AmeriScan: October 26, 2001

BIRD "STEM" CELLS COULD AID ENDANGERED SPECIES

MADISON, Wisconsin, October 26, 2001 (ENS) - Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have coaxed into existence a new line of cells from birds.

The new cell line could remake the poultry industry, provide new methods for manufacturing pharmaceuticals in the sterile encasement of the egg, and even help preserve endangered birds such as the California condor and whooping crane, the research team says. The bird cells join mouse embryonic stem cells and human stem cells in the science of stem cell research.

The cells, derived from fertilized bird eggs, are, for all practical purposes, the equivalent of avian stem cells. In culture, they appear to be immortal, showing an ability to remain in an undifferentiated state and reproduce indefinitely.

The cells also can be persuaded to differentiate into cells representative of the four main types of tissues, muscle, nervous, connective and epithelial, which make up organs such as heart, skin, glands and reproductive structures.

"In avian species, embryonic development follows a slightly different path," but these cultured embryonic cells seem to perform all the same feats that embryonic stem cells do in mammals, said Alice Wentworth, a UW-Madison scientist who, with her husband, animal science professor Bernard Wentworth, and colleagues Herng Tsai, Henry Hunt and Larry Bacon, was the first to isolate and culture the avian cells, known as blastodermal cells.

Like their human counterparts, the avian cell lines, which have been patented to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, have broad technological potential. For the poultry industry, frozen germ cell lines could pave the way for restoring quality genetic traits in fowl, a technology crucial to most forms of modern animal husbandry.

New methods for mass producing pharmaceuticals could be developed using the egg as a sterile crucible for making proteins and antibodies.

Germ cell lines, derived from rare or endangered birds, could preserve their biological blueprints in laboratory incubators and freezers. From these embryonic germ cells, diminished populations could be replenished.

Genetically engineered fowl could bear introduced genes for resistance to disease such as Newcastle's disease, a disease of domesticated poultry.

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BUSH NOMINATES EPA R&D ADMINISTRATOR

WASHINGTON, DC, October 26, 2001 (ENS) - President Bush plans to nominate J. Paul Gilman to be Assistant Administrator for Research and Development at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Gilman would be responsible for the EPA's research arm comprised of three National Laboratories, two National Centers and two Washington based science support offices.

The agency's research and development science program is staffed by 2,000 employees at 13 locations nationwide and is dedicated to conducting leading edge research and fostering the sound use of science and technology to fulfill the EPA's mission to protect human health and safeguard the natural environment.

Gilman has directed research integration and policy planning at Celera Genomics in Rockville, Maryland, since October 1998. From March 1993 to September 1998, he held the position of executive director at both the Commission on Life Sciences and the Board on Agriculture at the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.

Since 1999, Gilman has served on the Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology of the National Research Council. He is now the acting chair of the U.S. Department of Energy Laboratory Operations Board and a member of the board of directors of Triton Thalassic Technologies.

Previous positions held by Gilman include associate director at the White House Office of Management and Budget; executive assistant to the Secretary of Energy; administrative assistant to U.S. Senator Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican; and staff director for the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Energy Research and Development.

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LAWSUIT CHALLENGES UTAH'S RIGHT OF WAY CLAIMS

WASHINGTON, DC, October 26, 2001 (ENS) - Environmental groups filed a lawsuit Thursday to force disclosure of information about closed door negotiations between the federal government and the state of Utah concerning the state's claim to more than 10,000 roads and trails crossing federal lands.

On June 14, 2000 the state of Utah took legal action to establish the state's alleged rights to roads, tracks and trails through the federal lands in all 29 Utah counties. The state is making these claims under a century old statute known as RS 2477, which states that rights of way, established before a federal land was reserved, are held by the state.

The roads and trails cross national parks, national monuments, national forests, wilderness areas, and other federal lands, including Utah's most pristine and sensitive areas. Recognition of the state's claims by the federal government would relinquish federal authority over these roads and trails.

Conservationists are concerned because in the past the federal government has given away rights of way under similar circumstances.

If the claims are found valid, then the state (or counties) may use, grade, widen or even pave these alleged roads, regardless of the nature of the federal land through which they travel. Many of these disputed areas are considered roadless by wilderness proponents and recognition of roads would put them out of bounds to any future inclusion in protected wilderness areas.

