July 2015
Contents / home
Special award for Limpopo learner
National Science Olympiad Awards
Youth Science Focus Week
Showing career opportunities to girls
Africa Code Week
FameLab International Competition
My FameLab experience
Debates winners off to New York
Finding solutions to energy problems
Centenary of Proxima Centauri
Meet SAASTA's Gao Tiro
Refocusing our lens on our youth
Science on a research vessel
Partnership to conserve water
Managing freshwater resources
Rhodes and SAIAB promote science
In the news
Upcoming events
It's a fact!

In the news

CALIFORNIA – Hyperloop: Elon Musk's giant blowgun

  The high-speed transportation system proposes to shoot passengers along tubes at nearly 1300kph on a cushion of air
Two years after unveiling plans for a futuristic, high-speed Hyperloop transportation system, South African-born technology entrepreneur Elon Musk has announced plans for building a test track in southern California and a competition for prototype pods.

One of Musk's companies, SpaceX, will build a 1.6km-long test track near its California headquarters and host a competition for student and independent engineering teams to design subscale transport pods. Selected teams would then be invited to test their pods on the SpaceX Hyperloop track in June 2016.

Interested participants have until 15 September 2015 to submit an application. Details of the competition, including prizes, will be released on 15 August, SpaceX said.

Musk previously described Hyperloop as a cross between a Concorde jet, a rail gun and an air hockey table. The solar-powered Hyperloop would shoot passengers in enclosed capsules through low-pressure steel tubes at speeds up to 1300km/h. The capsules would ride a cushion of air blasted from underlying skis, propelled by a magnetic linear accelerator.

Musk expects a 644km Hyperloop system connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco would take seven to 10 years to build and cost less than $6 billion (R75 billion). It would cut the five-and-a-half hour drive down to about 30 minutes.

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Source: Reuters

A government official carries a box of ivory products at a confiscated ivory destruction ceremony in Beijing, China, in this file photo taken May 29, 2015

WASHINGTON – DNA sleuthing pinpoints two African elephant poaching hot spots

DNA testing on tons of ivory seized from traffickers has identified two elephant poaching "hot spots" in Africa in a development scientists hope will spur a crackdown on the illegal trade decimating the population of Earth's largest land animal.

Genetic tests on 28 large ivory seizures, each more than half a ton, pinpointed the geographic origin of the tusks from the two types of African elephant, the savanna elephant and the somewhat smaller forest elephant. Using dung, hair and tissue samples from elephants across the continent, the scientists devised a map showing where various populations lived based on DNA traits. They extracted DNA from seized ivory and identified the location where elephants with matching DNA live.

Most seized savanna elephant tusks came from a region spanning parts of south-eastern Tanzania and northern Mozambique. Most forest elephant tusks came from a region covering parts of north-eastern Gabon, north-western Republic of Congo and south-western Central African Republic.

"Targeting these areas for law enforcement could stop the largest amount of poaching-related mortality in Africa," said University of Washington biologist Samuel Wasser, whose study appears in the journal Science.

Wasser shared his concern that major populations would be "poached to extinction" without decisive action. "We are currently losing an estimated 50 000 African elephants a year to poaching, and there are only about 470 000 elephants remaining in the population. So, that is about a 10th of the population being lost each year," Wasser said.

Bill Clark of Interpol's environmental crime programme, who participated in the research, said the DNA work helps his organisation decide where to focus efforts combating ivory trafficking.

Source: Reuters

Some corals, like these of the northern Great Barrier Reef, have the genes to adapt to warmer oceans and may help save corals that cannot adapt to warming oceans caused by climate change
AUSTRALIA – Cross-bred corals may boost reef survival

Scientists have found a way which may save corals from dying out as a result of global warming – and humans can pitch in and help.

Some corals that live in warmer waters have genetic variations to tolerate warmer seas. Researchers from the University of Texas, Oregon State University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science ran a project where they crossed corals from the warmer waters of the Great Barrier Reef with those that live in cooler seas 500km to the south.

In their findings published in the journal Science, the researchers said coral larvae that had parents from the warmer waters, which were about 2°C warmer, were up to 10 times more likely to survive heat stress compared with those with parents from the cooler southern seas.

"The discovery has implications for many reefs now threatened by global warming, and shows for the first time that mixing and matching corals from different latitudes may boost reef survival," the researchers said.

"Averting coral extinction may start with something as simple as an exchange of coral immigrants to spread already existing genetic variants. Coral larvae can move across oceans naturally, but humans could also contribute, relocating adult corals to jump-start the process," said University of Texas professor Mikhail Matz.

Warming of the oceans as a result of global climate change has had a damaging effect on many corals. The effect is known as coral "bleaching", as the corals lose their colour.

A World Resources Institute research project estimates that the costs of destroying a kilometre of coral reef range between $137 000 (R1.6m) and $1.2m over 25 years – counting the economic value reefs contribute only to fisheries, tourism and shoreline protection.

Source: Cape Times

U.S. science leaders to tackle ethics of gene-editing technology

The leading U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS), responding to concerns expressed by scientists and ethicists, has launched an ambitious initiative to recommend guidelines for new genetic technology that has the potential to create "designer babies". The technology, called CRISPR-Cas9, allows scientists to edit virtually any gene they target. The technique is akin to a biological word-processing program that finds and replaces genetic defects.

The technique has taken biology by storm, igniting fierce patent battles between start-up companies and universities that say it could prove as profitable and revolutionary as recombinant DNA technology, which was developed in the 1970s and 1980s and launched the biotechnology industry.

But CRISPR has also brought ethical concerns. Earlier this year, scientists in China reported carrying out the first experiment using CRISPR gene-editing to alter the DNA of human embryos. Although the embryos were not viable and could not have developed into babies, the announcement ignited an outcry from scientists warning that such a step, which could alter human genomes for generations, was just a matter of time.

In response, NAS and its Institute of Medicine will convene an international summit and appoint a multidisciplinary, international committee to study the scientific basis and the ethical, legal, and social implications of human gene editing.

Source: Reuters