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Sigma Xi International Newsletter
Volume 5, Number 5/6
May/June 2006

This electronic bulletin is designed to keep subscribers updated on developments in Sigma Xi’s international activities and to provide links and articles on topics of interest to researchers around the world. To submit an item to the newsletter, contact the Manager of the International Program at international@sigmaxi.org. You can also download and print a PDF version of this issue. To subscribe to this newsletter, please use this online form.

Past Issues

In This Issue

  1. Science and Technology News
  2. International Cooperation, Fellowships and Scholarships
  3. Sigma Xi News
  4. Upcoming Events

A. Science and Technology News

Rice Genome Map Nears Completion
The nearly complete map of the rice genome will enhance the ability of agricultural science to produce new crop strains that not only increase productivity but expand the range of growing conditions. It will also offer insights into the evolutionary history of one of the most important cereal crops, which has played a prominent role in the historical development of mankind. This was made known in the 11 August 2005 issue of Nature. Rice is the first cereal crop and only the second plant to have its genome mapped. It is the "gold standard" of genome mapping from a crop science perspective, said Takuji Sasaki, vice president of the National Institute of Agro-biological Sciences in Japan and head scientist of the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project. "Now we can get the most fundamental information about the inheritance of rice plants," he said. The mapping project was a major international endeavor conducted by scientists working in 32 institutes in 10 countries over eight years. The genome is the sum total of all genetic information to be found in the DNA of a species. The scientists divided the rice genome into small pieces, which were then copied for sequencing. The research was completed three years ahead of time and the data is now freely available on the Internet.

This is vital research as it is estimated that by 2025 as many as 4.6 billion people will depend on rice for their survival. Rice is the main cereal crop in Asia, currently feeding two billion people. In 2000, about 40 percent of the Earth’s population, mostly those in densely populated, less developed countries, depended on rice as their major energy source. Rice was chosen for sequencing because its genome is the smallest among all cereal crops. The genomes of mammals are about the same size as each other, but those of plants vary widely -- the genome of corn for instance, doubles that of rice while wheat genome is 41 times the rice genome.

The rice genome was found to contain 37,544 genes and 389 million base pairs, the fundamental chemical unit of genetic information. Scientists will be able to use the completed rice genome as a template for their work with the other cereals, such as wheat and maize.

Scientists are finely tuning their sequencing of rice, completing sections more difficult to access and starting to assess the internal organization of the genome, including how genes are turned on and off and the interaction between different products of the genes. The sequence will enable an analysis of single nucleotide polymorphisms—minute genetic variations between different rice varieties that explain characteristics such as drought tolerance.

If the appropriate precautions are taken, the mapping of the rice genome opens up the possibility for scientific research to vastly improve the available varieties of rice for the benefit both of mankind and the environment. The full report is available on-line as HTML file (Source: http://snipurl.com/qxlw) as well as PDF file (Source: http://snipurl.com/qxls).

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Faster Transistor Material
Chip-maker Intel recently announced a transistor made from a material called indium antimonide (InSb) that had some impressive characteristics: it was clocked at 1.5 times the speed of silicon-based transistors and used one-tenth the power. These exciting results were presented by the Intel’s director of technology strategy, Paolo Gargini, at the semiannual Intel Developer Forum in early March 2006 in San Francisco, USA. Use of the new material will be a significant shift from silicon, allowing chipmakers to build smaller and smaller devices over the next couple of decades. As transistors made of silicon keep shrinking, the material’s limitations are becoming more apparent. “Silicon is not the best semiconductor,” Gargini said. Electrons, he points out, can pass through an indium antimonide crystal 50 times faster than through a silicon crystal. As a result, not only are electronic operations significantly faster, but less power is needed to push the electrons (Source:
http://snipurl.com/qxlz).

