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Our World Transcript — November 19, 2005

This transcript is provided as a service; there may be some variation between it and the program as broadcast.

MUSIC: Our World theme

Straight ahead on "Our World" ... An avian flu laboratory ... a compromise on Internet governance ... and honoring some conservation heroes

MUTHIGA: "In Kenya, in the 1960s, you could find herds of 30 to 40 dugong. Now the sightings are of one or two every so often. We did an aerial survey in 1997 and counted four dugong. Their numbers have really gone down."

Those stories, kids talk with astronauts, and more... I'm Art Chimes. Welcome to VOA's science and technology magazine, "Our World."

China this week confirmed its first human cases of avian, or bird flu. The World Health Organization Thursday warned that more people were likely to become infected.

The official Xinhua news agency said that all of the country's poultry -- some 14 billion chicken, ducks, and geese -- would be vaccinated to try to limit the spread of the disease.

Here in the United States, our $30 billion poultry industry is the world's largest. Monitoring animal disease is the job of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, comprising a dozen state-run facilities. One is on the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, New York, where, as Rosanne Skirble reports, avian influenza is now a top priority.

SKIRBLE: Every day a Styrofoam cooler with dry ice is delivered to Cornell University's Animal Diagnostic Laboratory. In it are test tubes with respiratory and fecal samples from live bird markets in the New York region.

Benjamin Lucio-Martinez - an avian disease expert in the school's Veterinary Medical Center - shows us around as a technician prepares for the testing of the samples.

LUCIO-MARTINEZ: Anna is getting ready for tomorrow's inoculation. She is labeling the eggs, marking them, checking that they are alive, just getting ready for work tomorrow.

SKIRBLE: Dr. Lucio-Martinez - who works with poultry farmers in both backyard and commercial operations - says his mandate is to isolate factors that cause disease in chickens.

LUCIO MARTINEZ: So, if there is a drop in egg production, which it doesn't even kill the chickens, we try to determine why that happened. If there are chickens dying then it is even more important because the losses will be higher and since the hype on H5N1, it has become a priority to determine the cause of death of even a few chickens.

SKIRBLE: Avian influenza is an airborne respiratory virus that spreads rapidly from bird to bird through contact with manure, eye or nasal excretions. Forty percent of live bird markets in New Jersey and 25 percent in New York -- the largest chicken suppliers in the nation -- tested positive at least once for the disease last year.

Fortunately, those strains were not the H5N1 variety, and none have been virulent. That wasn't the case in 1983 in Pennsylvania where an outbreak of another lethal strain of bird flu forced authorities to slaughter 17 million chickens.

The laboratory at Cornell wants to avoid that.

Each sample is closely studied. Samples are passed through a centrifuge to get rid of debris and then are treated with antibiotics to kill any bacteria. Then, as Dr. Lucio-Martinez explains, technicians dressed in protective gear and gloves carefully inject the sample into healthy chicken embryos.

LUCIO-MARTINEZ: The chicken eggs come from our own flocks, flocks that are specific pathogen free flocks. Those flocks have not been vaccinated for any disease and they have not been exposed to common diseases of chickens. So they are free of antibodies and the eggs from these chickens allow a better growth of the virus.

SKIRBLE: The tiny hole in the shell is sealed and the chicken eggs are put back into an incubator and checked daily for four days. The ones that die are processed and tested for the infectious H5 or H7 virus. Dr. Lucio-Martinez says once a contagious avian virus strain is identified, New York State Agriculture officials follow strict protocols.

LUCIO-MARTINEZ: They go into that market. They close it down. They kill all the chickens. They wash and disinfect it. They are not allowed to bring any more chickens until they retest and prove that they are negative.
SKIRBLE: So how likely in the work that you do every day are you going to find an H5 or an H7 virus?
LUCIO-MARTINEZ: It was more likely, probably, a couple of years ago. Now they are more careful about who [the poultry dealers] buy from. They buy from people they know who do not have a problem. So the number of isolations that we have been doing lately has markedly gone down. Most of the samples that we work with are negative and my personal feeling is that we will know about it even before it gets here because the chickens will be dying in the field.

