July 24, 2008

Is oil our heroin?

Posted: 09:39 AM ET

Having grown up in a major southern city in Brazil in the late 70s and 80s, I can vividly remember going to any fuel station and the attendant asking my father if he wanted gasoline or "alcool" - ethanol made from sugarcane.

A worker cuts sugarcane at harvest. Source: Getty Images

When I moved to the U.S. in 1989, I realized that American drivers didn't have the same choice as we did in Brazil, but gasoline here was so cheap and abundant that there was no need for an alternative.

Well, you don't need me to tell you that times have changed. While politicians try to spread the blame and try to feed us ideas that will get them elected or re-elected, gas prices continue to go up.

Most Republicans in Congress want to drill in Alaska's ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) as a solution. It sounds sexy enough to say let's drill on our own turf and flip the middle one toward the Middle East, but the reality is that it would take years for any of us to see a drop of that oil in our tanks and there isn't enough there to suppress our addiction to it.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says the immediate solution is to open up our oil reserves, which we've already paid for as taxpayers, and make it available right now instead of drilling in ANWR. That sounds like a great idea, in theory. But if oil is our heroin, Pelosi is basically saying let's make more of it available to all addicts so that their withdrawal is mitigated. How about when the reserve is gone? What are we going to do then?

I'm not suggesting we follow in the footsteps of Brazil and mass produce our own ethanol. We're trying it with corn, which is driving the prices of food and basically everything way, way up. What works in Brazil may not work elsewhere. Besides, Brazil has its share of problems with ethanol - the Amazon rainforest continues to be cut down to grow more sugarcane. This year, 24 ethanol producers were fined in the millions for planting sugarcane illegally and operating without licenses, among other things.

We must look toward other solutions, be it hydrogen, electricity, solar power or even water. Whatever the answer, our children and grandchildren will either suffer or benefit from the decisions we make today.

What do you think is the answer to our oil addiction? Do Republicans and Democrats have a solution or are they sidestepping the real issues? And how are you coping with the high gas prices?

Paulo Nogueira - Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Posted by: ,
Filed under: Cars • environment • Ethanol • Fuel • Gasoline

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July 18, 2008

It's alive! It's alive!

Posted: 10:03 AM ET

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have regenerated a rat's heart in the lab hoping they can do the same for a human heart.

The three stages of a rat's heart decellularization. Photo by Thomas Matthiesen

With a rat's heart, they removed its existing cell structure by washing it off with a soap solution much like shampoo. After this decellularization process, they introduced new heart cells from another rat and attached it to a machine that functions like a body - complete with blood supply, blood pressure and a pacemaker.

"The first couple of days we didn't see much. By day four we actually saw tiny microscopic beating and by day eight it was the home run. We could actually see beating in the heart," says Professor Doris Taylor.

Taylor and her team are now working with a pig's heart because it resembles a human heart in size and shape. An actual transplant to a human is still many years away but Taylor says it is a possibility.

"It's not unreasonable to think that we could take a pig heart, remove all the cells and then if you needed a heart, take stem cells from your body, grow them in a dish and transfer them to a pig heart and make a heart that matches your body."

Researchers also say the same process can be done for other organs like the liver and kidneys.

What do you think? If you needed a new heart, would you wait until a suitable donor appeared or would you accept a pig's heart? Do you think stem cell research is the future or are there ethical implications?

Paulo Nogueira - Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Posted by: ,
Filed under: Medicine • science • Stem cell research

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