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Thursday, August 23, 2007Artificial Life Is Just Few Years Away.......
Around the world, a handful of scientists are trying to create life from scratch and they're getting closer.
Experts expect an announcement within three to 10 years from someone in the now little-known field of "wet artificial life."
"It's going to be a big deal and everybody's going to know about it," said Mark Bedau, chief operating officer of ProtoLife of Venice, Italy, one of those in the race. "We're talking about a technology that could change our world in pretty fundamental ways — in fact, in ways that are impossible to predict."
That first cell of synthetic life — made from the basic chemicals in DNA — may not seem like much to non-scientists. For one thing, you'll have to look in a microscope to see it.
"Creating protocells has the potential to shed new light on our place in the universe," Bedau said. "This will remove one of the few fundamental mysteries about creation in the universe and our role."
And several scientists believe man-made life forms will one day offer the potential for solving a variety of problems, from fighting diseases to locking up greenhouse gases to eating toxic waste.
Bedau figures there are three major hurdles to creating synthetic life:
• A container, or membrane, for the cell to keep bad molecules out, allow good ones, and the ability to multiply.
• A genetic system that controls the functions of the cell, enabling it to reproduce and mutate in response to environmental changes.
• A metabolism that extracts raw materials from the environment as food and then changes it into energy.
One of the leaders in the field, Jack Szostak at Harvard Medical School, predicts that within the next six months, scientists will report evidence that the first step — creating a cell membrane — is "not a big problem." Scientists are using fatty acids in that effort.
Szostak is also optimistic about the next step — getting nucleotides, the building blocks of DNA, to form a working genetic system.
His idea is that once the container is made, if scientists add nucleotides in the right proportions, then Darwinian evolution could simply take over.
"We aren't smart enough to design things, we just let evolution do the hard work and then we figure out what happened," Szostak said.
In Gainesville, Fla., Steve Benner, a biological chemist at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution is attacking that problem by going outside of natural genetics. Normal DNA consists of four bases — adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine (known as A,C,G,T) — molecules that spell out the genetic code in pairs. Benner is trying to add eight new bases to the genetic alphabet.
Bedau said there are legitimate worries about creating life that could "run amok," but there are ways of addressing it, and it will be a very long time before that is a problem.
"When these things are created, they're going to be so weak, it'll be a huge achievement if you can keep them alive for an hour in the lab," he said. "But them getting out and taking over, never in our imagination could this happen."
Every morning of every weekday for 12 years, Thomas Montgomery punched in at the Dynabrade factory in Clarence, a small town in upstate New York. He strapped on his goggles and stood at his machine until the late afternoon, churning out components for power tools. After work, he walked the family dog, Shadow, and took his two daughters to swim practice. He became such a regular presence at the local swim club that he was named its vice president. He tried to be a good father and a decent husband to his wife of 16 years, Cindy. There were a few things he enjoyed — poker night on Fridays with the guys, playing Texas Hold 'Em on Pogo.com, and the Dynabrade euchre tournament, which he dominated for two years in a row. For the most part, though, life was uneventful.
Which may be why Montgomery looked at himself — a 45-year-old former marine with a reddish mustache, bulging gut, and disappearing hair — and decided to become someone else. That person, he wrote on Dynabrade stationery that he stored in his toolbox at work, would be an 18-year-old marine named Tommy. He would be a black belt in karate, with bullet scars on his left shoulder and right leg, thick red hair, and impressive dimensions (6'2", 190 pounds, and a "9" dick"). Emboldened by his new identity, Montgomery logged onto Pogo in the spring of 2005 and met TalHotBlondbig50 — a 17-year-old from West Virginia, whose name, he later learned, was Jessica.
He began instant-messaging "Jessi," who later also went by the handle "peaches_06_17," and the lies flowed easier with every press of the Return key. His mom had died of cancer when he was 12, he told her, and his father was a military man. At 17, Tommy had raped a cheerleader, and his life became so hopeless that he enlisted in the Marines. After a stint at boot camp in June to train as a sniper, he was headed to Iraq. Montgomery concocted elaborate ruses to maintain Tommy's cover story, creating a second identity as Tommy's dad, Tom Sr., who bore a striking resemblance to the real Montgomery. Tommy's access to the Internet was supposedly limited because of his military duties, so Dad, as Jessi soon referred to him, began shuttling messages between the two lovers. He also told Jessi to send any mail and packages for Tommy to him, because he had contacts in Iraq and could get them to the young marine quickly.