SKIRBLE: Benjamin Lucio-Martinez says the H5N1 virus has the potential to devastate the U.S. poultry industry and, if it mutates to a form that can jump from human to human, could result in a deadly pandemic. But Dr. Lucio-Martinez says constant vigilance can help keep bird markets safe and identify problems before they get out of control. I'm Rosanne Skirble.

Scientists from Stanford University have discovered a new stomach hormone that appears to reduce appetite — at least in laboratory animals.

After they injected the hormone known as obestatin into mice, the mice ate only half as much food, and they lost 20 percent of their body weight in just eight days.

It sounds like a promising way to lose weight quickly. But not so fast! says University of Cincinnati professor Matthias Tschop , who reviewed the study.

TSCHOP: "We have to understand better all the factors involved in body weight regulation. It will probably not be as easy as just using obestatin, administering it to obese patients and expect them to be cured, because the effects so far only have been shown in mice."

Scientists have long used mice and rats for various tests. For research purposes, those little mammals have quite a bit in common with us humans. But of course there are differences, too. Dr. Tschop pointed out, for example, that this hormone might make the mice nauseated, and that would prompt them to eat less because they don't have the ability to vomit.

Whether obestatin is the solution, obesity remains — if you'll forgive me — a very big problem — and not just in wealthy, industrialized countries. The World Health Organization estimates there are more than one billion overweight adults. And about one-third of them are clinically obese — putting them at greater risk for diabetes, heart disease and other conditions.

The study was published in the journal Science.

Delegates in Tunis at a United Nations summit on the information society found a compromise this week for a hot-button, technical issue. "Internet governance" sounds boring. It involves control of domain name servers — DNS, they're called. These are the master address books of the Internet. You may think the routers, the switching computers that move bits and bytes around the Internet, understand "," but they don't. They depend on the DNS system to convert the letters that spell "" into a number — the IP address, which is our real address.

Anyway, the domain name system is currently run by a US-based non-profit company called ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. A number of countries were pushing to internationalize control of the DNS system. VOA correspondent Roger Wilkison picks up the story.

WILKISON: Several countries, including China and Iran, had demanded that an international body under U.N. auspices oversee the net. But the United States argued that any such body would stifle innovation and increase the risk of censorship of the Internet by undemocratic regimes. The European Union weighed in with a compromise proposal calling for an international forum to discuss how the Internet should be run.

U.S. officials told reporters Wednesday that, under the deal, instead of transferring the management of the Internet to an international body such as the United Nations, an international forum will be created in which governments, the private sector and civil society organizations can address such concerns as cybercrime, viruses or junk mail. But they stressed that the forum will have no binding authority. Roger Wilkison, VOA News, Tunis.

Time again for our Website of the Week, and this time it's a tool we use all the time here at Our World.

O'MALLEY: "EurekAlert is a science news website operated by AAAS, the science society, and it's a free website where anyone can log in to find out what's happening in science."

Cathy O'Malley is the project director for EurekAlert, which includes press releases on many of the latest developments in science, medicine, mathematics, and technology. Now, these are press releases, not the kind of news stories you might see elsewhere. They often have a lot more detail about some research than you'll get from a news report. But still, you might wonder about the reliability of the information.

O'MALLEY: "All of our press releases are submitted to us by universities, non-profit associations, [government] agencies like the National Institutes of Health, and they're all based on research that's published in peer-reviewed journals or presented at scientific meetings, so we believe that they are very credible sources of information."

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, which runs EurekAlert, was established in 1848 and is one of the world's most eminent scientific societies.