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New Plant Absorbs More Airborne Pollutants
Japan’s largest car manufacturer, Toyota Motor Corporation, has developed a new type of eco-friendly flora that can absorb airborne pollutants much more effectively than existing varieties. This new type of cherry sage shrub, named Kirsch Pink, has an outstanding ability to clean the air and reduce the “heat island” effect - a phenomenon in which the abundance of concrete and lack of greenery in cities results in higher temperatures, increased use of air conditioning, and further pollution. According to Toyota Motor, Kirsch Pink is 1.3 times more efficient at absorbing the pollutants nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide and reducing the heat island effect than existing varieties of the shrub. It is 1.2 times better at doing these things than even the fast-growing Kirsch Red, a cherry sage already being sold by Toyota Roof Garden. Toyota Motor asserts that planting Kirsch Pink on the sides of roads and in city parks would improve air quality. “If the automobile is to remain a beneficial tool in the twenty-first century, environmental responses are essential”, the giant automaker states. Toyota asserts that it is actively striving to deal with environmental issues, and Kirsch Pink could play a significant role, leading to improvements in both the landscape and the air in urban areas (Source:
http://snipurl.com/qxne).

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Cartagena Protocol Losing Relevance
Arnoldo Ventura, a former scientist and current special advisor to the prime minister of Jamaica disputes the relevance of the Cartagena Protocol, which was created in 2000 to protect biodiversity from any potential harm posed by genetically modified (GM) organisms. It was considered a judicious addition to the UN biodiversity convention to help ensure the safe transfer, handling and use of GM organisms. He considers that the resources being used on the debate are wasteful and unnecessary, and should be better spent on more pressing global problems, such as boosting the developing world’s capacity to use science for development. Indeed, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications reports that 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries grow GM crops, with poor farmers in developing countries making up 90 per cent of these growers.

Ventura further emphasizes that essentially, the Cartagena Protocol is rapidly losing its relevance. It was based on a false premise that GM products could be as dangerous as radioactive materials or toxic chemicals. People assumed that GM organisms were inherently more harmful than earlier genetic manipulations through conventional crop or livestock breeding, or by the march of nature. But experience suggests that GM organisms are less harmful than many invasive species that can dominate and upset ecosystems but do not attract the same attention. He calls for looking into the matter based on scientific evidence and to carry out a cost-benefit analysis of the debate around the protocol (Source: http://snipurl.com/qxm2).

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European Science Foundation Initiates a Forward Look
The European Science Foundation (ESF) will launch what it calls a new Forward Look in 2006 leading to an advanced cyber-infrastructure that will allow Europe to maintain a leading position in the field of computational science. Forward Look will help develop a European cyber infrastructure that is similar to the ‘e-environment’ of supporting services available to researchers in the US. This infrastructure also has the potential to create a platform for code developers in Europe to work in a collaborative and integrated way. Three main incentives — raising awareness about the need of the infrastructure, integrating all support systems through this infrastructure, and the possibility of future scientific advances — drive the initiative. ESF’s Forward Look also aims to create opportunities for the science community to connect directly with policy makers. For more information, please see:
http://snipurl.com/qxm4.

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China Builds New S&T Parks
China plans to increase the amount of university research that gets developed into commercial products by building 30 new science and technology parks by 2010. The parks act as ‘incubators’ for small and medium-sized high-tech companies, many of which are set up by universities or students. Xu Luping, a senior official at the Ministry of Science and Technology, says that about 5,000 businesses have been set up in the 50 existing parks. Thanks to policies China announced in February 2006, the parks will enjoy a range of tax breaks starting this year. This year, 17 universities have submitted applications for science parks, with only nine reaching the second round of competition. Xu says that a panel of experienced park managers will soon complete its final assessments of the applications. Eight will be chosen for this year’s program [Source:
http://snipurl.com/qxoi).

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B. International Cooperation, Fellowships and Scholarships

Call for Research Grant Applications
The International Foundation for Science (IFS) invites individual and team applications on sustainable sanitation and grey water re-use in developing countries. This initiative is funded through a grant from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the initiative will be implemented in collaboration with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). The overall purpose of the project is to improve the livelihood of poor people. The project will generate new knowledge relevant for a deepened understanding of cross-cutting biological, chemical, technical and socio-economic factors that are necessary for development of technology for sustainable sanitation and grey-water reuse. Research grants will be awarded up to a maximum value of USD 12,000 for a period of one to three years. The grants, which can be renewed twice, are intended for the purchase of scientific equipment, expandable supply and literature and to arrange field activities, among others. The closing date for the grant application is 30 June 2006. For more information, please see:
http://snipurl.com/qxm6.

