Watching the World
Decaffeinated Coffee Beans
Brazilian scientists have discovered a new strain of Coffea arabica—the most popular variety of coffee plant—that has practically no caffeine, reports the Spanish newspaper El País. This naturally decaffeinated coffee grows in Ethiopia and represents a major find for the coffee industry. About 10 percent of coffee drinkers worldwide prefer their coffee without caffeine, and this percentage is growing. A typical coffee bean has some 12 milligrams of caffeine per gram, but the newly discovered variety has only 0.76 milligrams per gram. El País reports: “The industrial process of decaffeinating is expensive, and according to scientists, it destroys not only the caffeine but also some of the key ingredients that give the coffee its agreeable flavor.” So the new plant will solve both problems created by the decaffeinating process.
How Spiders Defy Gravity
“The secret that allows spiders to cling to walls and ceilings has been revealed by scientists,” says The Times of London. A spider has eight feet. At the end of every one is a clump of minute hairs, each of which is covered with even smaller hairs called setules. The adhesive force on the tips of the spider’s 624,000 setules is so strong that a spider can carry about 170 times its own body weight while clinging to a wall or a ceiling. Using a scanning electron microscope, researchers in Germany and Switzerland studied the foot of the jumping spider. The findings, explains The Times, suggest that “it should be possible to use similar techniques to make new, super-strong adhesives and glues” that “would not be affected by moisture.” The research team leader, Professor Antonia Kesel, added: “You could also imagine astronauts using spacesuits that help them stick to the walls of a spacecraft.”
Kidnapping in Mexico
One security firm judges that Mexico has the second-highest rate of kidnappings in Latin America, outranked only by Colombia, reported the international edition of The Miami Herald. “Unofficial estimates of the number of kidnappings [in 2003] range as high as 3,000.” However, many kidnappings go unreported, as the victims’ families prefer to negotiate privately. Also not included in the figure are the so-called express kidnappings, in which the victims are forced to withdraw cash from ATM machines and are then released. It is estimated that at least 16 of these kidnappings occur daily in Mexico City, but the number could be as high as 80, said the newspaper. Of concern is the fact that the kidnappings have become increasingly more brutal, and more victims are being killed—even after the ransom is paid.
AIDS Cases Hit Record Highs
Five million people were infected with the AIDS virus in 2003, “the largest number in any single year since the epidemic began two decades ago,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “Despite a huge global push to fight HIV in developing countries, the AIDS virus continues to infect a growing number of people and claim millions of lives each year.” According to data published by UNAIDS, an AIDS program sponsored by the United Nations and other groups, about 3 million people die from AIDS each year and more than 20 million have died since the first diagnosis of the disease in 1981. Currently, the UN agency estimates that 38 million people are infected with HIV. Sub-Saharan Africa, with 25 million cases, is the hardest-hit region, followed by South and Southeast Asia with 6.5 million infected. “World-wide, nearly half of all new HIV cases are young people aged 15 to 24,” says the paper.
“Sleep has begun to be considered a waste of time,” reports the Spanish newspaper ABC. “Even the youngest children sleep fewer hours than is necessary for sound psychological and physical development.” According to the Sleep Unit of Dexeus Hospital in Barcelona, lack of sleep in children leads to anxiety, irritability, poor academic achievement, and dejection and may even stunt growth. Experts blame the use of computers, television, cell phones, and video games just before going to bed for the sleep deficit of many youngsters. These devices not only rob people of sleep time but also prevent the state of relaxation needed in order to fall asleep. “All the kids know that smoking is harmful, but nobody tells them of the need to get enough sleep,” states psychologist Victoria de la Fuente. “If we do not act, they will become potential insomniacs when adults.”
Height Limits for Trees
“Redwood trees are the tallest living things on Earth, but they are stretching up against a growth limit that probably cannot be overcome no matter how ideal the conditions,” states the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper. A study of what is presently the world’s tallest tree (370 feet [110 m], about the height of a 30-story building) and four of its peers suggests that the maximum height that a redwood may reach is about 420 feet [130 m]. As moisture evaporates from the leaves, water has to be pulled up from the roots and delivered to the top of the tree, working against gravity. Researchers estimate that this movement can take up to 24 days. As the water is drawn through tubes called xylem vessels, the tension increases until it becomes too great and the supply is cut off, limiting the tree height. The tallest recorded tree, a Douglas fir, reached a height of about 415 feet [126 m].
Muslim Prayer Phone
A new cell phone, tailor-made for Muslim buyers, is now on the market. According to the German newspaper Die Zeit, not only does the phone contain the whole Koran but it can also be programmed to call the faithful ones to prayer five times a day. It even points the direction to Mecca from more than 5,000 cities worldwide. Dates can be displayed in the Western Gregorian calendar or in the Islamic Hijri calendar. While the phone comes at a rather hefty price, it boasts the approval of one of the leading centers of Islamic scholarship.
Earth Is Getting Darker
“Scientists have found that less sunlight has been reaching the earth’s surface in recent decades,” notes Scientific American. “The sun isn’t going dark; rather clouds, air pollution and aerosols are getting in the way.” From the late 1950’s to the early 1990’s, hundreds of instruments have recorded a decline of up to 10 percent in the amount of sunshine that reached the earth. The drop was even greater in Asia, Europe, and the United States. Hong Kong, for example, has experienced a 37 percent decrease in sunlight. The scientists agree that the matter is still not fully understood.