Monday, December 8, 2008

Next-gen Mars rover mission delayed until 2011

Posted by Steven Musil

NASA will delay the launch of the next-generation Mars rover two years due to technical difficulties and cost overruns.

The mission, which was originally scheduled for late next year, is now slated for 2011, officials said Thursday, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. The new target date was the earliest available because missions to Mars can be launched only every 26 months, when the Earth and Mars are properly aligned.

The SUV-size rover, known as the Mars Science Laboratory, is designed to explore the planet's surface for the possibility of habitability, both current and past. But problems developed in the design and operation of the 31 actuators that control the mechanics of the craft, including the steering mechanism and its robotic arm, according to the report.

Meanwhile, NASA plans to try to contact the Mars Phoenix lander in the Martian spring, according to a Reuters report. The Phoenix, which landed on Mars in May, last communicated with the Mars Odyssey orbiter on November 2, when the lander lost power and shut down.

NASA had expected the Phoenix to lose power during the harsh Martian winter, when temperatures dip to negative 150 degrees Fahrenheit. But NASA said there is a chance that the lander survived the winter and will try to re-establish contact in the Martian spring.

Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. Before joining CNET News in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers. E-mail Steven.

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How Disease Disables Tomato Plant's 'Intruder Alarm'

How a bacterium overcomes a tomato plant's defences and causes disease, by sneakily disabling the plant's intruder detection systems, is revealed in new research. (Credit: iStockphoto)

How a bacterium overcomes a tomato plant's defences and causes disease, by sneakily disabling the plant's intruder detection systems, is revealed in new research in Current Biology.

The new study focuses on a pathogen which causes bacterial speck disease in tomato plants. This bacterial invasion causes black lesions on leaves and fruit. Severe infection can cause extensive and costly damage to tomato crops, and researchers believe that understanding more about how this microbe works could lead to new ways of tackling it, and other plant diseases, without the need for pesticides.

Scientists have found that the pathogen is very effective at attacking tomato plants because it deactivates and destroys receptors which normally alert the plant to the presence of a dangerous disease - in the same way that an intruder would deactivate the burglar alarm before gaining entry to a house.

Professor John Mansfield from Imperial College London's Department of Life Sciences, one of the authors of the paper, says: "Once the receptors have been taken out, the plant's defences are 'offline' and the bacterium is able to spread rapidly, feeding on the plant without encountering any kind of resistance."

Together with colleagues at the Max Planck Institute in Cologne and Zurich-Basel Plant Science Centre, Professor Mansfield used an experimental model plant called Arabidopsis, which is also affected by the disease, to examine what happens at the molecular level when bacterial speck infects a plant. The team found that the pathogen injects a protein into the host cell, which then deactivates and destroys, from the inside, receptors on the cell's surface which are designed to alert the plant to the presence of invading microbes.

Deactivating the receptors stalls the plant's defence mechanism in its initial stages - ordinarily the cell surface receptors would kickstart a chain reaction leading to the production of antimicrobial compounds to fight and kill off the bacterial invader.

Professor Mansfield says: "This area of research has a wider significance beyond black speck disease in tomato, because the microbes that cause plant diseases probably all employ similar attacking strategies to suppress resistance in their hosts. The more we understand about how the pathogens that cause disease overcome the innate immunity to infection in crop plants, the better our chances of developing approaches to disease control that do not require the use of potentially harmful pesticides"

The research at Imperial was funded by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

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Is Einstein the Last Great Genius?

e=mc2: 103 years later, Einstein's proven right AFP/File – People walk past a giant sculpture featuring Albert Einstein's formula "E=mc2" in front …

Major breakthroughs in science have historically been the province of individuals, not institutes. Galileo and Copernicus, Edison and Einstein, toiling away in lonely labs or pondering the cosmos in private studies.

But in recent decades - especially since the Soviet success in launching the Sputnik satellite in 1957 - the trend has been to create massive institutions that foster more collaboration and garner big chunks of funding.

And it is harder now to achieve scientific greatness. A study of Nobel Prize winners in 2005 found that the accumulation of knowledge over time has forced great minds to toil longer before they can make breakthroughs. The age at which thinkers produce significant innovations increased about six years during the 20th century.

Don't count the individual genius out just yet, however.

A balance between individual and institutional approaches is the best idea, according to a new theory by a Duke University engineer Adrian Bejan, who thinks institutions benefit most from the co-existence of large groups that self-organize naturally and lone scientists coming up with brilliant new ideas.

