Saturday, October 25, 2008

Scientists create organic wires for use inside the human body

By Rick C. Hodgin

Baltimore (MD) - Research chemists at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) have developed a water-soluble, organic, self-assembling electronic wire suitable for use inside the human body. Derived from carbon materials, the lightweight, flexible wires can power pacemakers, reconnect damaged nerve tissues, while also interacting with real electronic device that could augment or stimulate organic function. But do not worry, for this is only step one of the long process of turning us all into Borg-like drones.

Inter-cellular wiring

The self-assembly process produces wires which are notably thinner than a human hair. They can be manufactured so small, in fact, that they could interact with individual cells. And therein lies significant potential for paralytics.

Researchers believe a procedure could eventually be developed whereby the severed portions of nerve fibers are reconnected with these new organic wires. Such patients could theoretically regain at least some of their former mobility, if not all of it, once the science is perfected and applied.

In fact, John D. Tovar, assistant professor, Department of Chemistry at Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, spoke of this very possibility. He said, "Can we use these materials to guide electrical current at the nanoscale? Can we use them to regulate cell-to-cell communication as a prelude to re-engineering neural networks or damaged spinal cords? These are the kinds of questions we are looking forward to being able to address and answer in the coming years."

The big prize

As Tovar indicates, perhaps the biggest benefit from this research is the mechanism which now exists. This team essentially overcame all of the problems associated with developing this kind of application. And now, they've presented unto the world what will be just another tool in a researcher's arsenal.

No longer will other scientists in other labs have to ponder over how they could create self-assembling wires for their needs. Now they can simply operate from within the mindset, "If we used their self-assembling wires here, then this new ability would be possible. Yes, it's all so clear now."


In short, with this powerful new ability added to the scientist's “toolbox,” now they can think in terms of the goal or destination rather than how to go about building the road to get there. Somebody else has done the hard work. And now, the application of the thing should quickly move to the realm of "Oh, how extremely beneficial. Thank you so much, doctor."

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One of the world's smallest ever dinosaurs is discovered

By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent

One of the world's smallest ever dinosaur skulls has been discovered and scientists believe it may fill a gap in their knowledge about why some of the creatures turned vegetarian.

The skull, less than two inches long, belonged to a baby Heterodontosaurus which lived 190 million years ago and was just six inches tall and 18 inches from head to tail.

The skull of a baby Heterodontosaurus
The skull of a baby Heterodontosaurus

But it was not so much its size that intrigued scientists as its teeth. Experts have been divided over whether Heterodontosaurus ate meat or plants.

The mini-dinosaur, which weighed about the same as a mobile phone, has long fang-like teeth at the front of its jaw and grinding teeth typical of herbivores at the back, suggesting it was equipped for both.

It has been argued that the fangs may have been confined to adult males - like the tusks of warthogs - and used for fighting over mates or territory.

But this theory has now been overturned by the baby skull, which has fully formed fangs.

Their presence at such a young age indicates they had a different purpose, most likely to defend against predators or hunt prey.

The scientists who made the discovery now believe Heterodontosaurus was in the process of evolutionary transition from carnivore to vegetarian.

It was probably an omnivore, living mainly on plants and supplementing its diet with insects, small mammals or reptiles.

Laura Porro, a Phd student from the University of Chicago in the US, said: "It's likely that all dinosaurs evolved from carnivorous ancestors.

"Since Heterodontosaurs are among the earliest dinosaurs adapted to eating plants, they may represent a transition phase between meat-eating ancestors and more sophisticated, fully herbivorous descendants.

"This juvenile skull indicates that these dinosaurs were still in the midst of that transition."

Heterodontosaurus fossils are extremely rare and until now only two were known, both found in South Africa and belonging to adults.

Ms Porro found the partial baby skull fossil, together with two more adult fossils, in a collection at the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town dating back to excavations in the 1960s.

"I didn't recognise it as a dinosaur at first," she said. "But when I turned it over and saw the eye looking straight at me, I knew exactly what it was."

Dr Richard Butler, from the Natural History Museum in London, one of the authors who described the find in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology, said: "This discovery is important because for the first time we can examine how Heterodontosaurus changed as it grew.

"The juvenile dinosaurs of this type had relatively large eyes and a short snout when compared to an adult - similar to the differences we see between puppies and fully grown dogs."

Adult Heterodontosaurs, which lived during the Early Jurassic period in South Africa, were about the size of a turkey and weighed around five to six pounds.

Another peculiarity about Heterodontosaur teeth came to light when the scientists carried out X-ray scans of both juvenile and adult skulls.

Most reptiles, including living crocodiles and lizards, replace their teeth constantly throughout their lives. There is evidence that this was also true for dinosaurs.

