Supervegetables/ Junk in space/ Students who cheat/ Why women lose out

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The Independent Culture
Cold? Who cares? A single gene from a bacterium, when added to tobacco and aubergine, allowed them to bear fruit even in winter. The gene, coding for the fruit-growing hormone auxin, could have a dramatic effect on vegetable productivity, according to work done in Verona, Italy. The use of tobacco here isn't part of a plot by cigarette makers; it just happens to be a useful experimental plant. The same technique could be applied to cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and probably other vegetables as well, according to Dwight Tomes of Pioneer Hi-Bred, a producer of hybrid corn in Iowa. Commenting on the work, reported in Nature Biotechnology, he said "health-conscious consumers interested in better choices for vegetables are likely to benefit from the further development and acceptance of this technology." We'll see.

Spacewalkers watch out. The US government last week warned that over a 10-year period, the International Space Station would have a one in five chance of sustaining serious damage from one of the 35 million pieces of man-made space debris orbiting the Earth. Not all collisions would be catastrophic, but the probability of debris destroying a part of the station or killing a crew member is about one in 100, said the General Accounting Office. Due for launch in 2002, and having a $58bn price tag - most of which will be paid by the US - the Space Station would have to represent value for money. The GAO's role includes pointing out how to lower the risk of its being wiped out by high-speed rubbish.

The GAO suggested the US could cut the risk by improving its surveillance of objects in space. But that system is not yet accurate enough, and government agencies have not been working together on the problem, it said. The US Department of Defense and Nasa can now routinely track only about 8,000 of those 35 million bits - those longer than 10 centimetres long. The dangerous ones are the estimated 110,000 objects between 1cm and 10cm long.

American students cheat. They say so themselves, in a survey of 4,000 of them at 31 universities, carried out by Donald McCabe of Rutgers University in New Jersey. The survey, in Science and Engineering Ethics, found two- thirds of students saying they had cheated - copying from someone in an exam or using crib notes. More than half of those without binding codes of conduct ("honour codes") had falsified laboratory data. Still, it was worst among students on business studies courses - 73 per cent owned up.

There's no bias against women in British science. That's the result of a careful study carried out after Swedish (female) researchers used Sweden's Freedom of Information Act to discover that peer review panels were biased against women in awarding grants and reviewing papers. The Wellcome Trust's Unit for Policy Research in Science and Medicine also found "no evidence of sex discrimination" in its awards of grants. Phew. But then, the UK examinations found women are statistically less likely than men to apply for grants. So the peer review is fine - it's just getting there that's not working.

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