"The history of scientific achievement is marked by solitary investigators, from Archimedes to Newton to Darwin," Bejan points out in the December issue of the International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics. "Solitary thinkers have flourished throughout history because it is natural - science is good for the mind of the thinker and for the well-being of society. Even though the trend is toward the creation of large research groups, the individual will always flourish."

Yet the very notion of individual genius is somewhat overrated, as even some of the geniuses will attest.

Sir Isaac Newton, for example, said that if he had achieved anything with his work, such as his laws of motion and gravity, it was "by standing on the shoulders of giants."

Soviet pressure

The course of modern research changed abruptly after Oct. 4, 1957, when the former Soviet Union became the first nation in space by launching Sputnik, Bejan said. That fueled a dramatic increase in U.S. funding of large research groups within institutions already known for their research, he says. This model was adopted by smaller institutions, which also began forming larger groups to attract funding.

However, individual big thinkers didn't disappear. Bejan argues they continued to thrive. He thinks his "constructal theory," which he began describing in 1996, might explain why.

The theory states that so-called flow systems evolve to balance and minimize imperfections, reducing friction or other forms of resistance, so that the least amount of useful energy is lost. Examples in nature include rivers and streams that make up a delta or the intricate airways of the lungs.

In research done by humans, Bejan sees two main flows: those of ideas in the form of scientific findings, and those of support, measured by tangible factors such as funding and lab space.

"Successful research groups are those that grow and evolve on their own over time," he says. "For example, an individual comes up with a good idea, gets funding, and new group begins to form around that good idea. This creates a framework where many smaller groups contribute to the whole."

Solitary confinement

Extremes are not conducive to productive science, Bejan thinks.

"If an institution is made up only of solitary researchers, it would have many ideas but little support," he said. "On the other hand, a group that is large for the sake of size would have a lot of support, but would comparatively have fewer ideas per investigator."

This problem was epitomized by the old Soviet-style research, where the government decreed the goal and scope of research and populated its monolithic structures with like-minded scientists, Bejan said.

There is no inherent conflict between research empires and the individual, but rather a balance that serves the greater good, as Bejan puts it. And so, institutional administrators should go easy on the individual who shows signs of greatness.

"I would argue that those administrators who coerce their colleagues into large groups solely to attract more funding, to beef up their curriculum vitae or to generate more papers, are acting against the self-organizing nature of the institution and its research," Bejan said. "Complete coalescence into large groups does not happen and will not happen."

Bejan's thinking, it should be noted, is supported by funding from the National Science Foundation.

The next Einstein?

Some might argue that the nature of genius is such that it can't be quashed, regardless.

Those who use their minds to great ends are known to work at it. A 35-year study in 2006, which looked at mathematically gifted children to see what they ended up doing with their lives, revealed the next Einstein might be a baby now, or perhaps is yet to be born.

This article is from the LiveScience Water Cooler: What people are talking about in the world of science and beyond. chronicles the daily advances and innovations made in science and technology. We take on the misconceptions that often pop up around scientific discoveries and deliver short, provocative explanations with a certain wit and style. Check out our science videos, Trivia & Quizzes and Top 10s. Join our community to debate hot-button issues like stem cells, climate change and evolution. You can also sign up for free newsletters, register for RSS feeds and get cool gadgets at the LiveScience Store.

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Nobel winner sees end to AIDS spread within years


By Adam Cox

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - A French scientist who shared this year's Nobel prize for medicine said on Saturday he believed the transmission of AIDS could be eliminated within years.

Luc Montagnier, director of the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention, told a news conference together with this year's other winners for medicine that halting the transmission of AIDS would make it a disease much like others.

"Our job, of course, is to find complementary treatment to eradicate the infection. I think it's not impossible to do it within a few years," Montagnier said.

"So I hope to see in my lifetime the eradication of, not the AIDS epidemic, but at least the infection," the 76-year-old said. "This could be achieved."

Montagnier and Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, of the Institut Pasteur, shared half of the 2008 prize for discovering the virus that has killed 25 million people since the early 1980s.

There is no cure for AIDS, which infects an estimated 33 million globally, but cocktails of drugs can control the virus and keep patients healthy.

There is no vaccine either, although researchers are trying to find vaccines that either prevent infection or would control the virus so that patients are less likely to transmit it -- a so-called therapeutic vaccine.