But Heterodontosaurus appeared to have been more similar to mammals, which grow specialised teeth that are replaced slowly if at all.

The researchers wrote: "Tooth replacement must have occurred during growth, however evidence of continuous tooth replacement appears to be absent, in both adult and juvenile specimens."

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Science of Snacks: Thinking Makes You Hungry

By Steve Mirsky

Why am I so hungry after writing one of these columns? I have often wondered. Now comes
an answer.

A study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine contends that intellectual work—that’s right, I’m calling writing this stuff, ya know, intellectual—induces a big increase in caloric intake. The research had 14 Canadian students do three things at different times: sit and relax; complete a series of memory and attention tests; and read and summarize a text. (It was that last activity that disqualified rodents and U.S. students as study subjects.) After 45 minutes at each task, the kids were treated to an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch. Because Canada has a truly advanced code of human-subject research ethics.

Each session of intellectual work required the burning of only three more calories than relaxing did. But when the students hit the buffet table after the text summation, they took in an additional 203 calories. And after the memory and attention tests, the subjects consumed another 253 calories. Blood samples taken before, during and after the activities found that all that thinking causes big fluctuations in glucose and insulin levels. And because glucose fuels the neurons, a transitory low level in the brain may signal the stomach to get the hands to fill up the mouth, even though the energy actually spent has gone up just a hair. The researchers note that such “caloric overcompensation following intellectual work, combined with the fact that we are less physically active when doing intellectual tasks, could contribute to the obesity epidemic.” Think about that—unless you’re on a diet.

Speaking of calories. The journal Science reports that mathematicians from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University and the Free University of Brussels have figured out a better way to wrap spherical pieces of chocolate. There’s a lot of wasted material when wrapping spheres with square pieces of foil or paper. But our intrepid geometers found that by using equilateral triangles rather than squares, they could generate a savings of 0.1 percent. That’s one full square saved for every 1,000 pieces of triangle-wrapped chocolate you eat.

Speaking of the munchies. Some of the chemical compounds found in marijuana show promise for fighting drug-resistant bacterial infections. That’s according to the Journal of Natural Products, published by the American Chemical Society. (As opposed to The Book of Mr. Natural, published by Fantagraphics Books. Seriously.) Naturally, scientists have long known that pot contains antibacterial constituents. But lack of seed money stems research, so little has been done to investigate pot’s potential.

In the new study researchers tested five cannabinoid marijuana ingredients against the superbug MRSA, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. All five did a lot of damage to the bacterium. And two of the substances don’t even appear to be psychoactive, meaning they could be turned into medications that don’t cause a high. Because the last thing you want to administer to a patient incapacitated for weeks in a hospital bed experiencing the horrors of an out-of-control staph infection is an antibacterial drug that would also lighten his mood.

Speaking of mood-altering. Earlier this year Republicans in the House of Representatives adopted as a reelection sales pitch the phrase “The Change You Deserve.” Which they apparently didn’t realize was already the trademarked slogan for Effexor XR, a potent antidepressant. But I digress. At the Republican National Convention former real senator and fictional New York City district attorney Fred Thompson said of Sarah Palin, “I think I can say without fear of contradiction she is the only nominee in the history of either party who knows how to properly field-dress a moose. With the possible exception of Teddy Roosevelt.”

Be afraid, Fred. Because I’m fairly sure that Grant, Lincoln and Andrew Jackson could have dressed a moose. Not to mention Washington, Zachary Taylor and William Henry Harrison, although they weren’t members of either current political party. (Bill Clinton could probably undress a moose.) I’m also fairly sure that if Teddy Roo­se­velt were alive today, he’d be referred to in some quarters as “that effete East Coast elitist environmentalist wacko.” Speaking of which, I’m hungry.

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Safer, More Effective TB Vaccine For HIV-positive People Developed

A micrograph shows human white blood cells infected with M. tuberculosis (green). A protein associated with the cell membrane is stained red and cell nuclei are stained blue. (Credit: Photo by Daniel L. Clemens in the Horwitz Laboratory at UCLA)

UCLA scientists engineered a new tuberculosis (TB) vaccine specifically designed for HIV-positive people that was shown to be safer and more potent than the current TB vaccine in preclinical trials.

A more effective TB vaccine may help curtail the global spread of the disease, especially in HIV-positive people, for whom tuberculosis is the leading cause of death worldwide.

