Российская наука и мир (дайджест) - Июль 2000 г.
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2000 г.
Российская наука и мир
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)

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      ITAR-TASS / 07/14/2000
      Govt outlines duties of science and industry ministry.

    Правительство России приняло решение, в котором определены обязанности министерства промышленности, науки и технологий, как правительственного учреждения, отвечающего за составление и выполнение научной, технической и инновационной политики государства, поиски путей и методов ее эффективного регулирования с целью социального и экономического прогресса и устойчивого развития России, а также координации деятельности других учреждений, выполняющих подобные функции.

MOSCOW,July 14 (Itar-Tass) - The Russian government has adopted a resolution to outline duties of the Ministry of Industry, Science and Technologies, a representative of the governmental information department told Itar-Tass on Friday. The resolution describes the new ministry as a federal executive power institution in charge of drafting and implementation of the state industrial, scientific, technical and innovation policy, ways and methods of its efficient regulation for the sake of social and economic progress and stable development of Russia, and coordination of similar activity by other federal executive power institutions of Russia. The minister will draft and implement a state industrial policy, form a state scientific-technical and innovation policy, render state assistance to the development of science, supervise science and technologies, set priorities in the development of science and technology and make a federal list of critical technologies.

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      Asia Pulse / 07/05/2000
      India, Russia Sign Agreement on Nuclear Cooperation

    Индия и Россия подписали соглашение о сотрудничестве в области ядерной физики

MOSCOW, Jul 05, 2000 (AsiaPulse via COMTEX) -- India and Russia have signed an agreement to expand their cooperation in the nuclear sciences. The three-year protocol signed by the Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, Prof V S Ramamurthy, and Yevgeny Velikhov, director of Russia's nodal nuclear research centre, Kurchatov Institute, yesterday provides for extensive Indo-Russian cooperation in the nuclear field, S&T and Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi told reporters. Under the agreement India and Russia would exchange visits of nuclear scientists and experts, he said. Joshi was secretive about the details of the accord saying only nuclear science does not mean only "bomb", but has medical applications as well. Briefing reporters on his talks with Russian Science and Technology Minister Dr Alexander Dondukov, Joshi said that India and Russia had agreed to extend their integrated long-term program (ILTP) on scientific and technological cooperation for another 10 years. An agreement to his effect would be signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin's India visit in October, Joshi said.

© (C) 2000 Asia Pulse Pte Ltd

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      THE MOSCOW TIMES / 07/12/2000
      Demographics Show Fall in Population
      • Ana Uzelac

    В своем выступлении в Государственной Думе Путин высказал опасение, что, если демографическая тенденция сохранится, "само выживание нации будет подвергнуто опасности."При нынешнем соотношении смертности к рождаемости население России к 2020-25 годам составит не более 100 миллионов человек

Days after President Vladimir Putin warned against the danger of the country's population decline, a round table on demography confirmed the predictions from his state of the nation address. Scientists and politicians attending the event marking UN World Population Day, said Tuesday that the population has fallen in the last eight years by 3.4 million to 145.5 million and will keep declining at an annual rate of 300,000 to 800,000, Interfax reported. In his grim speech Saturday, Putin warned that if the current demographic trend continues "the very survival of the nation will be endangered." Nikolai Gerasimenko, head of the State Duma's health and sports committee, said the president was not far from the truth: With the current birth-death ratio, the population will be no larger than 100 million by the years 2020-25, Interfax quoted him as saying. Labor and Social Development Minister Alexander Pochinok lamented that the country has a "lower birth rate than some developed countries and a higher mortality rate than some developing countries." He cited the main reason as "social insecurity." Pochinok said the government plans to spend 3.5 billion rubles ($125 million) in the next two years on the Russia's Children program, aimed among other things at fighting the high abortion rate, Interfax reported. Russia's rate is by far the highest in Europe, with two of three pregnancies ending in abortion, the Family Planning Association said. The head of the association, Inga Grebesheva, agreed the main reason for the crisis is "complete uncertainty about what the future brings." According to the association's figures, the mortality rate among men is 4 to 4.5 times higher than the European average, while children's mortality is 2 to 2.5 times higher. Around 90 percent of Russia's 600,000 orphans are "social orphans" f abandoned by their parents because of poverty or alcoholism. Another 2.8 million children are besprizorniki f street urchins left to their own devices. Many big cities are polluted and impoverished, and bad eating habits and heavy drinking also take their toll. Reuters reported that the World Health Organization considers a country's health endangered if annual per capita alcohol consumption exceeds eight liters, while Russia's per capita consumption in 1999 was 16.5 liters, according to a recent parliamentary report. "A simple rise in the birth rate is not enough," said Grebesheva. "Russia needs more people, but it needs more intelligent, healthy people, not more beggars and alcoholics. For this to happen the country would have to change totally."