Montagnier said he hoped such a therapeutic vaccine could be developed within about four to five years, noting he and colleagues had already been working on this for a decade.

German scientist Harald zur Hausen of the University of Duesseldorf won the other half of the 10-million-Swedish-crown ($1.2 million) award for finding the cause of cervical cancer.

The three scientists said that since the announcement in early October they had found themselves constantly giving interviews and speaking with world leaders.

"There's obviously a belief in many of the politicians and some other people ... that you know everything, which of course is nonsense. But in a way indeed I think one cannot ignore this," zur Hausen said.

Barre-Sinoussi, who had come from Senegal following a meeting with the African country's president, agreed.

"Of course I have the same feeling. I think I feel that we have responsibility to try to influence, especially, the politicians."

She feared the global financial crisis could lead some countries to water down their commitment to the fight against diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria, so it was important Nobel winners tried to use their influence.

The three are in Stockholm for "Nobel Week," when laureates come to the Swedish capital for a barrage of news conferences, interviews and events, culminating with a gala dinner which this year takes place on Wednesday.

Montagnier and Barre-Sinoussi expected to use the prize money to further their research. They also said the award was important in that it shed a bright light on the issue of AIDS.

"Still, 25 years after the HIV discovery, (there is) discrimination, stigmatization against HIV-infected individuals, even criminalization. This is not acceptable. This is really not acceptable," Barre-Sinoussi said.

(Additional reporting by Maggie Fox in Washington; editing by Michael Roddy and Keith Weir)

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Canada coroner matches pair of mysterious feet

The Associated Press

A coroner has matched a pair of dismembered female feet that mysteriously washed up on the shores of British Columbia.

The British Columbia coroner said Friday it had matched a female right foot discovered on Canada's West coast in November with a left foot discovered in May. Both were encased in New Balance running shoes.

They were among five feet that have mysteriously floated ashore along the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland since August 2007.

A sixth foot was found on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula about 30 miles west of Port Angeles in August. The peninsula is separated from B.C.'s Vancouver Island by the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

All six feet were found in athletic shoes.

"In all cases, these remains appear to have naturally separated from the body," said the B.C. Coroners Service.

DNA testing linked one of the Canadian feet to a depressed man who disappeared in 2007. Investigators have also concluded that two of the five feet belonged to one man who has not yet been identified.

Experts say that when a human body is submerged in the ocean, the arms, legs, hands, feet and head usually come off the body. The Coroners Service said it is difficult to determine how long remains have been in the water.

The Coroners Service uses physical characteristics and DNA analysis of the feet to establish a profile. Those profiles are maintained in a provincial database for future comparisons.

Police have said they are reviewing almost 300 missing persons files to try to match up the feet.

(This version CORRECTS SUBS first 4 grafs to correct coroner statement was issued Friday sted Saturday and location where foot found in Washington state.)

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Academics invent a mathematical equation for why people procrastinate

By Urmee Khan

Research began by studying procrastination habits of 250 college students
Research began by studying procrastination habits of 250 college students Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Prof Piers Steel, a Canadian academic who has spent more than 10 years studying why people put off until tomorrow what they could do today, believes that the notion that procrastinators are either perfectionists or just lazy is wrong.

Prof Steel, who admits to becoming distracted by computer games himself, argues in a new book that those prone to putting things off suffer from a vice of their own - impulsiveness.

Chronic procastinators, who make up 20 per cent of the population, are more impulsive and erratic than other people and less conscientious about attention to detail and obligations to others, he says in his forthcoming book, The Procrastination Equation: Today's Trouble with Tomorrow.

The psychologist, from the University of Calgary, has subsequently formed an equation for why people procrastinate, which began by studying 250 college students.

The equation is U=EV/ID.

The 'U' stands for utility, or the desire to complete a given task. It is equal to the product of E, the expectation of success, and V the value of completion, divided by the product of I, the immediacy of the task, and D, the personal sensitivity to delay.

Prof Steel says procrastination is becoming a bigger issue because many more jobs are "self-structured", with people setting their own schedules.

This means that people tend to postpone things with delayed rewards in favour of activities that offer immediate rewards.

"Procastinators tend to live fro today rather than tomorrow. for short term gain for long term pain" he writes.

Until now, psychologists have generally linked procrastination to perfectionists who avoid tasks rather than produce less than perfect products.

