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Grist List: Look what we found.


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The man whose algae could take over the world

If life is really a disaster movie in which humanity is wiped off the face of the earth, J. Craig Venter will probably be the hubristic genius who gets us there. The man sequenced the human genome in like three years, and now he's focused on the genetic possibilities of algae. The goal is to program those little cells to produce biofuels. Here's his pitch, as told to Scientific American: Everybody is looking for a naturally occurring alga that is going to be a miracle cell to save the world, and after a century of looking, people still haven’t found …

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New York State legislators get $1.3 million from gas industry

New York State is considering whether and how to move forward with hydrofracking in the state, and by TOTAL COINCIDENCE the natural gas industry has spent $1.3 million -- a fortune in state-level campaign finance -- in donations to the New York legislators who will decide its fate. According to an analysis by Common Cause New York, most of the money went to candidates for state legislature. Republicans received more than twice as much as Democrats; Gov. Andrew Cuomo's campaign committee received more than $150,000. That doesn't put the gas industry that high up among sectors donating to Cuomo. But …

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Hostess Brands is going bankrupt

Have we, as a country, grown beyond Ding-Dongs? After posting a $341 million net loss last fiscal year, Hostess Brands, maker of iconic grody lunchbox snacks and hyper-bleached sandwich bread, is filing for bankruptcy. (Financial bankruptcy. It was always nutritionally bankrupt.) The company, which has assets of roughly $1 billion, has been struggling under the weight of a roughly $860 million debt load and soaring expenses tied to its labor force. Hostess has up to 100,000 creditors, and its chief unsecured creditors are labor unions and pension funds that represent the company’s employees, according to the Chapter 11 petition, filed …

Read more: Food

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Critical List: Huge wind farm to rise in Wyoming; doomsday clock ticks forward

The Obama administration is speeding towards approval for a huge wind project, 1,000 turbines strong, in Wyoming. GOP Senate candidate Linda McMahon cribbed text for her op-ed on Keystone XL from the website of pipeline builder Transcanada. There's a second tar-sands pipeline, Northern Gateway, and that one faces strong opposition, as well. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists keeps a Doomsday Clock to show how close the world is to global disaster, and yesterday it moved one minute forward -- five minutes until midnight. Eek. (On the plus side: worldwide Iron Maiden singalong in three minutes! Be there!) Ahem, Northeast corridor. …

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Top-secret snake!

This newly discovered snake species, named Matilda's Horned Viper after the discoverer's 7-year-old daughter, lives in Tanzania somewhere. Beyond that, who can say? The answer is nobody (except Matilda's dad Tim Davenport, who took the photo above, and maybe a handful of other people from the Wildlife Conservation Society), because the snake lives in an undisclosed location. The viper is so endangered that conservationists are keeping its exact habitat a secret, out of fear that it will attract trophy hunters and exotic animal poachers. It is often the case that the first few specimens of a newly discovered bush viper …

Read more: Animals

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Obama makes a trip to the EPA

President Obama and the EPA have not had an entirely uncomplicated relationship during his tenure, but in the face of a GOP candidate field that is almost uniformly anti-environment, the president is throwing his lot in with clean air and water regulations. He's making a trip to EPA headquarters this afternoon to thank employees for their work, notably the new mercury standards. The visit marks Obama’s latest push to show support for the agency in the aftermath of the White House’s decision last year to scuttle EPA’s planned smog regulations amid constant and aggressive attacks from Republicans. Obama will travel …

Read more: Politics

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FAA gets confused, tries to ground cranes

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has decided to allow a whooping crane migration to continue, after initially trying to halt it. PLANES, guys. You are in charge of PLANES. Actually, the FAA was only grounding the cranes as a byproduct of grounding planes -- specifically, the ultralight craft that guide the endangered birds on their migration route. Whooping crane chicks raised in captivity, which many of them are since the birds are so threatened, don't have parents to demonstrate migration to them. So conservationists from Operation Migration have the babies imprint on pilots dressed as birds. Then the chicks follow the …

Read more: Animals

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The sharing economy doesn’t always work: Luxury car theft edition

Peer to peer sharing of everything from apartments to cars is taking off, except when it comes to luxury cars, because they are valuable and people will steal them. That's what luxury car-sharing company HiGear discovered, after a spate of car thefts forced it to shut down. The thieves used stolen identities to boost four members' vehicles worth a total of $400,000. That's bad news for rich people who want to rent out their cars, but not so bad for regular people, says Liane Yvkoff at CNET. In a letter to members notifying them of the service termination, HiGear's management …

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Operators fined $140k for surfing web instead of running nuke plant

Nine operators of the River Bend nuclear power plant near Baton Rouge, La., just landed their employer a $140,000 fine for surfing the web from the plant's control room, reports Mark Halper at SmartPlanet. While they were supposed to be monitoring the plant, the nine were caught surfing the web for news, sports, and their retirement accounts, but not Facebook (because they are old) or porn (because CNN says so). A press release from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission lays it out: Control room operators are directly responsible for monitoring the reactor and other important plant systems to ensure that it …

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Weird new all-electric cars debut at Detroit Auto Show

Volkswagen E-Bugster Hitting the "on" button on this car (because in the future, all cars will be started the same way you start up a laptop) makes the interior flash blue like you've just stepped into a light cycle from TRON. Check the video, below, for the full effect. Paul Tan's Automotive News reports: The car’s central electric module weighs just 80 kg, and juice for the motor is stored in a lithium-ion battery whose modules are housed in a space-saving location behind the front seats. The battery has an energy capacity of 28.3 kWh, offering the car a 180 …