"Our World" theme
week on "Our World" ... Previewing the Mexico City AIDS conference
... Scientists confirm water ice on the surface of Mars, but no signs of life
so far ... and a sustainable winery that controls pests the natural way.
HONIG: "What we're also doing is we're trying
to create habitats for birds that will eat up insects. Also, we're using bats
at nighttime. They take over the night shift."
stories, the science of soil, and more. I'm Art Chimes. Welcome to VOA's
science and technology magazine, "Our World."
epidemic called stable ahead of global conference
United Nations' HIV/AIDS agency this week called the AIDS epidemic stable,
saying fewer people are dying, and more are getting the medicines they need to
head of UNAIDS, Peter Piot, said the fight against AIDS has accomplished more
in the past two years than it did in the 20 years before that. But he said this
is not a time for complacency.
PIOT: "We're entering into a new phase in the
fight against AIDS, one where sustainability of our efforts is going to be far
more important, where we need to make sure we are ready and acting on a
UNAIDS annual report came out just ahead of Sunday's opening of the 17th
International AIDS Conference in Mexico City. It's a six-day gathering with
25,000 expected to attend.
colleague Rosanne Skirble is part of the VOA team covering the conference. She
filed this report before leaving for Mexico.
SKIRBLE: The AIDS 2008 summit brings leading HIV and
AIDS researchers, community leaders, policy experts, activists and delegations
of young people from around the world to the first International AIDS
Conference ever held in Latin America. Craig McClure is executive director of
the International AIDS Society, the group that's been planning the biennial
event in concert with the United Nations and other global partners. He says the
Latin American region is known for its human rights response to the HIV/AIDS
McCLURE: "All of us working in HIV now are
realizing that although we talked about human rights for 25 years, very little
has really been done to insure that the communities that are most vulnerable to
HIV are really able to access the prevention and treatment services that they
deserve. So hosting the conference in Latin America for us is exciting because
it really puts those human rights issues at the foreground."
SKIRBLE: AIDS 2008 co-chair Pedro Cahn says the
conference is taking place at a time of growing support for efforts to ensure
universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care, an initiative advanced
by the United Nations in 2006.
CAHN: "We need to debate a little bit more
how we can strengthen health systems through the AIDS response. So instead of competing
priorities we are looking for interconnected solutions."
SKIRBLE: AIDS 2008 will feature 5,000 sessions,
workshops, and poster exhibits on the state of the epidemic and strategies for
scaling up treatment, care, and support networks. Cahn says the development of
an AIDS vaccine is critical, given the 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS
and the 6,500 new HIV infections every day. There is no cure for AIDS and 25
million people have died from the disease since it was identified in the 1980s.
Considering the recent failure of a promising human vaccine trial, Cahn says
researchers must redirect their efforts.
CAHN: "While recent setbacks in clinical
trails regarding microbicides and vaccines have been extremely disappointing,
this crisis should be seen as an opportunity to learn from the results of
research in order to help advance the field in the future."
SKIRBLE: Three sessions at the conference will focus
on the quest for an AIDS vaccine, including a panel discussion with National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci, who
stopped testing on an experimental vaccine in mid-July.
co-chair Pedro Cahn says major achievements, such as greater access to
anti-retroviral therapy, come about because of this biennial AIDS meeting. He
says three million people in low- and middle-income countries, where the
problem is most acute, now have access to these drugs. Cahn notes, however,
that that is only about one third of those who need them. He says AIDS 2008 is
an opportunity to address these persistent inequities. Rosanne Skirble,
link genes to schizophrenia
is a terrible, disabling brain disorder, usually characterized by
hallucinations and delusions. There are a variety of medical treatments, and
often people with schizophrenia can lead relatively normal lives. Now,
researchers have identified three genes linked to schizophrenia. They say the
findings are one step in a search for clues into the mysterious illness. VOA's Jessica
BERMAN: The illness strikes approximately one in 100
individuals and runs in families between 70 and 90 percent of the time.
to finding a cure, the International Schizophrenia Consortium of 11 research
institutes worldwide conducted a study in which they compared the entire DNA
sequence of 3,300 people with schizophrenia to that of 3,200 healthy
three papers published in the journal Nature, investigators report the
discovery of deletions and additions of large chunks of two chromosomes in the
genetic material of people with schizophrenia.
scientists also confirm the involvement of a third genetic abnormality in
schizophrenia that had previously been identified.