© Copyright 2000 THE MOSCOW TIMES all rights reserved as distributed by WorldSources, Inc

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      Asia Pulse / 07/06/2000
      Russia to Hold High-Tech Fair in China's Guangzhou

    В высокоразвитой провиции на юге Китая в июле пройдет торгово-промышленная выставка высоко-технологичных товаров из России, где будет представлено около 300 изделий, многие из которых отвечают мировому уровню качества, но их цены на 10-30 процентов ниже цен товаров, сделанных в Соединенных Штатх и Европе.

GUANGZHOU, Jul 06, 2000 (AsiaPulse via COMTEX) -- Russia will hold a high-profile high-tech trade fair in south China's prosperous province of Guangdong this month to advertise its brands. Some 300 high-tech products, many of them are very advanced judged by international criteria, will be available at the fair, but their prices are 10-30 percent lower than those made by the United States and Europe. China has been long anticipating cooperation with Russia, which leads the world in many high-tech fields including space exploration and energy development, and leaders of the two sides have time and again voiced their support for cooperation. A Russian government trade delegation will attend the fair, and expects to provide Chinese enterprises with six varieties of products. This is the first time Russia directly opens a market in south China. Most of the participants will come from Russia's New Siberia high-tech zone, known as Russia's silicon valley.

© (C) 2000 Asia Pulse Pte Ltd

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      THE MOSCOW TIMES / 07/11/2000
      An Ecological Tailspin
      • Mark Hertsgaard

    Два месяца назад президент Владимир Путин упразднил Управление по охране окружающей среды. Это решение повредит не только народу и экосистемам одной из наиболее загрязненных наций в мире, но и безопасности и здоровому состоянию окружающей среды всего мира. Своим указом Путин передал обязанности Госкомитета Окружающей среды Министерству Природных ресурсов - правительственному органу, который лицензирует развитие обширных запасов нефти и полезных ископаемых в стране.

