Science: Update

FARMERS IN India have destroyed a plot of genetically engineered cotton by uprooting and burning it, in what they called "a message to all those who have invested in Monsanto to take their money and get out". The cotton, resistant to bollworm and produced by the US biotech giant, was in one of 40 locations around India where it is being tested to check for escape of pollen. An official for the Indian Department of Biotechnology said the farmers' action was unwarranted: "The trials posed no bio-safety concern," he told Nature magazine. Transgenic potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflowers and tobacco with bollworm-resistant genes are also in trials.

A DRUG to control epilepsy, which has also shown promise in treating cocaine addiction, could help smokers as well, according to a team from Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. Experiments on animals showed that the drug - gamma vinyl-GABA, or GVG - reduces the effect of nicotine on the brain by slowing the production of dopamine, the neurotransmitter central to drug addiction. GVG blocked dopamine's effects for up to 12 hours. "Nicotine doubles the brain's dopamine level, sending a rush of pleasure and a signal that you should smoke again," said Stephen Dewey, a neuroanatomist. "But an appropriate dose of GVG taken before nicotine exposure can completely block nicotine's effects." The work was reported in the journal Synapse.

THE REASON you have not seen many pictures or data recently from the Galileo spacecraft, currently orbiting Jupiter's moon Europa, is that it has gone into its self-protective "safe" mode during two of its three fly-bys of the icy body. Scientists at Nasa are now working on a software fix for the problem, which they think is caused by increased radiation as it comes close to Jupiter. Galileo, launched in 1989, has already received 50 per cent more radiation than it is designed for.

A HUGE extinct volcano could be hidden under the west Antarctic ice sheet, suggest American scientists. They say they have found a "caldera" - the rock formation created by the collapse of a volcano's central regions into the empty magma chamber after an eruption. New Scientist reports that the caldera is about 70km across, and probably erupted "within the past 20 million years". If confirmed, it would be one of the world's largest extinct volcanoes. There is no danger of its returning to life, scientists say.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN the ways artists and the rest of us view the world have been detected by scientists investigating the brain activity of people who were asked to sketch faces while lying in a magnetic resonance imaging machine. The scanner, which measures blood flow in different areas of the brain, can accurately monitor the activity levels. Most of the cerebral activity of the non-artists was at the back of the brain, in the area that deals with visual processing, according to Bob Solso of the University of Nevada, in Reno. But in the case of Humphrey Ocean, a British portrait painter, the activity was centred on the right, frontal region, which is usually associated with higher thought processes, reports New Scientist. "It appears the artist is `thinking' the painting as much as he is `seeing' the painting," Dr Solso said.

IF THE euro ever makes an appearance in Britain, the Royal Mint should make every effort to avoid making the coins out of zinc. A study in the US, where some one-cent coins are made of zinc coated in copper, has found that zinc-based coins can cause stomach ulcers in children who swallow them. Coins made from copper or nickel generally pass through the digestive system untouched, but doctors at Duke University Medical Centre in Durham, North Carolina, found that a two-year-old boy suffered severe problems after a coin he had swallowed began to dissolve in his stomach. After he complained of pain, the doctors took X-rays and detected a metal disc full of holes. It was a 1989 coin that he had swallowed four days earlier.

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