The lawsuit, filed in the federal district court in Washington DC, alleges that the Department of Interior is violating the Freedom of Information Act by refusing to release documents pertaining to the negotiations. The state and federal government have been negotiating to recognize some of the claims, but have not included the public in the negotiations.

The Bureau of Land Management responded to a Freedom of Information Act request by The Wilderness Society and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance by refusing to produce any documents pertaining to the negotiations, except for a few emails setting up meetings.

"The government needs to open the doors and let the public in on its handling of these claims," said Eric Huber of Earthjustice, one of the attorneys who filed the suit. "The public, which owns these federal lands, has a right to know if they are going to be given away in secret negotiations. We should not be forced to wait until a deal is struck to find out what they intend to do with these lands."

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NFMS APPOINTS NATIONAL SEABIRD COORDINATOR

WASHINGTON, DC, October 26, 2001 (ENS) - The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has appointed Kim Rivera as the agency's first National Seabird Coordinator.

Rivera's first order of business includes coordinating the regional implementation of the National Plan of Action released in February to protect seabirds during fishing operations. The plan outlines specific steps for reducing the incidental catch of seabirds in longline fisheries.

"We are concerned about the long-term ecological impacts of seabird bycatch in marine fishing gear throughout the world," said Bill Hogarth, NMFS assistant administrator. "With the appointment of Kim as National Seabird Coordinator to spearhead our efforts, we have the leadership and experience to drive us closer to reducing seabird deaths."

Hogarth said this coordinated effort can best be achieved by working with NMFS regions, fishery management councils, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and industry and environmental stakeholders.

The U.S. developed the National Plan of Action to fulfill a national responsibility to address seabird bycatch in longline fisheries, as requested in the International Plan of Action for Reducing the Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries. The International Plan was adopted by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1999.

As a member of an international seabird working group, Rivera started working with partners on this FAO initiative in1997. She has been with NMFS almost 10 years. In 1996 Rivera began work on the Alaska region's efforts to regulate the longline groundfish and halibut fisheries to reduce seabird bycatch.

"I am really pleased to be the new National Seabird Coordinator," Rivera said. "I've spent most of my career dedicated to seabird conservation, trying to figure out how it can be achieved in balance with fisheries. My appointment reinforces NOAA's commitment to do the right thing for both birds and fisheries."

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SALMONELLA COULD HELP DELIVER ANTHRAX VACCINE

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, October 26, 2001 (ENS) - A microbiologist at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is exploring the use of salmonella bacteria to deliver vaccines for anthrax and tularemia, two potential biological weapons.

Karl Klose, Ph.D., assistant professor of microbiology, has received $1.5 million from the National Institutes of Health to pursue the studies, which could lead to oral vaccines for the dangerous infections within five years. Study collaborators include Kent Lohmann, Ph.D., of Brooks Air Force Base, Jean Patterson, Ph.D., of the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, and John Gunn, Ph.D., assistant professor of microbiology at the Health Science Center.

Anthrax, a common soil bacterium, is considered the ideal bioterrorism weapon because of the ease with which it can be spread. As seen in recent weeks, it begins with flu like symptoms that are difficult to diagnose.

"A terrorist could be on a plane and out of the country before anyone knew what happened," Klose said.

Anthrax, once breathed in, releases a toxin that can kill up to 80 percent of victims. Tularemia can kill about 60 percent of those exposed.

Klose and his colleagues hope to spur the body's immune system to knock out these bacteria before they cause damage. The researchers are looking to help from salmonella, a bacterium that causes food poisoning.

"We have crippled the salmonella strain so that it can live in the intestine without causing disease," Klose said. "Next, we want to insert a small piece of anthrax - the portion that comprises the current injectable vaccine - into the salmonella. We will vaccinate mice and other animals and monitor them to see if they develop resistance to anthrax or tularemia."

The U.S. military instituted mandatory anthrax vaccinations for its personnel after the Gulf War. The current vaccine is effective but requires a series of six injections. Some military personnel have objected to the vaccine because it can cause serious reactions after the third or fourth injection, including flu-like symptoms and vision distortions.

"We're trying to develop a safer, less expensive and more effective vaccine that would be easy to administer and that would protect people against biowarfare," Klose said.

Klose has organized a bioterrorism symposium as part of the annual meeting of the Texas Branch of the American Society for Microbiology. Five scientific experts studying potential bioterrorist threats will give the session, which is scheduled for November 17 at the Sheraton Gunter Hotel in San Antonio.