A couple of months ago, President Vladimir Putin abolished his country's environmental protection agency a decision that bodes ill not only for the people and ecosystems of one of the world's most polluted nations, but also for the security and environmental health of the entire world. Yet Putin's action has attracted virtually no attention from Western politicians or news organizations. Acting by decree and without explanation, Putin shut down the State Committee for the Environment on May 17 and transferred its responsibilities to the Natural Resources Ministry, the government body that licenses the development of vast stores of petroleum and minerals. After eliminating the State Committee on Forestry, Putin completed his governmental reorganization by naming Alexander Gavrin, who has close ties to the country's biggest oil producer, LUKoil, as energy minister. In short, Putin has put industrial foxes in charge of the environmental henhouse. The State Committee for the Environment had neither the power nor the status of its U.S. counterpart, the Environmental Protection Agency. Yet despite their frequent criticisms of the committee's inadequacies, alarmed activists are now gathering signatures to force a national referendum on Putin's decree. "Even a shabby State Committee for the Environment is better than no environmental monitoring body whatsoever," argues Greenpeace Russia spokesman Alexander Shuvalov. Viktor Danilov-Danilyan, who headed the committee when it was abolished, notes that 61 million Russians already live under environmentally dangerous conditions. In 120 cities, air pollution levels are five times higher than acceptable, according to the nation's own standards. One million tons of oil f the equivalent of 25 Exxon Valdez spills f leaks out of pipelines and into the country's soil and water every month. Nevertheless, one day after Putin's announcement, the Natural Resources Ministry declared it planned to "simplify" rules governing environmental behavior. Logging policy in particular is slated for overhaul. The country contains 22 percent of the world'sforests f more than any other nation. With help from a $60 million loan from the World Bank, the Putin government plans to improve the investment climate for logging. Leveling the nation's vast forests will speed the extinction of countless plant and animal species; it will also remove a major source of fresh air and water and a counter to global warming. Nowhere are Putin's actions more frightening, though, than with respect to nuclear technology. The State Committee for the Environment did not directly oversee Russia's nuclear industrial complex, but Putin's business-first attitude seems certain to carry over to nuclear policy. Not one of Russia's 29 nuclear power plants has a complete safety certificate and many have been cited for hundreds of violations. Yet Putin's minister for nuclear power, Yevgeny Adamov, wants to build 23 more nuclear power plants, plus another 40 advanced "fast breeder" reactors. Breeders rely on plutonium, a key ingredient in nuclear weapons. To have plutonium shipments crisscrossing the country, where the rule of law is weak at best, is a recipe for catastrophe. Adamov says fast breeder reactors will make the nation rich, which is the same reason he offers for changing laws to allow the import of tons of nuclear waste f as if the country isn't already choking on the stuff. Instead of abolishing the environment committee, Putin should have bolstered it to address the dangers posed by the nation's nuclear pollution and security. The infamous Chernobyl accident of 1986 took place in Ukraine, of course, not in Russia, but its radioactivity continues to increase the risk of cancer and endanger human health throughout the region. Many of Russia's nuclear plants rely on the same technology as the Chernobyl facility. Less well-known is the still unfolding crisis near the western Siberian city of Chelyabinsk. The Mayak complex 80 kilometers north of Chelyabinsk was the heart of the Soviet nuclear weapons production system throughout the Cold War. Three disasters with Mayak's nuclear waste f in 1946, 1957 and 1967 f have caused cumulative damages comparable to, and probably worse than, the Chernobyl meltdown. Rivaling Chelyabinsk is the Kola Peninsula in northwestern Russia, near the border with Norway. During the Cold War, the harbors of Kola were home to the Soviet Union's Northern Fleet, which dumped used submarine reactors, spent fuel and other nuclear debris into the sea with abandon. The waters now contain two-thirds of all the nuclear waste dumped into the world's oceans. There is still time for Putin to reverse his anti-environmental initiatives. When biologist Alexei Yablokov, a leading figure in the country's environmental movement, gave Putin a letter from members of the Russian Academy of Sciences urging restoration of the environment committee, the president responded that he would think about it. But he assigned the review of his decision to Boris Yatskevich, who, as minister of natural resources, is unlikely to reverse course without pressure. Environmentalists, with their referendum drive, are doing their part. Outsiders, alas, are not. So far, the only official criticism of Putin's decree has been an "expression of concern" endorsed by the environmental ministers of the Nordic countries at ameeting last month. U.S. President Bill Clinton declined to raise the subject in his speech to the State Duma in June. Surely the elimination of environmental oversight in one of the most polluted, militarily potent nations on earth deserves more attention than that. Mark Hertsgaard is the author of "Earth Odyssey: Around the World in Search of Our Environmental Future" (Broadway Books). He contributed this comment to The Washington Post.

©Copyright 2000 THE MOSCOW TIMES all rights reserved as distributed by WorldSources, Inc

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      Smithsonian / Jule 2000, Vol. 31 Issue 4
      Looking for life beneath an Antarctic glacier
      Поиски жизни под толщей льда Антарктики
      • Stone, Richard

    Abstract: Focuses on Lake Vostok in Antarctica and the scientific project to search for signs of microbial life. Parallel drawn between Vostok and the moon of Jupiter, Europa; Question of developing technology to probe the lake; Collaboration of scientists from space, earth science, and technology fields to develop a spacecraft; Prior explorations by Russian scientists and speculation of Vostok's origin and formation.


