Researchers in Tokyo University of Agriculture working with Korean colleagues have produced to a mouse with two mothers and no father. To achieve this they had to trick the eggs of one of the mother at an early stage of her development so that they would not develop some female characteristics. Once this was done they were able to combine these eggs with those of another female to produce an embryo. This research will provide very useful information on mammal reproduction. There are many technical and ethical reasons why these results can not be applied to human reproduction (at least in the near future).
More details can be found at http://www.nature.com/nsu/040419/040419-8.html
This month the International Whaling Commission (IWC) will hold its annual meeting in Italy to discuss all issues related to Whales in the world. During that convention many countries will probably criticize Japan once again for its research program on whales. Commercial hunting of whales is forbidden by the IWC, but hunting for research purpose is permitted (with some restrictions). Thus, Japan has developed an extensive research program on whales. Sighting whales provides information on their way of life, but some other information, such as the food they eat or their ages, can be obtained only by killing the whale (to study the content of its stomach and its ears [which provide information on the whale's age]). Thus, every year Japan organizes a research campaign in the Northern pacific to hunt around 250 whales to provide "samples" for scientific studies. Of course, as required by the IWC, the by products of the research (the meat of the whales) are not wasted and 3000 tons of meat reach the Japanese market every year. Many Japanese wonder why the country remains in the IWC instead of just following Norway and resuming the commercial hunting of Whales.
AIST has completed the biggest solar power generator in the world. The complex includes 6 500 square meters of solar panels producing 1 Megawatt of power. Producing the same amount of energy by burning fossil fuels would release about 300 tons of carbon dioxide every year. Japan has a solar panel capacity totaling roughly half of the world capacity.
Quantum cryptography is a technology that allows two person to exchange secret information along a communication line while being sure that nobody listens to them. To do so, they use some special properties of photons (particles of light) that are predicted by quantum mechanics. Quantum cryptography has been around (in research labs) for a few years and some commercial applications have recently reached the markets. But so far, the exchange of information has been extremely slow, as it requires complex manipulations of the photons. Researchers at AIST have found a way to improve by a factor 100 the speed of this information exchange and to extend the length over which it is possible.
More details at http://www.asahi.com/english/nation/TKY200405130208.html
Dolphins loose their skin at a very fast rate: it is entirely renewed every 2 hours. Scientist from the Kyoto Institute of Technology have studied this phenomena and have suggested an explanation: by loosing its skin the dolphin reduces the drag force when they swim (The drag force is the force responsible for the whirlpools at the rear of a boot, it pulls the boat [or the dolphin] backward, thus reducing its speed). Yoshimichi Hagiwara and his colleagues have made a toy model by gluing small pieces of plastic on a metallic piece with the shape of a dolphin. When the model was put in water the pieces of plastic flaked off and the researcher measured that the drag force was reduced. They hope to better understand the phenomena in order to build faster boats.
More details at http://physicsweb.org/article/news/8/5/8
A (nonreligious) ceremony was held on April 28th in memory of the chickens killed during the avian influenza. This event was organized by the agriculture ministry and poultry industry officials to express regret to the chickens who had to be killed to prevent the spread of the disease. The Japanese government has declared the country free of bird flu as of April.
More details can be found at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?nn20040430b1.htm
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