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WIRED UK


Sunrise over a wheat field.

The Knowles Gallery

Researchers have managed to turn indigestible cellulose into starch, a process that could render billions of tons of agricultural waste into food and fuel.

Plants grow more than 160 billion tons of cellulose—the material that makes up the walls of plant cells—every year, but only a tiny fraction of that is useful to humans in the crops we grow. This is frustrating, as cellulose is made up of glucose chains that are almost, but not quite, the same as those that make up the starch that constitutes 20 to 40 percent of most peoples' daily calorie intake.

With the world's population forecast to reach nine billion by 2050, working out how to alter cellulose glucose into something more practical could be vital for preventing starvation. There's also an extra benefit in that some could be used for biofuels.

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Google Mountain View

Google says it has fixed structural problems that were letting carcinogenic gas into a Mountain View office. According to the Mountain View Voice, two Google locations at the "Quad" campus on Whisman Road were found to have potentially dangerous levels of trichloroethylene or TCE, a carcinogenic solvent used by early Silicon Valley giants like Intel and Raytheon to produce chips. In the 1980s, environmental agencies found that TCE had contaminated the groundwater around the area, creating what's now known as the Whisman-Ellis -Middlefield (MEW) plume.

Google's buildings have come up clean before, but the EPA says they were recently found to have TCE levels above the recommended indoor level. That's likely because of recent building...

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carmendrahl writes "Emergency-room visits linked to caffeine-laden energy drinks are on the rise. This gives scientists who'd like to see caffeine regulated the jitters. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration seems to be dragging its feet on regulating caffeine content in food and drink, because people have different sensitivities to it (abstract). Currently, caffeine-rich products like Monster Energy get around the rules because they're marketed as dietary supplements. 'Caffeine gets cleared from the body at different rates because of genetic variations, gender, and even whether a person is a smoker. For this reason, it’s difficult to set a safe limit of daily consumption on the compound. Physiological differences, as well as differences in the way people consume caffeine, have tied FDA in knots as it has debated how to regulate the substance. ... The toxic level in humans, about 10 g, is roughly the equivalent of imbibing 75 cups of brewed coffee (in 8-oz mugs) or 120 cans of Red Bull over a few hours. But that lethal limit can vary widely from person to person, experts say."

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A flock of starlings is called a murmuration.

Walter Baxter

Scientists have built a self-organizing system of synthetic particles that assemble into clusters in a way that mimics the complicated organization of flocks of birds or colonies of bacteria. The particles form a “living crystal” that moves, swirls, and adjusts to heal cracks.

Self-assembly is a common way to build materials. Often, individual building blocks stick together due to inherent attractions, like bases of DNA bonding to form a nanotube, proteins gathering to form a helical virus coat, or nanospheres gathering to form a photonic crystal.

But what draws flocks of starlings, schools of fish, or rafts of ants together? Flocking or schooling can be a social behavior. However, the similarities among these phenomena, regardless of the creatures involved, led NYU's Jérémie Palacci and his colleagues to wonder if an underlying physical principle could also govern the organization process.

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