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The Skinny On A Skim Milk Cow

A cow in New Zealand named Marge was born with the ability to produce nonfat milk naturally. Now scientists there are studying Marge to figure out how to breed an entire herd of skim-milk-producing cows. Such herds would not only make it easier to meet the growing demand for fat-free dairy products, but they might also help producers reduce the mountains of wasted fat that's skimmed from milk and then discarded.

A biotech subsidiary of New Zealand's largest dairy, Fonterra, discovered Marge and mapped her genetic makeup after screening the milk from all 4 million cows in the country. The May 28 issue of Chemistry & Industry reports that Fonterra has already made some good-tasting dairy products from Marge's milk. Now if only she could make chocolate milk.

Diabetics who require insulin have two options right now: They can give themselves daily injections or rely on a small, pager-sized pump, usually worn on a belt, that delivers the necessary dose through a needle in the skin. Patients who prefer the convenience of a pump will soon have a new alternative. Chipmaker STMicroelectronics (STM) and its medical research partner, DeBiotech, hope to commercialize a flat pump about the size of Apple's (AAPL) iPod Nano that could be worn under the patient's clothing and deliver more precise doses of insulin.

The pump would still be connected to a needle, which would have to be moved to a new location on the patient's body every two to three days, as with existing pumps. But instead of refilling the unit when the insulin is used up, patients would simply replace the disposable reservoir and pumping mechanism with a new one. This would significantly reduce the cost of the device. The two companies hope to have their invention on the market by the end of 2008.

Airplanes are particularly vulnerable to bioterror attacks because they present a sealed environment with poor air circulation. Soon it may be possible to hunt down pathogens on planes using technology developed by Qingyan Chen, a mechanical engineering professor at Purdue University. The technique, called inverse simulation, uses sensors to track contaminants as they move through the air in the cabin, and then runs that flow progression backward to find the source.

Inverse simulation can track a pathogen to within two feet of the original source, but it requires crunching some complex math, which can take hours. Chen hopes to shorten the process so flight crews can spot the bug with the help of on-board computers, track it back, and take steps to protect passengers. He is also developing technologies similar to the drop-down oxygen masks in planes that would allow passengers to breathe pathogen-free air. And Chen has even bigger plans for the future. In addition to airplanes, "this could be used for subways and buildings," he says.

-- Sugar might be the fuel of choice for tomorrow's cars, says a team of scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and two universities. They're working on turning sugars known as polysaccharides into low-cost hydrogen with the help of enzymes. It's not such a stretch. Plants, after all, use polysaccharides to store energy (see, 2/19/07, "Ethanol: Too Much Hype—and Corn

"). But here enzymes break the mix of sugars and water into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The scientists say a tank containing such a mix, with the right enzymes, could power a car for more than 300 miles. And at a production cost of about $1 per pound, it could be cheaper than generating hydrogen from natural gas.

-- Researchers at Xerox have developed a new way to print fluorescent codes on documents to help prove they're authentic. The system will work with any digital printer--no special ink required. White printer paper already has fluorescent agents in it, so the scientists simply mixed and matched toners until they came up with a combo that would make the fluorescence pop out when exposed to ultraviolet light. The technology could be used to print fluorescent signature strips on checks, say, to protect against forgery.

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