The uncluttered homepage at gives you the latest developments under "breaking news," or allows you to browse by subject. There's also an effective search function. Special pages highlight developments in marine science, developing world diseases and other topics, including news for children.

O'MALLEY: "The News for Kids section was launched specifically to provide news items to reporters who write for kids. But it's also a very kid-friendly website so kids and teachers can go to it themselves. The main features of the page are news items, which are about topics that kids might be interested in, and they're written for a younger audience.

Cathy O'Malley says other features of the site include 18 different RSS feeds if you want the news delivered directly to your computer. And some of the content is available in French, German, Japanese and Spanish.

So for more of the latest science news than we can possibly give you on Our World — plus an archive of more than 65,000 items posted since the site launched almost ten years ago — surf on over to, or get the link from our site,


It's VOA's science and technology magazine, Our World. I'm Art Chimes in Washington.

Back in March, you may remember, my colleague Susan Logue introduced us to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a public school in Fairfax County, Virgina, near Washington. It's a top-rated school that attracts some very bright students who plan careers in biotechnology, computers, mathematics and other high-tech fields. There might even be some aspiring rocket scientists at TJ, as the school is called. If so, they had a chance this week to chat with astronauts aboard the International Space Station, the ISS. The student's question is followed by a reply from astronaut Bill McArthur.

STUDENT: How do you address critics of the ISS who claim that the project is wasting NASA funds, and is more concerned with politics than science?

McARTHUR: Well, it's pretty easy when you look at all that we've accomplished on the International Space Station, just an entire myriad of experiments. As a matter of fact, I was working on one this morning called BCAT — Binary Colloidal Alloy Test. And so we are doing unique, cutting-edge research up here, plus our long-term goal is to leave low-earth orbit. As a matter of fact, we would like one of you folk-- I mean, I'd love it, one of you folks to be on Mars sometime before I head on to my final adventure. And to do that, we need to learn the types of things we're learning on board the Space Station. We need to learn how to live and work for extended periods of time in space, because it will take a long time to get to Mars and get back.

On board the Space Station with Commander Bill McArthur is Flight Engineer Valery Tokarev, who also fielded questions, some of them asked in Russian, by the American students.

As the space station orbits the earth, so do several astronomical satellites, and scientists this week released some stunning new images of emerging stars taken with the Spitzer Space Telescope, the two-year-old younger cousin of the better known Hubble orbiting observatory.

These stars are less than a million years old — practically newborns by astronomical standards. They were photographed from about 1,000 light years away using Spitzer's infrared instrument, which can see through the dust cloud around the stars that blocks normal visible light.

The pictures of these distant baby stars are some of the newest photographs from space. But for decades, we've been getting amazing photos of stars, planets and other celestial objects, providing important data for scientists and, in many cases, surpassing beauty.

One hundred eighty of some of the most stunning space images appear in a new book called What's Out There. Co-author Mary K. Baumann and her colleagues looked through thousands and thousands of photographs to select the ones to bring the universe home.

BAUMANN: "No probe has ventured far beyond our solar system, and light can travel where we physically can't go. So light through these images is really our spaceship to the beyond."

Starting with a dramatic picture of Saturn on the cover, this handsome book draws you in with large-format, full-color photos. But don't ignore the text.

BAUMANN: "We've tried in every case to make the images punctuate the words. But the words are written in plain English, and there's a lot of surprising things about the Universe that I'm sure most people don't know."

One unusual feature about What's Out There is how it's organized. You might expect a book like this to have one section for the solar system, say, and another for galaxies — what's called "thematic" organization. Instead, Mary K. Baumann says they decided on alphabetical order — from Asteroid to White dwarf.

BAUMANN: "We decided to do it that way very purposefully, one, so you could find things easily. And there's a certain randomness to it, but a certain order to it. It's very nice seeing these things. Even though there's the alphabetical organization, they're shuffled a little bit like a deck of cards."

