Headlines at 21st Century Tech for September 28, 2012

This week’s headlines looks at the latest controversy around genetically modified foods, an energy roadshow by GE touting its latest gas turbine technology, the evidence for water on Mars and Vesta, the opening of charging stations in California for electric cars, and a city’s attempt to end landfill by turning garbage into energy. As always I encourage you to comment, ask questions and provide input on topics I write about or feature. And should you come across an interesting technology or scientific breakthrough that you feel should be further written about, please don’t hesitate to let me know. Enjoy the read!

Agriculture Update: The Genetically Modified Food Flap

This has been a bad week for Monsanto and genetically modified (GM) crops. Findings from a published toxicology study stated that rats fed Monsanto GM corn tolerant to Roundup (a Monsanto herbicide commonly used by corn growers) developed enormous tumors and died. The pictures were splashed over the news worldwide.

I have written about genetically modified organisms on numerous occasions and recognize that any alteration of the genetic structure of a plant or animal may have unforeseen consequences. But it is important to separate fact from fiction in this story. Most notably it must be stated that this is the first study to link GM corn with cancer in a rat population. No previous study, of which there have been many, has yielded similar outcomes.

Many scientists questioned the study done by Italian and French researchers. On September 19, a number of them publicly raised their doubts. These scientists weren’t paid by Monsanto to refute the study. They were questioning the scientific rigor of the work. Questions included:

  • why didn’t the study follow standard toxicology protocols?
  • where are the details on the control population in the study (apparently a number of them died and were taken out of the hard numbers given in the end results)?
  • why did the study use only a small number of rats making results statistically invalid?
  • how much corn was fed to the rats and was the amount a normal daily diet?
  • what else did the rats eat during the study?
  • what was the genetic makeup of the rats used in the study, for example, were the rats from a population group predisposed to tumors and was there any weighting put on that for the purposes of statistical results?
  • why were no results in the study given for animals not fed GM modified corn?
  • how much of what was seen in tumor growth was attributable to the rats being exposed to Roundup, rather than GM corn tolerant to Roundup?

GM foods recently have been banned from some countries including France. California has pending legislation to label GM foods.  Yet GM foods are everywhere today in the food chain, whether GM soybean, GM corn, and GM tomatoes, you name it. And much of our meat products come from livestock fed with GM crops. What a challenge it is for the average consumer to understand whether the “science” is valid or just plain bad?

Can GMO foods lead to tumors in rats

Genetically modified crops have been linked to tumors in rats in a recent published study. In light of questions brought up by peer reviewers, the study which has caused a media storm, may prove to be seriously flawed and statistically invalid.

Energy Update: GE Launches Magical Energy Mystery Tour

General Electric has loaded an 18-wheeler with an interactive exhibit that demonstrates the latest advances it is making in energy technology. The truck plans to tour 25 cities throughout North America over the next four months and you can follow it at the link provided.

What’s on display? The FlexEfficiency 60 power generation portfolio of technologies using natural gas designed to replace coal-fired power plants and reduce carbon emissions by 56,000 metric tons per installation annually. With the abundance of natural gas in North America, GE hopes to motivate utilities to move away from coal faster and adopt its technology as a more eco-friendly power generation solution.

Next Generation Gas Turbines for Power Generation

GE has developed new gas turbine technology to replace existing coal-fired power plants to help utilities meet clean air and carbon emission reduction targets. The abundance of natural gas in North America makes this technology a practical next step in the process of moving away from dirtier fossil fuels.             Source: General Electric

Space Update: It Seems that “Water Water Everywhere” May be More Than a Rhyme

This week the Dawn spacecraft that just left Vesta and is presently on its way to Ceres, the two largest bodies in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter, provided scientists with evidence of water.

Meanwhile the newest Martian rover, Curiosity, as it journeyed across the bottom of the Gale Crater, provided us with close up pictures of an ancient stream bed displaying rocks with the typical characteristics of smoothing and sorting that happens in Earth rivers.

It seems that much of our Solar System has water whether we are talking about the ice moons of Jupiter and Saturn, the Asteroid Belt, the Earth-Moon system, or even arid Mars with its polar ice caps. For scientists here on Earth the presence of water on any Solar System object is a potential marker for life either in the past or present.

remnants of an ancient stream bed on Mars

Although it looks like typical rock formations you find on Earth this exposed sedimentary bedrock has been exposed to running water and displays pieces of rounded gravel and sand (see left side of image) that could only have been formed by water. Wind could not produce this kind of sediment.         Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Transportation Update: Tesla Motors Unveils Supercharger “Gas Station” Network

As demand increases for more electric cars the lack of a recharging infrastructure may ultimately cause the technology to fail. Tesla, with its two electric cars has decided to do something about this and has unveiled a Supercharger network for its plug-in models.

tesla charging stations

The network that was unveiled this week starts with six locations in California with plans for a national roll-out in 2013.  A half-load charge for Tesla’s Model-S would take 30 minutes and allow the car to travel over 190 kilometers (120 miles). The current locations are only good for Tesla Model-S sedans with 85 kWh batteries. Tesla hasn’t announced any plans to provide rapid recharging for its other models or any third-party electric vehicles.

Tesla supercharger network

Tesla Motors unveiled 6 locations in California where owners of its Model S sedan can rapidly recharge their batteries in 30 minutes. Source: Tesla Motors

Urban Landscapes Update: Vancouver “Burning” for Waste-to-Energy Technology

Incinerating garbage or dumping it in landfill are the two most common ways we deal with urban garbage these days. But Vancouver hopes to change the paradigm and convert 370,000 tons of trash per year into an energy source. Currently one of the Vancouver communities, Burnaby, incinerates garbage to produce electricity for 17,000 homes. But Vancouver municipalities want to look at other options including harvesting synthetic gas from waste.  The hope is to begin operating a waste-to-energy solution by 2018.

waste-to-energy through incineration

Burnaby, British Columbia operates a waste-fired power plant. The Greater Vancouver area is looking at the newest trash incinerator technologies with a goal to add 3 more power plants while phasing out landfill as a municipal garbage solution.              Source: BC Daily Buzz

A Postscript

Close to 5,000 of you are visiting my site each month. That’s up from 1,000 less than one year ago. And the 21st Century Tech Facebook, site as of last evening was just one away from hitting the 30 “like” milestone that will allow me to start tracking traffic there.

So to all my readers I thank you for continuing to drop by. If you don’t already know, you can subscribe to 21st Century Tech and get new posting sent to your email inbox. Just enter your email address in the box at the top right-hand side beneath the search field and you won’t miss a thing.

– Len Rosen

Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...