"The AIDS and tuberculosis epidemics are now so intertwined in many parts of the world that we can't win the fight against one of these diseases without also taking on the other," said Dr. Marcus Horwitz, principal investigator and professor of medicine and microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The current vaccine against tuberculosis, called BCG, is administered to newborns in most countries in the world. However, in HIV-positive people, the vaccine can cause serious and even fatal disease later in life if HIV weakens the immune system, allowing the vaccine to multiply unchecked and spread throughout the body.

To address this problem, Horwitz and his team used an innovative method to limit the number of times the new vaccine can replicate in the body -- just enough to stimulate the immune system to produce T cells to fight future infection with the tuberculosis bacillus, but not enough to overwhelm the immune system if it subsequently becomes weakened by HIV.

Published in the November edition of the journal Infection and Immunity, the scientists' research demonstrated that the new vaccine better protects guinea pigs from tuberculosis than the current vaccine. Guinea pigs are highly susceptible to infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes most cases of tuberculosis in humans, and they develop tuberculosis remarkably similar to the disease in humans. The researchers also showed that the new vaccine is much safer than BCG in a severely immunocompromised animal host – mice with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID mice) that completely lack an immune system.

While the vaccine could be administered to anyone, it is specifically designed to be given to HIV-positive newborns and adults whose immune systems are still relatively intact and are therefore able to mount a good immune response to the vaccine, including persons on antiretroviral therapy.

The next step according to researchers is to test the vaccine in humans. It will take several years of further study before the vaccine is available to the public.

In devising the new vaccine, Horwitz and his team modified the current BCG vaccine, which is a weakened form of a bacterium closely related to the one that causes tuberculosis. First, to make the vaccine more potent and induce a stronger immune response, the scientists engineered the vaccine so that it would produce large amounts of a key protein of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, called mycolyl transferase.

Second, to make the vaccine safer, the team altered the BCG vaccine so that it was only capable of multiplying a few times after it was injected into the body. To do this, the researchers eliminated the vaccine's ability to acquire iron from the host; iron is an essential nutrient for the vaccine to multiply. Technically, researchers used a genetic "knock out" technique to render iron-scavenging molecules called siderphores inoperative. The new recombinant BCG vaccine was named rBCG(mbtB)30.

The scientists then preloaded the new vaccine in the lab with just enough iron to allow it to replicate a few times in the host. When this stored iron was used up, the vaccine was no longer able to multiply.

"This is one of the first vaccines developed to replicate only a few times in the host and the first to do so by eliminating the vaccine's ability to acquire iron in the host," said Michael V. Tullius, study author and assistant researcher, division of infections diseases, UCLA Department of Medicine.

"Preloading the vaccine with a specific amount of iron allows us control over the vaccine's safety and effectiveness in the host," said Horwitz, also a specialist in infectious diseases.

The authors note that since iron is a key nutrient needed by all bacteria to thrive, this approach may be applicable to other live bacterial vaccines for diseases such as anthrax, tularemia and Legionnaires' disease.

About 2 billion people in the world harbor Mycobacterium tuberculosis, mostly in a latent state, and about 9 million people develop active tuberculosis each year. Approximately 12 million people throughout the world are infected with both Mycobacterium tuberculosis and HIV -- about a third of all persons infected with HIV. These co-infected people have the greatest susceptibility of developing active tuberculosis, the major opportunistic infection in AIDS patients.

"Tuberculosis is of the biggest concern to people with HIV. At the same time, the only existing tuberculosis vaccine, BCG, should not be used in people with HIV, because it poses a health risk by itself," said Ulrich Fruth, Ph.D., Initiative for Vaccine Research, World Health Organization. "It would be wonderful news if this new vaccine - if it can be shown to be safe and effective in people with HIV - could help overcome this catch 22."

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Additional authors include: Günter Harth, Saša Masleša-Galic, and Barbara J. Dillon, Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

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X-rays emitted from ordinary Scotch tape

By Malcolm Ritter

NEW YORK - Just two weeks after a Nobel Prize highlighted theoretical work on subatomic particles, physicists are announcing a startling discovery about a much more familiar form of matter: Scotch tape.

It turns out that if you peel the popular adhesive tape off its roll in a vacuum chamber, it emits X-rays. The researchers even made an X-ray image of one of their fingers.

Who knew? Actually, more than 50 years ago, some Russian scientists reported evidence of X-rays from peeling sticky tape off glass. But the new work demonstrates that you can get a lot of X-rays, a study co-author says.

"We were very surprised," said Juan Escobar. "The power you could get from just peeling tape was enormous."

Escobar, a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, reports the work with UCLA colleagues in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

He suggests that with some refinements, the process might be harnessed for making inexpensive X-ray machines for paramedics or for places where electricity is expensive or hard to get. After all, you could peel tape or do something similar in such machines with just human power, like cranking.

