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Science Notebook: Fish and Wildlife Service deluged by lawsuits

Monday, July 29, 2002

From wire and local dispatches

Workers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are so bogged down by lawsuits and other paperwork they have little time for conservation or recovery of endangered species, a report finds.

The report by the General Accounting Office also finds that the agency lacks financial controls to ensure that money targeted for endangered species programs is spent lawfully. In at least two cases, the agency used money from the endangered species program improperly to hire law firms to respond to personnel problems, including complaints of discrimination, the report says.

The new report, requested by the House Government Reform Committee, says lawsuits challenging Fish and Wildlife's designations of critical habitats are so commonplace that workers now spend more than 50 percent of their time on paperwork for litigation or attempting to avoid it.

By contrast, staffers in the agency's seven regional offices spent just over a quarter of their time recovering endangered species, one of the agency's top missions, the report says.

Star parties

The waning crescent moon won't make an appearance until well after 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, so the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh will take advantage of the dark skies by having Star Parties both nights at the Wagman Observatory in Deer Lakes Regional Park.

Venus will be visible, as will the Hercules star cluster and the Smoke Ring nebula, weather permitting. The public is invited. For information and directions to the observatory in northeastern Allegheny County, call 724-224-2510.

Lobster colors

In a scientific paper more detailed than any recipe, biochemists report learning why lobsters turn red when they're cooked.

The proteins in a lobster's shell disintegrate when heated, leaving behind only the red-tinged pigment called astaxanthin.

Now, scientists have determined the chemical details of how astaxanthin molecules bind with proteins (creating the bluish color of live lobsters) and then break apart (creating red).

The work might help researchers develop better food colorants or dyes, a team led by Michele Cianci of the University of Manchester in England reported in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Local honorees

Yung-An Chao, an advisory engineer for Westinghouse Electric Co., and David Squarer, a Pittsburgh energy technology consultant, were honored as Fellows of the American Nuclear Society during the group's annual meeting last month.

Chao was recognized for his contributions to reactor physics, computational methods and other notable research. Squarer was cited for his leadership in advancing nuclear reactor safety technology, particularly in regards to severe accidents.

Mothers of all horses

Modern horses were domesticated from a minimum of 77 mares, a new genetic study shows.

Scientists from England and Germany analyzed a type of genetic material, called mitochondrial DNA, from more than 650 representative horses worldwide. Because such DNA is inherited only from the mother, the scientists could estimate how many mares contributed to today's horses since domestication 4,000 to 11,000 years ago.

Scientists still don't know whether many cultures figured out on their own how to tame horses or whether the knowledge spread from one part of the world.

The study appeared online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Award winners

The Rehabilitation, Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America and the Whitaker Foundation present six awards nationwide in their annual student scientific paper competition. This year, five of those winners were from the University of Pittsburgh.

The winners from Pitt's School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences are Fabrisia Ambosio, Michael Dvorznak, Andrew Kwarciak, Sean Reeves and Yusheng Yang.

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