Watching the World
One Big Eye
The brittle star, also known as the serpent star, was thought to survive in the murky ocean depths without eyes. Researchers were puzzled over how this relative of the starfish seemed to be able to detect predators and then flee from them. “Now scientists have discovered its secret,” reports The New York Times. “Its entire skeleton forms a big eye.” The brittle star uses an array of beadlike lenses to form what is thought to be one big compound eye. In addition, its tiny lenses can “focus light at least 10 times as well as the microlenses now made in laboratories,” says the report. “This study shows how great materials can be formed by nature, far beyond current technology,” states Dr. Joanna Aizenberg, the lead author of the study.
The earth is teeming with life, even several miles underground, reports the National Post of Canada. “These bacteria can be so deep within the Earth’s surface that it would take 50,000 years for rainwater to get down to them,” states Professor Terry Beveridge of the University of Guelph. “There is no light, no photosynthesis, no complex sugars or proteins to feed on.” How do the bacteria survive? Researchers have discovered that the bacterium Shewanella attaches to iron oxide, transfers electrons to the mineral, and derives metabolic energy from the enzymatic reduction of iron. Scientists estimate that tens of thousands of different microbes live deep underground, but less than 10 percent have been fully identified.
Resurgence of Sleeping Sickness
“Researchers have warned that sleeping sickness has returned to alarming levels in parts of Africa,” reports the British Medical Journal. Pierre Cattand, of the Association Against Trypanosomiasis in Africa, says: “Sixty million people are considered at risk, but only three to four million are under surveillance, yielding some 45 000 new cases a year. It is estimated that at least 300 000 to 500 000 are presently affected.” Considered almost eradicated in the 1960’s, the disease is transmitted to humans by the tsetse fly. Areas said to be most at risk and in need of international help are Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and southern Sudan.
Czechs Turn Their Backs on Religion
Figures published by the Statistical Office of the Czech Republic indicate that many people within Czech society have turned their backs on religion over the past ten years. In 2001, for example, only 2.7 million Czechs identified themselves as Roman Catholics, compared with 4 million in 1991. Within the same period of time, the Evangelical Church and the Hussite Church also suffered losses of 32 percent and 46 percent respectively. Why the downturn? Shortly after the fall of Communism, the Czechs felt free to identify themselves as church members. Today, however, nearly 60 percent of its population claim to be nonreligious. What is now the Czech Republic, once the home of the well-known religious Reformer Jan Hus, has become one of the least religious countries in Europe.
Vanishing Work Ethic
“Fifty-five percent of the top executives interviewed [in the United States] say that erosion of the work ethic will have a major negative effect on corporate performance in the future,” reports The Futurist magazine. A number of factors may cause such a decline, says the magazine, including children who “watched their parents remain loyal to their employers, only to be downsized out of work.” This has led many of the post-baby-boom generation to view work as “a means to their ends: money, fun, and leisure.” The article states that for this reason, “job security and high pay are not the motivators they once were.” Two present-day symptoms of the vanishing work ethic are increasing tardiness and abuse of sick leave among workers.
On-Line Grave Service
An on-line service now makes it possible to visit virtual graves in cyberspace, reports The Japan Times. Friends and relatives can pay their respects to the deceased on the Internet. An image of a gravestone appears on the computer screen along with a photo and profile of the deceased. A space is provided so that visitors can leave messages. To accommodate Buddhist visitors, offerings of fruit, flowers, incense sticks, and alcoholic drinks can be made at the virtual grave by clicking the mouse. According to Tadashi Watanabe, president of the on-line memorial services firm, “some say it is a very good idea for people who can’t visit graves so often, such as those living abroad.”
“Up to 80 per cent of the planet’s delicate Arctic region will be seriously damaged by the middle of this century if industrial development there does not slow down,” states The Globe and Mail newspaper of Canada. A report by the UN Environment Programme comments on the cumulative effects of human development on the entire Arctic region. According to the report, if industrial development continues at the same rate as occurred from 1940 to 1990, the results will be devastating. It is said that the damage has the potential of spreading to other regions too, since many Arctic animals are migratory. “Already,” says the paper, “between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of the world’s Arctic region is [adversely] affected by industrial development.”
Rising Childhood Obesity
“The number of overweight toddlers has nearly doubled in the past decade,” says The Times of London, commenting on a recent survey published in the British Medical Journal. “More than one in five children under the age of four is overweight and nearly one in ten is classified as obese.” Dr. Peter Bundred of the University of Liverpool says that many mothers give their toddlers “ready-made meals, which have a higher fat content,” and entertain them by putting them in front of the TV. When they reach school years, many of these children will ride to school rather than walk and will watch TV after school rather than play outdoors. “For the first time we are seeing rapid increases in weight throughout the childhood years,” Bundred said.
Informed Consent Reaffirmed
Ten years after a first decree, dated January 1991, the Italian Ministry of Health has reiterated that blood transfusions cannot be administered before the patient has given his informed consent. The decree, dated January 25, 2001, and published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale della Repubblica Italiana (Official Gazette of the Italian Republic), states: “On being informed that transfusions of blood or blood components and/or administration of blood derivatives may not be free of risks, the recipient of such procedures must express prior consent or dissent in writing.”
Mothers-to-Be Under Assault
“Assaults by male partners are now recognised to cause more harm to mother and child than medical conditions screened for in pregnancy,” says The Independent of London. “A study of domestic violence in Britain by the Royal College of Obstetricians . . . showed that one-third of assaults on women took place for the first time when they were pregnant. There is growing evidence that jealousy, provoked by the prospective arrival of a baby, drives some men to violence.” “We were shocked when we saw the UK figures,” said Professor James Drife of the Royal College of Obstetricians. A similar study in the United States found the cause of 1 in 5 deaths among pregnant women in that country to be murder, making it “the most common cause of death among pregnant women [there].”