Sklar is a psychiatrist and geneticist at Massachusetts General Hospital and
co-author of the consortium paper.
says the findings give hope to people with the severe mental disorder and their
SKLAR: "We have only explained a tiny fraction
of why people might develop schizophrenia. And of course much more work needs
to be done to connect the specific changes to the full spectrum of other types
of genetic factors that might influence schizophrenia."
BERMAN: Investigators found the rare genetic
abnormalities in 13 percent of the schizophrenics they studied. But they also
found the DNA glitches in 10 percent of the healthy volunteers.
say the finding suggests more genetic abnormalities are involved in the
development of schizophrenia. The discovery may also mean that the mental
illness is several disorders rolled into one. Jessica Berman, VOA News,
ice confirmed on the surface of Mars
working on NASA's Phoenix lander, which has been studying the surface of Mars,
have confirmed that there is water ice on the Red Planet.
had already been identified from a distance, by the Mars-orbiting Odyssey
spacecraft, and Phoenix had photographed what was presumed to be melting ice at
the landing site. But on Thursday, Phoenix scientists said they had
"touched it and tasted it," describing how one of Phoenix's
instruments detected water mixed in with Martian dirt.
of course, is essential to life as we know it, but project scientist Peter
Smith said they've found more than just water.
SMITH: "We're also finding nutrients — sodium,
potassium, magnesium, fluorides — things that we find in our own bodies and are
definitely nutrients that are important for life. However, we have yet to
discover organic materials."
conditions that might be favorable to life on Mars, but no definitive sign yet
of life there.
insight into formation of universe's earliest stars
other astronomy news this week, a team of American and Japanese researchers has
produced the most detailed description to date of how the first stars formed in
the early universe, around 14 billion years ago.
formation began around 300 million years after the Big Bang, but scientists
acknowledged they weren't very clear on how the process worked.
try to bridge that knowledge gap, Naoki Yoshida from Nagoya University in Japan
and his colleagues put together a computer simulation, or model, of star
was a pretty complex effort. Creating the computer model took more than seven
years. The program ran on a network with the equivalent of 70 personal
computers, and even with all that computing power, it took a month to run the
described the star formation process in a paper published Thursday in the
journal Science. It focuses on how stars began to form in places where
the matter was just a little denser than elsewhere. Co-author Lars Hernquist of
the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said matter drifting around
those denser regions of the young universe started clumping together,
eventually reaching a stage called a protostar, when it begins to take on the
density and other characteristics of a star.
HERNQUIST: "This is a stage that all stars, even
our sun, have to go through before they can get to the point of being actual
stars, where they sustain nuclear reactions in their centers. And so I think in
that sense, the simulation that we've done is very different from what's been
done before, because no simulation has ever gotten to the point of identifying this
important stage in the birth of a star."
protostars grew up fast. They start with a mass about one-one hundredth that of
our sun. But as they developed, they expanded 10,000 times, to a mass 100 times
larger than our sun, and it grew that much in just 10,000 years.
HERNQUIST: "Compared to the age of the lifetime of
a star, or the age of the universe, that is the blink of an eye, pretty
early universe was very different than today's. There were no galaxies, stars,
or planets yet. And only the lightest chemical elements existed — mainly
hydrogen and helium. The computer model shows that these 'first generation'
stars would have produced heavier elements that were later dispersed across the
cosmos as the stars died and went supernova.
heavier elements were the seeds that grew into the next generation of stars.