As much as we have learned about the universe in which we live, famed physicist Stephen Hawking writes in the introduction to What's Out There that these pictures "represent only the minute segment of the universe that man has been able to investigate."

Two wildlife advocates, a Kenyan marine biologist and a Guatemalan farmer, are winners of the 2005 Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation, administered by the National Geographic Society. The awards were presented recently in Washington ceremony. Keming Kuo wrote our report, which is read by Faith Lapidus.

TEXT: Scientist Thomas Lovejoy of the Conservation Trust presented a framed award citation and a check for twenty-five thousand dollars to each of the two recipients of this year's Buffett Conservation Award: Kenyan Nyawira Muthiga and Marcedonio Cortave of Guatemala. Ms Muthiga was honored for her leadership in the field of marine conservation, Mr. Cortave for his efforts in promoting community-based management of natural forests.

Nyawira Muthiga has worked tirelessly to save endangered marine animals along Kenya's Indian Ocean coast. The tall, slender biologist says it was her early experiences at the beach that sparked her interest in marine biology:

MUTHIGA: "When I grew up, as a teenager, we lived in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. We used to spend the weekends at the beach, swimming and walking around looking for shells. I remember my brother being stung by a jellyfish and he was really upset. But at that time it made me think of how exciting the ocean must really be."

TEXT: Ms. Muthiga's work focuses on reconciling local communities with the needs of the country's priorities for marine wildlife. She is especially concerned about endangered sea turtles, which are caught for food, and an animal similar to the manatee, called the dugong:

MUTHIGA: "We used to have in Kenya, in the 1960s, you could find herds of 30 to 40 dugong. Now the sightings are of one or two every so often. We did an aerial survey in 1997 and counted four dugong. Their numbers have really gone down. The threat to them is being drowned in [fishing] nets.

TEXT: On the other side of the world, in the Peten region of Guatemala, Marcedonio Cortave worked to involve community organizations in forest management. His efforts to give villagers a stake in managing the environment in which they lived helped conserve the natural forests, decrease the extent of logging and forest fires, and increase protection of archeological sites from looters. Speaking through a translator, Mr. Cortave said that while popular American TV series such as Survivor, which is currently taking place in Guatemala, may help bring more eco-tourism to the Mayan areas, care must be taken to insure this doesn't damage the ancient structures.

CORTAVE: "It is a great challenge, because for us the biggest part is to achieve a balance between conservation of the ecosystem and allowing people to see the great things the Mayans left behind."

TEXT: Mr. Cortave also was honored for his diplomacy, working with groups that are often at odds with each other.

CORTAVE: "That is precisely one of the greatest challenges - to achieve a consensus between the indigenous people of Guatemala, the Mestizo people of Guatemala, the national government and international governments."

TEXT: The Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation is named for its founder, the son of one of the wealthiest men in the world, legendary American investor Warren Buffett. Howard Buffett says that with his awards he wants to salute local conservationists who haven't received wide acclaim, particularly people who work with communities to raise their sense of responsibility for endangered habitats in which they live

BUFFETT: "Conservation efforts frequently are so focused on the habitat and the animals that they forget whole groups of communities that surround protected areas and rely on its resources. It's important that whatever strategies are employed for the conservation work, they make sure the surrounding communities are included in some way."

TEXT: This year's recipients of the fourth annual Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation, Kenyan Nyawira Muthiga and Guatemalan Marcedonio Cortave, both say they will use their prize money to further conservation programs in their countries.

And that report, read by Faith Lapidus, was written by Keming Kuo.

That's our show for this week. We're always delighted to hear from you. Ask us a science question … tell us what you like about the program, or what you don't like. Email us at Or the postal address is:

Our World
Voice of America
Washington, DC 20237 USA.

Our show was edited by Faith Lapidus. Eva Nenicka is our technical director. And this is Art Chimes, inviting you to join us online at or on your radio next Saturday and Sunday as we check out the latest in science and technology ... in Our World.