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Taking The Guesswork Out Of Drive Time

Developments to Watch

Taking the Guesswork out of Drive Time

Can't sleep easy until you've caught the weather forecast on the 11 o'clock news? Someday, you may also be able to find out the next day's traffic outlook as well. John D. Leonard, a civil engineer at Georgia Institute of Technology, is developing a computer-based model that he hopes will give commuters, delivery drivers, and anyone else navigating today's congested highways a prediction of the time it will take to get between two points within a city--and allow them to adjust their plans accordingly.

To build his forecasts, Leonard calculates the distances between major landmarks in a city and uses roadside cameras, sensors embedded in highways, weather forecasts, current accident reports, and other variables that can affect traffic, such as hotel occupancy levels, school schedules, and sporting events. With this data, Leonard builds a traffic map, using the same colored bands TV weather forecasters use to show temperature patterns. With each colored band representing 10 minutes, drivers simply count the number of colored bands to estimate their travel time.

Leonard's goal is to publish traffic forecasts via Web sites where users can click on the beginning and end points of their journey, and then get estimates of both current and future traffic conditions. Leonard has been using his hometown Atlanta as the test market (current forecasts can be viewed at Leonard says he could easily adapt his model to other cities, including Los Angeles and New York.By Daniel Northington; Edited by Ellen LickingReturn to top

Would You Like White or Orange Rice with That?

Someday the phrase "amber waves of grain" may be used to describe rice paddies. An international team of researchers, led by Ingo Potrykus of the Institute for Plant Sciences in Zurich, Switzerland, has genetically modified rice to produce beta-carotene, which gives the grain a gentle, golden color and is converted into vitamin A in the body. The research was published in the Jan. 14 issue of Science.

Vitamin A deficiency is a serious public- health problem in 26 countries, including heavily populated areas of Latin America and Asia. That is partly because rice, which is the main dietary staple in these regions, is a poor source of the vitamin. So Potrykus' group introduced three new genes into the rice plant to turn it into a vitamin A-producing factory. By eating just two bowls of this modified rice a day, a person would get the recommended daily dose.

Extensive studies show there is only one difference between unmodified and genetically engineered rice plants--the presence of the vitamin that gives the modified version its amber color. The scientists are currently working with 10 different institutes to give subsistence farmers access to the new strain.Edited by Ellen LickingReturn to top

A Pill to Take the Sting out of Heparin

Protein drugs such as insulin and heparin are highly effective when injected, but patients complain that the medicine is painful and inconvenient to take. The Holy Grail in the drug-delivery field is to make these medicines work in pill or liquid forms. This is difficult because the body digests the oral forms before they have a chance to work. And even if the drug's breakdown could be prevented, large molecules such as insulin are difficult to transport through the walls of the intestines into the bloodstream.

For nine years, Michael M. Goldberg, chief executive of a Tarrytown (N.Y.) biotech outfit, Emisphere Technologies Inc., has maintained that these problems aren't insurmountable. Now he has proof. Emisphere is beginning late-stage human clinical trials of oral forms of the blood thinner heparin and the osteoporosis drug calcitonin. So far, these oral versions appear to be just as effective--perhaps even better--than injectable counterparts.

To deliver these protein drugs as pills, Emisphere developed special carrier molecules that shuttle the protein out of the intestinal cells and into the bloodstream. The company is using the technology to develop more than 30 different kinds of noninjectable drugs. Meanwhile, the oral versions of both heparin and calcitonin could to be approved by the Food & Drug Administration as soon as 2001.Edited by Ellen LickingReturn to top

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