And as subsequent generations of stars produced more and more of those elements
in their nuclear furnaces, they created the building blocks of the universe,
including you and me and everything around us.
NASA pictures on our Website of the Week
again for our Website of the Week, when we showcase interesting and innovative
U.S. space agency NASA is celebrating it's 50th anniversary, and they've just
launched a website that aims to collect a whole universe worth of pictures and
other media at one address: NASAimages.org.
RIVERA: "In this first phase of this project,
and this is a five year project, we have approximately 140,000 images. That
includes still images as well as video."
Rivera led the NASA team that has just launched this great new site, which is
being done jointly with the nonprofit Internet Archive.
has long posted many of its images online, but they've been spread out at the
websites of the Kennedy Space Center and many other NASA installations. It
could be a challenge to find pictures of Saturn's rings or of man's first steps
on the moon.
RIVERA: "The advantage to [putting] it into one
spot is really usability and making it easier for the public as well as NASA to
be able to find images. You have it all together with one, hopefully, easy way
to search for what you're looking for."
plans to eventually include older material from their archives, going back to
the earliest days of space flight and space exploration.
your way around is easy thanks to a variety of browsing and search tools. And
Debbie Rivera says that once you've found something interesting, you don't have
to keep it to yourself.
RIVERA: "You also have an opportunity with this
website to share imagery that you like with others, embed it in other types of
pages that you might have. So there's a lot of fun tools on the site already."
planets, spacecraft, stars, and more online at NASAimages.org, or get the link
to this and more than 200 other Websites of the Week from our site,
MUSIC: Stefan Scaggiari — "Swinging On A
VOA's science and technology magazine, Our World. I'm Art Chimes in
museum exhibition has the dirt on soil
say we know less about the soil under our feet than we know about the dark side
of the moon. To raise public awareness about the importance of soil, the
Smithsonian Institution has just opened an exhibit called "Dig It! The
Secrets of Soil." We sent Eric Libby to scoop up some dirt on this earthy
LIBBY: Beneath our feet is a living, breathing,
pulsating world. Worms, plants, bacteria and fungi thrive in the dynamic environment
of soil. Dig It curator Patrick Megonigal says there are more microorganisms in
just a handful of soil than there are human beings on earth, and yet we know
about only about one percent of them.
major goal of the exhibition is to show visitors the importance of soil. While
most people know that crops depend on good soil, Megonigal stresses other ways
soil affects our lives.
MEGONIGAL: "Consider the importance of water
quality and the fact that every drop of freshwater passes through soils on its
way to aquifers and reservoirs. Consider climate change and the fact that soils
can either add or subtract greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. And because
soils hold twice as much carbon as the atmosphere does, they regulate climate.
One might say, in fact, that we drink, eat, and breathe soils."
LIBBY: Dig It makes that point with vivid
photographs and videos and interactive displays. Take the entrance hall, for
example, which shows visitors what's happening under an oak tree. Round screens
along the wall show videos of ants and worms busy at work. From here, the
visitors step into a large room with samples of soil from each of America's 50
states. The soil colors range from orange to red and brown to black, depending
on their mineral ingredients.
different approach to soil composition is on display above what looks like a
kitchen stove, where a video screen shows an animated cooking show. It's based
on the real television program Iron Chef, in which chefs compete to make the
best meal with a secret ingredient. In this exhibit, the aptly named chefs
Pierre LeTerre and Sandy Marsh try to make the best soil.
CHEF ANNOUNCER: "And now we are
ready to reveal today's secret ingredient — sand! Chefs, you have just 6,000
years to create a unique soil from sand. A quick word about this ingredient.
It's mostly sand but also has minerals rich in iron that give it that
LIBBY: Visitors learn that two very different soils
can develop from sand, depending on environmental conditions.
engaging explanations continue in the next room, where visitors can step into
the Matters of Life and Death theater to watch the short feature, Soil Science
Investigators. In this case, the investigators use their knowledge of soil
composition, food decay, and plant growth to discover who murdered Linus IV — a
MAN: "About 42 inches [one meter], victim is
at least a 100 pounder [45 kilos], I'm guessing. Loamy soil, a lot of aeration,
and reliable water. Smart grower. Whatcha got, Olivia?"