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ECO-LABEL IDENTIFIES GREEN PRODUCTS

WASHINGTON, DC, October 26, 2001 (ENS) - In response to growing consumer demand for environmentally responsible products, Protected Harvest, a new eco-label that reduces the use of pesticides by farmers, is now being introduced into grocery stores.

Protected Harvest is a collaboration between farmers, scientists and environmental advocates. Participants in the Protected Harvest program minimize their use of toxic pesticides.

The first products to be certified under the Protected Harvest label are potatoes from Wisconsin, marketed under the Healthy Grown brand. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is testifying to the stringent environmental and production standards by allowing the WWF logo to be placed on Protected Harvest certified bags of Wisconsin potatoes. This is the first time that WWF has lent its support to an eco-label.

"We are proud to be a part of this innovative initiative," said Dr. Jason Clay, senior fellow at World Wildlife Fund. "We applaud the Wisconsin farmers who are working hard to protect wildlife and human health by reducing their reliance on high risk pesticides."

To qualify for Protected Harvest certification, growers must achieve a minimum number of points in two different groups of standards: production and toxicity score.

To control production, Protected Harvest growers use Biologically Integrated Pest Management (BioIPM) practices. BioIPM employs techniques such as field management, weed management, insect management, disease management, soil and water quality, and storage.

For example, Protected Harvest growers may rotate a field away from other fields to minimize pests, such as the Colorado potato beetle, for at least one year. And the growers must keep scouting records and remove or bury cull piles.

"By using IPM practices, our growers are able to reduce their reliance on pesticides, which is safer for the environment and is ultimately better for consumers," said Randy Duckworth, executive director of WPVGA and Protected Harvest board member.

Protected Harvest growers cannot exceed these seasonal toxicity levels, and they must eliminate the use of 12 toxic pesticides, including Aldicarb, Disulfoton, Oxamyl and Paraquat.

All of the standards and their supporting documents are available on the Protected Harvest website: http://www.protectedharvest.org

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MACARTHUR FELLOWSHIPS GO TO ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENTISTS

CHICAGO, Illinois, October 26, 2001 (ENS) - A conservationist and two biologists are among the 23 recipients of this year's MacArthur Fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Each will receive $500,000 over five years of "no strings attached" support.

"The announcement of the MacArthur Fellows offers an opportunity to focus on the importance of the creative individual in society," said Jonathan Fanton, president of the MacArthur Foundation. "Whether working alone or within an organization, these are people who provide the imagination and fresh ideas that can improve people's lives and bring about movement on important issues."

Lanham

Conservationist and pilot Sandra Lanham (Photo courtesy MacArthur Foundation)
Among the new Fellows is Sandra Lanham, a conservationist and pilot who, with her 1956 Cessna, initiates and fosters Mexican/American cross-border scientific collaborations in the interest of protecting sensitive habitats in North America.

Lanham, the 53 year old founder and director of Environmental Flying Services in Tucson, Arizona, is a self taught naturalist, a keen ecological observer, and the center of a network of grassroot conservationists.

Moss

Natural historian Cynthia Moss (Photo courtesy MacArthur Foundation)
Cynthia Moss, a natural historian studying for more than 30 years the ecology and social behavior of more than 1000 wild African elephants at the Amboseli National Park in Kenya, is another new MacArthur Fellow.

Moss, the 62 year old director of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project at the park, is a former journalist whose work has provided insights into the evolution of elephant behavior and the complex ways in which the animals respond to changes in their environment.

Biologist Michael Dickinson constructs experimental instruments to reveal the complexities of insect flight. The 38 year old professor at the University of California, Berkeley, integrates muscle physiology, comparative anatomy, aerodynamics, biomechanics, neuroscience and behavior in an effort to produce a comprehensive understanding of flying insects.

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CONSERVATION GROUP FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST TIMBER SALE

HELENA, Montana, October 26, 2001 (ENS) - Native Ecosystems Council has filed a complaint in federal district court to stop a timber sale that the group says will cost the public money and cause environmental degradation in the Helena National Forest.

Despite U.S. Forest Service (USFS) research stating that fire proofing forests is inefficient and ineffective unless it is focused near homes, the agency plans to log 860 acres of wildlife habitat in the Helena National Forest northwest of the Canyon Ferry Reservoir. The USFS says the purpose of the project is to reduce fire risk.