The researchers and UCLA have applied for a patent covering such devices.

In the new work, a machine peeled ordinary Scotch tape off a roll in a vacuum chamber at about 1.2 inches per second. Rapid pulses of X-rays, each about a billionth of a second long, emerged from very close to where the tape was coming off the roll.

That's where electrons jumped from the roll to the sticky underside of the tape that was being pulled away, a journey of about two-thousandths of an inch, Escobar said. When those electrons struck the sticky side they slowed down, and that slowing made them emit X-rays.

So is this a health hazard for unsuspecting tape-peelers?

Escobar noted that no X-rays are produced in the presence of air. You need to work in a vacuum — not exactly an everyday situation.

"If you're going to peel tape in a vacuum, you should be extra careful," he said. But "I will continue to use Scotch tape during my daily life, and I think it's safe to do it in your office. No guarantees."

James Hevezi, who chairs the American College of Radiology's Commission on Medical Physics, said the notion of developing an X-ray machine from the new finding was "a very interesting idea, and I think it should be carried further in research."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Scientists may soon be able to erase fear and trauma from your mind

By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent

Scientists are a step closer to being able to wipe the mind clean of painful memories, a deveolpment that will offer hope to those with a fear of spiders or who are trying to bury traumatic experiences.

Neurobiologists believe they will soon be able to target and then chemically remove painful memories and phobias from the mind without causing any harm to the brain.

Kate Winslett and Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which deals with memory erasure
Kate Winslett and Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which deals with memory erasure

The researchers think that the new technique could help war veterans get over the horrors of conflict and cure people with debilitating phobias.

It could even eventually be applied to ease the pain of a failed relationship or a bereavement.

"While memories are great teachers and obviously crucial for survival and adaptation, selectively removing incapacitating memories, such as traumatic war memories or an unwanted fear, could help many people live better lives," said Dr Joe Tsien, a neurobiologist at the Brain and Behaviour Discovery Institute at the Medical College of Georgia School of Medicine.

"Our work reveals a molecular mechanism of how that can be done quickly and without doing damage to brain cells."

The team, who published their work in Neuron and worked with scientists at East China Normal University in Shanghai, has isolated a "memory molecule" in a mouse and used it to remove its painful memories.

In a number of experiments they instilled a trauma in the mouse by applying electric shocks - but then removed the memory with a calcium enzyme called CamKII.

Just as a war veteran remembers a fateful patrol when he was fired upon, mice can establish a very long-lasting emotional memory about a place if, for example, they receive a mild shock to the paws.

But fears both new and old alike were wiped clean or over-written by over dosing the mouse's brain with CamKII.

A similar approach was taken with object recognition memory, giving mice a couple of toys to play with then erasing their memory of one of them. Each time the mice acted like it had a new toy.

Eventually the research could lead to a pill or injection being administered to a person at the same time as they are asked to recall the painful memory or fear.

Despite the exciting breakthrough Dr Tsien said it would still be years before a similar trick could be carried on a human because their brains were much more complicated.

He also cautioned against the use to erase failed romances.

"If one got a bad relationship with another person, hoping to have a pill to erase the memory of that person or relationship is not the solution," he said.

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Scientists grow mouse prostate from a single cell

The four-person team at the Californian biotechnology firm Genentech said they achieved the feat after identifying a primitive, powerful cell called a stem cell in mouse prostates.

The cell, known by its marker CD117, was transplanted below the kidney in lab mice, according to their study, published online by the British-based science journal Nature.

Of 97 of these single-cell transplants, 14 functioning prostates developed.

Stem cells have unleashed enormous interest in recent years because of their theoretical potential to grow specific cells that can be used to replace tissue damaged by disease or accident.

The biggest focus has been on stem cells at the embryonic stage as these are "pluripotent", meaning that they can become any tissue in the body.

There are also "unipotent" adult stem cells, which are already programmed to divide into specific cells, which is the case in this research.

However, isolating these unipotent cells and getting them to regenerate successfully into the desired tissue in living animals has proven a major hurdle.

In 2006, two teams of scientists made a breakthrough in growing a mouse mammary gland from a single stem cell.

The Genentech researchers suspect that men also have a potential population of CD117 stem cells, although only further work will determine whether these cells can tracked down and used as a regenerative source.

The prostate is a small gland located just below the bladder that helps make seminal fluid and expel semen. Prostate cancer is a leading form of cancer in developed countries.

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Top eight electric scooters

By Craig Howie

(AOL Autos) -- Maybe you want to save the planet. Maybe you want to save a little more from your pocketbook each month.

The EVT R 20 is classic Italian vintage and comes in just three colors: black, red and silver.