Imagine for a moment that you are a strange device called a cryobot: You are a glint in an ocean of snow. A feeble summer sun glazes the drifts, nudging temperatures up into the low 4os--below zero. The bone-dry air here at the coldest spot on Earth doesn't bother your steel skin or the companion nestled inside your belly. Nor does the glare from the endless white affect you, although a human being without sunglasses would go snow-blind in a few hours' time. You plunge into a hole in the ice sheet drilled by boiling water and sink through the rapidly cooling water nearly two and a half miles to the shaft's bottom, where the pressure is a crashing 366 times that at sea level. In a final rite of purification in the utter dark ness, you rinse in hydrogen peroxide to kill any surface or ice dwelling microbes that might have hung on for the ride. A heater in your nose cone switches on, and you start thawing your way down, the homestretch. For the final couple hundred yards the path is glassy smooth, like November ice on a New England lake. As the shaft above freezes, sealing your icy grave, you at last encounter slush, then a little farther on, water--you've burrowed all the way through the thick ice blanket...covering the Antarctic continent. Your cargo door opens and your companion eases out. The smaller probe, called a hydro hot, revs up its propeller and disappears into the gloom on a mission to explore one of our planet's last great virgin territories: Lake Vostok. Isolated from the rest of the world for longer than humankind has walked the Earth, Lake Vostok's stygian depths have cast a come-hither spell ever since the lake's true proportions-roughly half the area of Lake Ontario--were reported four years ago. The lake does not freeze solid because of heat rising from the Earth's interior. For biologists, Vostok beckons with the promise of organisms possessing untold strategies for surviving in a lightless crypt. Paleontologists, meanwhile, would love to get their hands on the thick muck presumed to coat Vostok's bottom, which might encase fossils of undescribed life-forms that roamed a continent once balmy enough for dinosaurs. Climatologists might analyze the lake's sediments for clues to Antarctica's climate before it became the frigid waste land it is today, while cosmologists could mine the lake floor for a wealth of extraterrestrial particles that have rained on Antarctica through the eons and have been dumped by the ice sheet into Vostok's basin. Taking a dip in this wintry wonderland, says Chris Rapley, director of the British Antarctic Survey, "is one of the most high profile and interesting projects of the next decade." A voyage to Vostok could also be a big step toward a discovery that, if it were to happen, would surely rank among the greatest of all time: finding life elsewhere in our solar system. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Vost0k is the Jovian moon Europa, which recent spacecraft images suggest is covered by an ocean about 60 miles deep (far deeper than any on Earth) topped by a rind of ice that in spots could be less than six miles thick (SMITHSONIAN, May 1997). If life arose in Earth's primordial ocean, could it not then have also arisen--or be on the verge of doing so--in Europa's? Lake Vostok could serve as a proving ground for probes designed to explore Europa without spiking the broth with microbial ingredients from our own planet. Now scientists around the world are joining forces to blaze a trail to the mysterious lake, despite some formidable hurdles. There are, for example, the delicate matters of lining up mil lions of dollars from several countries and establishing a hierarchy to oversee the project, as well as developing the technology to even get there--technology that also must protect Vostok's pristine waters from contamination. Yet those captivated by the lake's allure foresee no insurmountable obstacles. And they are especially tantalized by hot new evidence that life does exist in Vostok: images of microbes in refrozen lake water taken from a core sample. According to Richard Hoover, an astrobiologist who leads the search for evidence of microbial life beyond Earth at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, "We're seeing things we've never seen before."
At first nobody paid attention to hints that a behemoth lay beneath the ice. In 196o Soviet pilot R. V. Robin son described remarkably fiat stretches of the East Antarctic ice sheet, discernible only from the air, near a remote Soviet outpost called Vostok Station. He called these indentions "lakes." A decade later British air borne radio surveys of the ice sheet's thickness proved the flier right, revealing mirrorlike reflections that were interpreted as pools of water sandwiched between the ice sheet and the bedrock. These and later soundings have pinpointed at least 76 subglacial lakes in Antarctica, the largest by far extending under Vostok Station. After analyzing all the older studies, along with newer satellite sensing data, British and Russian scientists published a report in 1996 describing Lake Vostok as a body of freshwater much longer than it is wide, covering somewhere between 3,900 and 5,400 square miles and plunging to a depth of 1,600 feet or more under the research station. As news broke of the biggest geo graphic feature discovered on Earth in the 2oth century, the Galileo spacecraft was beaming back images of an icy orb fractured in crisscrossing patterns that resemble ice floes in the Arctic Ocean. The tortured surface of Jupiter's moon Europa is shaped by what is presumably an ocean below--but the images and other data do not reveal how much of that ocean is liquid versus ice. Whatever it is must taste salty: the wavelengths of infrared light absorbed by the ice suggest it's laced with sodium carbonate and magnesium sulfate. "This is the stuff that appears to constitute the brine in the Europan ocean," says Frank Carsey, an earth scientist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory 0PL) in Pasadena, California.

