Thursday, 16 December 2010

Greece in turmoil

A bill introducing reforms in the public and private sectors was due to be passed through Parliament late last night, just hours after Prime Minister George Papandreou’s meetings with opposition party leaders highlighted the lack of consensus on the changes being undertaken by the government.

Papandreou’s efforts to build consensus between party leaders proved largely unsuccessful. All three of the leaders he met – Aleka Papariga of the Communist Party, Giorgos Karatzeferis of Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) and Antonis Samaras of New Democracy – said they found little or no common ground with the government. “There was no consensus on anything,” said Papariga. “We think that the real battle will start now because the workers will realize that there is no point in negotiating over how much they are going to lose.”

Samaras said ND would continue to support any “common sense” measures, underlining that the conservatives had voted for 33 of the government’s bills. But he added that “consensus is complicity.” Samaras said he was opposed to the bypassing of collective contracts as that would lead to “medieval working conditions.”

The announcement of the new measures affecting working conditions sparked violent riots in Athens.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Grow and prosper with Arsenic?

New Rochelle, NY, December 7, 2010—NASA-funded research has uncovered a new life form on Earth, a microorganism that can not only survive but can thrive and reproduce by metabolizing arsenic, a chemical that is highly toxic for most other earthly organisms. This finding will revolutionize the field of astrobiology—the study of the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.

The new form of life, discovered in Mono Lake in California, a harsh environment with high salt, pH, and arsenic levels, represents a new strain of a common family of bacteria. It is able to substitute arsenic for phosphorus, one of the six basic building blocks of all forms of life on Earth. The microbe utilizes arsenic in place of phosphorus to build critical cell components, including its DNA, proteins, cell membranes, and energy-producing machinery.

“The discovery of a bacterium capable of substituting arsenate for phosphate in essential biomolecules impacts astrobiology in a number of ways,” says Sherry L. Cady, Professor in the Department of Geology at Portland State University. “It is quite astonishing to learn that this life form has the capacity to function in a way no other known life form can. The directed search for this biochemistry, revealed by routine methods, was essential to this find and an important lesson. Astrobiology search strategies for environments that harbor microbes with such biochemistries now increase in a way few have predicted.

However, one external researcher expressed “lingering concerns that the arsenic is simply concentrated in the bacterial cell’s extensive vacuoles and not incorporated into its biochemistry, and another said that the claim of bacteria subbing arsenic for phosphorous “is, in my opinion, not established by this work.”

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Feynman on Honours

Friday, 3 December 2010

R. Dawkins answers e-mail questions

Here Dawkins answers a number of questions from users. The bit towards the end of the clip, when he reads his hate-mail, is refreshingly amusing. And we learn he's a MAC user..