So, instead of people being too lazy to care about the task, he believes that most procrastinators believe they can complete a task and also care about it.

Lazy people, by contrast, are not bothered whether they can finish the job – they just do not want to do it. Both can come up with excuses such as a dog eating the homework.

Famous procrastinators include writers Marcel Proust and Douglas Adams, who famously said he loved the "whoosh" of missed deadlines passing over his head.

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nner Workings Of The Immune System Filmed

"DDC extend pseudopods to engulf L. major parasites. Representative time-lapse images showing uptake of parasites (red) by rapid extension/retraction of pseudopods from DDC. Scale bars, 12 mm (upper panels) and 6 mm (lower panels). Small inlet shows tip of pseudopod at high magnification. Blue circles illustrate parasite-containing vacuoles." (Credit: Ng LG, Hsu A, Mandell MA, Roediger B, Hoeller C, et al. Migratory Dermal Dendritic Cells Act as Rapid Sensors of Protozoan Parasites. PLoS Pathog 4(11): e1000222. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1000222)

Forget what's number one at the box office this week. The most exciting new film features the intricate workings of the body, filmed by scientists using ground-breaking technology.

For the first time in Australia, scientists at Sydney's Centenary Institute have filmed an immune cell becoming infected by a parasite and followed the infection as it begins to spread throughout the body.

Professor Wolfgang Weninger, head of the Immune Imaging program at the Centenary Institute, says the discovery (published in PLoS Pathogens) was made possible using high powered multi-photon microscopy which allows real cells to be viewed in real time.

"Using multi-photon microscopy, we studied dendritic cells in the skin. Under normal conditions we found the cells in the epidermis (top layer) were static, whereas in the dermis (second layer) they were very active, moving around as though seeking out pathogens," explains Professor Weninger. "Once we established this, it was fascinating to introduce the Leishmania infection and watch as the parasite was picked up by the cells and the process by which it began to spread throughout the body."

Leishmaniasis affects up to 12 million people in parts of Africa, the Middle East and South America. The disease causes skin sores and can affect internal organs such as the spleen, liver and bone marrow. If left untreated, it can be fatal.

The ability to visually follow a pathogen on its journey through the immune cells provides critical insight for future vaccine design and has potential to improve current vaccinations.

"We now have a general idea of how pathogens are recognised by the immune system and which cells are involved," Professor Weninger says. "This means we can look at identifying the molecules responsible for the uptake of Leishmania infection and these molecules could become vaccine targets. Additionally, we can investigate the immune responses of other infections which could lead to better vaccines."

"On the other side of the story, scientists can now visualise the pathway of current vaccines in the immune system, providing greater understanding and the potential for refining current interventions against disease."

Centenary Institute Executive Director, Professor Mathew Vadas, says the multi-photon microscope used to film this immune process is the Hubble telescope of medical research.

"The Hubble allowed the universe to be seen with absolute clarity, which wasn't before possible from earth," he explains. "This is exactly the same as multi-photon microscopy – it provides a unique and innovative view of cells, unveiling a whole new understanding of how immune processes work."

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Methamphetamines Pollute More than the Body

by Josh Peterson, Los Angeles, California

meth pollution methamphetamines

photo by nathan russell

We all know that methamphetamines are bad for our health. Meth makes teeth fall out. It damages the workings of the brain and causes a slew of psychotic conditions that can last long after a person has stopped using. The consequences of methamphetamines go far beyond health and human tragedy. It can ruin farmland, make houses unlivable and destroy forests.

The Messy Method of Making Methamphetamines
There are thousands of methamphetamine recipes on the internet. With the investment of a few hundred dollars, a person can make meth, but the maker could see a return of thousands on that investment. Meth can be made from non-prescription medicines and other easily purchased items. The drug can be made in a lab that fits into a suitcase or in the trunk of a car.

The Toxic Chemicals Used in Meth-Making.
Methamphetamines are often made with these potent and toxic chemicals.

From the DEA website:

Starting fluid (ether)
Paint thinner
Anhydrous ammonia
Iodine crystals
Red phosphorous
Brake cleaner (toluene)
Drain cleaner (sodium hydroxide)
Battery acid (sulfuric acid)
Reactive metals (sodium or lithium)
Cold tablets containing psuedoephedrine

Each of the chemicals is harmful in its own right.