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The African Fellows Program
Rothamsted International of UK is inviting proposals for the fellowship program from scientists from Africa. The Rothamsted International African Fellows Program aims to provide problem-focused training in Europe for mid-career African scientists. The program, started in 2004, aims at supporting sustainable agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa by catalyzing innovative solutions needed to achieve food security. Under this program African scientists will carry out research projects in a partner European research institute or university for periods of 4 to 12 months. Therefore, their proposals should aim to develop lasting partnerships and strategic alliances that will help in building up local scientific capacity relevant to sustainable agricultural production. Fellowships are awarded on a competitive basis in a two-stage assessment process. Research projects need to be focused on solving an agricultural problem or constraint, demonstrate a clear path from research to application and be of benefit to small-scale African farmers and the rural economy. The application deadline is 4 July 2006. For other details of the program, please visit Web site:
http://snipurl.com/geu0.

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North-South Research Collaboration
The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) are funding a program that supports joint research projects concerning themes essential for the development of southern countries. The program aims at strengthening local scientific capacities and reinforcing the ties between researchers of the North and of the South. After a thorough review process, 14 projects — 8 from Africa, 4 from Latin America and 2 from South and South-East Asia — were approved. The projects started in October 2005, and will last 3 years and support 45 scientists in the southern countries. The selected joint research projects represent an important thematic variety, from the question of decentralization to tropical diseases, natural resource management or development of eco-materials. More information on the program and details of each of the 14 projects can be seen on Web site:
http://snipurl.com/qxma.

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International Dialogue on Science and Practice Planned
An international dialogue on science and practice in sustainable development will be held from 23 – 27 January 2007 in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It is part of a larger international project on Sustainability Science and Technology: Linking Knowledge with Action, in which international partnership teams will work to identify action-related knowledge needed to facilitate solutions to sustainability problems. The dialogue will be organized by the Initiative on Science and Technology for Sustainability (ISTS) and TWAS, the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, in cooperation with the Sustainable Europe Research Institute (SERI), and hosted by the Unit for Social and Environmental Research (USER), Chiang Mai University (Source:
http://snipurl.com/qxov).

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C. Sigma Xi News

New International Partner
A new international partner will join the Sigma Xi family soon. The Society’s International Committee recently approved an application to establish a Sigma Xi Romania International Partner (SXRIP). This will be the third international partner of Sigma Xi. The other two are the Georgia and Moscow international partners. Sigma Xi international partnership is a relatively new concept and a cost-effective way to form a local Sigma Xi group outside of the USA. It enables a group to set and collect their own annual dues in their local currency and pay their dues at a reduced rate. It is intended to assist international scientists where the cost prohibits the formation of a local Sigma Xi group. This program applies only to developing countries as defined by the World Bank, including what are categorized as low-income, lower-middle income and upper-middle income economies. For more information on formation of an international partner, please visit Sigma Xi Web site:
http://snipurl.com/7tc9.

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Georgian Delegation Visits Sigma Xi
Sigma Xi received a delegation from Georgia comprised of six scientists and science policy makers on 18 May 2006. The group was invited to the USA under the auspices of the US Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. The goals of the visit to Sigma Xi, among others, were to understand the programs of Sigma Xi as a scientific society, especially in the areas of education, grants, funding, international programs and publishing the magazine. Sigma Xi staff members made presentations and explained salient aspects of their activities. In an open discussion session, the members of the delegation and the Sigma Xi staff exchanged information related to the above issues. A tour of the Sigma Xi Center was arranged for the delegation by Dr. Patrick D. Sculley, Executive Director of Sigma Xi.