A polar oceanographer himself, Carsey was the go-to person for JPL engineer Joan Horvath, who in 1996 sought his advice on how a spacecraft might puncture Europa's icy crust. It didn't take long for the two to focus on Lake Vostok. Carsey seized on the idea of using Vostok as a parallel for a Europa mission. That fall he made a pitch for a project involving players from three NASA fiefdoms: the space, earth science and technology divisions. He did not know that just the day before, NASA administrator Dan Goldin had lambasted the earth types for not reaching out to their space colleagues. As Carsey said later, "My timing was impeccable." Given the green light to draft a Vostok strategy, Carsey and Horvath in 1997 opted in favor of a thermal probe, or cryobot. The idea is that upon reaching the water beneath the ice on Lake Vostok, the cryobot would release a hydrobot equipped with miniature sensing instruments. The NASA scientists are not the only ones drawn to the siren call of Vostok. In recent months a chorus has risen for a concerted effort to get to know the lake and whatever creatures might lurk there. Not surprisingly, some of the most eager voices are coming from Russia, where scientists view the lake's exploration as a fitting new endeavor for the station. Vostok has a legendary reputation. Since Soviet scientists established this icy toehold at the south geomagnetic pole in 1957, crews have manned it year-round, shuttering it for only a few seasons under dire circumstances. Since then Vostok has earned another title: the pole of cold. Situated in a region that probably hasn't seen the mercury rise above zero for millions of years, the station set a record low for Earth's surface: -128 degrees Fahrenheit on July 21, 1983. The station (as was a spacecraft that carried Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space) is named after the flagship of Russian explorer Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen, who the Russians claim was the first person to glimpse Antarctica, on January 27, 1820. Flying to Vostok from the American McMurdo Station on the coast is like being whisked by helicopter from Portland, Oregon, to the top of Mount Hood: because the station is perched on a bulge on the ice sheet nearly 11,500 feet above sea level, most new comers experience mild altitude sick ness-numbing fatigue and sharp headaches--for their first day or two. The weather and tales of hardship have given the Vostochniki, those who work through the long, dark winter there, a reputation for perseverance. It's a land where it takes phenomenally harrowing experiences to stand out among the everyday risks posed by whiteouts, body-swallowing crevasses and, of course, constant cold. A fire in April 1982 knocked out power to the station, killing a mechanic and forcing the rest of the station's crew to spend two dark weeks in a small room, barely heated by an oil stove, until emergency generators could be brought on line. "The team barely survived," says Vladimir Papitashvili at the University of Michigan, who worked at Vostok the following year. The scientific exploits, too, are compelling, and include a masterpiece: a record of Antarctic climate over the past 420,000 years, interpreted from carbon dioxide and other gases trapped in the ice. Drilling into the ice sheet, which piles up at a rate of about an inch a year at Vostok, is like turning back the clock--the deeper the ice retrieved, the older it is. At the station, in a cavern hewn from the ice, Russian climatologists maintain an unusual library: pieces of the core itself (SMITHSONIAN, May 1989). Alexandr Krassilev plucks what looks like a rolled newspaper wrapped in plastic from a wall lined with hundreds of cardboard cubby holes. "This is some of the oldest ice on the planet," says Krassilev, gingerly cradling the opaque log in a hand heavily mittened against the chamber's constant -67 degrees. Krassilev, a drilling engineer from the St. Peters burg Mining Institute, offers his visitors a chance to hold this valuable key to Earth's past. "Don't drop it," he says lightly, his breath freezing into twinkling diamond dust that drifts to the packed-snow floor. A Lake Vostok mission comes at a critical time for the decaying station. Its only landmarks are the 32-foot-tall drilling tower clad in peach-colored sheet metal, and a haphazard array of radio antennas and machinery in various states of disarray. As for the inhabited part of the station, says Papitashvili, it's "almost completely covered by snow." The crew has abandoned some buildings that are now buried in the drifts. Station entrances have triple doors to retain heat, but fit loosely in the door frames. Inside, the cramped labs double as living quarters, heated by hazardous-looking electric radiators. An artificial Christmas tree with scraggly trimmings perches on an unplugged microwave oven in the mess hall. The only midafternoon diner is a Russian technician hunched over borscht, black bread and compote. An exercise bike and a folded Ping-Pong table gather dust in a corner behind him. In February 1998, the drilling ceased 2.2 miles into the ice, about 400 feet above the lake's surface. At these depths the freshwater ice forms large, clear crystals--useless to climatologists, but a potential gold mine for biologists, as this ice is lake water that has frozen to the bottom of the ice sheet. Scientists who have laid their hands on this essence of Vostok have watched a new world unfold before their eyes. "We're looking at microorganisms essentially as they're coming out of the ice," says Richard Hoover. With Sabit Abyzov of the Institute of Microbiology in Moscow, he has used an electron microscope to image white filaments that are hundreds of microns in length, just visible to the human eye. Hoover speculates they may be strands of a microbial mat dislodged from the lake floor. "It could have floated upward and come to rest against the ice-covered roof," he says. Also getting a piece of the action last year was John Priscu of Montana State University. Working with a section of ice drawn up from near the bottom of the borehole, Priscu's group has found rod-shaped bacteria (p. 93). DNA analyses point to several kinds of bacteria in the lake ice. If these bacteria are alive in the lake, he says, "there's plenty of food down there." His group has measured about as much dissolved organic carbon in the ice sample as is found in an average North American lake.