The EVT R 20 is classic Italian vintage and comes in just three colors: black, red and silver.

Or maybe you just spent a romantic break in Paris or Rome and loved how good those stylish Europeans looked zipping about congested streets on their scooters.

Now, the electric variants of those once quirky, funny looking scooters have become one of the most popular buys of 2008, providing a largely hassle-free and cheap form of urban or commuting transport for many looking to minimize their carbon footprint and gas costs.

We've chosen eight popular electric scooter models to see what kind of fit they would be for you. So what are you waiting for? Jump on!

The hipster: Go-Ped ESR 750
MSRP: $999

The original step-on lo-fi motor scooter has been improved once again this year with a new electric motor that's capable of reaching a top speed of over 20mph. It uses four 12 volt SLA (sealed lead acid) batteries. Turbo mode allows faster travel in a five-mile range, which the economy setting allows eight miles.

It weighs 52 pounds and its aircraft quality Chromyl frame will hold up to 400 pounds. Its sister model, the Hoverboard, tips its hat to 'Back to the Future' with the board's retro yet futuristic appeal and raised independent suspension, while its cousin, the Trail Ripper 46, boasts a similarly cantilevered frame and rugged tires to smooth out the bumps and dips. A full recharge costs just 10 cents.

The eco-warrior: eGO Cycle 2 Classic
MSRP: $1,399

This one's a perfect, stylish fit for an ecologically minded rider, though it's also great for RV or camping trips. The motor produces 2hp and is powered by 24 volt batteries. It's sturdy at 140 pounds and will carry a combined 250 pounds in rider and cargo weight.

Range is good at 25 miles and it will hit 18 mph at the top end. Large wheels at 20-inches make this one a pretty utilitarian ride. Recharge time is about six hours while running costs are about eight cents a mile.

Range includes the LX and silky SE, which comes with more luxurious trim including directional signals, speedometer and horn. Frame has 10-year warranty and batteries are covered for six months.

The highway patrol: Vectrix
MSRP: $9,395

Rhode Island police officers are putting these to the test in a three-month pilot program announced in July -- officers like them for their ability to maintain mobility and personal contact with residents.

This more substantial highway-legal scooter, with dimensions more akin to a regular full-size motorbike, will take about seven seconds to top out at 62 mph. Remarkably, it costs just one cent per mile to operate.

It takes between three and five hours to charge to its maximum range, which is 68 miles. It uses nickel-metal-hydride batteries -- common in hybrid autos -- which benefit from regenerative braking. Battery replacement cost is $3,000 but Vectrix says the battery will last 10 years or 1,500 charges. Two-year warranty covers entire bike for parts and labor. AOL Autos: Best new car deals

The street racer: Enertia
MSRP: $11,995-$14,995

Look out for this one at the UK's Isle of Man TT road race next year. The new event, called the TTXP, is open to two-wheeled "clean-emission" vehicles. The standard Enertia set for release later this year boasts a 13kW motor generates 18HP at 3,600 rpm, propelling the sculpted carbon fiber monocoque frame to a top speed of 50+ mph in about seven seconds.

Batteries are six Lithium Iron Phosphate modules lodged directly underneath the rider and give a range of 35-45 miles. The company promises low-maintenance, worry-free cruising at a cost of less than one cent per mile.

Onboard software enables the rider to download info about their driving habits and customize the bike's performance settings. Range includes upscale Limited model, with aluminum chassis and leather seat. AOL Autos: 10 safest small cars

The light commuter: HCF 737 Pacelite
MSRP: Approx. $699

The Pacelight is a combination step-on/ride-on scooter that folds for easy transportation or storage. All aluminum alloy frame is light at 60 pounds and will carry up to 240 pounds. It'll zoom to almost 15 mph and gets about 13 miles per charge.

It packs two 24 volt SLA batteries and favored by riders for its reliability. Its 12.5 inch wheels and dual suspension are ideal for rough ground. This one's super quiet, but you get a lot of bang for your buck.

Charge time is three to four hours. Range includes the Cute 002, which boasts a sturdier frame and basket at back and the sportier Pacelite 705. AOL Autos: Most popular fuel-efficient cars

The style conscious: Zap Zapino
MSRP: $3,495

So it looks great in pink, which may be a first, but this curvy number also comes in great-looking sky blue and lime green variants, perfect to match those Jimmy Choos. The name also evokes a just a touch of Italian élan.

It's a sturdy, storage-friendly ride-on model at 297 pounds that will climb a 25 percent gradient with a 177 pound rider onboard. It'll hit about 30 mph and gets about 30 miles per charge. Batteries are 60V while motor is a 3,000-watt brushless DC hub.

