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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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mattstroud

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By Matt Stroud and Joseph L. Flatley, with additional reporting by Jesse Hicks

Barron Hansen is a self-employed web developer and researcher in San Diego. Like many people who work from home, he spends a lot of time alone in front of the computer, listening to talk radio. Over time, he began to notice that all of his favorite radio personalities seemed to be endorsing a “business opportunity” called Income At Home.

“Start making money on your own terms,” said one ad, read by Glenn Beck. It sounded too good to be true, the kind of thing most listeners probably dismiss without a second thought. And as long as Hansen had been hearing the endorsements, that’s exactly what he did. That is, until last January, when one of his web...

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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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Photo: JSmithPhoto/Flickr

We’re a nation of fatties, in no small part because we get half as much exercise as we should.

The typical American spends just two hours a week exercising, according to researchers at Penn State and the University of Maryland, even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults age 18 to 64 get four hours of exercise per week. That could help explain why a separate study by Duke University finds 42 percent of the population could be obese by 2030, adding nearly $550 billion to the nation’s healthcare tab.

Ideally, the CDC says, we should get 2.5 hours of moderate exercise — brisk walking, riding a bike on level ground, that sort of thing — each week. We ought to spend another 75 minutes per week engaging in vigorous activity like running or shooting hoops.

The researchers, who analyzed American Time Use Study data the U.S. Census Bureau gathered from more than 100,000 people nationwide, found teens are the most active, spending about 41 minutes per day exercising. Adults spend about 17 minutes a day, while those 65 and older get roughly 13 minutes of exercise per day.

Walking is the most common activity, with about 5 percent of Americans spending about 53 minutes a week on foot. Among those people regularly breaking a sweat playing a team sport, basketball is the most popular activity. The results are reported in the 2011 edition of Time Use in Australia and United States/Canada Bulletin.

The researchers cited the typical reasons for our inactivity: We’re car-centric, we’re addicted to TV and we’re getting older. But they also say “a lot of physical activities, such as hockey and tennis” can be expensive to participate in and “because of crime, some people are afraid to leave their homes to go out for a walk or run.”

Whatever our reasons, the fact we’re getting far less exercise than we should be is problematic. A Duke University study (.pdf) finds the number of obese Americans will rise, from 36 percent of the adult population to 42 percent by 2030, without serious intervention. That means another 32 million Americans would be obese.

The researchers, appearing this week at the CDC’s “Weight of the Nation” conference in Washington, said the cost of treating the diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses associated with obesity would climb by $550 billion over 20 years.

The good news is the growth of the obesity rate is slowing. The researchers aren’t sure why, according to the Los Angeles Times, but say continued success with current anti-obesity efforts — including public health campaigns to encourage exercise and more-healthful eating — could further flatten the curve.

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