Tied to the question of what might survive in it is the riddle of Lake Vostok's origins. The land around the station has long been thought to be a stable region of crust, called a craton. That suggests the lake bed was scoured out by glaciers, much like Lake Ontario was during the last ice age. Cratons can develop rifts or depressions, however. Lake Vostok's narrow, crescent shape and great depth are reminiscent of Lake Malawi, which fills a basin in a rift valley in East Africa. Making a stronger case for rifting are the mysterious Gamburtzev Mountains. Geologists have no good theory for the origins of the mountain patch, which juts anomalously from the otherwise flat terrain. Ancient rifting is as good an explanation as any. And if the Gamburtzevs are still growing, as some scientists speculate, that would lend credence to a recent hypothesis by Robin Bell at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Bell thinks that rifting is still occurring. This, she says, could explain three moderate earthquakes in the past century that struck within 100 miles of Lake Vostok. An active rift would provide a vital ingredient for life. The energy thrusting the Gamburtzev range upward must have melted portions of under lying crust and heated the lake bed, perhaps nurturing unique ecosystems around scaldingly hot geothermal vents--like those that sustain life independent of sunlight at the bottom of the Pacific. Comprehending such survival strategies would influence a mission to search for organisms in Europa's ocean, which some NASA scientists hope will be launched in the next decade. An ocean alone is insufficient for known life: some form of energy must trickle into the system. It's unlikely that sunlight, necessary for plant life on Earth, can penetrate Europa's ice cover. More likely, the energy comes from gravity. Specifically, the solid material of Europa flexes as the moon moves closer to and then farther from Jupiter as it travels in an elliptical orbit. The flexing would generate heat. And Europan microbes will have figured out how to tap such energy sources.