Range includes the Zappy 3 Pro, which is a rugged step-on tricycle perfect for a warehouse or construction yard and the Zappy 3, its road-going sister. The Zapino has a six-month warranty. AOL Autos: Best-selling small cars

Modern living: Vespa Hybrid
MSRP: Expect in the $10,000 range

So we're cheating a little as this is a hybrid that utilizes a gas-burning engine, but to our minds it's difficult to envision any scooter list without the legendary Italian marque. It's been long in development but Piaggio, Vespa's parent, plans to release the three-wheeled hybrid based on its current MP3 model later this year.

It may look cumbersome with two wheels up front, but the sturdy look and feel has proven popular and reports suggest the company is considering a four-wheel model. Piaggio says it'll wring 60 miles out of a liter of fuel and the electric motor, powered by a lithium battery, has a 20-mile range with a top speed of 20 mph.

Range will include a 500cc gas motor alongside a 125cc variant. AOL Autos: Cars with highest resale value

The classicist: EVT R 20
MSRP: $2,499

This retro-feeling classic is a study in scooter longevity, as this second-generation offering has had a loyal following since its release last year. Its design is classic Italian vintage and it comes in just three colors: black, red and silver.

This one emits neither sound nor pollutants and will travel 30 to 45 miles on one charge, depending on speeds driven, and can seat two riders or up to 270 pounds. It'll top out at 45 mph. It's powered by a 2500 Watt brushless 60V motor and its battery life is about 10 years. Two new models will be released this month, the more powerful Z-30 and R-30. Range also includes the two-tone classically styled EVT 168.

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The 15 Must-See Green Shows On TV Right Now

by Tommi Lewis Tilden

In my quest to find the best eco programming out there, I endured a green TV marathon, during which I sat through dozens of hours of enviro-themed shows: specials, regular series, network, cable, news and weather channels.

My once-green eyes have turned red, my DVR remote thumb is raw, and my REM sleep is overrun with images of global warming, endangered species and, even scarier, a couple of corny TV "personalities."

Here, in no particular order, is the best of what's out there:

1. Big Ideas for a Small Planet

(series, Sundance/SUND) Last year, longtime activist Robert Redford announced a much-anticipated green block of programming on the Sundance Channel, and "the kid" did not disappoint, starting with this gem of a show. Simplicity rules with each episode exploring a single topic like water, kids, work, cities and fashion.

In the gadgets episode, we learn that "electronic gadgets have greatly improved energy efficiency, yet their toxic components can be harmful to the environment." Local green heroes and activists across America drive each show, giving the series a homespun, accessible feel. Their stories are interspersed with scientists and eco experts but it's never a lecture...just the facts, ma'am.

2. Focus Earth with Bob Woodruff

(series, Planet Green/PLGN) Anchor Bob Woodruff's weekly eco newscast explores everything from climate change impact to world events. In a recent episode Woodruff checks out Sarah Palin's environmental track record and delves into how the greening of Wall Street (a green collar workforce and eco-friendly jobs) will affect our future. Packed with facts, debates and interviews, and moving at the brisk pace you'd expect from an ABC News production, this show makes a difference.

3. Living With Ed

(series, Planet Green/PLGN) Props to Planet Green for plucking this show from HGTV, who unceremoniously dumped it. Yes...Ed Begley, Jr. lives! Sure, Ed's scenes with his "holdout" wife Rachelle can seem contrived as they often wink to the camera, but at the heart of this show is Ed himself, a true eco warrior who deserves all the screen time he gets. Ed is like the uber nerd who grew into a thoughtful Earth daddy and was at it way before many of us even cared. His wife and daughter are fun accessories, but the real story and soul is Hollywood's green guru.

In this show, celebrities flock to Ed to get secrets and in turn, he puts the spotlight on green stars and their innovative lifestyles. Ed's rivalry with neighbor Bill Nye "the Science Guy" (see "Stuff Happens") is particularly fun to watch; one can't help but believe some of their repartee is actually real competition.

4. It's Easy Being Green

(series, Fine Living Network/FLN) This upbeat half hour, news-style show looks at eco-friendly practices, products and cutting-edge green trends without a lot of interference from pleasant host Renee Loux. One episode goes inside Google, the Mountain View, CA carbon neutral company that sports overstuffed bike racks, abundant recycle bins, and four acres of a rooftop supporting 9,000 solar panels. The company's cafeteria serves organic food, and Google has an incentive program for employees who drive hybrids. Submitting my application, pronto.

