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Science & Medicine

High arsenic levels found in Maine wells

Washington -- Potentially harmful arsenic levels have been found in private water wells in towns across Maine, a U.S. Geological Survey report says.

Arsenic levels in some private wells exceeded the federal safety standard for public drinking water by 10 to100 times or more, even in areas where elevated arsenic risks were previously suspected, findings released Wednesday by the USGS said.

"We found large differences in concentrations from well to well, even at the town level, so residents need to test their wells to know their arsenic level," USGS scientist Martha Nielsen, who led the study in cooperation with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said.

Ancient Mideast 'oasis' theorized

Chicago -- A once fertile landmass now submerged under the Persian Gulf may have been home to some of the earliest human populations outside Africa, a U.K. scientist says.

The area in and around this "Persian Gulf Oasis" may have been host to humans for more than 100,000 years before it was swallowed up by the Indian Ocean about 8,000 years ago, archaeologist Jeffrey Rose with the University of Birmingham in England says.

Astonomers see distant 'carbon' planet

Pasadena, Calif. -- U.S. astronomers say a huge, searing-hot planet orbiting another star, and loaded with an unusual amount of carbon, is the first such world observed from Earth.

The discovery was made using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope in tandem with ground-based observations, a release Wednesday from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said.

"This planet reveals the astounding diversity of worlds out there," Nikku Madhusudhan of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says. "Carbon-rich planets would be exotic in every way -- formation, interiors and atmospheres."

The distant planet, dubbed WASP-12b, might harbor graphite, diamond, or even a more exotic form of carbon in its interior, beneath its gaseous atmosphere, researchers say.

Bamboo urged as climate-change tool

Cancun, Mexico -- A world meeting at the Cancun, Mexico, climate summit searching for ways to mitigate climate-changing gas emissions should consider bamboo, advocates say.

Bamboo grows quickly, needs little water, absorbs carbon dioxide, protects estuaries and can withstand storms, Coosje Hoogendoorn, head of the Beijing-based International Network for Bamboo and Rattan, told the Tierramerica news service.

There are more than 1,000 species of bamboo in the world, including 36 species in Mexico, but they have gone unstudied and underutilized, Inter Press Service reported.

People scorn the plant and consider it a pest, particularly in areas where coffee, banana, tobacco and cocoa are grown, or where there is extensive cattle production, INBAR experts say.

Research: Plants can 'remember' winter

Austin, Texas -- U.S. researchers say they've identified a molecule that helps plants "remember" winter and wait until sprint to bloom at the best time.

University of Texas researchers say the timing of blooming is critical to ensure pollination and is important for crop production, a university release said Tuesday.

One way for plants to recognize it's spring and not just a warm spell during winter is that they "remember" they've gone through a long enough period of cold, the researchers say.

"Plants can't literally remember, of course, because they don't have brains," Sibum Sung, assistant professor of molecular cell and developmental biology, says. "But they do have a cellular memory of

Study: Diners would pay to eat 'green'

Columbus, Ohio -- Restaurants in the United States could benefit from a desire by American consumers to dine at environmentally friendly establishments, a study says.

Researchers at Ohio State University found 8-of-10 diners in the Columbus, Ohio, area would be willing to pay more to dine at "green" restaurants, a university release said Tuesday.

The only problem, one researcher says, is very few restaurants are marketing themselves as "green" or environmentally friendly.
"It is clear that green practices could be beneficial for restaurants. Customers want their restaurants to be environmentally friendly and say they're willing to pay more for it," Jay Kandampully, professor of consumer sciences, says.

Milestone reached in disease research

Evanston, Ill. -- U.S. researchers say they've reached a major milestone in ongoing efforts to wipe out some of the world's most lethal diseases.

Scientists at the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute and Northwestern University have experimentally determined three-dimensional protein structures from a number of bacterial and protozoan pathogens, which could potentially lead to new drugs, vaccines and diagnostics to combat deadly infectious diseases, a Northwestern release said Tuesday.

Some of the structures solved by the researchers come from well-known organisms like the H1N1 flu virus and those that cause plague, cholera and rabies, the release said.

Commercial rocket in successful launch

Cape Canaveral, Fla. -- Commercial U.S. spacecraft company SpaceX had a successful demonstration launch and recovery of its Falcon 9 rocket and Delta capsule Wednesday, NASA said.

The liftoff was at 10:43 EST from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and after a short orbital mission the capsule was recovered after a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, NASA said.

The successful launch, safe reentry and recovery is the first demonstration flight for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, which will provide cargo flights to the International Space Station, the space agency said.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut, issued congratulations to SpaceX.

Court: Canada must protect killer whales

Vancouver, British Columbia -- Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans has not done enough to protect critical killer whale habitat off the coast of British Columbia, a court has ruled.

A federal court said Tuesday the federal government failed to protect at-risk resident whales by inadequately dealing with issues of salmon availability, environmental contamination and noise pollution from marine traffic, The Vancouver Sun reported.

Environmentalists launched a lawsuit in 2008 after the DFO used provincial guidelines to outline a protection strategy, which environmentalists argued did not address key issues such as food supply or pollution.

Pa. aviary hoping for penguin mating

Pittsburgh -- Officials at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh say they're hoping a pair of African penguins will mate now that the species has been declared endangered.

The institution is a national leader in protecting the species but has never had a birth at the facility, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Wednesday.

The species, which has declined from 141,000 about 50 years ago to 25,000 today, was officially declared endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Sept. 28 and by an international conservation body in June.