There’s been a lot of buzz  lately about the discovery of more than 300 new species in the Philippines. Two of them appear to be garnering the most attention:  the Inflatable Shark and the Laughing Cicada.

The find was the result of a survey – by researchers from the California Academy of Sciences – to document life found there on land, air and sea.

The new species of life the international team came across include a cicada that makes a distinctive “laughing” call, a deep-sea swell shark which inflates its stomach with water to bulk up and scare off other predators and a starfish that exclusively eats sunken driftwood. They also found three new lobster relatives that squeeze into crevices instead of carrying shells on their backs, a crab whose pincers are lined with needle-like teeth and a worm-like pipefish that hides among colonies of soft coral.

New species are being discovered all the time. The World Wildlife Fund found 1,060 new species in New Guinea from 1998 to 2008.

The WWF’s newly released study, Final Frontier: Newly Discovered species of New Guinea (1998 – 2008) shows that 218 new kinds of plants – close to 100 of which are orchids – were found. They also identified 43 reptiles and 12 mammals – including a unique snub-fin dolphin – on the island nation over the 10-year period.

In addition, the study noted 580 invertebrates and 134 amphibians, 2 birds and 71 fish – among them an extremely rare 2.5m long river shark.

The scientists express concern that many of these unique creatures are at risk, due to what they describe as poorly planned and unsustainable development, particularly from logging and forest conversion to agriculture.

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Close Encounters of the Space Junk Kind

The crew aboard the International Space Station had a bit of a scare on Tuesday after a close encounter with a bit of this space debris.

The ISS crew had to briefly take seats in escape capsules as a safety measure, according to Mission Control at the Russian Federal Space Agency.

Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin said that the six crew members spent about a half hour Tuesday in two Soyuz escape capsules docked at the station before the space junk passed by without jeopardizing the station.

The station periodically must deal with space debris, and engineers normally adjust the station’s orbit to reduce the probability of impact.  But, if monitors fail to spot the space junk in time to perform the maneuver, the crew is ordered to board the capsules.

We’ve been lobbing rockets, satellites and other space gear into orbit around our planet for over 50 years.

Think about it, just above our atmosphere, in space, along with operating hardware, there’s a half-century’s worth of space junk floating around.

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Possible New Tool in Battle Against Sleeping Sickness

A new oral drug to combat human sleeping sickness – African trypanosomiasis (HAT) –  is one step closer to production.

The Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative along with its partners Anacor Pharmaceuticals and SCYNEXIS, Inc. made the announcement.

Pre-clinical studies – testing and studies prior to human testing – of the new compound (SCYX-7158, also registered as AN5568) have been successful.

The scientists say their research will soon advance to the first phase of human clinical trials. If it proves successful in advanced testing, this new compound could become a major weapon in controlling sleeping sickness.

Human African trypanosomiasis is a fatal and, according Doctors Without Borders, much-neglected disease plaguing parts of Africa. The disease is transmitted by the tsetse fly, which is found in 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, putting 60 million people at risk.

The World Health Organization says that trypanosomiasis affects between 50,000 to 70,000 people each year.

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Wildfire Nears Los Alamos Nuke Lab

Here in the US, there’s concern over a New Mexico wildfire that’s nearing the Los Alamos laboratory – the desert birthplace of the atomic bomb.

With thousands of outdoor drums of plutonium-contaminated waste stored there, authorities stepped up their efforts to protect the site and monitor the air for radiation.

Los Alamos officials say the dangerous materials are safely stored and capable of withstanding flames from the fire, which at one point, was just 50 feet from the property.

However, Joni Arends, executive director the anti-nuclear group, the Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, expressed concern that the drums will get so hot from the fire that they’ll burst.  “That would put this toxic material into the plume,” she says. “It’s a concern for everybody.”

Those in charge at the nuclear lab say there is very little risk of the fire reaching the drums of low-level nuclear waste, since the flames would have to jump through canyons first. Nevertheless, the officials say that they are ready to coat the drums with fire-resistant foam if the blaze gets too close.

Staffers at the Los Alamos lab are closely watching at least 60 air monitors for radiation and other hazards. New Mexico’s Environment Department is also monitoring the air and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been asked to do the same.

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