View Clip

5. Stuff Happens

(series, Planet Green/PLGN) If you can get through the first five minutes where Bill Nye acts out his theme for the day but the scene ends up looking more like a set-up for a porn film, you'll be happy you hung in (excuse the pun), because the information Nye imparts, and the entertaining way he does it, is quite good. In this half hour, Nye examines our everyday lives-like what pig farming and anchovies have to do with breakfast. With the show's easy-to-follow science, humor and cool stories, one understands why Ed Begley, Jr. is so smitten, er, competitive with Nye.

6. Eco-Tech

(series, Science Channel/SCI) A one-hour show that's a feast for tech-heads. "Some of our smartest scientists are fighting back to tame mother nature," the show promises. "Even robotic ships and satellites could put global warming in reverse." Eco-Tech offers some good news in our race to save the world. In one episode, a meteorologist showcases his "Doppler on wheels" -- a device that helps measure the velocity of storms. Then Joseph Cione at NOAA's research lab demonstrates Aeronode, a 9-foot, 29-pound airplane controlled by a joystick that goes right into the eye of a storm to get measurements.

A geophysicist shows off his "synthetic trees," a machine that absorbs carbon dioxide: a 40-foot container, or one module, can do in one day what an average tree takes a century to do. The fascination never ends.

7. Six Degrees Could Change the World

(special, National Geographic Channel/NGC) It opens with a disturbing premise: "Imagine the 21st century if global warming accelerates. Where does the next super storm hit? The next scorching heat wave? The next catastrophe, as the world warms degree by degree?" The voice over continues: "The debate has ended. Scientists around the globe agree we now live in a world warmer by almost one full degree Celsius. The predictions are alarming."

This HD special predicts and portrays the chilling impact each single-degree increase in temperature will have on our planet. Replays October 28, so don't miss it.

8. Whale Wars

(mini series, Animal Planet/AP) Starting this November (Fridays at 9 p.m. EST), don't miss this high-stakes, high-seas battle between Japanese whalers and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. For more than 30 years, Time magazine environmental hero Captain Paul Watson has been on a mission to enforce treaties and regulations that protect ocean wildlife. Even though the Sea Shepherd crew employs non-violent prevention tactics, the drama and adventure is gritty; in one episode, Watson gets shot (he is wearing a bullet-proof vest), in another his crew is held captive.

9. Survivorman

(series, Science Channel/SCI) Alone, 7 days. No food. No TV crew. Meet Les Stroud, "Survivorman" -- think MacGyver meets Grizzly Adams. In one episode, Stroud travels in a hot air balloon across a remote stretch of Africa, lands, and then his crew leaves him completely alone for seven days. Half an hour after they leave, a lightning storm hits and Stroud is forced to take cover under the balloon basket. It's like watching Into the Wild, but with a happier ending. Survivalist Stroud, a musician and former garbage collector, always gets out alive.

10. Wa$ted!

(series, Planet Green/PLGN) In one episode, James and Dean are branded "highly dangerous" eco criminals, so host Annabelle Gurwitch, with the help of her fellow trash master Holter Graham, puts the New York City-based couple through a three-week enviro boot camp. In "Wa$ted," Gurwitch and Graham unearth eco-horrors, while at the same time revealing how to save money.

James and Dean's infractions? Obsessive dry cleaning garnering hundreds of wire hangers. Food waste. Round-the-clock electricity. No recycling. (Gurwitch points out that just one of James and Dean's unrecycled wine bottles can sit in a landfill for one million years). And the list goes on. For Gurwitch and Graham, no family's hazardous habits are too far-gone. The show is fun, scary and inspirational.

Planet Green - Wa$ted Exclusive Sneak Peek! - More free videos are here

11. Dogtown

(series, National Geographic Channel/NGC) This may not necessarily come under a traditional "green" category, but any show that saves and rehabilitates unwanted dogs helps save our world. Dogtown is a sanctuary in Southern Utah, also famous for taking some of Michael Vicks' abused fighting dogs and transforming them into adoptable sweethearts.

12. Eco documentaries, Season 2

(series, Sundance Channel, SUND) I was this close to picking the irresistible Isabella Rossellini's whimsical insect series Green Porno, but I also could not resist Sundance's new season of stirring documentaries -- like this month's Crude Impact, which takes a look at what happens when worldwide petroleum supplies dwindle down. Or Escape From Suburbia, which follows one family's move to a Canadian eco village, another who leaves New York City to work "the land," and a third struggling to keep their suburban life sustainable.

13. Greensburg

(series, Planet Green/PLGN) In May of 2007, Greensburg, Kansas was wiped out by one of the largest tornadoes in American history, displacing more than 1,500 people. Enter producers Leonardo DiCaprio and Craig Piligian, who created this 13-part series depicting the town's rebirth as a model green community.