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Annual Toy Design Competition Inspires Children’s Interest in Science
Hundreds of inventive middle school students from around the USA competed in Sally Ride Science’s TOYchallenge East Coast Nationals at the Sigma Xi Center on Saturday, 6 May 2006. Judging took place in the morning, while the free event was open to the public from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Fifty four teams from 18 states demonstrated working prototypes of their original games or toys. The entries were judged on such things as creativity, engineering, the design process and teamwork. Fourteen local science outreach and education organizations participated in SciFest, a street fair of interactive, hands-on science-related exhibits. This was the third year Sigma Xi has been a principal sponsor. Various prizes were awarded to the winning teams. The first prize was won by the Neon Warriors for their game "Splash Dash," an electronic version of tag. The team will be given a guided VIP tour of Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA.

"TOYchallenge encourages middle school students, and especially girls, to participate in science and engineering," Sigma Xi Executive Director Patrick D. Sculley noted. "Mentoring the next generation of researchers is among our primary missions. It’s wonderful to see the energy and enthusiasm these children bring to the competition."

Former astronaut Kathy Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space, gave a keynote talk to TOYchallenge participants. For more information, please visit Web site: http://snipurl.com/qxmh.

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New Director for Center Programs
John W. Rintoul recently joined the staff of Sigma Xi as Chief Counsel and Director of Center Programs.  In his position as Director of Center Programs, Mr. Rintoul oversees the activities of five Sigma Xi program areas, including the International Program. He has extensive experience with grants and contracts management, business administration, regulatory compliance and other legal aspects of profit and non-profit organizations. He earned both his B.A. and J.D. at the University of Kansas, USA. He formerly worked as senior contracting officer and counsel for international operations at RTI International, USA, where he conducted contract negotiations in support of international development programs in over 65 countries. 

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D. Upcoming Events

Bangalore Bio 2006; Bangalore, India; 7 – 9 June 2006; http://snipurl.com/qxmq

Hydrological Sciences for Managing Water Resources in the Asia; Guangzhou, China; 8 – 10 June 2006; http://snipurl.com/qxmr

International Symposium on Nanotechnology in Environmental Protection and Pollution (ISNEPP); Hong Kong; 18 – 21 June 2006; http://snipurl.com/qxms

EUSEA2006 conference and exhibition; Singapore; 19 – 23 June 2006; http://www.eusea2006.org/

Training course on biotech crop commercialization; Manila, Philippines; 19 – 23 June 2006; http://www.asiabiobusiness.com/

14th International Symposium on HIV & Emerging Infectious Diseases (ISHEID); Toulon, France; 21 – 23 June 2006; http://snipurl.com/qxmu

Ultimate Lithography and Nanofabrication for Electronics and Life Science; Marseille, France; 25 – 30 June 2006; http://www.lithoconf.com/

World Congress of Soil Science; Philadelphia, United States; 9 - 15 July 2006; http://snipurl.com/qxmx

Jack F. Ealy workshop on science journalism; San Diego, United States; 12 - 21 July 2006; http://snipurl.com/qxn0

2006 World Congress of International Association for Plant Tissue Culture and Biotechnology; Beijing, China; 13 - 17 August 2006; http://snipurl.com/qxn1

Tropical Crop Biotechnology Conference 2006 Cairns, Australia; 16 - 19 August 2006 http://www.tcbc2006.com.au/

International Plant Breeding Symposium; Mexico City, Mexico; 20 - 25 August 2006; http://www.intlplantbreeding.com/

Innogen Annual Conference 2006; London, United Kingdom; 5-6 September 2006; http://snipurl.com/qxn3

International Conference on Mathematics and Natural Sciences; Bandung, Indonesia; 29 - 30 November 2006; http://snipurl.com/qxn7

Society-in-Science – African Forum; Port Elizabeth, South Africa; 5 - 7 December 2006; http://www.fest.org.za/ascc/

International Conference on Digital Information Management; Bangalore, India; 6 - 8 December 2006; http://www.icdim.org/

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For more information on any of the programs mentioned in this newsletter, please contact:

Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society
P. O. Box 13975, 3106 East NC Highway 54
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709 USA
Telephone: +1-919-549-4691
Fax: +1-919-549-0090
E-mail: international@sigmaxi.org

 

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