Developments to Watch
TWILIGHT OF THE GOURDS
HERE'S A SCARY HALLOWEEN STORY: A mysterious disease is attacking the symbol of the holiday--the pumpkin. For the second year in a row, the plague is striking pumpkins across New York, turning plant leaves yellow and causing the fruit to rot. The condition has already destroyed 700 acres of pumpkin fields and has been spotted in cucumbers and squashes as well.
Botanists at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., have yet to come up with the cause of the blight. When it was first discovered a year ago, they thought it was yellow vine disease, a scourge that caused substantial damage to watermelons in Oklahoma and Texas in 1991. Lab experiments, however, ruled that out. Now they suspect some new bacterium. Thomas A. Zitter, a plant pathology professor who heads the investigating team, says the microbe most likely spends the winter in an insect body, a weed, or a shrub.
Once unleashed, the blight turns into the Freddie Kruger of the pumpkin patch. When Zitter first spotted the disease in 1997, only a few pumpkin fields in one county were affected. This year, crops in five counties suffered damage, and Zitter expects the disease soon to spread to neighboring states--haunting pumpkin farmers everywhere.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNSTReturn to top
WHO DECIDES WHO'S FIRST IN LINE FOR KIDNEYS?
THERE IS A CONTROVERSY RAGING IN THE TRANSPLANT WORLD right now over which patients receive scarce organs. The Health & Human Services Dept. issued regulations in March requiring nationwide standards for allocating organs based on medical need to ensure "a level playing field" for patients, no matter where they are treated. But several states and transplant centers have taken legal action to keep the old system, in which organs are allocated by regions and individual hospitals have their own criteria to determine which patients get priority. No matter which side prevails, minorities, women, and the poor may still lose out--because they often don't get on the lists in the first place.
Drs. Caleb Alexander and Ahwini Sehgal of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland studied the records of 7,125 patients receiving kidney dialysis from 1993 to 1996 in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. Reporting in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. (JAMA), they found that when all other factors, such as age, overall health, and reason for kidney failure, were equal, African Americans were 32% less likely than whites to complete a pretransplant workup--a requirement for being placed on a waiting list. Women were 10% less likely to complete the preliminary step than men, and poor patients were 23% less likely than the well off. Lisa Kory, executive director of the patient advocacy group Transplant Recipients International Organization (TRIO), says the study provides further evidence that "there has got be standardized listing criteria."EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNSTReturn to top
GOOD CHIPS COME IN SMALLER PACKAGES
CHIP PACKAGES ARE A PROSAIC BUT ESSENTIAL PART OF THE SEMICONDUCTOR BUSINESS. Usually made of plastic or ceramic, they seal out heat and moisture but also swell the size of the chip, forcing consumer-goods designers to sacrifice performance for fit. Now, an ultrathin package, the size of a pin-head, is poised to bring about smarter, cheaper, and more power-efficient devices.
The package from Dallas Semiconductor Corp. consists of minute layers of plastic film and metals wrapped around digital sensors, switches, and timers--sort of like a plastic-wrapped sandwich. The combination is one-tenth the size of older packages. "They should find a lot of happy homes for these devices," says James Turley, analyst at market researchers MicroDesign Resources. The company predicts that smart cell-phone batteries, printer cartridges, and medical gear will all use its packages.
To showcase the packages' durability, Dallas Semiconductor and Texas Weather Instruments Inc. in Dallas devised a digital rooftop weather vane with tiny sensors to track wind speed, direction, and temperature. As many as 100 of the devices can be connected to a PC over a single phone line--allowing home owners to create their own weather-forecasting networks.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNSTReturn to top