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The Moon's Best Real Estate, With A Water View


Despite its dry, dusty surface, the moon may have plenty of water at the poles, in underground ice caps. Local water would mean that the precious liquid wouldn't have to be rocketed up from earth. Elsewhere on the moon, even subsurface ice is less likely since daytime temperatures, which can climb to 215F, probably boiled off any water long ago.

Now a team led by researchers at Johns Hopkins University reports that it has found an ideal site for a lunar base. Writing in the Apr. 14 issue of Nature, the team chose a spot high up on the rim of the Peary crater, near the north pole. The site is bathed in perpetual sunlight, so lunarnauts would have a constant supply of solar energy. Plus, the site averages a balmy -60F, compared to the -300F typical of lunar nights. And the Peary crater's basin is cloaked in endless shadow, increasing the chances of finding frozen water there.

The idea of hybrids that can be plugged into an electrical outlet is winning fans among both conservatives and environmentalists (BW -- Apr. 11). Such cars could store enough juice in their batteries to cover most daily commutes and only use their gasoline engines on longer trips. But since most of America's electricity comes from coal-fired power plants, critics worry that any cut in tailpipe emissions would be offset by dirty air from increased coal burning.

A collection of studies, however, makes clear that while power-plant pollution would rise, car emissions would fall by a much larger amount. Total energy use per car would drop by up to 45%, calculates the Electric Power Research Institute. EPRI and the California Air Resources Board also calculate that replacing regular cars with plug-in hybrids would reduce pollution and carbon dioxide emissions up to 50% overall. Emissions would fall even more as the cars become capable of traveling farther on batteries alone and as new, renewable sources of electricity come on line.

Of course, power prices might tick up with a large-scale switchover to hybrid cars. But most recharging would be done at night, and "there's so much off-peak capacity that there's not expected to be an increase in price," says EPRI's Mark Duvall. Plus, electricity would have to get much more expensive to catch up with the cost of gas. At today's average prices, fueling up with electrons would cost about one-fourth what it costs for gas.

A new generation of cancer drugs that precisely target malignant cells is beginning to revolutionize treatment. But these treatments rarely help over 25% of patients afflicted with a particular cancer. Since these targeted therapies can cost $10,000 or more, doctors are desperate to come up with tests that can identify those patients who are most likely to respond.

Researchers at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston have developed one such test for Tarceva, a lung-cancer drug made by Genentech (DNA), Roche, (RHHVF) and OSI Pharmaceuticals (OSIP). Dr. Naoto Ueno told the American Association for Cancer Research meeting on Apr. 17 that the test measures the activity of a growth-related enzyme in tumor samples. It takes just a few days for results to indicate which patients might benefit.

-- Pudgy infants may be cute, but that baby fat could pose a lifelong threat. Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and two universities examined 653 adults, all of whom participated in formula studies as infants. Looking at detailed weight records, the scientists found that newborns who gained weight rapidly in their first week of life were much more likely to be overweight as adults. Since breast-fed babies gain weight more slowly, the study affirms American Association of Pediatrics guidelines that infants, where possible, should be breast-fed exclusively during their first six months.

-- Exposed to hydrogen sulfide in just the right doses, mice enter a state resembling suspended animation, with abrupt drops in metabolic rate and core body temperature, says a team of doctors at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Normal functions can be restored when the chemical source is removed. Such an on-off switch could be useful to surgeons -- but don't look for human experiments anytime soon. Hydrogen sulfide, which is released by decomposing organic matter, can be deadly in high concentrations.


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