Tommy's tales of hard luck drew Jessi in. He was in need of comfort, and Jessi provided it, saying she was proud of him despite his mistakes. Tommy responded by telling her that she was "the best thing that ever happened to him." As their intimacy grew, he sent her a picture of a young marine, claiming it was himself, and confided that he planned to commit suicide in Iraq; she made him promise to stay alive for her. They talked on the phone when they could. But if Jessi couldn't reach Tommy, she sometimes IM'd Tom Sr. to talk about her lover. Jessi also emailed Tommy photos of herself, care of Tom Sr. She lived up to her screen handle, whether she was running her fingers through her flowing blond hair or wading in a pool in a yellow bikini or showing off her long tan legs in a denim miniskirt.
Jessi fell for Tommy, and Montgomery did, too — or, at least, for the idea of himself as Tommy, a young man on his way to a future with the prettiest girl around. Tommy told Jessi that he'd had their special motto — the Marine saying "Always and Forever" — tattooed on his arm, along with her name encircled by a heart. Jessi, for her part, crafted video montages of herself for Tommy that were set to power ballads like Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" and Lonestar's "I'm Already There."
Jessi's photos provoked the couple's first major blowup: Montgomery became convinced she'd sent her pictures to other online admirers and accused her of betraying him. To apologize, Jessi sent him a snail-mail letter, enclosing one of her G-strings and a sterling silver "key to my heart" chain. She signed off the missive with "T&J" inside a heart. Tommy forgave her, but Montgomery, in his role as "Dad" and occasional intermediary, did not. She defended her mistake, writing in frustration that Tommy "has let it go why wont you." Tom Sr. wrote, "because u will hurt him and hes an idiot and will believe ur lying ass."
Meanwhile, Jessi and Tommy had settled into a routine, talking by phone between 6:30 and 6:40 am and from 3:30 to 3:40 pm, when Jessi was led to believe that her "sweet sexy marine" was off duty. By Christmas, about eight months after they met online, Tommy proposed marriage and Jessi accepted. He sent her poinsettias, and she sent him more G-strings and dog tags engraved with the message TOM & JESSI ALWAYS & FOREVER. Jessi worried constantly about Tommy's safety, writing, "I know your being careful honey and you have the best with you but I also know anything can happen." Anticipating his return from Iraq, Jessi planned for their first night together, expressing nerves about what would be her "first time." She ended on an optimistic note: "Won't be long until its Jessica Blair Montgomery."
Montgomery was consumed by his marathon online chats with Jessi. While at work, he didn't stop talking about her, telling colleagues that he planned to leave his wife and move to West Virginia. In the evening, he would chase his daughters off the computer, planting himself in front of the screen late into the night. Cindy couldn't compete with his new obsession.
For New Year's, Montgomery made a resolution, which he scribbled on his work pad. "On January 2, 2006, Tom Montgomery (46 years old) ceases to exist and is replaced by an 18-year-old battle-scarred marine," he wrote. "He is moving to West Virginia to be with the love of his life." He vowed that he would set aside enough of his imaginary millions to care for Cindy and the girls, even as he fantasized about the life he would build with Jessi. When the new year began, however, he was still stuck in his aging body and stale life. He wrote in frustration, "I wish I would know the exact time I would change to new Tom to prepare for it."
Cindy did not know about her husband's double, or rather triple, life. But she did know that something had changed inside her two-story yellow house. "He wouldn't get off the Internet," she said. "It gave him access to something he wouldn't have had otherwise." Then, in February 2006, she discovered some of Jessi's mementos and unraveled the truth. Cindy's marriage might not have been the happiest, but contending with the layers of deceit she uncovered — not to mention a teenager's lingerie — was too much. "What I cannot believe is that you are living out some bizarre fantasy — as father and son," she wrote in a note to her husband. "If you want to separate — We can... but to continue to lie to me & the kids while she is sending 'your son' gifts in the mail is not acceptable."
The couple stayed in the same house, though Montgomery complained to a coworker about being consigned to the basement. As a mother, however, Cindy felt she had to do something for Jessi. She wrote a letter, enclosing a recent photo of her family. "Let me introduce you to these people," she said, describing her husband, Tom, her daughters, 12 and 14 years old, and herself — the "c," as she put it, in Montgomery's many emails to Jessi from their account named "tcmontgomery1." There was no son, she told Jessi, only her husband, a 46-year-old former marine. "From what I am pulling from your letters you are much closer to [my daughter's] age than mine let alone Tom's," Cindy wrote. "Are you over the age of 18? In this alone, he can be prosecuted as a child predator." Adding that Jessi could be her own daughter, Cindy offered some maternal advice: "Do not trust words on a computer."
IM transcript, April 17, 2006
Jessi didn't know who to believe. Was there no Tommy? Or had Cindy invented the story because she wanted Tommy for herself? Jessi found a friend Montgomery had mentioned who also frequented Pogo: "Beefcake1572," or Brian Barrett, a 22-year-old student at Buffalo State College who worked part-time at Dynabrade with Montgomery and played poker with him.