WHETHER SCIENTISTS FIND CLUES TO Europa's life in the most forlorn lake on Earth will depend on what they search for. Retrieving a sterile sample from under the ice sheet is an expensive and complicated proposition, so the first experiments will be done with remote instruments that transmit data by radio or by cable to the surface. One obvious experiment is to measure the pulse of life-metabolic activity--by tracing the incorporation of radioactive carbon into biological molecules. Other instruments could count cell numbers or measure nucleic acids, the raw stuff of DNA molecules. Any assay must be designed to spot life-forms that would prefer to remain anonymous. One intriguing possibility is that Lake Vostok became an arena for the ultimate contest of survival of the fittest. Before icing over, the lake might have supported a thriving ecosystem with many species of microorganisms, plants and fish. "Life was very abundant on Earth when Vostok formed, so there is no doubt that things should have been in, on or around the lake site from its genesis as an ice-covered lake," says Ken Nealson, a biologist at JPL. But as ice piled higher, choking off photosynthesis, the organisms depleted the remaining oxygen--bringing on something akin to a global famine in Vostok. The grittiest oxygen-consuming bacterium, the last of its kind, could be clinging to life even today. Whether Vostok is home to a sole survivor or many novel microbes, it would be a disaster to upset the delicate balance by introducing surface organisms. Tree, microbes are blown in from distant lands all the time; much of the dust that has settled on the Antarctic ice sheet originated in Patagonia, the region between the Andes and the Atlantic in southern South America. Snow that fell on the ice above Vostok half a million years ago, freighted with Pantagonian dust perhaps, is just now melting into the lake--where it releases microbial cargo crushed by the accumulations above. Any organism that survives this punishing passage has earned a chance to eke out an existence in Vostok. On the other hand, microbes that sneak aboard a cryobot--either at the surface or on the way down--could irrevocably alter whatever fragile web of life exists down there. For this reason a Vostok mission has drawn the attention of groups that are not convinced that the benefits of probing the lake outweigh the risks to a possible ecosystem. "There's little justification for this project," contends Ricardo Roura, a geologist by training who lobbies for environmental protection on behalf of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition. His organization argues that any probe sent down must be completely sterile. "Science does not exist in isolation of environmental protection," he says. That message is not lost on scientists, says Carsey. "We fully appreciate that contamination is bad science," he says. Thus a daunting task for JPL engineers is to devise a method of sterilizing a probe after it has passed through much of the ice sheet but before it penetrates the lake itself. One idea is to equip a probe with a powerful ultraviolet light for frying any lingering life-forms. Another is to have it spritz itself with sterilizing agents such as hydrogen peroxide, which rips into cell membranes, destroying any microbial life it contacts. After the carnage all that is left is water, oxygen and the remains of shattered biomolecules. "Nobody can complain about that," Carsey says. So far, however, he and his team have struggled to find funding for their project. As they wait for government dollars to materialize, they have held discussions with drug companies--"they would pay millions to get ahold of some lake water," Carsey says--and entertainment companies that might like to film a mission to the lake or otherwise glean profits from publicizing the adventure. The latter category of potential bedfellows strikes some people at NASA as strange, Carsey admits. But Carsey no longer must beat the scientific drum on his own. A meeting in Cambridge, England, last fall whipped up enough interest for an international team to start putting together a game plan for a Vostok mission as early as 2005. "It's an extremely difficult mission for any one country to mount on its own," says Erick Chiang of the National Science Foundation. That's why some say it might be wise to slip into a smaller subglacial lake first. Carsey, however, argues that a better dress rehearsal would be to send a cryobot through an ice shelf and into the Ross Sea off Antarctica. If the sterilization equipment were to fail there, he says, contamination wouldn't be a big deal. "It's inappropriate for us to put Lake Vostok on some kind of pedestal and declare one of the other subglacial lakes a pointless environment that we can mess up," he says. As scientists chart a course to the once undiscovered lake, their next indirect glimpse could come from a project that would bridge the past and the furore of Vostok Station. For more than a quarter century Russian scientists have drilled into the ice to sample gas bubbles hinting at what the region's climate was like over the millennia. The drilling stopped about 400 feet above Lake Vostok to prevent the kerosene, which keeps the borehole open, from contaminating the waters below. Some scientists have talked about lowering a laser to the bottom of the borehole, where it would shoot a beam of light through the final stretch of ice. Reflections could unmask any biomolecules floating in Lake Vostok--offering a peek at the secret inhabitants of a lost world.

© Copyright of Smithsonian is the property of Smithsonian Magazine

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      ITAR-TASS / 07/04/2000
      Socio-economic program supported at parliament hearings
    Социально-экономическая программа поддержана на парламентских слушаниях

MOSCOW, July 4 (Itar-Tass) - Fundamentals of the Russian government's long-term social and economic policy stipulate many useful measures, speakers at the State Duma's hearings said on Tuesday. These measures concern the development of the market and competition, de-bureaucratization of the state supervision over economics, the protection of property rights and the cut of taxes. "There is no doubt that the measures are expedient," they said. Yet the speakers called for supplementing the fundamentals with an assignment to promote favorable macro-economic conditions for the growth of production and investments, to enlarge salaries prior to the inflation and to cut the unemployment rate. They proposed to form a group of representatives of ministries and departments, scientists, manufacturers and trade unions to upgrade the document.

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Документ изменен: Wed Feb 27 14:56:34 2019. Размер: 46,159 bytes.
Посещение N 6910 с 19.12.2000