The Amount of Toxic Meth in America
For every one pound of methamphetamines produced, three to six pounds of toxic waste can be created. One batch of meth is enough to contaminate the air in a meth lab with trace amounts of acid and iodine. According to the DEA, there are over 100,000 meth labs in the US. A 1998 survey found that over 4.7 million Americans have taken meth. That’s a lot of meth-related toxic waste.

Packaging Waste a Small Issue
A meth lab proprietor may buy several hundred dollars worth of cold tablets per batch. The packaging waste alone is enough to make anyone cringe, but it might be the smallest environmental impact of meth use. If you don’t care enough about your body to not do meth, then you probably aren’t going to recycle those packages.

Methamphetamines a Clear Danger to the Environment
Illicit methamphetamine dumping has killed livestock. A group of forestry workers were taken ill when they came in contact with a meth dump. A meth lab that had been operating for several years produced so many toxic fumes that the surrounding trees, 150-year-old ponderosa pines, had died. Tree kills around meth labs are not rare occurrences. In fact, 26,000 acres of Tahoma State Forest were closed* because of meth pollution. (* not ruined, verb corrected, sorry)

Cleaning Up a Toxic Meth Lab
Even former meth labs are dangers. Fumes in the walls and the heating ducts can cause cancer, short and long-term brain damage, problems of the immune system and respiratory illness. Some states have strict meth clean-up laws and most realtors must inform potential house buyers if their home was formerly a meth lab. The average clean up is about $3,000 dollars but larger labs have cost counties and states over $100,000. Even when the area is “cleaned up” the property may not be fit to inhabit. According to an article in Sierra Magazine, some counties will not confiscate a meth-polluted property due to the liability risks. One police officer was even quoted as saying,

“I’d rather investigate a homicide than a meth lab. “

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Men under threat from 'gender bending' chemicals

By Urmee Khan

Scientists are warning that manmade pollutants which have escaped into the environment mimic the female sex hormone oestrogen.

The males of species including fish, amphibians, birds, and reptiles have been feminised by exposure to sex hormone disrupting chemicals and have been found to be abnormally making egg yolk protein, normally made by females, according to the report by Chem Trust, environmental group.

The authors claim that the chemicals found in food packaging, cleaning products, plastics, sewage and paint cause genital deformities, reduce sperm count and "feminise" males.

Fish have been specifically affected by the gender changing chemicals. In one study, half the male fish in British lowland rivers had signs of being feminised - as chemicals which block the male hormone androgen had been released- leading to the development of eggs in their testes.

Although the report only looked at the impact of gender bending chemicals on the animal world, its authors say the findings have disturbing implications for human health.

Gywnne Lyons, a former Government advisor on chemical pollution and author of the report, said: "Urgent action is needed to control gender bending chemicals and more resources are needed for monitoring wildlife.

"If wildlife populations crash, it will be too late. Unless enough males contribute to the next generation there is a real threat to animal populations in the long term," she added.

The paper lists the affected species and include, flounder in UK estuaries, cod in the North Sea, cane toads in Florida, peregrine falcons in Spain, and turtles from the Great Lakes in North America.

Some male roaches have changed sex completely after exposure to oestrogen from the Contraceptive pill pouring out of sewage works.

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10 of the Most Fuel-Efficient Cars in the United States

by Alyssa Danigelis

The Tesla Roadster is everything that, until now, an electric vehicle never was: fast and sexy with outrageous range.

You don't have to be Leo DiCaprio to own one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles available, although it certainly helps if you want someone hot to ride shotgun. The stodgy auto industry, spurred by high gas prices and consumer demand, is coming around with more hybrid vehicles, smaller models and alternative energy options. Still, "fuel efficiency" stateside is an oxymoron akin to "congressional ethics" and "doing nothing."

The miles-per-gallon standard for cars in the United States is stuck at 27.5, compared to 43 in Europe and 46 in Japan. And those standards will be laughable in a few years time. Case in point: A British Volkswagen concept car gets 235 miles to the gallon. But that one won't be available for a couple more years.

"Given everything that's coming soon, if you can afford to wait, wait," says Chelsea Sexton, electric vehicle advocate and executive director of Plug In America. (And while you're waiting check out these 100 tips to save on fuel costs with your current vehicle.)