When Barrett confirmed his friend's trickery, Jessi was devastated. How could her "everything," as she referred to Tommy, be a nothing? She turned to Barrett for solace, playing Lottso, a kind of Bingo, with him in the Princess Priceless room on Pogo and IMing him on Yahoo. Their conversations quickly turned intimate. Soon, in public forums online, she and Barrett called Montgomery a child predator and taunted him. Montgomery was suspended from a game room. She shared her passwords with Barrett, who would log onto her accounts and talk to Montgomery as Jessi to humiliate him. At work, Barrett boasted about his new relationship.
Montgomery was furious. "Half the company" thought he was a "fucking loser and predator," he IM'd Jessi. Parents no longer trusted him with their kids. His life was so destroyed that he appeared to be contemplating suicide. "U can say goodbye forever to me and Tommy," he told Jessi.
Hongsheng Chen, Bae-Ian Wu, Baile Zhang, and Jin Au Kong have published their research on invisibility lcoaks in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters. The group analytically demonstrated how electromagnetic waves interact with invisibility cloaks made of metamaterials, an interaction that is often different from conventional scattering with regular particles. Their findings will hopefully be useful for cloak design and applications, an exciting research area that is still in its early stages.
“When an electromagnetic wave is incident onto a conventional sphere, part of the radiation will be scattered in all directions; while for a metamaterial cloak, the incident wave will smoothly pass through the cloak undeflected,” Chen explained to PhysOrg.com. “It is very interesting that a perfect metamaterial cloak shows no reflection or absorption but rather allows the Poynting power to bypass the hidden object. Our research also shows that the Poynting power inside of the cloak is not uniform: when close to the inner boundary of the cloak, the power flow density is close to zero, while near the outer boundary of the cloak, the power flow density becomes large.”
The first invisible cloak made of metamaterials was created last year by Duke University researchers Shurig et al. Metamaterials, which are composed of a man-made matrix of tiny metal wires and loops that control electromagnetic waves, can create an area in space where no electromagnetic waves propagate. The light waves flow around the cloaked object like water in a creek flows around a rock, appearing on the other side in such a way that an observer can’t tell that the waves flowed around an obstacle.
In the first experimental trial, the cloak hid the concealed object from the electromagnetic microwaves in two dimensions. Chen and his colleagues wanted to know if perfect invisibility could be achieved under any wavelength. The scientists explained that perfect invisibility is achieved when the scattering cross section is zero, which indicates that the cloak exhibits zero scattering. The group found that the parameters for a perfect cloak are very difficult to realize, and that when some specific type of loss is included, the three dimensional spherical cloak wrapped around a hidden object exhibits zero backscattering while a two dimensional cylindrical cloak does not.
“The cloak is both anisotropic and inhomogeneous: all of the components in the permittivity and permeability tensor are functions of the radius, which implies that the perfect invisibility cloak is very difficult to design,” Chen explained. “If we introduce a specific type of loss both in a spherical cloak and a cylindrical cloak, only the spherical cloak exhibits a zero backscattering, which indicates only the spherical cloak can still be rendered invisible with a monostatic (transmitter and receiver in the same location) detection. This is because the impedance of the spherical cloak is still matched to the free space in this particular loss case.”
Because they have less stringent requirements, imperfect cloaks may offer a more realistic alternative for engineers. Although imperfect cloaks have non-zero scattering, the objects they cloak can still appear isolated from the outside field under certain specific conditions and the incident fields cannot penetrate into the hidden object. Besides, for an imperfect cloak with matched impedance, it can still be rendered invisible with monostatic detection, which is most widely used in current radar.
“For a monostatic detection, no reflection wave will be received by the detector if the imperfect cloak has a matched impedance with the free space,” Chen explained. “Therefore, the imperfect cloak, even with its parameters deviated far from the ideal parameters, still can be made completely invisible with the monostatic detection as long as it satisfied the impedance requirement.”
Since almost all current radars belong to the monostatic class, Chen explained that this research can offer a more realistic alternative for engineers. In the future, applications of invisible cloaks could include military uses such as making planes and weapons invisible to radar, enabling the possibility of looking out walls as if they were windows, and hiding ugly factories for aesthetic reasons.
“The effectiveness of the cloak based on the analytical solutions of the electromagnetic wave interactions with metamaterial cloaks (ideal or non-ideal) can be quantitatively provided,” Chen said. “Our research work therefore provides a new way for the cloak design and to qualify the effectiveness or performance of a non-ideal cloak.”
Football superstar Michael Vick is in big trouble for his role in a dog fighting ring. Sandra Kobrin agrees he's in the wrong, but wonders at the outrage deficit when it comes to the guys who beat their wives and girlfriends and stay in the game.
Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's eNews.
(WOMENSENEWS)--National Football League superstar Michael Vick is in trouble, serious trouble. Federal prosecutors charged the Atlanta Falcons' quarterback with animal abuse for his role as the alleged leader of a dog-fighting ring and, after denying it for months, Vick pleaded guilty on Monday. He faces stiff sentencing.
He's in big trouble with the NFL too, which has said he might never play professionally again. According to Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL's Player Association, "the practice of dog-fighting is offensive and completely unacceptable."
I just wish the NFL had the same outrage toward spousal abuse and other forms of domestic violence. But they don't. Not by a long shot.
Scores of NFL players as well as players from the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball have been convicted of domestic abuse, yet they play on with no fear of losing their careers. Most pay small fines, if that, and are back on the field immediately.
The message is clear. Beat a woman? Play on. Beat a dog? You're gone.
What could possibly account for this bizarre situation?
Part of it is that it's the dog days of August--the notoriously silly season for news--so the Vick story has attracted tremendous press attention. But it's been all over TV as well during the past four months, since Vick's indictment in April.
Animal Lobby Attacks
The anti-animal abuse lobby, meanwhile, is going after Vick with all four paws.
PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which received almost $30 million in contributions last year, according to its Web site, and other animal rights organizations are demanding a boycott of companies that continue to sponsor Vick and are bombarding the NFL with letters demanding a no-tolerance policy when it comes to cruelty to animals by football players.
On blogs, the outrage continues on sackvick.net and other sites, with comments like "lets give #7, 7 to life," or "lets make Michael Vick into dog food."
A cottage industry of anti-Vick merchandise is out there. You can buy a chew toy for your dog in with a likeness of Vick, a "hang Vick" hat or even an eye-for-eye justice T-shirt that says "Stick Vick in the Pit."
Vick has already lost most of his sponsorship deals worth millions of dollars and he deserves to lose a whole lot more.
But the disproportionate punishment of Vick--while athletes who commit violence against women are let off the hook--has to be wondered at.
Might it be that domestic violence and spousal abuse is so pervasive in sports that it's simply too costly for leagues to suspend so many men? What would happen after all if those poor dear teams couldn't fill their rosters?
Numbers Are Astounding
The number of athletes arrested for domestic violence or spousal abuse is astounding.
A three-year study published in 1995 by researchers at Northwestern University found that while male student-athletes are 3 percent of the population, they represent 19 percent of sexual assault perpetrators and 35 percent of domestic violence perpetrators.
There are even Web site chronicles that treat the steady stream of offenders as if it were a joke. Check out badjocks.com or playersbehavingbadly.com. Maybe then again, don't. It's enough to make you sick.
Roger Goodell, the new NFL commissioner, has made it his mandate to crack down on athletes who misbehave.
In April Goodell introduced a new conduct policy that stiffens penalties and holds franchises responsible when their players get into trouble.
Just recently Goodell suspended the Tennessee Titans' troubled player Adam "Pacman" Jones for the 2007 season.
Jones had been arrested five times since he was drafted by the NFL in 2005 and has been involved in 11 separate police investigations. Most recently, during what amounted to a brawl at a strip club, he grabbed a stripper and banged her head into the ground. He will not be paid during his suspension and must apply for reinstatement.
Spousal Abuse Gets a Pass
But no one has been suspended in the NFL for spouse abuse or domestic violence, even though they've been arrested and convicted.
The NFL Players Association's Upshaw said in a statement: "We believe the criminal conduct to which Mr. Vick has pled guilty today cannot be condoned under any circumstances."
I say the NFL's indifference to the acts of domestic violence by other players cannot be condoned under any circumstances.
Major League Baseball, meanwhile, isn't any better in punishing spousal abusers.
Last summer Philadelphia Phillies' pitcher Brett Myers assaulted his wife on a public Boston street and was charged with assault and battery. Major League Baseball did not penalize him, shrugging it off as an off-field incident. Are they saying a player needs to abuse his spouse during a game to get sanctioned? If so, just how does that work?
Don't expect anything better from the National Basketball Association.
Jason Kidd of the NBA's New Jersey Nets pleaded guilty to spousal abuse in 2001.
Was he punished by the NBA? No.
The Sacramento Kings' Ron Artest was suspended last season for 72 games for fighting in the stands. In March he was arrested for domestic violence. For that he got what amounted to a hand slap; an immediate two-game suspension and a $600 fine for a player who makes several million a year.
Artest pled no contest to the domestic violence charge and was sentenced 100 hours of community service, a 10-day work project and mandated extensive counseling. The NBA did nothing here too. Maybe if he had committed the transgression on national TV--as with the fan brawl--more would have happened.
Maybe if he'd hurt a dog he would have been benched for the season