OLIVIA: "Pulpy liquid. The lab will tell us how
long it's been here."
MAN: "Soil, it's the greatest — tells us how
things grow and how things die!"
LIBBY: Other rooms show how soil plays a role in
filtering drinking water and affecting climate change. Other displays discuss
the twelve types of soil found in the world. A giant map uses colors to show
the distribution of these soils, explaining why some countries can grow crops
that neighboring countries cannot.
finished exploring the Dig It exhibition, visitors will leave knowing that what
they scrape off their shoes is more than just dirt. This is Eric Libby in
winemakers embrace sustainable farming
of the richest and most productive soils in the United States can be found in
California, and that's one reason the state produces some of the world's finest
wines. And some California winemakers have begun to embrace
environmentally-sustainable farming methods. VOA's Adam Phillips reports on one
winery that's leading the way toward "going green."
Steve Honig of the Honig Winery enjoys an afternoon breeze on the family porch
and surveys the rows of lush green grapes that fill his 40-hectare vineyard.
This picturesque piece of California farmland has been in his family since his
grandfather bought it back in 1964.
"We call this a 'generational business.' In that we want to pass this on
to my children and my brother's children and our cousins' children and
hopefully their children after that."
Soon, we are out the back gate and walk the 30 meters to the vineyard proper,
whose grapes are expected to produce 70,000 cases of Cabernet and Sauvignon
blanc wine this year. That makes the Honig Winery one of the smaller of Napa
Valley's roughly 375 vineyards. But "small is beautiful" according to
Honig, who says that every drop of his vineyard's precious wine will be made in
a sustainable, eco-friendly way.
points to the special "cover crops" growing between his rows of
"And as you can see, one of the rows is mustard. That really helps to
control nematodes, which are small worms in the soil that try to eat the
plants. Then in the other row, we're using a cover crop of nitrogen-rich
grasses. It grows during the wintertime and then gets tilled into the soil to
promote the growth of the grapes."
PHILLIPS: Healthy grapes, Honig points out, are
essential to making quality wine.
"The whole idea behind it is to make better grapes. If you make better
tasting grapes, then your final product, wine, tastes better. And then your
business is more viable because you have very good-tasting wine."
Many traditional commercial farmers use toxic chemical pesticides to control
the insects that feed on their crops. Honig tries to distract, rather than
poison, the pests by planting thick hedgerows of tasty native plants just
beyond the perimeter of his vineyard.
HONIG: "We call it the 'all you can eat
buffet' for insects. Because insects would prefer to go and eat at this area
than to try to bore into or get nutrients out of our vines, which are very
hard-cased. What we're also doing is we're trying to create habitats for birds
at the vineyard site — one being bluebirds that will eat up insects. Also,
we're using bats at nighttime. They take over the night shift."
The Honig Winery has invested heavily in solar technology. Solar panels convert
sunlight into enough electricity to meet all the farm's electricity needs, from
the wine cooling systems and air conditioners to the office equipment and the
vineyard irrigation pumps.
conservation is an increasingly critical concern throughout the American West.
Sustainable vineyards have now mostly replaced the flood irrigation systems of
the past with drip irrigation methods, where tubes with small holes drip water
directly onto the plant's roots in a controlled way, as needed.
success and growing sophistication of the sustainable wine industry has Steven
"The wine industry is very visible; it's very high profile. A lot of
people respect the wine industry. A lot of people respect what we do. When you
can grow a good product using sustainability and it increases the value of the
product and the quality of the product, well then that is a good showpiece for
the rest of the world."
At the Honig Winery in Napa Valley California, I'm Adam Phillips reporting for
"Our World" theme
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