Watching the World
Storehouse of Seeds
“Scientists are predicting that up to 25% of the world’s flora could be condemned to extinction within the next 50 years,” reports the National Post of Canada. To protect the endangered plants, the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, England, has formed the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB). “The MSB project is to collect and store more than 25,000 species of plants—over 10% of the world’s seed-bearing plants,” explains the paper. MSB organizers hope to use the seeds when needed to restore overharvested land, reduce the likelihood of famine, and supply plants used in traditional and pharmaceutical medicines. Roger Smith, head of the seed bank project, notes: “It is often the plants that are most useful to humans and animals that disappear first.”
Painless Heart Attack
Many people are alert to the most common physical sign of a heart attack—a viselike pressure in the chest. However, far fewer know that “a third of all patients won’t feel any chest pain during a heart attack,” reports Time magazine. That helps to explain why “heart-attack victims who don’t experience chest pain typically put off going to the hospital—by an average of two hours,” says a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. However, any delay in getting potentially lifesaving treatment is dangerous. What should you watch for? “Probably the next biggest tip-off is extreme shortness of breath,” says Time. Other possible signs include nausea, profuse sweating, and “any ‘heartburn’ that gets worse if you walk around or otherwise exert yourself physically,” says the article.
Gecko lizards can easily run across a ceiling as smooth as glass. How do they do it? Scientists, who have attempted to answer that question for decades, now feel that they may have an explanation. A team of scientists and engineers has determined that “a surprisingly large sticking force arises when tiny hairs, or setae, on gecko feet rub up against surfaces,” reports the magazine Science News. “From each seta sprout even tinier stalks, called spatulae. When a gecko gloms a foot onto a surface, the billion-or-so spatulae that carpet its sole snuggle so close to the surface that intermolecular forces . . . may come into play.” Researchers also note that the way geckos set their toes down “apparently both presses the setae against the surface and tugs them parallel to it.” This action increases “each seta’s grip 10-fold compared with just pressing,” the magazine says.
Greek Orthodox Church Upset Over Ruling
Removing Greek citizens’ religious affiliation from “state identity cards has raised the ire of the Greek Orthodox Church.” So states a report from Newsroom.org. The decision follows a 1998 report by the Helsinki International Federation for Human Rights that “claimed that Greece discriminates against non-Orthodox churches and that the mandatory religious designation on identity cards leads to bias in employment practices and in treatment by police.” The Greek government says that the change will “bring the cards into conformity with European Union standards and the country’s 1997 privacy protection law,” says the article. However, the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church has portrayed those who want religion removed from the cards as belonging to “the forces of evil.”
China’s Fight Against Dust Storms
Dust storms originating in desert areas in Inner Mongolia have swept across northern China in recent years, destroying millions of dollars’ worth of crops and livestock, reports China Today. In 2000, several dust storms reached as far as the capital city, Beijing. A sandstorm in 1998 damaged over 82,000 acres [33,000 ha] of grain crops and killed 110,000 domestic animals. Man’s mismanagement of land has been named as the chief cause. Vast areas have been stripped of vegetation and turned into desert. In 1984, for example, the people in Ningsia Hui Autonomous Region, located in northern China, began digging for licorice to use as a Chinese herbal medicine. “In less than 10 years,” says China Today, “600,000 hectares [1,500,000 acres] of grassland were destroyed and 13,333 hectares [32,940 acres] of farmland were turned into desert areas.” Other desert areas have been created by overgrazing and by overusing local water resources. To combat the problem and to curb the expansion of desert areas, great efforts have been made to replant trees and grasses.
Beware of criminals who assume your identity in order to defraud creditors, warns a report in the newspaper El Economista of Mexico City. After obtaining personal information by stealing your mail or your wallet, criminals apply for credit cards in your name and have them sent to their own addresses. Then they use your identity to purchase items or rent properties via telephone or the Internet. Those who fall victim to this crime may spend years, perhaps decades, straightening out their life, says the paper. How can you protect yourself from identity theft? El Economista advises: Do not carry important documents with you unless you are going to use them, keep a record of all credit card transactions and use them to check your billing statements, tear up credit card receipts before discarding them, do not send personal data via electronic mail, and keep a list of all your credit card numbers, expiration dates, and telephone numbers of the card issuers in order to report lost or stolen cards.
Bacteria War Unjustified
“American consumers are waging a misguided war on microbes in the home,” reports USA Today. According to the paper, Tufts University physician and microbiologist Stuart Levy says that “the proliferation of antibacterial products . . . threatens to foster the emergence of bacteria that are resistant not only to the antibacterial soaps, but also to antibiotics.” Using antibacterial products to sterilize the home environment is like taking “a mallet to a fly,” says Levy. On the other hand, household cleaners such as bleach, hydrogen peroxide, and hot water and soap remove dirt but don’t induce bacteria to mutate into other forms that resist the products. “Bacteria are our allies,” says Levy. “We need to make peace.”
Britons Are Top TV Watchers
“Nearly a quarter of Britons spend as much time watching television as they do at work during the average week,” reports London’s newspaper The Independent. According to researchers, the average Briton spends 25 hours each week watching television, while 21 percent watch their sets for more than 36 hours. “It was not just young people who were watching excessive amounts, as the findings held true for men and women and older people,” the paper says. One family, who watch about 30 hours of television a week, said that television provided “necessary escapism.” Such heavy viewing habits, however, come at a price. In a study of 20 countries, the United Kingdom “easily tops the TV-watching list,” reports The Guardian Weekly of London. Yet, “Britain is well into the bottom half in the three most crucial yardsticks of literacy.”
Early Sex Education
Toddlers in Bangkok, Thailand, will soon be given sex education in kindergarten, reports the Bangkok Post. According to Dr. Suwanna Vorakamin of the Family Planning and Population Control Division, “teachers and health workers will be specially trained to teach and talk about sex in a scientific manner,” says the report. She adds: “Introducing sex education right from the kindergarten level [is] not intended to encourage sexual behaviour among children from an early age. . . . The knowledge given to the children at a young age will enable them to ward off undesired behaviour and the dangers of unwanted pregnancy when they grow into teenagers,” reports the paper.