The documentary follows the people of Greensburg as they first decide to rebuild their town, through the journey and drama of the daily struggle, even when most residents continue to live out of FEMA trailers. Eco-friendly reconstruction is what this town has chosen and the results promise to be historic, although the path is not always easy.

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14. Outrageous Wasters

(series, Sundance Channel/SUND) You will feel secretly eco-superior after watching these four families (in separate one-hour specials) transform from "energy-guzzling meanies" to "tree-hugging greenies" in two weeks. This BBC British-import has all the tartness and finger wagging only the English can get away with. Think "SuperNanny" for naughty grownups who are leaving giant carbon footprints.

15. Total Wrecklamation

(series, Planet Green/PLGN) Spunky redhead Jodi Murphy is a demolition auctioneer who helps reduce waste on the planet. "My job is to sell off everything reusable in a house from toilets to light fixtures," she explains on the show. "The reason there are so many teardowns," Jodi continues, "is because as the American family changes, so does the floor plan of the American home. People want in-town locations with new construction. And the only way to get it is tear it down and start from scratch."

We all know this is a big, fat green no-no, but people like Jodi keep these teardown owners from being obscenely wasteful. In one episode, Jodi walks into a soon-to-be demolished Chicago home containing (gasp!) top of the line cabinets and appliances worth about $85,000, which she manages to salvage and sell at auction.

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New Diesel GenSet Locomotive Cuts CO2 Emissions by 50%

New & Future Cars: Tesla Builds a 4-Door

By Mike Monticello Photo Illustration by Larson

Tesla is making some big moves, literally. The company is planning to relocate from its current headquarters in San Carlos, California, to a $250 million facility in San Jose, California, the construction of which will begin in the summer of 2009. The reason? The Model S, an all-new 4-door 5-passenger zero-emissions luxury sedan powered by a lithium-ion battery pack. Unlike the Tesla Roadster, which is built in partnership with Lotus in the U.K. and based on a stretched Elise platform, the Model S will ride on a platform developed by Tesla.

Tesla says the Model S will get about 240 miles per charge while still offering "exceptional performance." Numbers being bandied about include 0–60 mph in less than 6 seconds. The Model S will have a base price of about $60,000 (versus the Roadster's $109,000 price tag) when it goes on sale in late 2010. Tesla recently hired Franz von Holzhausen as its chief designer; he was formerly the director of design for Mazda North America. His first project is to put the finishing touches on the Model S.

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Potent Greenhouse Gas More Prevalent than Thought

By Andrea Thompson, Senior Writer

A potent greenhouse gas is at least four times more prevalent in the atmosphere than was previously estimated, a new study reports.

Using new analytical techniques, a research team in California made the first atmospheric measurements of nitrogen trifluoride, which is thousands of times more effective at warming the atmosphere than an equal amount of carbon dioxide (though carbon dioxide is much more prevalent, and therefore still the key greenhouse gas of concern in terms of global warming).

In 2006, the amount of nitrogen trifluoride in the atmosphere, which could not be detected using previous techniques, was estimated at less than 1,322 short tons (1,200 metric tons).

The new research, funded by NASA and detailed in the Oct. 31 issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that the actual amount was 4,630 short tons (4,200 metric tons) in 2006. Currently, about 5,950 short tons (5,400 metric tons) is estimated to be in the atmosphere. The estimates indicate that the amount of gas in the atmosphere is increasing by about 11 percent per year.

Emissions of nitrogen trifluoride were thought to be so low that the gas was not considered a significant contributor to global warming. It was not covered in the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 agreement signed by 182 countries to reduce greenhouse gases.

Nitrogen trifluoride is about 17,000 times more powerful at trapping heat than is carbon dioxide, though current emissions of the gas only contribute about 0.04 percent of the total global warming effect contributed by human-produced carbon dioxide emissions.

Nitrogen trifluoride is one of several gases used during the manufacture of liquid crystal flat-panel displays, thin-film photovoltaic cells and microcircuits. Many industries used it as a replacement for perfluorocarbons, another type of potent greenhouse gas, because it was thought that only about 2 percent of the nitrogen trifluoride used escaped into the atmosphere.

Scientists have recently recommended adding nitrogen trifluoride to the list of greenhouse gases regulated by Kyoto in response to its growing use and concerns that its emissions are not well known.

"From a climate perspective, there is a need to add nitrogen trifluoride to the suite of greenhouse gases whose production is inventoried and whose emissions are regulated under the Kyoto Protocol, thus providing meaningful incentives for its wise use," said study leader Ray Weiss of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif.

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UK Starts World’s Largest Algae Biofuel Initiative