The USFS rejected Native Ecosystems Council's proposal to amend the project and refocus their fire protection effort around private property.

The timber sale project does not follow the agency's own management prescription for the area, will reduce big game and other wildlife habitat, including northern goshawk habitat, and will cost taxpayers money, the group's complaint charges.

"The Forest Service wants the public to pay them to break the law," said Economist Michael Garrity. "The Forest Service's own documents indicate that this timber sale will cost the public approximately $93,000. This is not the time to be wasting money on bureaucratic boondoggles."

Sara Johnson of Native Ecosystems Council added, "the Helena Forest Plan, the governing management document for the area, states that the Jimtown area is not suitable for logging."

"The Helena National Forest clearly has no concern for the viability of the northern goshawk, even though this management indicator species represents the health of the forest and other wildlife," said Johnson. "Thousands of acres of goshawk habitat were lost in the Cave Gulch fire, yet the agency still intends to proceed and log 860 acres of big game and goshawk habitat in the Jimtown area where a known goshawk nest is located."

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CALIFORNIA SCHOOL DISTRICT CONVERTS TO CLEAN FUELED BUSES

LOS ANGELES, California, October 26, 2001 (ENS) - With support from South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), the Jurupa Unified School District will become the first school system in the nation to convert entirely to clean fueled school buses.

"We are extremely pleased to be able to help Jurupa convert to clean buses," said Jane Carney, the Senate Rules Committee representative to AQMD's governing board. "We'll be helping many more districts thanks to new programs that are funding clean transportation for students throughout our region and state."

AQMD awarded $3.23 million to Jurupa to help purchase a total of 34 full sized compressed natural gas (CNG) school buses and nine smaller gasoline powered buses.

So far, the school district has acquired 24 CNG buses and the nine smaller gasoline powered models. When the remaining 10 CNG buses are purchased next year, the school district will have eliminated all but one diesel bus, which will be retained for long distance trips.

That bus is being retrofitted with a particulate trap to cut its soot emissions.

The total project cost is $5.33 million. Three million dollars of that amounts comes from a $17 million settlement paid by AES Alamitos LLC for excess emissions generated by one of its power plants in 2000.

"Our district is located along a transportation corridor. We recognize the need for our district to provide a healthful environment for our students. This current funding for clean buses makes it possible for us to do our part for cleaner air," said Mary Burns, a member of the Jurupa Unified School District school board. "Funding must be continued so that all students in our region and state can have a healthier start."

The school district lies in western Riverside County, which has the highest levels of particulate pollution in the region and among the highest in the nation. Last year, the area had an annual average level of fine particulate matter of 60.1 micrograms per cubic meter, exceeding the federal health standard of 50 micrograms per cubic meter.

Recent findings by University of Southern California health researchers show that children growing up in the area suffer respiratory impairment.

"We need to do everything possible to reduce levels of soot and particulate matter," said Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione. "Air pollution is a leading public health issue."

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WORLD'S LARGEST POLAR BEAR EXHIBIT OPENS

ROYAL OAK, Michigan, October 26, 2001 (ENS) - October 20 marked the opening date of the Detroit Zoo's Arctic Ring of Life. At 4.2 acres, it is the world's largest polar bear exhibit.

The Arctic Ring of Life features the only Polar Passage, a 70 ft long clear tunnel in which visitors can get closer to diving and swimming polar bears and seals than anywhere else on earth.

In addition to seven polar bears, the exhibit also is home to several other Arctic animals including four Arctic foxes, two snowy owls, four harbor seals, one rescued grey seal, and one rescued harp seal.

The Arctic Ring of life simulates the environment in which the animals live in the wild. The exhibit includes 300,000 gallons of chilled salt water (rather than fresh water), ice machines that will make 1,800 pound blocks of ice, and cooling pads throughout the exhibit to keep the animals cool during Michigan summers.

Visitors can take a simulated trek to the North Pole through the tundra, open sea and pack ice of the Arctic environment, and see the animals that are adapted to the life there. The exhibit also explores the relationship between Arctic people (Inuit) and wild life.

"Our goal of the Arctic Ring of Life is to excite and educate the public about animals and Arctic ecosystems in a unique way," said Detroit Zoological Institute director Ron Kagan. "Both the Arctic wildlife and the people have adapted in unusual ways in this extreme and amazing landscape. This expansive and dynamic exhibit will provide a stimulating experience for the animals as well."