honda's president Takeo Fukui (R) in the FCX Clarity
Honda claims the FCX Clarity will help cut pollution and fuel wastage

Japanese car manufacturer Honda has begun the first commercial production of a zero-emission, hydrogen fuel-cell powered vehicle.

The four-seater, called FCX Clarity, runs on electricity produced by combining hydrogen with oxygen, and emits water vapour.

Honda claims the vehicle offers three times better fuel efficiency than a traditional, petrol-powered car.

Honda plans to produce 200 of the cars over the next three years.

One of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of wider adoption of fuel-cell vehicles is the lack of hydrogen fuelling stations.

This is an important day in the history of fuel-cell vehicle technology
John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda

Critics also point out that hydrogen is costly to produce and the most common way to produce hydrogen is still from fossil fuels.

Analysis of the environmental impact of different fuel technologies has shown that the overall carbon dioxide emissions from hydrogen powered cars can be higher than that from petrol or diesel-powered vehicles.

'Monumental step'

The first five customers are all based in southern California because of the proximity of hydrogen fuelling stations, Honda said.

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Honda's hydrogen fuel-cell powered car on the road

US actress Jamie Lee Curtis will be among the first to take delivery of the vehicle, the firm added.

The car will initially be available for lease rather than purchase in California, starting in July, and then in Japan later this year.

It is being built on the world's first dedicated production line for fuel-cell vehicles in Japan.

"This is an important day in the history of fuel-cell vehicle technology and a monumental step closer to the day when fuel-cell cars will be part of the mainstream," said John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda.

Honda says it expects to lease a few dozen units in the US and Japan in 2008, and about 200 units within three years.

It said the cost of the car, on a three-year lease, would be $600 (£300) a month.

The FCX Clarity is based on Honda's first-generation hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, the FCX concept car. Honda delivered around 34 of these cars, mainly in the US, of which 10 remain in use.

Booming demand

Many car makers are developing cleaner, more economical vehicles because of high fuel prices and as consumers become more concerned with the environment.

Toyota said it was struggling to keep up with booming demand for its hybrid vehicles because it was unable to make enough batteries.

Hybrid vehicles, such as Toyota's top-selling Prius, switch between a petrol engine and electric motor.

Toyota Motor Corp's executive vice president, Takeshi Uchiyamada, told the Associated Press that new battery production lines could not be added until next year.

"Hybrids are selling so well we are doing all we can to increase production," he said. "We need new lines."

Volkswagen, Europe's biggest car maker said on Monday it wanted to produce a Golf which consumed three to four litres of petrol per 100 kilometres compared with 4.3 litres currently for the most fuel-efficient model.

"In the next few years, we are not going to do without petrol and diesel motors, but the future belongs to the electric car," VW chairman Martin Winterkorn told German newspaper Bild-Zeitung.

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