A plug-in hybrid charges for a few hours from a regular plug, runs solely on electricity for 40 miles or so and then kicks into gas-battery mode after that. Sexton says the full electric charge will cost about 50 cents a day. General Motors is readying both the Saturn Vue and Chevy Volt plug-in hybrids for consumers, while Daimler is working on plug-in Mercedes and Smart cars.

Or, for about $10,000, EPA-certified Hymotion will convert your gas-electric hybrid car into a plug-in. But if you're looking to buy now, here are some of the most fuel-efficient passenger vehicles on the road in the United States:

10. Toyota Yaris
At 32 miles-per-gallon combined city and highway, this is one of three all-gasoline-powered contenders that made our list. The non-hybrid sedan is on par with some of the green SUVs on this list, but it boasts the weirdest name, apparently being a combination of the Greek goddess of grace "Charis" and the German "ya.' Hmm. While there are some better-named and better-performing subcompact cars than the Yaris, they'll cost more to fill up.

9. Hybrid SUV Tie: the Ford Escape, Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute
Last year Paris Hilton said she wanted a hybrid Hummer and GM responded, "A vehicle like that does not exist." Undeterred, Hilton ended up with a shiny new GMC Yukon hybrid that gets around 21 miles per gallon. All three of these hybrid SUVs do much better, getting 32 combined city and highway miles per gallon.

8. MINI Cooper
The MINI is to this list's collection of vehicles what the iPod is to MP3 players. It comes in a sharp palate of colors, including "British racing green," "oxygen blue," and, of course "mellow yellow." A stylish product of the 1960s, the vehicle has evolved since its Austin Powers beginnings. At a combined 32 MPG for the 2008 six-speed manual transmission model, this little number might get some Yanks to say, "Yeah baby!"

7. Toyota Camry Hybrid
Besides being voted the best new family car last year in its price range by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, called the Camry Hybrid, "relatively attractive and altogether predictable." And predictable is good, especially when you can predict that the 2009 automatic model will get 34 combined city and highway miles per gallon.

6. Nissan Altima Hybrid
A New York Times reviewer described it thus: "The Altima Hybrid fit me like a pair of Tony Lama Black Label boots, which is to say something akin to house slippers." Since this hybrid is currently available only in a handful of states on either side of the country, it's probably harder to get than some Tony Lamas. At a combined MPG of 34, let's hope Nissan ups production.

5. Smart ForTwo
Available for a few years now in Europe, these itty-bitty cars went on sale in America earlier this year. Here, Smart Cars went from being looked down upon (from Humvee heights) to being looked at in curious awe. Chances are yours isn't going to get stolen because everyone in the neighborhood will be staring at it. Ideal for gridlocked city-dwellers and cash-strapped college students, this pint-sized vehicle starts around $12,000. It has a combined 36 MPG rating for 2008 models.

4. Honda Civic Hybrid
The non-hybrid version of the Civic replaced quite a few Yuppie-driven Volvos, so it's no surprise that the hybrid comes in high on the list. With 42 combined city and highway miles per gallon and a $23,000-range price tag, it regularly tops "small affordable car" lists.

3. Toyota Prius
It's sort of strange to see the Prius in the third slot, but this is perhaps the best known hybrid, as in "Prius Progressives." But it's not just the tree-huggers going for this popular ride, former CIA chief James Woolsey told Motor Trend, "I have a bumper sticker on the back of my Prius that reads, 'Bin Laden hates this car.'" As he would: The 2008 hybrid gets 46 combined city and highway miles per gallon and costs around $24,000. Congrats Toyota -- you dominated this list. Now please hurry up and produce an amazing plug-in hybrid.

2. Honda FCX Clarity
Just last month, Japan's third biggest automaker announced it was ready to lease a few dozen units of its latest hydrogen-electric vehicle. The company claims that the car is two times more energy efficient than a gas-electric hybrid. With a combined city and highway estimate of 72 miles per gallon, it sounds pretty tantalizing. But adoption of these cars will depend on overcoming several obstacles, among them development costs and infrastructure -- hydrogen-electric cars require hydrogen fueling stations and so far these are few and far between. If you're ready to go down that road, though, you can lease one for around $600 per month.

1. Tesla Roadster
If money is no object, Tesla's electric Roadster is one sexy and efficient car. The sports car goes zero to 60 miles-per-hour in under four seconds, but costs nearly $100,000. Cha-ching! However, the 2007 model has an EPA rating of 135 miles per gallon equivalent and the 2008s in production are rated 256 MPG. That's some serious gas savings.

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